Best of our wild blogs: 27 May 16

“Operation WE Cleanup” – 39 volunteers remove 403.5kg of trash from Lim Chu Kang mangrove [08 May 2016]
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Johor looking at two rivers for water

Water may be diverted to Linggiu Reservoir, near treatment plant run by Singapore's PUB
Shannon Teoh Malaysia Bureau Chief Straits Times 27 May 16;

Johor is studying plans to divert water from two rivers to the Linggiu Reservoir to reduce water shortage that has hit the state's east coast districts around Kota Tinggi in the last few years, officials say.

The plan to boost water levels in the reservoir should be a boon for water treatment plants downstream operated by Johor and one operated by Singapore's national water agency PUB.

This year's dry spell has reduced the water level at the Linggiu dam to an unprecedented 35 per cent last month, raising fears over whether Singapore can continue to rely on Malaysia for the agreed 250 million gallons per day (mgd), or nearly 60 per cent of its current water needs. The reservoir was 80 per cent full at the beginning of last year. The Linggiu Reservoir, built upstream of the Johor River in 1994, collects and releases rainwater into the river. The reservoir is located north of Kota Tinggi town.

Johor's Cabinet member in charge of public works, Datuk Hasni Mohammad, told The Straits Times the state is looking at building facilities at Sayong River and a dam at Sedili Besar River to divert water into the Linggiu Reservoir.

"Given the situation we are facing now, the effort to improve the yield from Johor River is by various water transfers, and not just by cloud seeding," said Mr Hasni, Johor's Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman.

Under Malaysia's political system, water, religion and land issues are broadly under the purview of the respective states. But the 13 states' chief ministers often liaise with federal authorities to ensure smooth implementation in these matters.

The proposal for the Sayong River catchment includes building a weir - a low wall across the river - to channel about 50 mgd water into the Linggiu, Mr Hasni said. "This is the cheapest way of stabilising the capacity at Linggiu dam," he said, adding that it would cost about RM250 million (S$84.5 million).

For Ulu Sedili Besar River, a proposed RM660 million dam is awaiting approval by the federal government under Malaysia's current five-year economic blueprint.

Preliminary expectations are that 110 mgd will be available from this river for transfer to the Johor River as well as two nearby Johor treatment plants, he said.

Either of the river projects would take at least two years to complete.

Mr Hasni had on Sunday said that Johor will honour the water agreement with Singapore - that expires in 2061 - to allow PUB to draw and treat 250 mgd of raw water despite local pressure to cut off the supply and divert it for local needs.

A former Johor government official told The Straits Times the ruling Umno party in Johor has repeatedly asked the federal government to review the water agreement.

Water rationing has been carried out since last month in the Mersing and Kota Tinggi districts, affecting some 85,000 people.

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PUB to expand groundwater monitoring network

The national water agency said that it plans to install 30 to 40 monitoring wells - boreholes drilled into water bearing soil layers - at Jurong Island and at the Old Alluvium area in eastern Singapore, as well as insert sensors into the monitoring wells to track water level fluctuations.
Channel NewsAsia 26 May 16;

SINGAPORE: National water agency PUB has announced that it plans to expand its groundwater monitoring network, and will call two tenders over the next few months for the installation of additional monitoring wells and sensors.

These wells and sensors will "provide a better understanding of the presence of groundwater in Singapore", PUB said in a press release on Thursday (May 26).

The agency said that it plans to install 30 to 40 monitoring wells - 50mm diameter boreholes drilled into water bearing soil layers - at Jurong Island and at the Old Alluvium area in eastern Singapore, as well as insert sensors into the monitoring wells to track water level fluctuations.

This will enable "islandwide monitoring of Singapore's groundwater situation", said PUB. Previously, the agency has been monitoring groundwater levels at the Jurong Formation in western Singapore through a network of 18 monitoring wells.

Exercises to develop a groundwater model for the Jurong Formation and Old Alluvium are in progress, while a preliminary groundwater model has been developed for Jurong Island, said PUB. The data collected from these groundwater monitoring efforts will allow PUB to validate these models.

“These monitoring efforts are part of PUB’s groundwater studies, which are currently in the exploratory stage involving literature review and preliminary groundwater model development,” said PUB Chief Engineering and Technology Officer Harry Seah,

“Through these efforts, we hope to gain a better understanding of Singapore’s geology and the presence of groundwater within the earth layers.”

- CNA/av

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Malaysia haven for illegal logging and wildlife trade

VICTORIA BROWN The Star 27 May 16;

PETALING JAYA: While Malaysia is a legitimate top exporter of tropical logs, agarwood and reptile skins, the United Nations World Wildlife Crime report has also highlighted the illegal aspects of such trade in the country.

The inaugural report that was launched on Tuesday listed Malaysia as the top global exporter of tropical logs in 2013 with a total of 3,455,000 cubic metres being exported.

The report noted Malaysia’s seizures of illegally sourced wood protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

It cited Malaysia as one of the primary sources of illegal shipments of agarwood, with seven metric tonnes seized between 2005 and 2014.

Malaysia was also listed as the second most prominent destination for illegal shipments of ivory.

While Malaysia was one of the top reptile skin exporters, the report said much of the trade saw illegally sourced reptile skin being introduced into the legal supply chain.

Commenting on the report, Traffic Southeast Asia regional director Dr Chris R Shepherd said there was a lack of study on this aspect of the trade which was a “big worry”.

He said more information on the origins of the reptile skins was needed to allow consumers and retailers to make informed choices.

“We don’t know what percentage of the supply is illegal,” said Dr Shepherd.

“If the consumer is not sure if a handbag, belt or boots are made of legal skin – don’t buy it,” he said.

While the report listed Malaysia as the second most prominent destination for illegal shipments of ivory, it noted that the ivory was ultimately destined for another country.

On this, Dr Shepherd said Malaysia had no open market or demand for ivory.

“But the fact is that ivory is still going through Malaysia, and that is a problem.

“Malaysia is a popular transit country. Criminal networks pick the path of least resistance to get to their final destination,” he said.

Dr Shepherd said that if the risk of getting caught and prosecuted was high, illegal traders would stop moving through Malaysia.

“Malaysia has good laws. But good laws are only as good as the people who enforce them. If our officers are not trained, illegal wildlife trade will flourish,” he said.

He said a check and balance system must be put in place for anything traded in high volume.

“The system is to ensure that whatever your harvest is, it is done in a legal manner and one that is not detrimental to the conservation of the species,” he said.

Overall, the report states that wildlife and forest crime were not limited to certain countries or regions but was a global problem.

“Small battles are being won. But overall, we are still losing the war. We are losing so many species,” he added.

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Indonesia: Conserving the leatherback sea turtle

Ricardo F. Tapilatu Jakarta Post 26 May 16;

For over 100 million years, leatherback sea turtles have swum the world’s oceans. Each year, these creatures, which represent the last remaining members of the Dermochelyidae family, migrate 6,000 miles from breeding grounds in the western Pacific to feeding areas in the eastern Pacific. California’s coast, with its plentiful jellyfish populations, is an important foraging area for leatherbacks, and the Bird’s Head Peninsula of West Papua is the major nesting area for the western Pacific population of the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle.

Pacific leatherback conservation efforts at the nesting beaches were sporadic in the 1970s, but were expanded following publication of the US Recovery Plan in 1996 and the collapse of the eastern Pacific nesting populations. More recently, after the discovery that the leatherbacks foraging in California waters and caught in Hawaii and US West coast-based fisheries were from the western Pacific, bilateral conservation efforts have intensified.

In 2012 the US National Marine Fisheries Service designated 41,914 square miles off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington as critical habitat for leatherbacks. Thus any actions authorized, funded or implemented by Federal agencies should not put the species’ existence in jeopardy or otherwise negatively impact its critical habitat. Additionally, the California State Assembly and Senate have declared the Pacific leatherback as a California state marine reptile.

In the western Pacific, Jamursba Medi and Wermon beaches in Bird’s Head peninsula, West Papua, represent the last two major nesting sites for the Western Pacific leatherbacks. Dedicated Indonesian environmentalists, from WWF, and since 2000, UNIPA, in collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service ( Southwest Fisheries Science Center ), has spearheaded local training, monitoring, patrolling, and managing efforts to protect nesting sites, despite limited financial capacity.

Priority actions for the Western Pacific have been outlined in the Bellagio document and in the tri-national agreement between Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. A science-based beach management plan has been evaluated and implemented, and continues to be modified as more data are collected, to ensure effective protection of nests and maximized hatchling output.

Currently, the State University of Papua is the leading Indonesian institution, developing and implementing the research and conservation plan through local stakeholder partnerships.

This partnership with local stakeholders was established to address major problems caused by multiple groups being independently engaged in beach monitoring and conservation activities in Papua, which resulted in confusion for the local villagers and stakeholders, duplication of conservation and management efforts, and an undermining of any effective conservation work.

Thus all interested international groups should work cohesively to address the challenges of conserving this leatherback population, to support local partnerships, and to transfer necessary skills and resources.

The recent critical habitat and California state marine reptile designations are positive steps toward achieving conservation goals and restoring sea turtle populations. Moreover, President Barack Obama in September 2014 created the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve in the central Pacific Ocean, demonstrating his increased willingness to advance a conservation agenda.

By broadening the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument from almost 87,000 square miles to more than 490,000 square miles, Obama has protected more acres of federal land and sea than any other president in at least 50 years, and makes the area off-limits to commercial fishing.

The proclamation will mean added protections for deep-sea coral reefs and other marine ecosystems that officials say are among “the most vulnerable” to the negative effects of climate change.

The document signed by Obama noted that the expanded area contains “significant objects of scientific interest that are part of this highly pristine deep sea and open ocean ecosystem with unique biodiversity”. However, this Pacific population continues to decline at a rate of 6 percent a year and the need for conservation initiatives has become critical.

Funding for local efforts has been limited to the most pressing priorities on the nesting beaches. There is a need to also address the threats identified in local coastal and oceanic waters in order to implement the holistic strategy needed to reverse the population decline.

Enhanced cooperation between Tambrauw of Bird’s Head Seascape-Indonesia and California conservationists would strengthen the work of both sides by connecting the two regions critical to the leatherback’s life cycle. Without improved international coordination, efforts to protect the leatherback will continue to be a struggle.

The writer works at the Research Center for Pacific Marine Resources, the University of Papua in Manokwari, West Papua.

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