Best of our wild blogs: 29-30 May 2016


5 Jun (Sun): Balik Chek Jawa with the Chek Jawa community
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Butterfly Photography 101
Butterflies of Singapore

Communicating the Urgency of Climate Change Impacts in Singapore
Life in Transition

Red Egg Crab (Atergatis integerrimus) @ Sentosa
Monday Morgue


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Singapore raises concerns over haze at UN meeting

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 30 May 16;

SINGAPORE — Singapore has taken to the global stage to raise concerns about the impact of transboundary air pollution, stressing that both domestic action and greater international cooperation are essential to address the challenge.

Speaking at an event convened by the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) in Nairobi, Kenya, last week, Senior Minister of State (Health and the Environment and Water Resources) Amy Khor said air pollution stunts economic development and is detrimental to human health.

Calling it a key environmental challenge faced by many countries, Dr Khor said the burning of peatlands and forests in South-east Asia has resulted in transboundary haze.

Singapore thus works actively with countries in the region to mitigate it, she said in Singapore’s statement for the high-level segment of the UN Environment Assembly, which was attended by more than 120 environment ministers.

Dr Khor did not refer specifically to the worst-ever haze episode in the region last year, which affected tens of millions of people and cost Indonesia an estimated US$16 billion (S$22.1 billion) and Singapore about S$700 million.

Nor did she mention a recent disagreement with Indonesia, in which Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) obtained a court warrant against the director of an Indonesian company that is linked to forest fires that cause haze.

The director had failed to turn up for an interview with the authorities in Singapore despite being served a legal notice to do so when he was here. He could be detained the next time he enters the country.

But Dr Khor reiterated Singapore’s enactment of the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act in 2014 to penalise errant companies and individuals who cause haze pollution here.

“Singapore will not tolerate any actions of entities that harm the environment and put at risk the people’s health,” she said.

Singapore is also a party to the Association of South-east Asian Nations’ Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, which requires parties to take measures to prevent and control haze, said Dr Khor. Singapore collaborates with its neighbours on fire prevention and mitigation.

Civil society and businesses play an important role, she added. Civil society can boost consumer support for sustainably-sourced products, and businesses can ensure accountability in their supply chains.

The Unep’s flagship environmental publication recently highlighted the impact of peatland fires and cited transboundary haze as a pressing regional air quality challenge.

The World Health Organization estimates that seven million deaths occur every year from air pollution exposure.

Dr Khor, who was accompanied by officials from the Environment and Water Resources Ministry and the NEA, also met key partners and Unep’s outgoing executive director Achim Steiner and his successor Erik Solheim during her trip.


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Yuhua volunteers pick up litter after No Cleaner Day

LIYANA OTHMAN Today Online 30 May 16;

SINGAPORE — Nearly 480kg of rubbish were collected as part of a major clean-up exercise at Yuhua yesterday morning. This was part of a nationwide movement aimed at getting residents to take greater ownership of keeping the country litter-free.

And there was plenty to do, as several blocks in the area were not cleaned on Saturday. These blocks were designated “No Cleaner Day” by Jurong-Clementi Town Council, to discourage littering and get residents to feel responsible for their estate’s cleanliness.

But Yuhua Member of Parliament Grace Fu said the results were “less than satisfactory”.

“We have found a significant amount of litter on the ground, and we’d like to keep up with this initiative to encourage residents to be socially gracious, and to be publicly-spirited,” she said.

“So it’s about wanting to keep our environment clean (and) the public area clean — that will really make us a gracious society — (and) not just rely on cleaners.”

So what were some of the most common types of trash?

“Cigarette butts all over — especially in the flower beds — toilet paper, cotton buds, toilet roll coils thrown from toilets, I think,” said Ms Fu, who is also the Minister for Community, Culture and Youth.

“These are very common litter, which are very unhygienic, but sometimes I think an act that an individual feels is inconsequential actually adds up to a whole lot of rubbish in the morning.”

Residents, grassroots leaders as well as students and teachers from two primary schools in the area got their hands dirty as they picked up the litter.

“A lot of rubbish today because yesterday there was no cleaning, so we had to pick up a lot of rubbish today,” said Ramachandran, a 69-year-old resident. “Awareness should be brought to them to clean up because this is their own place, Singapore is their own place.”

Mr Johan Lim, a Primary 4 student at Yuhua Primary School, said: “This activity is quite hard, so I think I gained a lot of experience from doing this and at the same time it’s also quite fun. It’s fun because I made a lot of new friends and I get to put myself in the cleaners’ shoes, so that I can help to clean up the environment and help to clean up the community.”

Some of the estate’s cleaners were also at the event to receive recognition for their service and dedication.


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Pulau Ubin: Saving what's precious at water's edge

Straits Times editorial 30 May 16;

Plans by the State to rehabilitate Pulau Ubin's crumbling shoreline would cheer many who see the island's 720 native plant species and more than 500 animal species as precious natural assets that should be safeguarded. There was a time when some wanted Ubin to be simply left alone, as when the Chek Jawa Wetlands controversy arose 15 years ago. Such thinking has since evolved.

The seemingly paradoxical demands highlight the challenge of conservation as new threats arise alongside existing ones.

Climate change, for example, is expected to heighten coastal erosion in many places as sea levels rise and project more wave energy to the shoreline. Up to 20 per cent of coastal wetlands are expected to suffer, according to studies elsewhere. Wilder storms and shifting currents (due to shipping traffic and land reclamation) also play a part. Much of what has been learnt from efforts to protect Ubin could be applied to other coastal areas here that are being besieged.

Caught between advancing development and the deep blue sea are the world's 70 species of mangroves that might disappear altogether, say scientists. That would be a considerable loss as tidal wetland ecosystems formed by mangrove forests help prevent erosion, sustain mudskippers, crabs, snails and birds, and help to improve water quality.

Singapore had 6,400ha of mangroves in 1953 but only a fraction now remains, mostly in Ubin, Sungei Buloh, Labrador Park and Pasir Ris. Quite apart from the value of saving endangered species like the Eye of the Crocodile tree species, protection of mangroves can reinforce the effectiveness of man-made sea walls that will be needed to hold back the seas. A combination of natural and engineering methods is envisaged for Ubin which is facing severe erosion in its northern areas, leading to the closure of popular Noordin Beach.

Small though it is - about the size of Changi Airport - Ubin can play a useful role in promoting awareness of the threats being faced by coastal areas. Every new generation needs to appreciate that conservation is a never-ending task, not just along the coast but also farther inland - like the reforestation undertaken earlier at the western side of Ubin to restore the land after a bush fire there. In joining hands for such efforts, people might value more the biodiversity that remains.

Such appreciation can act as a buffer against any invasive land-use plans that might emerge in the future. One cannot rule out radical approaches should demands arise for more land for development. The 2001 Concept Plan, for example, had mentioned the possibility of linking Ubin, Tekong and Changi. Thankfully, plans have since emerged to keep Ubin the way it is for now - protecting what still thrives there and preserving traces of what used to be.


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Singapore beaches vital to turtles' survival

Lin Yangchen Straits Times AsiaOne 29 May 16;

Singapore's sandy beaches are a popular place for people to enjoy a relaxing day off, but they are also vital to the survival of one of the world's most fascinating creatures.

Throughout the year, endangered sea turtles make landfall on beaches like Changi and East Coast Park to lay their eggs.

The emerging baby turtles, however, risk being trampled on by people or disoriented by bright city lights.

More than 200 turtle hatchlings have been rescued from such predicaments since 2009, according to the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

Soon, turtle eggs will have a safe place to develop should they need protection, with plans being hatched for the country's first sea turtle hatchery, supported by a $500,000 donation from HSBC Singapore.

The facility will be set up at the southern lagoon on Small Sisters' Island by the end of next year, and will form an integral part of Singapore's first marine park.

National University of Singapore's (NUS) Mr N. Sivasothi, who has been working with Acres, the National Parks Board (NParks) and volunteers in turtle rescue and release since the 1990s, said: "This initiative will be very helpful in coordinating action and educating people who may not know we have turtles landing on our shores to lay eggs."

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), noted that the effort could facilitate the collection of reliable population data, especially in the face of rising sea temperatures.

Turtle beach sagas have been chronicled in Singapore for about 20 years.

Back in 1996, a group of colleagues having a barbecue at East Coast Park could not believe their eyes when a turtle came up on the beach and laid 100 eggs. One of them said she thought that "it was impossible for such things to happen in Singapore".

In 2006, rollerbladers at East Coast Park raced to rescue about 80 hatchlings crawling haphazardly onto cycling tracks and falling into drains, disoriented by lit lampposts.

Since 2012, there have been 10 reported sightings of turtle hatchlings or adults laying eggs on the shores of East Coast Park and Changi Beach, said NParks, while Acres said it receives about six calls a year related to sea turtle sightings on Singapore's beaches.

When a turtle sighting is reported, an NParks officer will assess the situation on site, and decisions are made based on sound science, in consultation with Acres and NUS where necessary, said Dr Karenne Tun, director of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre.

"It is best to leave the eggs in the natural habitat that the turtle has chosen," said Acres deputy chief executive Anbarasi Boopal.

Eggs are moved only when there are risks such as poaching, predation, pollution or flooding and the risks cannot be mitigated on site.

Ms Boopal added that Acres would look at getting hands-on training from other hatcheries and turtle rehabilitation centres in the region, and adapt it to Singapore's context.

Turtles remain under threat in the region despite the presence of more than 10 sea turtle sanctuaries and hatcheries in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Their eggs are popular as a delicacy in Malaysia, with a study finding that more than 400,000 eggs were traded in the state of Terengganu in 2007. Turtle eggs were sold in Singapore many years ago before it became illegal to harvest them.

With the new hatchery, there will be one more safe refuge where they can develop close to their natural environment.

Mr Beng said that the design of the hatchery, which has not been finalised, should include a buffer zone of native vegetation and reduce light pollution, which can be fatal to nesting females and their young.

Besides hatching eggs and studying local sea turtle populations, the facility will conduct outreach programmes.

HSBC staff will also be involved in habitat maintenance and possibly the collection of eggs.

Said HSBC Singapore chief executive Guy Harvey-Samuel: "Building a sustainable environment requires public and private sectors, NGOs and communities to work together to deliver lasting positive changes."

Mr Beng stressed that outreach activities must be managed carefully to minimise disturbance to the turtles, giving the example of one overseas nesting site where the nesting population crashed following swelling tourist numbers.

"The hatchery must remain a place for the benefit of the sea turtle and not one for human entertainment."

Turtle haven

Singapore is in a region considered by the World Wildlife Fund to be one of the world's most important for sea turtles, as it is next to Indonesia whose sprawling archipelagoes host all but one of the world's seven species of these reptiles.

Five turtle species have been recorded in the waters around Singapore, although only two are regulars here - the green and the hawksbill.

The green turtle is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List as endangered, while the hawksbill is critically endangered.

Hawksbill populations have suffered from centuries of hunting for their beautiful shells, which are used to make ornaments.

The three other species that have been seen in Singapore are the leatherback, loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), said that sea turtles demonstrate the interconnectivity of marine and coastal ecosystems.

"The sea turtle relies on our coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves for food and shelter, and needs our sandy beaches for reproduction," he said.

"By conserving our sea turtles and studying them, other marine species and habitats may benefit as well."

In 2010, Underwater World Singapore released 18 hawksbill turtles, eight of them outfitted with satellite tracking devices, in a study of migratory behaviour in collaboration with organisations in Japan and the United States.

One of them travelled more than 2,600km in 83 days, reaching waters near the Philippines.


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Malaysia: Hunters to become the hunted

HEMANANTHANI SIVANANDAM and SIM LEOI LEOI The Star 30 May 16;

PUTRAJAYA: The heat is on for poachers of Malaysian wildlife. They will now come under fire from both fronts – legally and with heavier firearms.

In an interview with The Star, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the authorities were looking into the possibility of further arming enforcement officers.

“We have been given some firearms by the Home Ministry. If there is demand and requirements, I am willing to go and see Deputy Prime Minister (who is the Home Minister) to see how we can further arm our officers,” he said.

A recent survey suggests that rangers in 11 tiger range countries which include Malaysia said they faced life-threatening situations from poachers and the community.

“Hunters go to the forest carrying guns but our people carry parang. If you have officers with a gun, they will have the upper hand. We need to look at things in perspective,” Wan Junaidi said.

He was asked if the ministry would consider arming wildlife enforcement officers in Peninsula Malaysia, considering rampant cases of killing by armed poachers.

Under Section 8 of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, he said National Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) enforcement officers were authorised to carry weapons in the exercise of their duties.

“The authorities involved in the operation will be supplied with arms by the department.

“There are also joint operations with other enforcement agencies, such as the army and police, if there is a risk involving wildlife crimes,” he said.

This comes as the conservation groups warned of links between organised crime groups and the illegal trade of wildlife, such as tiger and sunbear carcasses and their parts.

In the Ranger Perceptions: Asia survey, some 334 of the 530 rangers surveyed in 11 tiger range countries said they had faced life threatening situations with 74% of them also saying that they were not provided with proper equipment and amenities in their work.

The first ever United Nations World Wildlife Crime report also identified Malaysia as one of the top reptile skin exporters, saying that much of the trade was illegally sourced.

Dr Wan Junaidi said the ministry was also looking into amending the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, which could see offenders fined up to RM1mil and be whipped.

Currently, the highest penalty that could be imposed on offenders under the Act, he said, was a fine of up to RM500,000 and a prison term of not more than five years.

“During the five years of the implementation, the Government finds that there is a need to amend the Act in force now.”


‘Yes’ to armed wildlife officers
HEMANANTHANI SIVANANDAM The Star 1 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: The proposal to arm wildlife and forest enforcement officers has been raised and praised in a number of forums by conservation groups.

Calling it a good initiative, Malaysian Nature Society president Henry Goh said the proposal was an added measure to protect wildlife.

“For various reasons, this has not been carried out. Firearms will provide a measure for the officers to protect themselves as well as be a deterrent to poachers,” he said.

Goh was commenting on The Star report that the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry was looking at arming the officers.

Its minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar had said that under Section 8 of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, National Wildlife and National Parks Department enforcement officers were authorised to carry weapons while on duty.

Traffic South-East Asia regional director Dr Chris R. Shepherd said wildlife officers and rangers around the world were increasingly coming under threat because poachers and organised crime networks were involved in illegal wildlife trade.

“The poachers and criminal gangs are well funded and well armed. There are a number of cases where these officers have been shot, wounded and even killed in the line of duty.

“They are up against great odds, risking their lives to protect an area and wildlife,” he said.

Dr Shepherd said Malaysia has very strong laws, especially in the peninsula, when it comes to wildlife conservation but continues to be plagued by illegal wildlife trade.

“Increasing penalties may be helpful but ultimately, disrupting the wildlife crime networks from top to bottom and removing the kingpins is important,” he said.


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Malaysia: 152 more officers needed to safeguard marine parks

The Star 30 May 16;

LANGKAWI: An additional 152 enforcement officers and more specific legal provisions are needed to safeguard marine parks in the country, says Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

The Natural Resources and Environment Minister said currently, there were only about 100 officers with an average of three in one patrol boat at any one time.

Dr Wan Junaidi said the number was not sufficient and exposed them to danger while carrying out enforcement duties.

“We want enforcement duties to be safer,” he said. “We do not want problems to occur before improving the (standard operating procedure) norms,” he said after launching three new catamaran patrol boats for the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia here yesterday.

Wan Junaidi said the department could emulate the operating procedures of other agencies that placed at least seven officers to a boat.

“I will meet the director-general of the Public Service to convince him of the real situation,” he said.

The minister said he had also instructed department director-general Datuk Dr Sukarno Sugianto to prepare a draft for the Marine Parks Bill so that it could be studied before it was tabled in Parliament.

He said since its inception in 2004, the department was still carrying out enforcement based on provisions under the Fisheries Act 1985.

“By right, laws should have been enacted at the time so that the department would have had its own laws,” he said.

Dr Wan Junaidi said the department should give urgent attention to this matter to enable it to have a clear basis for enforcement in relation to its role of maintaining the country’s marine parks.

“It is my wish that during the Budget sitting at the end of the year, we should be able to get the first reading of the Bill,” he said. “Then at least, the law can be implemented by 2017.” — Bernama


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Malaysia: We’ll conserve tapir our way, says Junaidi

The Star 30 May 16;

PUTRAJAYA: The Malayan tapir will not be joining the other black and white icon, the panda, as part of Malaysia’s diplomacy with other countries.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the Malaysian Government had its own way of making the conservation of the species a success through its cooperation with Japan.

“It’s certainly not like the Panda diplomacy,” he said in an interview, referring to the gift of pandas by China as a symbol of friendship with various countries.

The tapir – known as the eater of nightmares among the Japanese – is protected in Malaysia.

A pair of tapir has recently been sent to the world-class Nagasaki Bio Park for 10 years under a conservation programme by Malaysia and Japan.

“With the ongoing pressure facing the Malayan tapir in peninsular Malaysia, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan) deems it timely to prepare a Conservation Action Plan for the species to guide conservation management through the next decade,” he said.

Between 2010 and last year, 68 Malayan tapirs were rescued while 54 were victims of road accidents in the last 10 years.

Perhilitan identified 133 locations – known as hotspots – for tapir crossings.

To help curb such accidents, Dr Wan Junaidi said 236 “Tapir Crossing Signboards”, 37 transverse bars and 24 amber lights were installed at these hot spots to warn road users.


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Malaysia: Elephants destroy more than 2,000 banana trees in Baling

BERNAMA New Straits Times 30 May 16;

BALING: More than 2,000 banana trees that were already bearing fruit have been destroyed by elephants roaming near Kampung Batu 8.

Villagers are getting anxious as the wild animals which also destroyed almost 1,000 oil palm trees had been seen to be approaching the residence particularly around midnight.

“Despite lodging a report, no action has been taken by the authorities including the Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

Farmer Yahya Mat Isa, 55, said 200 of his banana trees had been destroyed by elephants in the past three months.

“I don’t dare to take any action except report the matter to the authorities,” he said.

Another farmer Yaakub Saad, 67, concurred that there had been no action or compensation from the relevant authorities for their losses following the destruction by the elephants.

“Some parties suggested that we have no right to seek compensation as the crops were planted on government land.

But we have not received any even though the land belonged to us,” he lamented.


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Malaysia: Oil spill threatens 5km coastline in Penang

R. SEKARAN The Star 29 May 16;

GEORGE TOWN: An oil spill has polluted a 5km coastline on the island stretching from Swettenham Pier to Gurney Drive.

Sea currents pushed the black oil – estima­ted to be a few thousand litres – to the shoreline, creating a slimy strip up to 2m wide in some stretches.

Penang Port chief operating officer Sasedha­ran Vasudevan said the spill was first detected at the Prai Bulk Terminal on the mainland on Friday night.

Clean up operations by the port, Department of Environment (DOE) and private oil companies began immediately, he said, but not before sea currents spread the oil to the island.

Sasedharan said the private oil companies deployed their tugboats and manpower to manually scoop the scum up.

DOE state director Nor Juliana Jaafar said the department had sent personnel to inspect ships along the channel in an attempt to find the culprit.

It has also sent the oil for analysis with the results expected to be known tomorrow.

“It’s not a continuous line but there are patches of the oil seen all along the affected coastline. We have asked the Marine Depart­ment to help determine the extent of the damage,” she said, adding that DOE would also inspect the spill from the air.

State Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said initial tests showed that it was a mix of fuel and engine oil.

“We have zeroed down to one ship that could have caused this during the investigation. We will check further and take action soon,” he said.

Meanwhile, photographs of the incident are spreading on Facebook, showing fishermen’s nets covered in the oil.

The last time an oil spill occurred here was in May 2012 when hotel guests in Batu Fer­ringhi found strips of sand polluted with black oil on the beach.


Oil spill in waters off Penang mopped up
R. SEKARAN The Star 30 May 16;

GEORGE TOWN: An oil spill that polluted a 5km coastline stretching from Swettenham Pier to Gurney Drive has been cleaned up.

Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB) chief operating officer V. Sasedharan said the clean-up operation that involved the PPSB, the Marine Department, the Department of Environment (DOE) and private oil companies was completed at 2.55pm yesterday.

Earlier, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said it was “totally unacceptable” that the Federal Government kept Penang in the dark about the spill.

Describing it as an “environmental crisis,” Lim said the state government was only informed after 24 hours.

“The spill involved a 70km sq area. I have been trying to get in touch with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim) since Saturday for more information but could not reach him,” Lim said after visiting the Sri Kahlee Amman temple in Air Itam yesterday.

“We have identified the vessel responsible for the spill,” added Lim.

Checks showed that the vessel was an oil tanker built in 2011 and registered in Port Klang.

“While we understand that it’s a Federal Government operation, we should have been informed early,” Lim said.

DOE officer Nor Juliana Jaafar denied that the source of the spill had been identified as investigations were still on-going.

“I am not aware of the information and our reports on the incident are directly handed over to the director-general. However, we can confirm that it was fuel oil,” she said.

The oil spill was detected near the Prai Bulk Terminal on Friday night.

The oil slick spread to The Esplanade and Gurney Drive where pictures showed strips of black oil at the shorelines.


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Malaysia: Strong winds and rough seas off Perlis and Kedah until Tuesday

BERNAMA New Straits Times 30 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Strong south-westerly winds between 40 and 50km per hour with high waves of up to 3.5 metres are expected in the waters off Perlis and Kedah until this Tuesday.

The Meterological Department, in a statement today, said thunderstorms were expected to persist in the waters off Perlis, Kedah, Penang and Kelantan until early tomorrow morning.

“Such a (weather) condition can cause strong winds of up to 50km per hour, with waves up to 3.5 metres.

It is dangerous for small boats, and sea recreational and sports activities,” it said.

Meanwhile, strong winds and choppy seas category one alert are also expected to occur in the waters off Phuket until Tuesday.

The statement said the southwesterly winds of between 40 and 50km per hour with waves of up to 3.5 metres were risky to any sea activity in the areas.


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Malaysia: We love our food – but we’re wasting tons of it daily

SHAHANAAZ HABIB The Star 29 May 16;

IS food in Malaysia so cheap that we take it for granted? When we eat at the mamak shops, at coffee shops, hawker centres, cafes, restaurants or hotels do we ask about the size of the portions?

Do we tell servers to give us less rice or less noodles or less of whatever we don’t want or like so that we don’t waste it?

Do we feel a tad guilty when we look at our unfinished plate of food? Do we think of those in our country who are hungry and might not have eaten for the day? And do we ask ourselves what all that waste is doing to the environment?

Dr Anni Miten does.

The executive director of the South-East Asia Council for Food Security and Fair Trade (Seacon) says she feels sad at the way so many people in this country take food for granted.

“There is no more element of people enjoying food sitting around appreciating the food or even asking where the food has come from.’’

Dr Anni Miten,Executive director of Southeast Asia Council for Food Security and Fair Trade ( Seacon) says she is sad the way people in Malaysia take food for granted.

If you don’t want the bread or potato that comes with your food, just tell them not to give it to you even though the price of your meal is the same. - Dr Anni Miten

She thinks “sharing food is something noble and part of our culture” and is somewhat exasperated at how much food people waste.

When Miten orders lamb at a particular restaurant she frequents she asks for only two pieces instead of the normal portion because that is all that she can eat. She is happy to pay full price for it because she knows she did not waste.

“If you don’t want the bread or potato that comes with your food , just tell them not to give it to you even though the price of your meal is still the same. Or tell them to pack it and take it home with you. Don’t waste.

“This is our responsibility as consumers.’’

Malaysians waste 15,000 tonnes of food daily – piled up, that would come up to about 16 KLCCs!

The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) estimates that of that amount wasted, 3,000 tonnes is actually untouched, edible and should not even have been thrown away.

All this makes Miten question how much of the country’s RM45bil food import bill for last year was really efficiently utilised and how much of it went to waste.

“This is a cost to the country. And the waste has to be treated,” she points out.

This is one reason why she wonders if it is wise for the Government to control the price of some food items, like rice. Because the price of rice is subsidised, it’s a cheap food item and people don’t think twice about leaving it on their plates – throwing it away, in other words.

“If there is no more price control on rice, will it make Malaysians jump?” she wonders.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) policy officer Dr Daneswar Poonyth, however, says the government shouldn’t be blamed.

“The Government is making food affordable – but does it mean that because it is made affordable you waste it? It is going to cost the Government more down the road to manage the waste. And the government never told you to waste food.”

He points out that in 2007, 2008 and 2009 when global food prices went up, globally everyone adjusted and went from buying high quality to low quality. But not in Malaysia, the adjustment was not there.

“People shouted that prices were increasing but they did not adjust their consumption and basket. We say when food prices increase, it will reduce the waste. But here in Malaysia when prices increase, waste increases. Economics fails here,” he says.

At Tuesday’s MySaveFood Forum orga­nised by Mardi, solid waste management company SWCorp said that, according to its findings, Malaysians end up throwing away a quarter of what they buy in a month because the food has expired or gone bad or is wasted during preparation or consumption – see details in graphic on right.

As the figures in the graphic show, this works out to RM2,700 a year – “And that’s a lot of money,” points out Agustina Fithri Kasmaruddin, an SWCorp officer.

Agustina is a working mother and she has come to realise that buying food for a week just doesn’t work. Some days she has to work late, some days she gets stuck in a traffic jam, so on those days her kids buy their food. So nowadays, Agustina buys fresh food every two to three days. That way she doesn’t waste. And any leftover vegetables are fed to the family’s pet rabbit.

FAO’s Daneswar says, individually, people might not feel it so much when they save RM100, but that saving adds up and helps the Government: “If a million Malaysians do that, it reduces the cost of imported food coming into the country.

He says the target is to reduce the amount of food that goes into the bin.

“We can’t deny that Malaysians love food. It is a culture. But if I love something, should I throw it away? I should cherish it.”

Chefs are trained about food safety rules, he says, “So why can’t a similar training be given to them to reduce portion sizes? It would be a gain-gain, for restaurants and consumers.”

In many developed countries, people have to pay for the waste they put out.

Daneswar says in Rome people are given a weight limit of the waste coming out from their house. If they put out an extra plastic bag to be collected, it will be weighed and they will be billed for the excess waste at the end of the month.

Seacon’s Miten says it took South Korea more than 20 years to change people’s attitude to waste.

The Government first got people to separate their waste. Then 15 years later, they banned organic waste in landfills, which meant that people had to manage their own kitchen waste. This made some neighbourhoods get into composting their waste for fertiliser.

Then the Government tightened waste regu­lations even more, Miten says, explaining how the authorities introduced a smart card and weighed whatever came out of the kitchen and charged people accordingly – “So you’d find people even squeezing all the water and liquid out of the waste.’’

Changing behaviour in Malaysia is not going to be easy.

“Once they feel the pinch, they will do it,’’ says Miten.


Of fish bones and carrot peelings
SHAHANAAZ HABIB The Star 29 May 16;

We do love our huge buffet spreads. But they pose a challenge to chefs and hotels when it comes to reducing food waste.

THERE is an art to buffet dining.

You don’t just load everything in sight on your plate and then sit down to eat.

“The art of buffet eating is how many times you go to the buffet line. It is OK to go back 10,000 times but just eat that portion. As simple as that,” says Siti R. Ismail who teaches culinary arts at Taylor’s University.

When Siti is at a buffet, she will go up to take food a minimum of six times! But the portions she takes each time are very small: “I will have my salads first, then my bread and soup, after that my cheeses, then my main course. Usually I eat a very limited main course. Then I will have the desserts.

“Being a chef I feel I need to try every single thing but I try only a bit,” she says.

What about taking a lot of some items, usually cakes and desserts, for the whole table to share?

For Siti, that is a no-no: “Once you are aware of the art of buffet dining, you will never do that,” she says.

Malaysians are such lovers of food that we delight in huge buffet spreads at hotels or restaurants – the bigger, the better! Call it greed or being kiasu, or over-ambitious, it is common to see people heap food onto their plates and then leave half of it uneaten to be thrown away.

The Dorsett Putrajaya is a new hotel that has yet to have its official opening but already about 30kg-50kg of food goes to waste every day, says chief steward Husairi Ali.

He knows all about the wastage that happens at hotels: at a hotel resort he worked at a few years ago, the food waste was a whopping 800kg a day.

He says there is a lack of awareness among consumers when it comes to wasting food and what happens to the food.

“They pay a lot of money and want to consume a lot. When it is not according to their taste or they can’t finish it, they just leave it on the table. During peak periods, food wasted at resorts can come up to more than one tonne a day,” he says – enough to feed 300 to 400 people if it was converted to rice!

Siti says many hotels have started to put out smaller portions in buffets these days to prevent wastage. Desserts, for instance, sometimes come in bite sizes, and there are also food stations where you get food cooked on the spot.

“In the mornings, there would be chefs doing eggs at the egg station even though there is already scrambled eggs in the buffet. A lot of customers like the personalised service. They prefer to see their food being cooked.

“This is a win-win situation because the customer wants it fresh and hotels can reduce wastage,” says Siti who is the deputy dean in the department of Culinary Arts and Food Service Management at Taylor’s University.

Siti says reducing wastage and, hence, food costs is knowledge that professional chefs need: “It is part of the business mindset. The bosses will check how you reduce costs. So you would need to know how to use your creativity to get full use from ingredients.

“If you do not utilise all parts of the salmon, what are you going to do about it? Can you make a fish stock with the bones? When you peel the carrots, can you use the peel for something else?’’

All this is part of the culinary arts syllabus and during exams, the examiner will actually check the student chefs’ garbage to see how much is being wasted – because it all affects cost.

Dorsett’s Husairi adds that food wastage is not confined to the kitchen and prepared food that is not eaten. Waste starts from the very beginning, at the delivery stage, he points out.

“We have a problem with suppliers. We expect the food to come in proper containers and packaging but some suppliers don’t have a proper policy for hygiene and sanitation. So goods sometimes come in dirty containers and boxes that make it easy for the food to spoil.”

When it comes to food that goes off easily, like meat and chicken, there is also the need to check if the supplier is using a chiller or refrigerated truck to deliver the goods to the hotel.

As for leftover food from the buffet, Husairi says it has to be thrown away even if it’s untouched and still looks fresh. It cannot be donated to the homeless or the needy or even given to hotel staff, as regulations do not allow it.

“Those are the regulations from the Health Ministry and Jakim (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia). When we do charity, we cook fresh new food to give away.”

As for Taylor’s University, they do a bit of cooking for charity, too.

Siti says when some of the food they have in the department’s kitchen is about to expire but is still good, the students look at how they can use up those ingredients.

Last Sunday morning, for instance, they had tomatoes and meat that was about to expire, so they made and packed spaghetti Bolognese for 300 people and an NGO they work with distributed the food to the needy that day for lunch.

“We have been doing this since 2007. The students understand the need to pay it forward and give back to society.

“As a chef, these are the easiest things that we can do. It doesn’t take much because the ingredients are all right there at the school. Students get to volunteer, engage with organisations and cook for kids or whoever needs it.”


The Lost Food Project: Getting food where it’s needed
The Star 29 May 16;

EVERY Tuesday and Thursday a few volunteers from the Lost Food Project get in their cars and head to the side entrance of Bangsar Shopping Complex in Kuala Lumpur to pick up bread, fresh fruits and surplus food donated by Jason’s Hall supermarket for the needy.

The volunteers sort the food based on the needs of the five organisations they are working with – Lighthouse Orphanage, Kechara Soup Kitchen, Women’s Aid Organisation, Malaysian Social Research Institute and the Alliance of Chin Refugees – then deliver the food that very evening or, at the latest, the next morning.

“Most people think that food nearing its expiry date has gone off or doesn’t taste very good. That is a complete misconception. Some of the food is of very good quality and it is a real sin that it is thrown away,” said Suzanne Mooney, founder of the Lost Food Project who was at Tuesday’s MySaveFood Forum organised by Mardi (the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute).

“What we do is collect surplus food from the supermarkets and different manufacturers and simply redistribute these foods to those in need. So in effect we are actually a logistics organisation,” she said.

The group’s focus is to address food waste issues.

“We feed people. We feed them a very nutritious diet. Almost half of the food that is thrown away is fruits and vegetables. These are most often the foods that go off. And this is the kind of food that many of the organisations that we are giving food to lack. It is nutrition as well as feeding people,” Mooney said.

The project’s efforts are expanding rapidly since they began in February. Their main donors currently are Jason’s and Campbells; they have started working with Sime Darby and are looking to work with Cold Storage and other supermarkets and hypermarkets in the near future.

In fact, they are already talking about needing warehousing space to store donations while sorting and arranging delivery. The two refrigerated trucks they recently received will also help with that.

“We know there is a lot of food out there. People are approaching us now and we have to logistically organise it so that the food goes to those in need,” she said.

One of the reasons the Lost Food Project works well is because it has watertight contracts drawn up that protect the supermarkets and manu­facturers that provide the surplus food.

“We believe hotels, supermarkets, shops and restaurants are very concerned about giving away food for various reasons. They are worried about the health issues and the whole issue of logistics and the economics of it.

“This way, they know that they are not going to be sued because we are doing this. We are following legal standards to the highest degree. They are not going to get in trouble with anybody.”

Mooney also said the Lost Food Project has professional food safety officers on board.

“Our SOP is very important to us so that there are no problems, issues and sicknesses because we store everything following professional standards.”

She hopes eventually there will be similar efforts nationwide.

“That is what happens in other countries and I don’t see why it can’t happen here.

“We are reducing waste, cutting down the environmental bill and feeding people who need it. It makes sense.”


Not the time to waste food
SHAHANAAZ HABIB The Star 29 May 16;

KUALA LUMPUR : During the fasting month Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki is “definitely not” going to be hosting any Ramadan buffets at a hotel.

The deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department who is in charge of Islamic affairs expressed concern that the spirit of Ramadan is being distorted by putting a lot of emphasis on “food-related activity” such as the Ramadan buffets and the bazaars.

He said people were going overboard by spending extravagantly on food, buying too much, over-eating and wasting.

“Sometimes people have a misleading perspective of Ramadan as if it is a ‘Festival of Food’. It should be a ‘Festival of Ibadah’ (worship) and a test period. It is the month of rituals to enhance your spritual attachment to God and it is a platform to train your lust and desire.

“It helps make one’s personality better when people go through the whole month of Ramadan with moderation and a clear understanding of the philosophy, principles and spiritual dimension of the holy month, they would step up their good moral behaviour to other fellow human beings.

“Your stomach shouldn’t be full at night because that will make it difficult to perform all the rituals. And there are additional rituals like the terawih prayers performed only during Ramadan.” he said.

Dr Asyraf said whether or not it is the fasting month, the basic principle in Islam is not to get your stomach full.

“The Holy Prophet always kept his stomach one third empty. That’s why the philosophy behind eating in Islam is that you eat only when you are hungry and and stop before you are full.”

For him, the spirit of Ramadan is being distorted by marketing and the promotion of Ramadan buffets.

“This needs to be rectified because the culture we have at the moment leads to negative behaviour such as the wastage of food,” he said.

He feels very sad when he sees people piling up so much food on their plates during the Ramadan buffets but not being able to finish even half of it.

“It is as if we are not really concerned about our fellow brothers who are poor and needy. We have already lost our humanity and we are not performing what God prescribed upon us. We shouldn’t waste food like that. It gives a misleading image of Islam and is not what the religion taught us!

“The Quran tells us not to act in an extravagant manner. The throwing away of food and wastage is not condoned by the religion.”

Dr Asyraf advised Muslims not to waste their money on buffets. And if they do go for one, they should be modest and moderate in whatever they consume.

“Whenever you want to spend hundreds of ringgit for a Ramadan buffet , always think about the other people who are poor and in need and who would cherish RM1 of your money. That can buy something precious to them.

“This is actually how Ramadan trains you to be humane, not just to be a good Muslim that worships Allah but a good Muslim who takes care of other people and those in need,” he said.


Research shows Malaysians waste enough to feed millions daily
DANIAL ALBAKRI The Star 31 May 16;

PETALING JAYA: Every year, an average Malaysian household throws away more than one month’s salary on food they don’t eat, research by Solid Waste Corporation Management (SWCorp) concluded.

The food that Malaysians waste not only affects their pockets, but it is estimated to be enough to feed millions daily.

The research found that about a quarter of the food is wasted by Malaysians during preparation, production and consumption.

“In one study conducted by SWCorp, a household with five people spends an average of RM900 on food alone.

“If we take into account the fact that a quarter of food is wasted during preparation, production and consumption, the value of food thrown into the trash can every month is equivalent to RM225,” said SWCorp Technology Research Division environmental control officer Agustina Fithri Kasmaruddin.

This would total a whopping RM2,700 a year, which is more than RM2,400, the mean monthly salary for an individual in an urban area, according to the Department of Statistics’ Salaries & Wages Survey Report 2014.

Another study conducted by SWCorp showed that Malaysians generated 38,000 tonnes of solid waste daily in 2016, of which 15,000 tonnes was food waste.

It found that 20%, or 3,000 tonnes, of this food waste was avoidable.

Avoidable food waste, Agustina explained, was food that could still be eaten when it was thrown, adding that “people rarely finish the food on their plates.”

“Based on SWCorp’s study, the average weight of an individual’s meal is 0.45kg a meal.

“15,000 tonnes of food waste can feed 11 million people with three meals a day,” said Agustina.

Avoidable food waste, using the same logic, could feed 2.2 million people three full meals a day of perfectly edible food.

“It’s very worrying. Looking at the economy right now, people are suffering. Some can’t even afford to eat,” said Agustina.

The issues of food loss and food waste are becoming more and more prevalent as key matters for leaders to address as Malaysia’s food security becomes increasingly a national concern.

Food loss here means the loss of food between the farms and the retailers, in the case of the produce damaged during harvesting and transportation.

Food waste, on the other hand, is the food that is discarded by retailers and consumers, for instance unsold food that is destroyed by a supermarket after they pass their expiry date as well as uneaten food at hotel buffets.

“The issue of food waste is relatively new in the Malaysian context. It was very recently that the FAO said that food waste was important to food security.

“If we can reduce food waste, we can improve the food security situation. After post-harvest losses, the main issue in food security is food waste,” said Mardi’s Economic and Social Science Research Centre director Dr Rozhan Abu Dardak.

But what can the average Malaysian do to reduce food waste?

According Dr Ainu Husna M S Suhaimi, head secretariat of the MYSaveFood Initiative, it is all about proper planning and awareness.

“It all starts with planning, if you plan your shopping well, you can reduce food waste.

“Use a basket instead of a trolley, use cash instead of credit card.

Dr Ainu also said that overeating was itself a form of food waste and that reduced portions were encouraged.

“Malaysians believe it is better to cook more than being insufficient, but it should be the other way round,” she added. Leftovers should be frozen for later consumption and whatever that remains can be composted or fed to pets.

Passing this information on was part of the MYSaveFood initiative agenda, she explained.

“The MYSaveFood initiative gathers a network of government agencies, private companies and NGOs and informs everyone that everyone wastes,” she said.

They do this mainly through awareness programmes and forums such as the forum that was held last week in conjunction with the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry.

Initiatives by other agencies have also helped to bring food waste into the forefront, including the Lost Food Project that was recently launched.

The project introduced a food surplus collection service in partnership with Jasons Food Hall that pools together products and delivers to five charities twice a week.

“Everyone can do our own bit. Food waste is definitely a change of attitude and mindset, while food loss is more about technology,” said Dr Ainu.


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Indonesia: Sea turtle nesting season gets underway in Yogyakarta

Antara 28 May 16;

Bantul, Yogyakarta (ANTARA News) - Sea turtle nesting season has begun at the southern coast of Yogyakarta this month and will last till this year-end, an observer said here Saturday.

"It has been more than a week that sea turtles are coming to nest," a volunteer of sea turtle conservation of Goa Cemara Beach of Bantul, Subaya, disclosed here on Saturday.

The volunteers have so far found two sea turtle nests, one containing 95 eggs, while the other had 110 eggs.

Those eggs are predicted to hatch in the next 50 days.

However, the number of sea turtle nests found at the Goa Cemara Beach has been diminishing in recent years.

"Last year, we only found 10 nests. In fact, earlier the number used to reach 13 to 28 nests," Subaya pointed out.

The abrasion on the southern coast of Yogyakarta might be the reason behind the diminishing sea turtle nests since some beaches have a steep 45 degree slope, making it difficult for the sea turtle to climb the beach sand to nest.

The hatching season which will last until the end of the year will be a critical time when people can help preserve sea turtles and hatchlings, he observed.


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'Huge wake up call': Third of central, northern Great Barrier Reef corals dead

Peter Hannam Sydney Morning Herald 30 May 16;

More than one-third of the coral reefs of the central and northern regions of the Great Barrier Reef have died in the huge bleaching event earlier this year, Queensland researchers said.

Corals to the north of Cairns – covering about two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef – were found to have an average mortality rate of 35 per cent, rising to more than half in areas around Cooktown.

The study, of 84 reefs along the reef, found corals south of Cairns had escaped the worst of the bleaching and were now largely recovering any colour that had been lost.

Professor Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said he was "gobsmacked" by the scale of the coral bleaching which far exceeded the two previous events in 1998 and 2002.

"It is fair to say we were all caught by surprise," Professor Hughes said. "It's a huge wake up call because we all thought that coral bleaching was something that happened in the Pacific or the Caribbean which are closer to the epicentre of El Nino events."

The El Nino of 2015-16 was among the three strongest on record but the starting point was about 0.5 degrees warmer than the previous monster of 1997-98 as rising greenhouse gas emissions lifted background temperatures. Reefs in many regions, such as Fiji and the Maldives, have also been hit hard.

Bleaching occurs when abnormal conditions, such as warm seas, cause corals to expel tiny photosynthetic algae, called zooxanthellae. Corals turn white without these algae and may die if the zooxanthellae do not recolonise them.

The northern end of the Great Barrier Reef was home to many 50- to 100-year-old corals that had died and may struggle to rebuild before future El Ninos push tolerance beyond thresholds.

"How likely is it that they will fully recover before we get a fourth or a fifth bleaching event?" Professor Hughes said.

The health of the reef has been a contentious political issue, with Environment Minister Greg Hunt pledging more funds in the May budget to improve water quality – one aspect affecting coral health.

But Mr Hunt has also had to explain why his department instructed the UN to cut out a section on Australia from a report that dealt with the threat of climate change to World Heritage sites including the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu.

'10 cyclones holding hands'

Professor Hughes said tropical cyclones can cut a 50km-wide swatch of destruction of corals, but this year's bleaching event was like "10 cyclones holding hands and marching across the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef".

But cyclones can also help. The category-five Cyclone Winston that slammed into Fiji in February, brought widespread rains over parts of Queensland as a tropical depression, helping to lower sea temperatures by two degrees and sparing much of the southern corals from severe bleaching, Professor Hughes said.

Even so, those southern reefs are still likely to have had their reproduction and growth rates slowed by the unusually warm seas. The scientists said the bleaching event showed how important it was to continue to bolster resilience of the reef, such as through programs to limit run-off from farms and towns bringing in excessive nutrients and pollution.

"The reef is no longer as resilient as it once was, and it's struggling to cope with three bleaching events in just 18 years," Professor John Pandolfi, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at The University of Queensland, said. "Many coastal reefs in particular are now severely degraded."

(Use the slider on image below to see mature staghorn coral at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. The corals bleached in February 2016 and were overgrown with algae by April.)


Professor Hughes said he did not advocate the reef being put on the "in danger" list by the World Heritage Committee, but it was time governments reconsidered their approval for massive new coal mines in Queensland's Galilee Basin and elsewhere.

"The key threat to the Great Barrier Reef is climate change – the government has recognised that many times," he said.

"[But] there is a disconnect in the policy round governments issuing permits for 60 years for new coal mines and how that might impact on the Great Barrier Reef and reefs more generally."


Most coral dead in central section of Great Barrier Reef, surveys reveal
As mass bleaching sweeps the world heritage site, scientists also find an average of 35% of coral dead or dying in the northern and central sections of the reef
Michael Slezak The Guardian 29 May 16;

The majority of coral is now dead on many reefs in the central section of the Great Barrier Reef, according to an underwater survey of 84 reefs, in the worst mass bleaching event to hit the world heritage site.

An average of 35% of coral was now dead or dying in the northern and central sections, according to the surveys led by the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

But in good news for tourists and the tourism industry, only 5% of coral has died on reefs south of Cairns.

The in-water mortality studies followed earlier aerial surveys, which found that 93% of the Great Barrier Reef had been affected by bleaching.

Coral bleaches when it gets too hot for too long. The water temperature stresses the coral and it expels the colourful algae it relies on to give it energy. If warm conditions persist, the coral dies and can get taken over by seaweed.

But if the water returns quickly to temperatures that are no longer stressful, the coral can recover, regaining its symbiotic algae. That is what researchers expect to happen to most of the bleached coral south of Cairns.

“Fortunately, on reefs south of Cairns, our underwater surveys are also revealing that more than 95% of the corals have survived, and we expect these more mildly bleached corals to regain their normal colour over the next few months,” said Mia Hoogenboom from James Cook University.

The conditions that led to the bleaching event were estimated to have been virtually impossible if it were not for the greenhouse gases humans have released into the atmosphere. Models showed they would be average conditions within 20 years.

Terry Hughes from James Cook University, who led the survey work, said: “This year is the third time in 18 years that the Great Barrier Reef has experienced mass bleaching due to global warming, and the current event is much more extreme than we’ve measured before.

“These three events have all occurred while global temperatures have risen by just 1C above the pre-industrial period. We’re rapidly running out of time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”


Great Barrier Reef bleaching made 175 times likelier by human-caused climate change, say scientists
Read more
John Pandolfi from the University of Queensland said the reef was already struggling to cope with the regularity of the bleaching events.

He said the reef was no longer as resilient as it once was. “It is critically important now to bolster the resilience of the reef, and to maximise its natural capacity to recover,” said Pandolfi.

The reef’s ability to recover from the increasingly regular bleaching events is being hampered by water pollution.

A recent study suggested $10bn investment was needed to adequately reduce pollution levels and improve the reef’s resilience.

The bleaching hitting the Great Barrier Reef is part of a global bleaching event, partly driven by a massive El NiƱo and climate change. By February this year, the event was already the longest-running global bleaching event in history, and it is expected to continue into the coming months.


Bleaching May Have Killed Half the Coral on the Northern Great Barrier Reef, Scientists Say
MICHELLE INNIS New York Times 29 May 16;

SYDNEY, Australia — Mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in the past three months has killed as much as half of the coral in the north but left large parts of the southern reaches with only minor damage, scientists in Australia said on Sunday.

The current bleaching is the third to strike the roughly 1,400-mile-long reef in 18 years and the most extreme scientists have recorded.

“In the north, the mortality rates are off the scale,” said Prof. Terry Hughes, the director of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, based at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland. “There, the coral mortality rates are approaching 50 percent, and the impact of the bleaching is still unfolding.”

But from Cairns, in tropical north Queensland, southward down the east coast of the state, about 95 percent of the coral has survived, Professor Hughes said. Mildly bleached coral should regain its color over the next few months, although the stress from bleaching is likely to slow the area’s reproduction and growth, he said.

Bleaching occurs when water temperatures rise as little as 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. The coral then expels tiny, colorful algae, causing it to turn white. The coral can recover if the water temperature drops and the algae, known as zooxanthellae, recolonize it. Otherwise, it may die.

Scientists diving on the reef in March and April recorded an average death rate of 35 percent for bleached coral in the north and central parts of the reef. Mass bleaching reduces the disparity between corals that might survive and those that are more vulnerable, resulting in higher death rates across the reef, Professor Hughes said.

Another scientist, Verena Schoepf from the University of Western Australia, said portions of the reef off the Kimberley coast had suffered severe but patchy bleaching and death rates of about 15 percent so far in the current bleaching event. The Kimberley region is across the far north of the state of Western Australia.

“We are seeing these events occur so close together, due to global warming, that coral does not have time to recover,” Professor Hughes said. “Some of the large, 50- to 100-year-old corals we saw on the very northern parts of the reef are now dead. We won’t see them there again.”


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Thermal stress impacts corals in Indian waters

K. S. SUDHI The Hindu 28 May 16;

During the last couple of months, an increase in sea surface temperatures was observed in these
Coral ecosystem thriving in the Indian waters has come under severe stress with instances of coral bleaching being reported from islands of Lakshadweep and some parts of Andaman.

It is the thermal stress in the form of increase in Sea Surface Temperature (SST) during April that has proved disastrous for the corals.

While bleaching has been widely reported in the coral islands of Lakshadweep, some isolated incidents were reported from Andaman. Joint observations carried out by the National Institute of Ocean Technology, Chennai, and the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad, confirmed the developments, said Satheesh Shenoi, director of the INCOIS.

Sea surface temperature

During the last couple of months, an increase in the Sea Surface Temperature was observed in the waters around the Andaman Islands, the Gulf of Mannar, and the Lakshadweep Islands. Following the observations, warning was sounded in these areas for coral bleaching. The in-situ observations carried out at North Bay, South Andaman revealed the primary signs of bleaching, according to a communication from the INCOIS.

“Coral bleaching takes place when the symbiotic relationship between algae (zooxanthellae) and their host corals breaks down under certain environmental stresses. This results in the host expelling their zooxanthellae. In the absence of symbiotic algae, the corals expose their white underlying calcium carbonate coral skeleton and the affected coral colony becomes pale in colour. Coral bleaching can be activated and persist during varied environmental stresses,” explains a scientific document released by the Centre.

The SST was in the range of 32 degree Celsius when in situ temperature observations were made during the last week of April in Andaman coast. However, the rain following the development of a depression in the Bay of Bengal has brought down the SST thereby averting the massive incidents of bleaching, Dr. Shenoi explained.

There existed a strong trend for bleaching but not to an alarming level and only a few species were found to be vulnerable to the trend, he explained.

In Lakshadweep, bleaching was reported in the water around the islands of Kavarathy, Agathy and Bangaram. The damage to the coral ecosystem was reported as deep as 30 metres, according to Idrees Babu, a scientist of the Department of Science and Technology, Lakshadweep.

The SST in the Lakshadweep waters rose to 32 degree Celsius against the normal temperature of 25 degree Celsius. There has not been much rain in region except the scattered showers, said Mr. Babu.

The Lakshadweep region witnessed a massive destruction of corals in 1997 when around 85 per cent of the coral reef was destructed.

Coral regeneration
Amidst growing concern about the impact of coral bleaching, scientists have also brought out some good news from the ocean depths of Andaman. The branching corals that were destructed during the 2004 South Asian tsunami have started regenerating in the region. The impact of bleaching would be different in different species and some may take 10 years or longer to regenerate, Dr. Shenoi pointed out.


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