Best of our wild blogs: 24 May 16

Launch of Dr Seow-Choen’s latest book: A Taxonomic Guide to the Stick Insects of Borneo
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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What is the connection between Singapore and the Arctic region?

Today Online 24 May 16;

One country is a small tropical island near the equator, and the other, an icy region near the northern tip of the Earth. But both Singapore and the Artic region share common concerns in climate change and global warming, with many potential areas for cooperation, said Minister of State (Prime Minister’s Office, Manpower) Sam Tan in a speech at the Arctic Circle Greenland Forum last week held in Nuuk, Greenland. He listed several collaborations, such as the development of maritime infrastructure to facilitate safe shipping as new sea routes open in the Arctic, and exchanges between universities in climate change and sustainable development research. Singapore has been a permanent observer on the Arctic Council since 2013. Below is an excerpt from his speech ...

Nuuk is historically significant to the Arctic Council. Besides being where the Arctic Council’s first legally binding agreement on search and rescue was adopted in 2011, Nuuk is also the birthplace of the Nuuk Criteria, which governs observers’ participation in the Arctic Council.

The theme for this year’s Forum is economic development for the people of the Arctic. In the last two days, we have gained insights on how there is immense potential for growth in the region. But as the speakers before me have reminded us, a responsible approach to economic development is vital.

It should also be carried out with respect for the environment and due regard for the peoples living in the North. While Singapore is still a newcomer to the Arctic, I hope to share more on why this approach is important for Singapore.

Let me first present the view of the Arctic from Singapore. At first glance, Singapore’s connection to the North is not readily apparent. In terms of ecology and distance, we could not be further apart. Singapore is a small, tropical island located just over one degree north of the equator. We are 7,000km away from the Arctic Circle and 11,000km away from Greenland.

Despite this distance, Singapore and other parts of the world are actually quite closely connected to the Arctic because of climate change, global warming and weather patterns. The reason for our interest and concern regarding the Arctic is simple. As a low-lying coastal nation, Singapore is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. If global temperatures continue to rise, many parts of Singapore could eventually be submerged under water.

Climate change is real. Earlier this year, I was in Tromso, Norway, for the Arctic Frontiers Conference. The temperature then was a relatively warm 2-3°C despite being January, a cold month in the arctic calendar. At the same time, the East Coast of the United States was experiencing a very severe blizzard affecting over 100 million people.

Closer to home in Singapore, March 2016 was the driest and second warmest in our history, and on April 13, we experienced our highest temperature in a decade, of over 36°C. I have heard that this April had been the warmest on record in Greenland, too, with a temperature of nearly 18°C. This has caused the annual ice sheet melt season to start nearly two months earlier than expected.

With the region warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the Arctic is as critical as a barometer for global climate change.

At the same time, a warmer Arctic will undoubtedly present new economic possibilities. In particular, the opening of new Arctic water channels, such as the Northern Sea Route, will significantly reduce travel time between Asia and Europe.

The new sea routes present both challenges as well as opportunities. Singapore has one of the world’s busiest ports, receiving about 120,000 vessels each year. Our marine industry has built up strong credentials in shipbuilding and repair, offshore engineering, port operation, and support services. We believe Singapore is in a position to assist in the development of maritime infrastructure to facilitate safe shipping in the region.


As a non-Arctic state, our engagement in the Arctic revolves mainly around the science, technology, engineering and management (STEM) framework. Our universities and research institutions are cooperating with their counterparts in Arctic states to advance the common knowledge of critical issues.

For example, in November last year, the National University of Singapore (NUS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Alaska Fairbanks to collaborate in areas such as Arctic climate change, sustainable development, oil spills research, and cold regions engineering.

In cooperating with our friends in the Arctic states, we aim to bring the discourse on Arctic issues to our corner of the world through various workshops and conferences. For example, in November 2015, Singapore hosted the Arctic Circle Singapore Forum, the first of its kind in Asia.

We were happy to welcome Iceland’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson as one of the keynote speakers. The NUS’ Centre for International Law and the University of Tromso’s K G Jebsen Centre for Law of the Sea also co-organised a conference on the Governance of Arctic Shipping in December 2015.

Thanks to these efforts, there has been an encouraging trend of Singaporeans taking a greater interest in and around the Arctic.

However, not all Singaporeans are casual tourists visiting the Arctic region. Some are there for a serious purpose. One Singaporean had competed in the eight-day Arctic Ultra Marathon across Canada in March this year and came in second place. Three other Singapore participants also completed the North Pole Marathon, which was just held in Svalbard.

In August this year, three months from now, the NUS Energy Studies Institute will organise a conference on Arctic science, technology and policy in Singapore. This conference will focus on issues such as remote access to energy, maritime infrastructure and shipping, renewable energy transitions, and the role of research and development.

We hope that this conference will help foster and sustain discourse and dialogue among relevant experts from within and outside the Arctic region.


Singapore also works with the Arctic Council’s various working groups. Our National Parks Board (NParks) works with the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) to track Arctic migratory birds that stop in Singapore during the Arctic winter season.

Our Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve provides a sanctuary to 34 species of Arctic migratory birds, such as the Curlew Sandpiper and the whimbrel. Some of these birds were paid a VIP visit by President Grimsson when he visited Singapore in November last year.

While Singapore’s sea conditions are quite different from the Arctic, we have also shared our experience in maritime emergency preparedness through the Emergency Preparedness, Prevention and Response (EPPR) Working Group under the Arctic Council.

Through this platform, we have regular exchanges to share Singapore’s approach to inter-agency coordination in managing oil spills and to share our experience in trials in using drones to monitor oil-spill effects.

Our private sector is also seeking to identify areas to contribute to sustainable resource development in the Arctic. Our companies are developing capabilities to leverage the economic potential of the region. Our maritime industry has built up strong credentials in shipbuilding and repair, offshore engineering, and marine support services.

Oil rig and shipbuilding company Keppel has constructed a number of ice-class vessels, including the first icebreakers built in Asia in 2008. Keppel is now working with oil majors and drilling contractors to develop the world’s first Arctic-grade, environmentally friendly “green” rig.


Sustainability is not the only consideration. In line with the Nuuk Criteria, Singapore recognises that the Arctic states and their indigenous peoples, who have lived in the North for generations, are crucial stakeholders in the region.

Singapore has reached out to the Arctic Council Permanent Participants to exchange views on various aspects of public administration, health, education, port management, and climate change adaptation, and to explore how we can better understand and support their development needs.

Under the Singapore-Arctic Council Permanent Participants Cooperation Package, we provide full scholarships for students from indigenous communities to pursue selected post-graduate programmes at Singapore institutions in disciplines such as maritime law, public policy and administration, and maritime studies.

The examples I shared so far are just a few ways in which Non-Arctic States like Singapore can add value to the development of the region.

In recent years, there has been overwhelming interest from many countries to become more involved in Arctic affairs. While none of us have the ability to isolate ourselves from the impact of environmental change, Singapore believes that it is the Arctic states and indigenous communities who must live with the immediate consequences, and, hence, they shall remain as the main stewards of the North.

We hope to do more to promote awareness of the Arctic, and to contribute positively and constructively to its sustainable growth, and the empowerment of its peoples.

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213 new dengue cases reported in Singapore last week

There are now 55 active dengue clusters in Singapore, including seven classified as high-risk.
Channel NewsAsia 24 May 16;

SINGAPORE: A total of 213 new dengue cases were reported in Singapore in the week ending May 21, according to latest figures published on the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) dengue website.

Another 36 cases were reported between May 22 and 3.30pm on May 23.

A total of 7,968 dengue cases have been reported in Singapore since the start of the year. Four people have died of the disease so far – a 47-year-old man who lived in Marsiling Rise, a 67-year-old man who lived in Toa Payoh, a 63-year-old woman who lived in Bedok and a 73-year-old woman who lived in Hougang.

There are now 55 active dengue clusters in Singapore, including seven classified as high-risk. The biggest cluster is in the area around Geylang and Guillemard Road. A total of 58 cases have been reported in the area, including 14 in the past fortnight.

In an advisory on its dengue website, NEA called for vigilance from homeowners to prevent mosquito breeding as Singapore enters the traditional dengue peak season. The majority of mosquito breeding habitats is still being found in homes, such as in domestic containers, flower pot plates and trays, it said.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) and NEA have warned that the number of dengue cases in Singapore may exceed 30,000 this year, higher than the record of 22,170 reported in 2013.

Singapore also reported its first case of the Zika virus earlier this month. The patient, a 48-year-old male Permanent Resident who lives in Bukit Timah’s Watten Estate, had travelled to Sao Paulo in Brazil and developed a fever and rash three days after his return.

Although the patient has been discharged from hospital after making a full recovery, MOH and NEA have said there is still a possibility of secondary infection.

- CNA/cy

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Sisters’ Islands, Kusu Island stamp set to be launched

Today Online 23 May 16;

SINGAPORE — A set of stamps depicting the folklore behind Sisters’ Islands and Kusu Island will be released on Wednesday (May 25).

An exhibition about the two legends will also be held at the Singapore Post’s (SingPost) Suntec Post Office from Wednesday to June 8, in conjunction with the new stamp issue. Titled ‘Tales From Our Shores’, the exhibition is part of the National Heritage Board’s ‘Heritage on The Move’ community programme which seeks to promote Singapore’s multi-racial heritage. It will be open from 11am to 7pm daily.

The Sisters’ Islands folktale tells of a tale about two sisters who drowned themselves in the sea after sea gypsies threatened to separate the sisters. The next day, two islands appeared where the sisters had died. The islands were then named Sisters’ islands, in memory of the two sisters who remained inseparable to the very end.

And the story of Kusu Island, or Turtle Island, is about a giant turtle that rescued two fishermen on its back when they were caught in ferocious storms, and carried the men to the island. Although the fishermen never saw the mysterious turtle again, it has been said people who later visited the island have seen the turtle the turtle resting on the shores.

The new stamp issue, launched in collaboration with the National Heritage Board, is part of SingPost’s Myths and Legends stamp series. The “Sisters’ Islands” and “Kusu Island” stamp set comes in two designs, each with four denominations: 1st Local, 2nd Local, S$0.50 and S$2.00. There is also a Pre-cancelled First Day Cover at S$8.20 that comes affixed with the complete set of stamps.

The stamp issue can be bought at all post offices, the Singapore Philatelic Museum and online at

Those who buy the new stamps on Wednesday at the Suntec Post Office can also collect a special edition cachet from Singapore Philatelic Bureau staff who will be there from 11am to 5pm.

The last Myths and Legends stamp issue was in October 2014, featuring the tales of “Attack of the Swordfish” and “Sang Nila Utama”.

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Indonesia: W. Kalimantan residents urged to stop hornbill hunting

Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 23 May 16;

West Kalimantan Governor Cornelis has called on residents to help protect the hornbill.

He said hornbills were becoming rarer because of excessive hunting, even though the bird was the official mascot of Kalimantan, which meant all parties were responsible for its conservation.

“Please, don’t kill hornbills [...]. We must protect hornbills. Please release them into their natural habitat. Don’t let them become extinct, otherwise our children and grandchildren won’t be able to see the bird species of which we are so proud,” said Cornelis. He further said that all Dayak temenggenung ( tribal leaders ) in the province must pass on his call to their people.

West Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency ( BKSDA ) data reveals that conservation officers had not rescued a significant number of hornbills.

BKSDA West Kalimantan’s head of forest rangers, Azmardi, told that very few hornbills had been saved by the agency’s officers. In most cases, live birds were not confiscated but their casques, or the helmet-like structure on the bill, from illegal wildlife traders who had attempted to smuggle them abroad.

Recently, a rhinoceros hornbill was rescued and is currently being kept in a 1.5-square-meter cage at the BKSDA office. The species, which is listed as a near threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources ( IUCN ) and included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species ( CITES ) Appendix II, was confiscated from a local resident of Mempawah regency.

The CITES Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but their trade must be controlled.

Azmardi said one rhinoceros hornbill was saved in 2013, but none in the following two years. He said it was on May 13, the Mempawah resident handed over the male rhinoceros hornbill that he had kept as a pet for three years.

“It is estimated that this hornbill is 3 years old. It is healthy. Its feathers are complete and its appetite is good. As it has been kept for quite a long time, it needs to be rehabilitated before we can release it into the wild,” said Azumardi. He said three national parks in West Kalimantan were ready to be the location of the hornbill’s release.

The rhinoceros hornbill is an average 74 centimeters long from the tip of its beak to the tip of its tail. Physically, the bird’s body is steady with black feathers covering all of its body. The color of the hornbill beak is yellow and red with a casque formed from layers of keratin, which covers the bird’s bill. The hornbill has a loud, heavy and husky voice.

Apart from the rhinoceros hornbill, West Kalimantan is also home to the helmeted hornbill, which is the official mascot of the province. Azmardi said conservation officers had never confiscated live birds.

“For helmeted hornbills, a legal measure we conducted in the past was the confiscation of the bird’s casques, for which there is an international market,” said Azmardi. He said 229 hornbill casques were confiscated in 2013.

A survey conducted by conservation group Ketapang Biodiversity Keeping ( KBK ) in 2013 revealed that the population of helmeted hornbills in Ketapang regency had sharply declined. Residents in several villages across the regency claimed that they had not heard the voices of helmeted hornbills since 1997.

“Only the casques of helmeted hornbills sell at a high price. But many wildlife hunters are unable to differentiate between the casques of helmeted hornbills and other species. As a result, they catch any hornbill they can find,” said KBK director Abdurrahman Al Qadrie. He said one helmeted hornbill casque sold for up to Rp 4 million ( US$294.55 ).

The hornbill casques are often processed into powder, which is used in traditional medicine. However, its effectiveness in curing illness has not been scientifically proven. Accessories made from casques, such as rings, bracelets and tobacco pipes, are also considered prestigious, “limited edition” accessories.

In Kapuas Hulu regency, the helmeted hornbill has special standing in the Dayak Iban tribal community. Nobelius, a Dayak Iban tribe leader, said the helmeted hornbill had a strong historical tie in battles between Dayak sub-tribes in the past.

“During battles, it was helmeted hornbills that always informed of the whereabouts of enemies because they could fly high and had sharp sight. The hornbill is believed to be a descendant of Keling, a strong character from the sky with divine power,” said Nobelius.

Because of the mythology, it is prohibited under indigenous Dayak Iban laws to hunt the hornbill. If people collect hornbill casques as accessories, they are mostly from deceased birds found in the forest, not a result of hunting, said Nobelius. ( ebf )

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Sri Lanka floods expected to cost at least US$1.5 billion

The cost of Sri Lanka's landslides and floods will be between US$1.5 billion (1.03 billion pounds) and US$2 billion (1.37 billion pounds) at the minimum, the government said on Monday, as the Indian Ocean island struggles to recover from its worst natural disaster since the 2004 Asia tsunami.

Channel NewsAsia 23 May 16;

COLOMBO: The cost of Sri Lanka's landslides and floods will be between US$1.5 billion (1.03 billion pounds) and US$2 billion (1.37 billion pounds) at the minimum, the government said on Monday, as the Indian Ocean island struggles to recover from its worst natural disaster since the 2004 Asia tsunami.

The official death toll has risen to 92 but 109 people are feared to have been buried in landslides.

Days of torrential rain forced more than 350,000 people from their homes, though many were returning on Monday.

Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said more than 125,000 houses and more than 300,000 small and medium businesses were destroyed or damaged.

"This minimum damage cost does not include damaged vehicles, equipment and machinery. We urge foreign donors to channel their relief efforts through the government," he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Nick Macfie)

- Reuters

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Tens of countries sign up to shut pirate fishers out of their ports

The first of its kind, a new international treaty obliges signatories to intercept pirate fishers before they can sell their catch
Emma Bryce The Guardian 23 May 16;

In March, the Argentinian coast guard shot at and sank a Chinese vessel that was alleged to be fishing illegally in Argentinian waters (the crew were all rescued). While it’s unclear whether the boat was committing crime, the incident showed that the tension surrounding pirate fishing is reaching a peak, marked elsewhere by increasing conflict, and the detainment and scuttling of illegal fishing fleets. But for pirate fishers, the financial gains appear to be worth these risks.

Illegal fishing vessels siphon off up to 26 million tons of illegally caught fish each year, which amounts to over $23bn (£16bn) in profit. This not only deprives legitimate fishers of their catch, but as it’s an unregulated practice, it also undermines the stability of fisheries stocks around the world. Illegal fishing also has a hand in driving already threatened species closer to extinction—like the critically-endangered vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, whose fate is rapidly being worsened by illegal fishers in Mexico who tangle and drown the small, protected mammals in their gill nets.

The only common ground illegal fishing vessels share with ordinary fishing boats is their dependence on ports, where they dock with their catch so they can bring it to market. If they can’t take refuge in one port, they may try their luck at the next one, assuming they’ll always have some place else to go with their illicit fish.

But a momentous new treaty, led by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), aims to shut down this convenient network. Known as the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), the treaty, which comes into full force on 5 June, requires signatory countries to inspect or stop suspicious fishing vessels from entering their ports. Under the banner of the rule, countries that have signed now hold a legal obligation to, quite literally, leave illegal fishers out in the cold.

Over the past several years, the effort to get the treaty ratified has been quietly ticking away in the background, as countries have been slowly adding their names to the list of signatories. Recently, a spate of newcomers—Gambia, Sudan, Thailand, and Tonga among them—pushed the number above the 25 required to bring the treaty into force. And last week it reached 30 signatories, a total that includes the United States, and the European Union, which counts as one entity.

The PSMA completely changes the focus of enforcement. Whereas in the past, the battle against pirate fishing has been fought predominantly on the waves, requiring huge resources, manpower, and time to track mostly elusive pirate fishers, this new rule turns ports into the first line of defence. “You’re really just waiting for the vessels to come to you,” says Lori Curtis, who is part of the FAO fisheries team working on the new agreement. “It is novel in that it targets the ports. And it targets illegal fishers by focusing on the element that they have to use to bring their catch to market,” adds Tony Long, director of the Ending Illegal Fishing project for the Pew Charitable Trusts. “It really does pull the net quite tight around the activity.”

The treaty is unprecedented, Long adds, because it’s the only international agreement so far that tackles illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. On the ground, it will work by imposing several measures. Firstly, incoming vessels will have to request permission to enter a port before docking, and be willing to provide information like the vessel number, and if it’s a fishing boat, the catch on board, and whether they plan to land it.

If the boat’s behaviour or its records throw up any red flags, countries can choose to block it, Curtis explains. “If they simply deny them entry, then it’s just like closing the door on that port.”. This applies not just to dodgy fisheries vessels, but extends to boats suspected of supplying illegal fishing crews with fuel, or vessels that transfer fish between boats without authorisation.

Countries already hold a sovereign right to refuse entry to their ports; this new treaty obliges them to not only enforce that but also to share information about illegal vessels with other countries, so that law-breaking boats struggle to seek safe harbour elsewhere.

This concept isn’t new: it already has practitioners on the ground—and they’re proving it can work. In the waters of southeast Africa, countries have joined forces to create FISH-I Africa, a group of eight coastal nations that track suspicious vessels and exchange information about their activities in real-time, motivated by the astonishing fact that one in four fish caught in African waters is pilfered by pirate fishers.

Since it was formed in 2012, the network has stopped a number of illegal multinational vessels from docking in African ports. In just the first two years of its existence, FISH-I Africa got illegal vessels to pay almost $3m in fines for their infringements.

The hope is for the PSMA to expand on successes like this, and elevate these efforts to a global scale. The treaty is legally binding, but currently, there’s no mechanism in place to force the 30 signatories to carry out its measures—though countries will be meeting at intervals to review enforcement amongst members. In any case, Long and Curtis both think the economic benefits of stopping pirate fishers will generate significant pressure to comply.

With big markets like the EU and he US involved in the treaty, signatory states may feel obliged to uphold it in the interests of trade, Curtis says. “You don’t want to be the port that is known for all the illegal vessels going there.”

It also opens up an avenue for increasing the traceability of seafood, enabling the flagging of products that come from unregulated ports, and prioritising those that originate from monitored sources. “Retailers and suppliers are now more interested in the provenance of their fish,” says Long—a reality that will create more motivation to abide by the rule.

But for global fisheries to experience the wide-ranging benefits of the new ruling, the treaty first needs to gather more signatories. Curtis is hopeful: the FAO has received more requests from countries wanting to become signatories, and governments are being lobbied to put the measures in place that will enable them to sign on, she says. The more countries weigh in, the more difficult that network of ports will be to exploit, and the more frequently illegal vessels will be left to bob on the waves with their unmarketable catch.

“From my point of view, the PSMA can form the lynchpin of the global effort to end illegal fishing,” Long adds. “Ultimately [illegal fishers] can’t land their fish, and that will make a change on the water.”

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Nanoplastics negatively affect aquatic animals

Lund University ScienceDaily 23 May 16;

Plastic accounts for nearly eighty per cent of all waste found in our oceans, gradually breaking down into smaller and smaller particles. New research investigates how nanosized plastic particles affect aquatic animals in different parts of the food chain.

Plastic accounts for nearly eighty per cent of all waste found in our oceans, gradually breaking down into smaller and smaller particles. New research from Lund University in Sweden investigates how nanosized plastic particles affect aquatic animals in different parts of the food chain.

"Not very many studies have been done on this topic before. Plastic particles of such a small size are difficult to study," says Karin Mattsson.

"We tested how polystyrene plastic particles of different sizes, charge and surface affect the zooplankton Daphnia. It turned out that the size of the nanoparticles that were most toxic to the Daphnia in our study was 50 nanometers," says Karin Mattsson.

Because zooplankton like Daphnia are also food for many other aquatic animals, the researchers wanted to study the effect of plastic particles higher up in the food chain. They found that fish that ate Daphnia containing nanoplastics experienced a change in their predatory behaviour and poor appetite. In several studies, researchers also discovered that the nanoparticles had the ability to cross biological barriers, such as the intestinal wall and brain.

"Although in our study we used much larger amounts of nanoplastic than those present in oceans today, we suspect that plastic particles may be accumulated inside the fish. This means that even low doses could ultimately have a negative effect," says Karin Mattsson.

Plastic breaks down very slowly in nature, and once the microscopically small plastic particles reach lakes and oceans they are difficult to remove. Plastic particles also bind environmental toxins that can become part of the food chain when consumed accidentally.

"Our research indicates the need for more studies and increased caution in the use of nanoplastics," she says.

Journal Reference:

Karin Mattsson, Mikael T. Ekvall, Lars-Anders Hansson, Sara Linse, Anders Malmendal, Tommy Cedervall. Altered Behavior, Physiology, and Metabolism in Fish Exposed to Polystyrene Nanoparticles. Environmental Science & Technology, 2015; 49 (1): 553 DOI: 10.1021/es5053655

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Biodegradable plastic 'false solution' for ocean waste problem

UN’s top environmental scientist warns bottles and bags do not break down easily and sink, as report highlights the ubiquity of plastic debris in oceans
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 23 May 16;

Biodegradable plastic water bottles and shopping bags are a false solution to the ubiquitous problem of litter in the oceans, the UN’s top environmental scientist has warned.

Most plastic is extremely durable, leading to large plastic debris and “microplastics” to spread via currents to oceans from the Arctic to the Antarctic, a UN report published on Monday found.

Greener plastics that breakdown in the environment have been marketed as a sustainable alternative that could reduce the vast amount of plastic waste that ends up in the sea after being dumped. But Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme, told the Guardian that these biodegradable plastics were not a simple solution.

“It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down,” she said.

Speaking at the the UN environment assembly in Nairobi, where 170 countries are meeting and expected to pass a resolution on microplastics later this week, she added: “We have detected plastics in places as far away as the Chagos Islands [in the Indian Ocean]. Even if you are remote, you are not safe from it.”

More than 300m tonnes of plastic were produced in 2014 and that is expected to swell to nearly 2,000m tonnes by 2050 on current trends, the UN report said. While the exact amount that reaches the oceans is not known, the report concluded: “plastic debris, or litter, in the ocean is now ubiquitous.”

The spread of everything from large plastic debris such as fishing gear which dolphins can become entangled with, to fragments smaller than 5mm in diameter known as microplastics, has ecological, social and economics costs.

Jellyfish, for example, are using plastic as a habitat and to hitch a ride, allowing them to extend their range. The spread of jellyfish is considered bad news by experts because of the amount of plankton they eat, taking away food from fish and other marine life.

“There is a moral argument that we should not allow the ocean to become further polluted with plastic waste, and that marine littering should be considered a ‘common concern of humankind’,” the report’s authors wrote.

The main solution to plastics in the ocean is better waste collection and recycling, particularly in the developing world, the UN said. But McGlade said that some of the biodegradable additives in plastic to allow it to break down made it harder to recycle, and potentially harmful in the natural environment.

“When you start adding all of that [additives], when it becomes waste, they [the additives] become the enemy of the environment. As consumers we need to think of the use of plastic,” she said.

The UN report said that it was only in the past decade that plastics in the ocean had been taken seriously. “Warnings of what was happening were reported in the scientific literature in the early 1970s, with little reaction from much of the scientific community.”

The Guardian’s travel and accommodation was paid for by the UN.

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World could warm by massive 10C if all fossil fuels are burned

Arctic would warm by as much as 20C by 2300 with disastrous impacts if action is not taken on climate change, warns new study
Damian Carrington The Guardian 23 May 16;

The planet would warm by searing 10C if all fossil fuels are burned, according to a new study, leaving some regions uninhabitable and wreaking profound damage on human health, food supplies and the global economy.

The Arctic, already warming fast today, would heat up even more – 20C by 2300 – the new research into the extreme scenario found.

“I think it is really important to know what would happen if we don’t take any action to mitigate climate change,” said Katarzyna Tokarska, at the University of Victoria in Canada and who led the new research. “Even though we have the Paris climate change agreement, so far there hasn’t been any action. [This research] is a warning message.”

The carbon already emitted by burning fossil fuels has driven significant global warming, with 2016 near certain to succeed 2015 as the hottest year ever recorded, which itself beat a record year in 2014. Other recent studies have shown that extreme heatwaves could push the climate beyond human endurance in parts of the world such as the Gulf, making them uninhabitable.

In Paris in December, the world’s nations agreed a climate change deal intended to limit the temperature rise from global warming to under 2C, equivalent to the emission of a trillion tonnes of carbon. If recent trends in global emissions continue, about 2tn tonnes will be emitted by the end of the century.

The new work, published in Nature Climate Change, considers the impact of emitting 5tn tonnes of carbon emissions. This is the lower-end estimate of burning all fossil fuels currently known about, though not including future finds or those made available by new extraction technologies.

The researchers used a series of sophisticated climate models and found this rise in CO2 would lead to surface temperatures rising by an average of 8C across the world by 2300. When the effect of other greenhouse gases is added, the rise climbs to 10C.

The heating predicted by the models was not uniform across the globe. In the Arctic, the higher CO2 levels led to 17C of warming, with another 3C from other greenhouse gases, across the year. These rises are higher than indicated by previous, less comprehensive models, which are less accurate at modelling how the oceans takes up heat. In February, parts of the Arctic had already recorded temperatures 16C above normal.

The warming caused by burning all fossil fuels would also have enormous impact on rainfall. The new research shows rainfall falling by two-thirds over parts of central America and north Africa and by half over parts of Australia, the Mediterranean, southern Africa and the Amazon.

Thomas Frölicher, at ETH Zürich in Switzerland and not involved in the new work, said: “Given that current trends in fossil fuel emissions would result in temperatures above [the 2C Paris] target, policymakers need to have a clear view of what is at stake both on decadal and centennial timescales if no meaningful climate policies are put in place. The unregulated exploitation of fossil fuel resources could result in significant, more profound climate change.”

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