Best of our wild blogs: 19 May 16

Sun 05 Jun 2016 – Journey to the East with Pedal Ubin! (30 places)

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El Nino pushes up prices of M’sian fruit, vegetables and Thai coconuts

Today Online 18 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR — The extended spell of hot weather due to the El Nino weather phenomenon has taken a toll on crop supply, causing the prices of some fruits and vegetables in the ­region to soar.

Federation of Malaysian Vegeta­ble Farmers’ Association president Tan So Tiok told The Star newspaper that local vegetable output had dropped 20 per cent since last month. The shortage has also affected supply to Singapore by about the same percentage, he said.

“This has affected both leafy vege­tables like mustard leaves, watercress and cabbage, and non-leafy vegetables such as long beans, chilli, cucumber, pumpkin and bitter gourd,” he said.

Mr Tan said the situation had improved because of the recent rains but the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan would create new problems. “Indonesian farm workers will usually head back to their home towns for the fasting month, which leaves us shorthanded,” he said.

“The situation is made worse by the freeze on foreign workers because we can’t take in labourers from other countries to replace those heading home.”

He said countries such as China, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, from where Malaysia imports vegetables, are also cautious about their vegetable supply as they are also facing shortages from the ongoing hot weather.

Cameron Highlands Vegetable Growers Association secretary Chay Ee Mong said output from the highlands has dropped between 30 per cent and 40 per cent since the middle of March, causing vegetables prices to soar by 50 per cent. About 80 per cent of the output is consumed locally while the rest is exported to Singapore.

Over in Thailand, the hot weather has affected Thai coconut production and prices have gone up almost 100 per cent in Singapore as a result.

Coconut importer Kelvin Ngian of Siam Coconut said that the prices are the highest he has seen in 15 years.

“Normally, the price would go up about 1.5 times during this period of shortage. Since January, we have been seeing an increase in coconut prices about one fold,” he said. “That’s the highest we have seen in 15 years.”

Apart from the hot weather, prices have gone up because there has been an increase in demand for coconuts as drinking coconut water has become a health fad.

Malaysia has been enveloped in a sweltering heatwave that saw the temporary closure of schools in March and April and slowed vegetable production, leading to price hikes. Paddy fields, durian and rubber plantations have also been affected by the severe temperatures, and water levels at dams and water treatment plants have been decreasing.

The drought has forced some states, such as Perlis and Johor, to impose water rationing measures.

The Malaysian government has warned that the dry and hot spell could stretch to September, resulting in depleting water reserves, more forest fires and worsening haze.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Wilfred Madius Tangau had told TODAY last month that the hot weather would continue for the next five months due to the changing south-west monsoon winds.

The monsoon season is between May and September.

Various industries have expressed concern over the situation while farmers and fish breeders said they have suffered losses due to the heat. AGENCIES

Import prices of Thai coconuts hit record highs amid dry weather
Local importers say Thai coconut prices have doubled due to the ongoing hot spell in the region and rising global demand for coconut products.
Lim Jia Qi Channel NewsAsia 18 May 16;

SINGAPORE: Siam Coconut has been importing coconuts from Thailand for the past 15 years. Every year during this period, the local company would expect prices to increase as hot and dry weather hits supplies. But this year, the company has been taken by surprise because prices have gone up by more than usual.

"Normally, the price would go up about 1.5 times during this period of shortage. Since January, we have been seeing an increase in coconut prices about one fold," said the company's general manager, Mr Kelvin Ngian. "That's the highest we have seen in 15 years."

He said the extremely hot weather in Thailand is partially to blame, with crops taking a hit. Making the situation even worse, though, is the growing global popularity of coconut products, which means Singapore importers are having to compete harder to source sufficient supplies.

"We are basically fighting with the rest of the world to get the coconuts. There is a lot of education on the benefits of coconut water. So countries like America and China, they are setting up factories in Thailand, collecting the coconuts to produce coconut products," Mr Ngian added.

Coconut water is believed to be a 'heat clearing' food and is seen to have other benefits, such as hydrating the human body more effectively than energy drinks.

Siam Coconut imports about 120,000 coconuts every month. To ensure sufficient supply, Mr Ngian said he now has to visit Thailand once a month to find new sources of supply instead of every three months.

As the supply of coconuts continues to dwindle, Mr Vincent Li, the owner of importer Choong Guan Heng, has also had to visit Thailand twice in the last month to look for new suppliers.

"I managed to find new sources of supply but they didn't have much also. They just gave us a bit, it's still not enough," said Mr Li in Mandarin, adding that he is also restricting sales of coconuts in some cases. "If a customer is buying 10 boxes of coconuts and there is not enough, maybe I'll just sell them 5 boxes."

Mr Yeo Cheng Hong, Chairman of Lai Hong Fruits, said the import price of 30 coconuts would have cost about S$30 in March. But the price has since risen to about S$50. "It's the highest I've ever seen," Mr Yeo added.

With higher import costs, consumers may have to bear the brunt of it. Ms Jessie Leong, 57, used to buy coconuts from supermarkets every week, but she stopped when the price started creeping up.

"They started increasing gradually so I stopped buying when it hit $1.90," said Ms Leong.

When Channel NewsAsia visited a FairPrice outlet in Choa Chu Kang on Tuesday (May 17), the price of one Thai coconut was $2.70.

A spokesperson from FairPrice said the price of Thai coconuts has increased by about five per cent compared to a week ago.

"There has been a gradual increase in the cost of coconuts from Thailand in the past few months due to the extreme weather conditions that have affected supply."

The spokesperson added that the supermarket diversifies its sources to help moderate the cost of products.

"We have brought in coconuts from Vietnam, which are presently about 20 per cent cheaper than Thai coconuts. We continue to monitor this situation closely," said the spokesperson.

The price increase may be short-lived. Importers said the prices should return to normal by end June as weather conditions in Thailand improve.

- CNA/jq

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Malaysia: Marine Parks Dept takes steps to protect coral reefs

The Star 19 May 16;

PETALING JAYA: The Marine Parks Department is moving to protect Malaysia’s valuable coral reefs following warnings that they are in danger due to rising sea surface temperatures.

Malaysia was recently notified of the danger by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which indicated that sea surface temperatures in some of Malaysia’s waters were above average, and the coral reefs might soon be exposed to thermal stress.

Coral bleaching was a possibility, added the US scientific agency.

The “Bleaching Watch” notification for Malaysia was issued on May 2 under NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch Programme.

The programme publishes satellite data on sea surface temperatures, providing an indication of current reef environmental conditions to quickly identify areas at risk of coral bleaching.

Natural Resources and Environ­ment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar noted that coral bleaching was a major threat to the health of reefs and deserved serious attention due to its implications for marine biodiversity, fisheries and tourism in Malaysia.

He said following the mass coral reef bleaching in 2010, the Coral Reef Bleaching Response Committee was set up to address future bleaching events.

“The committee is monitoring the situation and consulting with stakeholders to develop appropriate management responses,” Dr Wan Junaidi said in a statement.

The committee will begin surveys of coral reefs and track the onset of any bleaching.

Coral bleaching, according to NOAA, happens when corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light or nutrients and they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.

Warmer seas in Malaysia may lead to bleaching, endangering coral reefs in our oceans
HASHINI KAVISHTRI KANNAN New Straits Times 18 May 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Higher sea temperatures in Malaysian oceans may soon cause a phenomenon known as coral bleaching, endangering coral reefs in the oceans of the country.

Action plans are being prepared to protect Malaysia’s coral reefs after an early warning that mass coral bleaching could be a high possibility.

In a statement earlier, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the Coral Reef Bleaching Response Committee (CRBRC) under the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia (DMPM) was monitoring the situation closely.

"After the mass coral reef bleaching incident in 2010, CRBRC was established to respond effectively to future bleaching events.

"It is also currently consulting with stakeholders to develop appropriate management responses in order to protect Malaysia's valuable coral reefs," he added.

This was following the issuance of a 'bleaching watch' notification for Malaysia on May 2 by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminis­tration’s Coral Watch Programme.

Wan Junaidi said the notification indicated that sea surface temperatures in some of Malaysia's waters were above average and Malaysia's coral reefs may have been or soon will be exposed to thermal stress.

"Coral bleaching is a major threat to coral reef health and deserves serious attention due to implications on marine biodiversity, coral reefs fisheries and tourism in the country," he added.

NOAA's Coral Reef Watch Programme publishes satellite data on sea surface temperatures, providing an indication of current reef environmental conditions to quickly identify areas at risk of coral bleaching, he added.

"Continuous monitoring of sea surface temperature at global scale provides researchers and stakeholders with tools to understand and better manage the complex interactions leading to coral bleaching," he said.

Wan Junaidi said when bleaching conditions occurred, these tools can be used to trigger bleaching response plans and support appropriate management decisions, adding that bleaching is a natural response of corals under stress.

"The term 'Mass Bleaching' describes the large scale phenomenon of many species of corals bleaching simultaneously over a significant spatial scale," Wan Junaidi said.

He said CRBRC will begin surveys on coral reefs to monitor the situation in the country and track the onset of any bleaching.

"Actions plans to respond to such an event have already been prepared.

"The committee will provide further information as it becomes available and will work to ensure all stakeholders are kept fully informed of the changing situation, "he added.

DMPM has published the first Malaysian Coral Reef Bleaching Response Plan as a guide for monitoring and managing future bleaching events and communicating with stakeholders on per-determined steps that need to be carried out during mass coral reef bleaching.

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Malaysia: Johor seeks best way to protect dugong

KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 19 May 16;

JOHOR BARU: The state government will leave it to the experts to come up with suitable suggestions on the best way to protect and conserve marine life, especially the endangered dugong.

Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said they were in talks with consultants on the setting up of a marine park near Mersing, which will include a dugong sanctuary.

“We will not rule out suggestions to use a tagging system to monitor the movement of dugong. We will also explore other experts’ advice.

“We want to ensure that the method carried out to protect the sea mammal is the most suitable to avoid any future issues,” he said.

Ayub said currently, their focus was on sourcing for the best spot among the islands off Mersing to build the marine park.

He added that Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar was expected to pre-launch the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park in July.

It will just be a soft launch while the operational aspects and mechanisms of creating the park will be discussed in the next six months, he said, adding that RM1mil set aside was just a start-up allocation.

Ayub said the state government would seek more allocations, including from the Federal Government, following discussions with the experts.

For now, the RM1mil would be utilised to identify and measure the exact location, instal buoys to mark the areas as well as to cons­truct a monument for the park, he added.

He also pointed out that it was unfair to solely blame developments as the cause for the dwindling number of dugong along the most southern part of the state.

“We also have to take environmental changes into consideration including water pollution due to the discharge of waste or oil spills as well as the speed of huge vessels passing through the area.

“Our studies show that the islands off Mersing are still rich with the dugong’s staple diet – seagrass. This is likely why the sea mammal has been spotted there more often these past few years,” he said.

The Sunday Star reported on the dwindling number of dugong, also known as sea cow, around southern Johor, which used to be a haven for the shy creatures due to the abundance of seagrass there.

Experts claimed that they have been migrating to the eastern part of the state near Mersing where seagrass is ample.

‘Tagging dugong is costly and may not be feasible’
KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 22 May 16;

JOHOR BARU: A tagging system to monitor the dugong may not be feasible due to high costs and low number of the mammal, said Rantau Abang Endangered Marine Species and Turtle Research Division director Syed Abdullah Syed Abdul Kadir.

“The objective of tagging is to obtain their migration pattern as well as to determine their roaming areas.

“But research showed that this approach may be costly as we have to tag at least 50% of its population.

“We will need a lot of tags and a large number of dugong in order to get solid information. And capturing the creatures to tag them may also scare them away,” he said.

“This will backfire on our cause,” he added.

Last Sunday, The Star reported on the dwindling number of dugong, also known as sea cow, in southern Johor that was previously a haven for them due to the abundance of seagrass there.

But the depleting seagrass had forced the dugong to move to the eastern part of the state.

Concerned groups have suggested tagging the dugong to keep track of them, thus creating a database to monitor their population and movements.

Syed Abdullah said the Fisheries Research Institute had recorded three dugong deaths since the beginning of this year.

There were five such deaths in 2015 and four cases in 2014, mostly due to them being hit by boats, tangled in nets or incidental catches.

He acknowledged that there had been a drastic decline in the number of dugong, citing factors such as fish bombings, hunting, unsupervised tourism, seagrass degradation and habitat loss due to land reclamation and dredging activities.

“With rapid development in Johor some dugong habitats are no longer conducive for them to inhabit,” he said.

He urged Malaysians to play their part by avoiding fishing activities and reducing the speed of their boat at areas known to be populated by dugong, as well as to keep the cleanliness of sea water by not discarding waste into it.

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