4-6 Jun 2016: Best of our wild blogs

Night Walk At Venus Drive (03 Jun 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

We went MAD for Musang on 27th May 2016!
Life of a common palm civet in Singapore

Ubin Day 2016
Butterflies of Singapore

Goodbye for now my friend
The Long and Winding Road

American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) @ Ang Mo Kio Town Park
Monday Morgue

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Wave of change in Singapore marine conservation

Protecting biodiversity now a guiding principle as S'pore grows
Audrey Tan Straits Times 6 Jun 16;

Marine conservation efforts in Singapore have undergone a sea change since the 1980s.

What was a cause championed mainly by conservationists has now become a guiding principle for Singapore as it develops its coasts and people, said marine conservation veteran Chou Loke Ming, an adjunct research professor at the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute.

Last month, for example, the National Parks Board (NParks) announced a slew of outreach and research plans for the Republic's marine park, including intertidal pools and boardwalks, that will allow people to get up close with marine life.

The Maritime and Port Authority is also working to save corals in the way of a port development in Tuas, said Prof Chou. It has moved to relocate affected corals, and is working with marine biologists to nurture fragments in coral nurseries.

These measures are vastly different from land reclamation work done before the 1990s.

"The awareness started in the mid-1990s," Prof Chou said. "I'm not too sure why, but I guess the 1992 Rio Declaration, which Singapore supported, triggered it."

In the late 1990s, NParks, whose remit was primarily terrestrial, started getting involved in marine biodiversity conservation, said Dr Lena Chan, group director of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre.

In the 20 years since, the marine conservation movement has chalked up many wins.

The mangroves and wetlands of Sungei Buloh were first saved from development in 1993, when it was designated a nature park, and further protected in 2002, when it was given the status of wetland reserve.

In another landmark move, Pulau Ubin's Chek Jawa wetlands were saved from reclamation in 2001. "It was the first time that a marine development was deferred in favour of conservation," said crab expert Peter Ng, head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

In 2014, Singapore opened Sisters' Islands Marine Park, its first marine park. Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, who announced its opening two years ago, told The Straits Times last week: "It was a happy coincidence that we were able to bring everything together in time to announce the launch of Sisters' Islands Marine Park in 2014, just before our SG50 celebrations last year!"

Mr Lee noted that strong ties have been forged among agencies, researchers, blue groups and the community.

Considering Singapore's status as a maritime nation, the recognition of the importance of its marine habitats has been a long time coming.

Singapore's waters are home to 200 species of sponges, over 100 species of reef fish and more than 250 species of hard corals - more than 30 per cent of hard coral species found worldwide.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), said: "Knowledge of what we have on and off the coastlines of our main island, and our little ones, encourages us to coexist with the many plants and animals living on our remaining natural areas."

Singapore is on its way to achieving this. Said Prof Chou: "For a small country with limited sea space under intense use, (the change) is to me a crowning achievement."

The 69-year-old has three decades of marine conservation work, and has dedicated his life to achieving his dreams for Singapore, even after he retired last year. He now hopes for clearer waters, improved seawater quality in compromised areas and more local marine biologists in higher positions of responsibility.

Coral nurseries bloom under special care in waters off the coast
MPA-funded NUS project part of efforts to protect marine life as new port is built
Audrey Tan Straits Times 6 Jun 16;

In the waters off Singapore's southern coast lie two coral nurseries that are blooming under the tender loving care of a team of eight "gardeners".

The gardeners - marine biologists from the National University of Singapore's Tropical Marine Science Institute (TMSI) - are tending to tiny fragments of coral, each barely the length of a human finger, with the hope of raising them into larger colonies that can be used for reef rehabilitation.

These fragments were sourced from coral which was in the way of a port development in Tuas. At the nurseries off Lazarus Island and Kusu Island, they are mounted on frames made using PVC pipes and stiff mesh nets.

Loose coral fragments can be shifted about by currents, which puts them at risk of abrasion by sand. The structures help prevent this, and also elevate the fragments off the seabed, preventing sediment from accumulating there.

After about six months, when the corals have grown to a suitably large size that allows them to better withstand stress, they are moved out of the nursery and attached to new sites on Kusu Island and Lazarus Island using marine epoxy, a type of glue. Scientists monitor their growth at the transplanted sites for at least two years.

Healthy coral reefs not only draw in marine life, but they are also effective buffers against strong waves and can help filter pollutants from the water, said coral expert Chou Loke Ming, who is heading the project.


We want to make Singapore a world-class port, but this has to be done in a sustainable way, with minimal environmental impact.

DR SONG TIANCHENG, deputy director of engineering at MPA's technology division.
Since the project, funded by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), started in 2013, more than 800 coral fragments have been transplanted to the reefs off Kusu Island and the seawalls of Lazarus Island, both of which are south of the mainland.

About 80 per cent of the transplanted corals have survived, said Mr Lionel Ng, a research assistant at TMSI who is part of the coral nursery team. This is within the expected survival range for transplanted corals, as some may be eaten by predators or die due to stress from the move, he added.

The coral nurseries are part of MPA's efforts to protect Singapore's marine life, even as a new port is being built in Tuas. Between September 2013 and August 2014, MPA also relocated more than 2,000 coral colonies from Sultan Shoal - located south of Tuas - to the waters off St John's Island and Sisters' Islands.

"Coral fragments were inevitable from the major translocation and were a good source of material for research to determine whether they could be used to improve degraded reefs and also to create new reef communities," said Dr Chou, an adjunct research professor at TMSI.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), welcomed the science-backed marine conservation efforts.

"Singapore is at a stage where agencies, including MPA, are taking positive steps to address the impact of development on the environment. Through consultation with subject-matter experts, any efforts to do this is good."

Dr Song Tiancheng, deputy director of engineering at MPA's technology division, said: "We want to make Singapore a world-class port, but this has to be done in a sustainable way, with minimal environmental impact."

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NParks to be central managing agency for Pulau Ubin

The island is currently managed by 12 agencies with technical and land ownership responsibilities, including Land Transport Authority and PUB.
Angela Lim Channel NewsAsia 4 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board (NParks) will take over as the central managing agency for Pulau Ubin, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong announced at Ubin Day celebrations on the island on Saturday morning (Jun 4).

The island is currently managed by 12 agencies with technical and land ownership responsibilities, including Land Transport Authority (LTA) and national water agency PUB.

For example, the Pekan Quarry is managed by PUB, the National Environment Agency manages the drains on the island, while LTA handles the roads and bridges.

With the centralised management of the island, NParks hopes to respond more quickly and directly to issues raised by residents and visitors to the island.

"NParks will be able to respond more quickly to queries and issues raised by residents and members of the public, instead of having to refer these queries to other agencies," Mr Wong said.

He added: "NParks' entire DNA is about nature and greenery. And it has the expertise, it has the people who can conserve and enhance the rich biodiversity we have in Ubin. So we are very happy that NParks will now take charge of the entire Ubin Island, which means going beyond the park-related, nature-related portfolio.

"It will look at roads, buildings, being the central agency, overseeing everything that's related to Pulau Ubin ... it will also look at how to have a better overview of all the activities on Pulau Ubin. It will also look at how to facilitate ground-up projects."

The idea to designate NParks as the central managing agency for Pulau Ubin was first raised by the Friends of Ubin Network (FUN).

The handover of the island will be done in phases and NParks will take over fully as the central agency by mid-2017.

About 3,000 visitors joined in the fifth Ubin Day celebrations on Saturday. It is supported by more than 10 community groups, including Singapore Heritage Society and Nature Society (Singapore).

Members of the public were treated to kampong games and tours, cycling and kayak trips, and even took part in coastal cleanups and did some nature sketching.

This year, Ubin Day is part of a month-long series of events called "Pesta Ubin", that celebrates the heritage of the island.

- CNA/ly/ms

Pulau Ubin to have NParks as central managing agency
Friends of Ubin Network pointed out coordination issues in earlier system managed by 12 agencies
Priscilla Goy Straits Times 5 Jun 16;

The National Parks Board (NParks) has been appointed the central managing agency for Pulau Ubin - a move which should make it easier for those needing to report issues or make queries about the island.

The 10 sq km island previously had 12 government agencies managing technical and land ownership aspects of the island - such as the National Environment Agency in charge of its drains and the Land Transport Authority managing bridges.

Announcing the move yesterday, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said at a community event on the island that some people had complained that the previous system was "very confusing".

Members of the Friends of Ubin Network - including historians, nature enthusiasts and Pulau Ubin residents - had said that the system presented coordination challenges and proposed having one agency to address concerns such as waste dumping and ageing infrastructure.

Mr Wong said his ministry felt the idea was feasible, and decided to appoint NParks.

It has been managing sections of the island since 1997 and has decades of expertise in environment conservation and greenery.

Under the new model, NParks will take over the management of drainage issues and maintenance of installations such as shelters and bridges, among other things.

But NParks will not take over some functions, such as the management of stray animals and Outward Bound Singapore campsites, which will remain under the purview of their respective agencies due to their expertise.

The handover of responsibilities will be carried out in phases and is expected to be completed by the middle of next year. Mr Joseph Koh, 67, a member of the Friends of Ubin Network, welcomed the appointment of NParks.

He said: "We've seen people fogging to kill mosquitoes and they should have checked with NParks where to do this. By fogging, you kill a lot of other things (in the environment). So, it's very important to have someone who oversees things and understands the sensitivity of the ecology here."

Time and taxpayers' money can also be saved when issues are coordinated under one agency, he added.

Yesterday marked Ubin Day 2016, which is part of Pesta Ubin, a month-long series of events to celebrate the culture, nature and way of life on Pulau Ubin.

Pesta Ubin ends on June 12. For more information, go to http://pestaubin2016.blogspot.sg

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Pay as you throw among ideas to cut down waste in Singapore

SIAU MING EN Today Online 5 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Sorting household waste with colour-coded bags or charging users for the amount of waste they throw out could be future solutions to changing consumer behaviour to better manage and raise recycling rates here.

These ideas were identified in the Solid Waste Management Technology Roadmap led by the National Environment Agency (NEA), to guide the improvement of Singapore’s waste collection, sorting and separation, upcycling and treatment of waste.

The roadmap was launched alongside similar reports for electro-mobility and industry energy efficiency, by the National Research Foundation, National Climate Change Secretariat and other relevant government agencies at Energy Innovation forum on Friday (June 3). All three roadmaps were done by external consultants engaged by the Government, and they will guide masterplans by government agencies and funding initiatives.

The NEA is aiming to minimise the land footprint and environmental impact of waste management activities, as well as maximise productivity and the amount energy recovered from waste by 2030. A 70 per cent national recycling rate has also been set within that timeline.

Last year, 61 per cent of the total waste generated here was recycled. However, there were low recycling rates for paper, plastic and food waste — 51, 7 and 13 per cent respectively — even though they were part of the top five types of waste generated last year.

The roadmap suggested that the single-chute system found in many older high-rise buildings today could be modified with a control panel at the chute door and multiple waste containers at the refuse room. When a particular waste selection button is pressed, it will direct the waste to the correct bin.

Likewise, waste can be sorted into colour-coded bags, which can be then be directed into the right bin with optical sensors, said Mr Daniel Ponder, principal of Golder Associates, which was commissioned by the NEA to draw up the roadmap.

Similar to the way households pay for their utilities, another idea mooted was to have users pay for every unit of waste they throw out. This would encourage users to recycle instead of disposing their waste. Currently, those living in public flats pay S$7.49 a month for refuse collection, while those living on landed property pay S$24.81.

Other suggestions include driverless waste collection trucks to cut back on the manpower needed for such services, and a bin-fill sensor system that only collects waste when rubbish bins are filled to their capacity. The latter is already being piloted by the NEA.

Speaking to TODAY, Mr Ponder acknowledged that people are not always receptive to changes. But getting people to move away from throwing their waste into a single bin to sorting their waste into two bins is also “not that large of a leap”, he added. The authorities can start with smaller pilot projects and public education efforts in schools to get people to change their behaviour, he said.

Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for the Environment and Water Resources, said that the suggestion to use colour-coded bags will have to go hand-in-hand with a big education campaign.

As for charging households according to how much waste they throw away, Dr Lee said if such a policy is implemented, subsidies should be given to the low-income to ease the burden.

While technology is necessary in waste management, executive director of Zero Waste SG Eugene Tay noted that an over-reliance on technology might result in people getting used to the idea of throwing out more waste.

“If the future generation doesn’t even see waste — they just throw it down the chute and it disappears somewhere — they might not appreciate the need to reduce waste,” said Mr Tay in reference to the pneumatic waste conveyance systems.

In fact, changing people’s behaviour and mindset about waste can cost less than conducting research for new technology for waste management, he added.

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What happens to illegal live animals seized in Singapore?

Apart from locally rescued animals, confiscated animals, those coming out of the illegal trade, are also brought to Wildlife Reserves Singapore by the AVA.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 6 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Zoo is home to more than 300 species of animals, and more than 20 per cent of them are considered endangered. It also takes in animals that were victims of the illegal wildlife trade.

"Wildlife Reserves Singapore is actually the designated rescue centre of Singapore,” said Dr Sonja Luz, director of conservation and research at Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).

According to her, this means that apart from locally rescued animals, confiscated animals, those coming out of the illegal trade, will also be brought to WRS by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

Some of the animals placed in the zoo include the Indian Star Tortoise, which was illegally trafficked.

Most of the animals confiscated and handed over to Wildlife Reserves Singapore are turtles and tortoises, as they are usually taped tightly and packed into suitcases.

Singapore ranks among the world's top 10 hubs for illegal wildlife trade, ironically due to its "clean reputation and efficient port", the World Wildlife Fund said.

From the start of the year until May, the AVA reported that it has dealt with 21 cases, involving illegal live animals being seized, compared with a total of 25 confiscations the whole of last year.

WRS' ‘You Buy They Die’ anti-wildlife crime campaign. (Screengrab of WRS website)

WRS also said it is using gory images to get people to say no to the illegal wildlife trade. Said Dr Luz: "One of the major campaigns we've done recently is the ‘You Buy They Die’ campaign, started last year. It was a first for us, because we've been very bold in the way we designed the campaign.

“Usually as a zoo, we want to give people a nice experience when they come to us and have fun and learn about nature, and often the reality of conservation and illegal trade in particular is very dark and very brutal."

While the response so far has been encouraging, the demand for exotic animals is still high.

Wildlife rescue group Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES) said it typically rescues one to two per month, and even up to six reptiles that were most probably kept as pets, before being abandoned in places like parks, dustbins and void decks.

Ms Anbarasi Boopal, Deputy Chief Executive of ACRES, said: "There is still a continued demand for keeping these exotic animals as pets here in Singapore, that is why we still rescue some of the animals that are really small.

“Most of them come in in very bad conditions. These are wild animals, so to meet their needs in captivity is almost impossible. They come in with shell deformities, injured and run over on the roads because of the unsuitable environment which they are released into, and they come in with vitamin deficiencies, sometimes even turning the situation into a fatal condition."

Although close to 200 rescued reptiles are being cared for at ACRES, the wildlife rescue centre said it is fast running out of space.

The cost of running the facility is also high, at about S$50,000 a month, and it depends solely on donations. The plan is to keep the animals until they can be repatriated back to their countries of origin.

But so far, there has been no success. "Unlike the animals that are confiscated at our ports and airports, these animals were found already in Singapore where the origin of these animals are unknown,” Ms Boopal said.

“So, that's the biggest challenge, where we're trying to find out where they're from - even using DNA studies - and find a suitable habitat for release, because it needs to be a protected area, so these animals do not end up in the wildlife trade again."

ACRES said its aim is for Singapore to not need a wildlife rescue centre, as this would mean that the country has successfully put an end to illegal wildlife trade.

- CNA/xk

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Electric buses, charging stations part of proposals in LTA’s 2050 road map

SIAU MING EN Today Online 3 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Decades from now, electric buses with carbon emission levels that are half of those from diesel-powered buses could ply Singapore’s roads, where they may be able to be charged quickly at bus stops along the routes that they travel.

These were two of the ideas and recommendations identified in the Land Transport Authority (LTA)-led technology road map on electro-mobility on Friday (June 3), to help guide future policymaking and infrastructure plans for the deployment of electro-mobility in Singapore by 2050.

But transport analysts TODAY spoke to felt that the two issues of building charging infrastructure and improving car ownership have to be tackled together.

They also noted that while electric vehicles seem more environmentally friendly, the energy they use continues to be generated from carbon-intensive sources.

The Energy Research Institute (ERI@N) at Nanyang Technological University was commissioned by the LTA to draw up the road map. In the report, it was noted that public fleets such as buses and taxis also hold the biggest potential for a switch to their electric versions.

Even though buses and taxis account for only 2 and 3 per cent of the overall vehicle population, respectively, they clock the second highest and highest annual mileage per vehicle, respectively.

Buses, in particular, emit the highest amount of carbon dioxide per vehicle and thus show the most potential for reducing emission levels.

It was also projected that by 2050, as many as 30 to 50 per cent of the vehicles here could be electric vehicles.

Research areas with the most potential here were also identified, such as building up the charging infrastructure technology, as well as energy storage solutions for electric vehicles.

Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the event, ERI@N executive director Subodh Mhaisalkar noted that the take-up rate for electric vehicles here is “not huge”, due to cost issues, concerns over the distance electric vehicles can cover as well as the charging time involved.

Some of these can be addressed with new technologies such as fast-charging technology that can charge a car in 30 minutes, or opportunity charging, which allows buses, for instance, to charge their vehicle for 45 seconds to a minute at every bus stop.

Such developments in the industry need not necessarily be spurred on by government subsidies, noted Prof Subodh, adding that the authorities can instead take the lead in facilitating discussions on these topics.

The maintenance and running costs of owning an electric vehicle over 10 years is lower than that of vehicles powered by conventional combustion engines, he pointed out. “So I think in five years, the discussion of subsidies would be a non-issue,” he added.

But Dr Walter Theseira, senior lecturer at SIM University, said the lack of charging infrastructure is the biggest challenge in the electrification of private passenger vehicles. Also, people will not be keen to pay for the necessary infrastructure upgrades to benefit a small number of electric car users.

He also noted that take-up has also been slower than in places such as the United States and Hong Kong, as these countries offer tax breaks or incentives for electric cars.

Dr Park Byung Joon, also a senior lecturer at SIM University, felt that electric cars are, for now, relatively less cheap and convenient in Singapore.

Singapore, unlike China and South Korea, does not stand to gain as much from investing in the electrification of vehicles. This is because those countries have battery industries that will reap economic incentives from further developments.

As consumers, he added, Singapore should bear in mind costs and environmental considerations when investing in electric vehicles.

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Malaysia: Heat islands in KL possible cause of hailstorm

Bernama New Straits Times 4 Jun 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The extreme heat in the Klang Valley, especially in the Kuala Lumpur city centre, which created 'heat islands' could have been a factor contributing to the hailstorm which occurred here yesterday afternoon, according to a climate expert.

Climatologist and oceanographer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Professor Dr Fredolin Tangang said the rapid development in Kuala Lumpur and the climate changes had resulted in thunderstorms caused by heat trapped inside a moisture surrounding.

"The moist conditions and phenomenon of wind updraft produce water droplets which form ice lumps which can no longer be supported by the wind.

"When these lumps become big and the winds can no carry them, they drop as ice, together with the rain which was what happened yesterday," he told Bernama here today.

About 6pm yesterday, parts of Kuala Lumpur were hit by a rare hailstorm and flash flood, causing traffic congestion and damaging buildings and homes.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall received 35 reports involving fallen trees while the Express Rail Link service between Bandar Tasik Selatan and Putrajaya was disrupted.

Tangang said the freak thunderstorm could happen more frequently after this due to climatic changes and rising temperatures.

"Research done overseas have shown scientific evidence that as the earth becomes warmer due to climatic changes, there will be more thunderstorms such as these," he added.

However, he said scientific studies on local climatic change factors had not been carried out, making it difficult for experts to predict the phenomenon.

"We do not have specific studies on the phenomenon as it rarely occurs here as compared to other countries like the United States or Europe.

"However, the concept of this phenomenon is the same anywhere, which is when there is moisture in the air and a rise in temperature, hailstorms will occur more frequently," he said.

Tangang urged more detailed studies on local factors be carried out so that the relevant parties could predict the weather in the future.
Meanwhile, in a statement today, the Meteorological Department said thunderstorms, heavy rains and strong winds in Beaufort, Kota Belud, Tuaran, Kota Kinabalu, Penampang and Papar in Sabah as well as Miri in Sarawak were expected to continue until late Saturday afternoon.

The statement said that thunderstorms were also expected to occur in the waters off Johor, Pahang, Kudat in Sabah and the Labuan Federal Territory and continue until early Saturday afternoon.

Hailstorms are not unusual, says ministry
The Star 5 Jun 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The hailstorm that hit several parts of the city on Friday is not an unusual phenomenon, said Science, Innovation and Technology Minister Datuk Seri Madius Tangau.

He said hailstorms could happen during severe thunderstorms.

“When cumulonimbus clouds reach an altitude of 40,000ft, raindrops can form into chunks of ice,” he said in a statement.

He said the duration of hailstorms was short, only about 20 minutes, adding that such storms could happen at any time.

During a hailstorm, people should not be near windows and should take shelter in buildings, or under bridges if driving.

He said the ministry, through the Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment, monitors the weather continuously and updates the public via the MetMalaysia hotline, 1-300-22-1MET(638), its website and social media.

Hailstorm and flash flood mayhem in KL
The Star 4 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: Heavy rain and hailstorm pelted the city, causing mayhem, stranding hundreds of motorists in traffic snarls and passengers on stalled train services.

As of 7pm, flash floods caused a traffic standstill around Batu Muda Tambahan towards Sentul, and along Jalan Hikmat Usaha near Masjid Wilayah, according to StarTraffic.

Flash floods were also re­­ported near Tung Shin Hos­pital along Jalan Pudu, Jalan Imbi and the Shah Alam Highway (Kesas) at the Indah Parade intersection in Sri Petaling.

Traffic congestion was also reported along Jalan Duta, near Jalan Semantan and major highways heading into the city.

Traffic police were de­­ploy­ed at the intersection between Jalan Pantai Baru and Bangsar to help ease traffic congestion that had built up due to flash floods and a fallen tree.

A fallen tree also caused massive jams in both directions along the KL-Seremban Highway near Technology Park Malaysia in Bukit Jalil.

Traffic was at a 5km crawl near the Gombak toll, heading to the city.

The harsh weather also brought ERL and LRT train services to a halt, stranding passengers after violent storms caused power disruptions to the Rapid KL’s LRT Sri Petaling Line.

“While services between Cheras and Sri Petaling stopped from 6.24pm, train services continued with longer waiting period between Awan Besar and Bandar Puteri,” said Rapid Rail Sdn Bhd CEO Ahmad Nizam Mohamed Amin.

LRT commuter K. Parkaran, 62, told the Star­Online that he and around 200 other passengers waited for more than two hours at the Sri Petaling station for the service to resume.

City Fire and Rescue Department chief operations officer Samsol Maarif Saibani said the department received reports of at least 45 fallen trees around the city as of 7.35pm.

Hailstones hit KL after thunderstorm
P. DIVAKARAN The Star 3 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: Hailstones struck several areas in Kuala Lumpur on Friday evening following a thunderstorm.

Members of the public reported incidents of hailstorms around Bukit Jalil just after 6pm.

Among them was Jasan Chan, 40, who was stuck in traffic along the New Pantai Expressway (NPE).

Chan told The Star Online that there was “zero visibility” as he recalled how the “hard hitting hails” had struck his vehicle.

Chan added that the incident was “scary” since he was stuck in traffic and was unable to move from his car.

He, however, said there was no damage to his vehicle.

Chan said he took the opportunity to document the incident through Facebook.

City folks who were on their way home from work had also related their experiences by sharing pictures through social media.

Bernama quoted Twitter user "faiqrusyaidie" who posted: "First time ever experiencing hujan batu (hailstones)."

Another Twitter user "dayahmayah" also shared pictures and posted, "MashaAllah (My God). hujan batu (hailstones) at my sister's office. Area Sg Besi. Praying and hoping that everyone's fine."

"First hujan batu experience ever. Literally soaked for almost 20 minutes," wrote Twitter user "FazaaMohamad".

Facebook user "Shahriza Mahmud" had posted a video of the incident at the North-South Expressway near Serdang, according to Bernama.

The hailstorm is also said to be the cause of a temporary power disruption that brought Putra Light Rail Transit (LRT) trains along the Ampang line to a halt.

Hailstorm blamed for LRT service breakdown
P. DIVAKARAN The Star 3 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: The power disruption which had caused Putra Light Rail Transit (LRT) trains to temporarily stop operations was due to a hailstorm that hit Kuala Lumpur on Friday.

In a statement issued by Prasarana Malaysia Berhad for Rapid KL, it said that services at three sub-stations - Sungai Besi, Bukit Jalil and Bandar Tasik Selatan - were affected after a hailstorm hit power stations on Friday evening, causing a power failure.

“While services between Cheras and Sri Petaling stopped from 6.24pm, train services continued with longer waiting period between Awan Besar and Bandar Puteri,” said its chief executive officer Ahmad Nizam Mohamed Amin.

The company said that all trains except for one were left stranded at the platforms and passengers were disembarked.

It also said that Rapid KL buses were dispatched to evacuate passengers at affected LRT stations but this was hampered due to heavy traffic caused by fallen trees.

“We are truly sorry for the inconvenience caused to our customers due to the unfortunate incident,” said Ahmad Nizam.

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Malaysia: Rising temperatures causing bleaching in several marine parks

SIM LEOI LEOI The Star 4 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: Some coral reefs at diving spots in waters off Malay­sia have started showing signs of bleaching due to the rising sea temperatures.

In the June 2 statistics provided by the Marine Park Department, bleaching among coral reefs has been spotted in Pulau Payar in Kedah, Pulau Tinggi and Pulau Sibu in Johor, Pulau Redang in Tereng­ganu and Pulau Tioman in Pahang.

In Pulau Payar, which had to be temporarily closed to divers in 2010 due to damage, bleaching was observed at 60% of its reef population and up to 90% among the colony.

Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi saw bleaching of 50% and 30% among the coral reef population, and up to 70% on the colony.

In Pulau Redang and Pulau Tioman, which are both popular with divers, bleaching of the coral reef population is estimated at 10% and 20%.

However, places like Pulau Rusu­kan Besar off Labuan and another popular diving spot in Pulau Perhentian, Terengganu, are still safe from any bleaching.

A check at the department’s website showed Pulau Payar and Pulau Tioman to be consistently affected by water temperature of 31°C last month.

A department spokesman said that there was no need at the moment to temporarily close any of the di­ving spots in the affected areas.

“At present, the bleaching is still minimal and localised to Pulau Payar and off Johor waters. We are still waiting for more data to come in,” he said, adding that a technical committee meeting would be called once the data had been gathered.

“We are still at the beginning phase and tracking the process,” he said.

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

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

In 2010, the department temporarily closed several dive sites at Pulau Tioman, Pulau Redang and Pulau Payar to allow the coral reefs to recover from bleaching, a phenomenon caused by global warming.

The number of visitors was also limited during that time.

Reef Check Malaysia general manager Julian Hyde said it did not know yet how serious the bleaching would be but that based on NOAA’s data and predictions, this did not seem to be worsening.

“We are watching what happens in the next few weeks. Much de­­pends on the weather – if it remains dry then sea temperatures are likely to stay warm.

“However, if the south-western monsoon starts, it will bring rain and stormy seas, which will help cool down the ocean.”

Pulau Payar Coral Reefs Need Two More Months To Recover From El Nino - Wan Junaidi
Hamdan Ismail Bernama 3 Jun 16;

KUAH (Langkawi), June 3 (Bernama) -- It will take another two months for coral reefs at the Pulau Payar Marine Park to recover from the El Nino phenomenon that struck in March, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said that though the temperature of the sea had begun to decline since May, the corals in the area needed time to fully recover.

"During the El Nino phenomenon (in March and April), the temperature of the sea hovered between 30 and 31 degrees Celsius, causing the moss on the corals to die," he told Bernama.

Wan Junaidi said an improvement in the weather since May had averted greater damage as there were already early signs of coral bleaching.

"With the rain, the sea temperature has dropped to between 27 and 28 degrees Celsius and, if this continues, the corals can recover within eight weeks," he said.

Wan Junaidi, who visited Pulau Payar recently, said measures taken by the Department of Marine Parks to control the number of tourists coming to Pulau Payar also helped the recovery process.

"The department has limited the number of tourists to 400 people at any one time and the snorkeling and swimming allowed around the island do not interfere with the process of restoring the coral reefs," he said.

Pulau Payar, which is located about 40km to the south of Langkawi, is one of the areas declared as part of a national marine park in 1994 and is rich in biodiversity.

The marine park, which covers Pulau Payar, Pulau Kaca, Pulau Lembu and Pulau Segantang, is among 42 areas gazetted as marine parks in the country.

A study by Universiti Utara Malaysia in 2011 found that the total value of economic activities at the Pulau Payar Marine Park was about RM174 million a year.


‘Close dive sites if there is more reef bleaching’

KUALA TERENGGANU: Marine park authorities should temporarily close diving sites if there is more bleaching of coral reefs in Malaysian waters, experts said.

This would reduce the stress caused by human activity, said Universiti Malaysia Terengganu’s (UMT) Dr Tan Chun Hong.

He said the prolonged heatwave, which causes sea temperatures to rise, will lead to mass coral bleaching.

Dr Tan, from the university’s School of Marine and Environ­mental Sciences, said sites should be closed at the 80% level of bleaching, as stipulated by the Malaysia Bleaching Response Plan.

He added that the secretariat of the Malaysia Coral Bleaching Tech­nical Committee was monitoring the situation.

This year saw the third highest mass coral bleaching recorded worldwide after 1997 and 1998, and if the effects of El Nino continued – causing abnormally high seawater temperatures for an extended period – coral reefs in Malaysia will bleach severely and extensively, Dr Tan said.

Bleached coral will eventually die of starvation and stress, he said, adding that this last happened in 2010.

“Information from the Depart­ment of Marine Parks Malaysia shows that reefs at the Pulau Payar Marine Park in Langkawi recorded the highest bleaching (60%), followed by reefs in Johor (30-50%).

“Reefs around Tioman Island are 20% bleached while reefs in Ter­eng­ganu are the least affected,” he said.

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Indonesia leads global action to save coral reefs

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 4 Jun 16;

Indonesia will lead a global movement to protect endangered coral reefs following the approval of an international-level resolution on the preservation of the complex marine ecosystems.

The resolution, which is the first global environmental resolution initiated by Indonesia, was approved last week by 170 countries during the Second Session of the UN Environment Assembly ( UNEA-2 ) in Nairobi, Kenya.

The UNEA is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment.

“The resolution is meant to push governments and international organizations as well as stakeholders to take practical steps and actions,” Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said during the UNEA-2.

Indonesia is home to nearly 14 percent of the world’s coral reefs, with the archipelago supporting a wealth of coral diversity including 92 genus and 569 species.

Coral is highly vulnerable to environmental changes, and suffers from increasing human populations.

Scientists have raised the alarm over the accelerated rate of climate change putting more pressure on the reefs, which have served as food and medicinal sources for centuries.

The rise of baseline temperatures has resulted in widespread coral bleaching, where coral loses its colorful symbiotic algae and exposes its white skeleton, leaving it vulnerable to disease and death.

According to a survey conducted by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences ( LIPI ), 73.91 percent of coral reefs in eastern Indonesia are damaged, along with 66.13 percent in western Indonesia.

Therefore, Indonesia initiated the resolution to encourage countries to join hands to protect coral reefs.

The country’s leadership in the preservation of coral reefs started at a regional level, when Indonesia initiated a multilateral partnership with the governments of Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.

The partnership, launched in 2009, is called the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security ( CTI-CFF ).

The initiative is not only a response to the 130 million people who rely on the biological zones of the Coral Triangle, but also for the world at large.

“We already have a delivery mechanism through the CTI. We also have programs in regional administrations called marine protected areas [MPA]. That’s why we are confident and made the resolution,” said Suseno Sukoyono, an expert staff member from the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry.

Through the sustainable MPA program, Indonesia aims to protect biodiversity and have a positive impact on people’s livelihoods in coastal areas.

So far, the government has established 17.3 million hectares of protected maritime areas, and aims to have 20 million ha of MPA by 2020.

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Indonesia: Rain to continue into ‘dry season’ through June and July

Jakarta Post 4 Jun 16;

Even though the dry season in Jakarta usually starts in April, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency ( BMKG ) predicts that parts of the city will continue receiving some high intensity rain at intervals through June and July.

“Central and South Jakarta may still have high intensity rains, while other parts of the city could see rain with low intensity,” the agency’s head of early warnings Kukuh Ribudiyanto told The Jakarta Post recently.

Flooding, therefore, might happen in certain areas of the city, particularly in neighborhoods where waterways are not cleared from silt and garbage, Kukuh said.

However, the rains in June and July are not expected to be as intense as those in April and May, the usual transitional months between the rainy and dry seasons.

He explained that the unusual rains in Jakarta were partly caused by wind convergence in western Indonesia and by La Nina, a phenomenon characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.

“La Nina in the Pacific Ocean will contribute to the heating of sea temperatures here from June to July,” Kukuh said.

According to the BMKG’s official website, bmkg.go.id, the rainfall in the city during the June-July period may reach 100-150 millimeters per month, compared to 200-300 mm in May.

Separately, head of the Jakarta Water Management Agency Teguh Hendrawan said that his office had anticipated the possibility of La Nina weather in June and July.

“In anticipation of floods in the city, the agency has been cleaning up waterways, reservoirs and lakes from silt and garbage, mapping places with possible inundation and installing new pumps,” Teguh told the Post.

Teguh added that his office would also monitor the possibility of landslides in Jagakarsa, Pesanggrahan and Kemang, all in South Jakarta, over June and July.

Jakarta Sanitation Agency deputy head Ali Maulana Hakim said that his agency had been cooperating with the Water Management Agency to clean up silt and garbage in waterways.

“We have mapped places vulnerable to silt piling, particularly those in populated areas of the city,” Ali told the Post over the phone.

He added that his office had prepared 53 heavy equipment units of various types to clean up 13 rivers and waterways to enhance water flow.

Meanwhile, Jakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency ( BPBD ) head Bambang Suryaputra said that his office was ready to prevent flooding in the city.

“If we find any inundation in the city through closed circuit television [CCTV], for example, we will ask the sanitation agency to assign contract workers [PPSU] to clear it,” Bambang told the Post over the phone.

Bambang said that he hoped citizens would report quickly if they found any inundation in their neighborhoods through Qlue, the administration’s smartphone application for monitoring developments in the city. ( rez )

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Indonesia: Massive restoration of peatland forest in Sumatra underway

Located in the Riau province, the 150,000 hectares of peatland store several gigatons of carbon, which if released into the atmosphere could have a catastrophic impact on the climate.
Sujadi Siswo Channel NewsAsia 3 Jun 16;

RIAU: A mammoth task is underway in Indonesia to repair degraded peatland forest in Sumatra, an area twice the size of Singapore.

Located in the Riau province, the 150,000 hectares of peatland on Kampar Peninsula peek out from oil palm and Acacia tree plantations that turn out palm oil and paper products.

The peatland stores several gigatons of carbon, which if released in the atmosphere could have a catastrophic impact on the climate.

Singapore and Malaysia – just across the Straits of Malacca – would potentially bear the brunt of the environmental catastrophe, which could be many times more than the haze that enveloped the region last year.

Said Mr Brad Sanders, deputy head of Conservation at the April Group - Indonesia's second largest pulp and paper company: “This area of the Kampar Peninsula is very critical to maintaining the integrity of the hydrology for the rest of the peninsula. If this area was disturbed through canalisation, logging or fire there’s potential of releasing gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere, which of course, would contribute to climate change.”

In 2013, the April Group was awarded a 60-year license to restore the ecosystem of the Kampar Peninisula. The project, Restorasi Ekosistem Riau (RER), will cost the April Group US$100 million over the next decade. It includes the painstaking tasks of planting specific species of trees in the degraded forests.

Since 2015, more than 5,000 trees have been planted – covering over eight hectares.

“But it is still far from done," said April Group's Forest Ecology and Rehabilitation manager Muhammad Iqbal. "We need maintenance. We need to keep them from damage, say from another fire. Restoring the ecosystem is something very unique here, so we are all learning."

Fire is the biggest threat to peat beds, some of which can be as deep as 18 metres. The threat has been made worse by these canals dug by previous concession owners to transport their logs. These canals drained water from the peat land.

“This area will be dried up if we don’t put up blockades in this canal," said the group's water management specialist Roni Las Silaen. "One of the functions of the dam is to raise the water level in the area and make it damp, so the possibility of fire is very small."

Restoring the peat land forest ecosystem also means preserving the biodiversity of its waterways.

Four rivers criss-cross the restoration area. Around 50 species of plants and animals including the endangered Sumatran tiger have been documented in the area. Trap cameras have so far spotted three.

The restoration project is also a collaborative effort with communities living in the area. They have been taught alternative farming methods for their crops.

"Previously, the farmers here would burn the land according to their needs. For example they would burn 10 to 20 hectares of land to plant maize," said Mr Syairoji Hamid.

It will be a number of years before the benefits of restoration are felt. For now, there is at least some assurance that the possibility of a devastating fire in the peat forests of Kampar Peninsula has been greatly reduced.

- CNA/hs

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Indonesia torn by conflicts over environment

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 3 Jun 16;

From Acehnese fighting to protect the Leuser National Park to Papuans resisting the expansion of palm oil companies, thousands of people across the archipelago are waging an environmental war.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment ( Walhi ) has recorded 773 cases of environmental activists being unfairly charged in the past five years, with 233 being assaulted and 28 murdered.

“We can see that assaults against activists and people who fight for their rights is still rampant,” Walhi executive director Nur “Yaya” Hidayati said.

According to her, there is a contradiction when it comes to how the government treats environmental activists and local people in environmental conflicts.

“On the one hand, the government opens up room for the public to be involved in decision making but on the other hand, repression, such as arrests, is increasing,” Yaya said.

Walhi’s finding is in line with a 2015 report by the Agrarian Reform Consortium ( KPA ) on violence in agrarian conflicts.

In 2015, there were 35 cases of companies committing violence, followed by the police with 21 cases, the military with 16 cases, other government institutions with 10 cases, gangs with eight cases and local communities with three cases, according to the report.

In the past companies generally hired civilian security forces ( Pamswakarsa ), however, nowadays police and thugs are more likely to be hired to suppress people’s demands and resistance.

“In most cases, companies are the ones who file complaints [in agrarian conflicts]. Therefore, police personnel will come to assault local people. The police should be aware of the background of the problem before taking the easy way and harassing local people,” Yaya said.

She said that Walhi and other activists had talked to the police to persuade them to refrain from assaulting local people.

“But it’s difficult to change the way law enforcement personnel perceive local people. In their minds, local people are rebellious. They believe that the right side [in a dispute] is the side with money,” said Yaya.

However, in many agrarian conflicts, local people are usually the ones who are victimized.

“In many places. There are overlaps between concessions and community land. Therefore, local people try to defend their lands, which they feel are being seized. That’s when conflicts happen,” Yaya said.

Therefore, she said, it was important that security personnel took a more humane approach and tried to understand the nature of conflicts.

“It’s hard for local people because they usually don’t have legal ownership of their land, such as land permits. They have lived there for generations but their rights aren’t recognized by the government. And then the government issues permits to companies without considering the people who live there,” said Yaya.

According to Walhi spokeswoman Khalisah Khalid, companies have recently begun hiring members of mass organizations to do their dirty work, according to Walhi spokeswoman Khalisah Khalid.

“For example, in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, companies hire members of multiple organizations, instead of just one like they did in the past,” she said.

To change the mind-set of law enforcement bodies, which often side against local people, it is now necessary for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to intervene, according to Yaya.

“The President has to be consistent in his commitment. He said that development had to start from the peripheral areas, but he neglects the land rights of people,” she said.

“On one hand, the government promised to designate 12.7 million hectares of customary forest as well as 9 million hectares of land for agrarian reform. But on the other hand, he lets the state apparatus assault local people.”

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Vietnam breaks up protests as anger seethes over fish deaths

Dozens of activists were detained in Vietnam's two biggest cities Sunday as they tried to hold protests calling for greater government transparency over a recent spate of mass fish deaths.
Channel NewsAsia 5 Jun 16;

HANOI: Dozens of activists were detained in Vietnam's two biggest cities on Sunday (June 5) as they tried to hold protests calling for greater government transparency over a recent spate of mass fish deaths.

Tonnes of dead fish and other marine life began washing up on central Vietnamese shores two months ago and continued to appear for two to three weeks, sparking widespread anger.

Frustration has been further fuelled by a perceived lack of clarity from the communist leadership about what caused the deaths.

Major streets in central Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City were temporarily deserted on Sunday morning as security forces blanketed the area.

Activists used social media accounts to document many arrests, saying people had been detained in both cities either before or while they joined protests.

AFP saw one incident in Hanoi where plainclothes officers tackled an activist and dragged him off.

Another 30 people were detained after launching a brief protest in front of Hanoi's cathedral.

Activists posted pictures showing the protesters holding banners with slogans like "Fish dead, people dead" and "No Formosa".

Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa, which runs a steel mill in the area where the fish have died, is widely suspected of being the cause.

State media initially pointed the finger of blame at the company but have since rowed back, as anger grew in Vietnam against ethnic Chinese interests in the country.

Authorities have since responded with a crackdown against protesters, placing many activists under house arrest and at times interrupting the Internet.

Facebook has been intermittently unavailable since Saturday night.

Human rights groups hit out at the latest crackdown.

"The Vietnam government should be leading the investigation into what caused these fish kills, not suppressing people?s efforts to demand answers and accountability," said Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch.

On Thursday government official Mai Tien Dung was quoted in state media as saying that investigators have now concluded what was killing the fish.

But they would only release the results after "independent consultation from domestic and foreign experts", he said.

Fishing and tourism in central Vietnam have been hit hard by the marine deaths.

Vietnam's communist rulers tolerate little dissent but anger over corruption and environmental degradation often spark significant protests.

- AFP/sk

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Australia: Great Barrier Reef authority says media, not activists, misinterpreting the data

Russell Reichelt says he has no problem with environmental lobbyists portraying the seriousness of the damage but a lot of the reef remains unscathed
Melissa Davey The Guardian 4 Jun 16;

The chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Russell Reichelt, has played down a report that said he accused activist scientists and lobby groups of distorting maps and data to misrepresent the extent of coral bleaching on the reef.

The authority withdrew from a joint announcement from the national coral bleaching taskforce about the extent of coral bleaching earlier in the week because Reichelt believed maps accompanying the research did not depict the full picture.

The taskforce said mass bleaching had killed 35% of corals on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef.

“I don’t know whether it was a deliberate sleight of hand or lack of geographic knowledge but it certainly suits the purpose of the people who sent it out,” Reichelt told The Australian.

“This is a frightening enough story with the facts, you don’t need to dress them up. We don’t want to be seen as saying there is no ­problem out there but we do want people to understand there is a lot of the reef that is unscathed.”

But the taskforce’s data was broadly similar to data from in-water surveys from the authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science released on Friday afternoon that found almost a quarter of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef was now dead.

Reichelt told Guardian Australia on Saturday that he did not mean to imply in his comments to The Australian that activists and lobbyists were being misleading. Rather, it was the media that was misinterpreting the data it received from scientists, lobbyists and activists, he said.

“I have no problem with environmental activists portraying the seriousness of the event,” he said.

“These groups play a critically important role in raising public awareness and we communicate with them regularly. My concern is that the public receive clear understanding of the serious effects of this event on the Great Barrier Reef, including that it is caused by global warming. The media is reporting science in ways that are very misleading.”

Reichelt said he had seen wrongful reports in the media stating that 93% of the of the reef was dead. In fact, 93% of the reef had been touched by coral bleaching, but was not necessarily dead or irreversibly damaged.

“I can’t control how writers package up a story,” he said.

“I accept there are people campaigning for environmental causes and they play an important role to emphasise the seriousness of the event. I’m friends with some of them. What I’m concerned about is misleading the public on what is actually happening through misinterpretation by the media. Such misinterpretation has been frequent in the past few months.”

Asked whether the media was getting it wrong because scientists and activists were giving journalists incorrect data, or if journalists were deliberately distorting the data given to them, Reichelt said he did not know.

“I don’t call them all and ask them, ‘Did you say x or y to this reporter?’.”

Asked whether The Australian had misreported him by saying he had accused activist scientists and lobby groups of distorting surveys, maps and data, Reichelt said: “They gave a shorthand version of what I said, they missed parts out.”

He acknowledged that there was “no discrepancy” between the scientific statements released this week by the authority, James Cook University, and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

“The map of the northern reef by James Cook University is very similar to the map of that section of the whole reef we produced on Friday,” he said, adding that coral bleaching of the reef was “a very serious event”.

However, he told The Australian that a comment piece for Fairfax written by Tim Flannery, a former Australian of the Year and chief councillor at the Climate Council, which had described the damage to the reef, was “dramatic,” “theatrical” and “speculative”.

Great Barrier Reef: scientists ‘exaggerated’ coral bleaching
Graham Lloyd The Australian 4 Jun 16;

There is growing scientific conflict over bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: Tourism Queensland
Activist scientists and lobby groups have distorted surveys, maps and data to misrepresent the extent and impact of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, ­according to the chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Russell Reichelt.

A full survey of the reef ­released yesterday by the author­ity and the Australian Institute of Marine ­Science said 75 per cent of the reef would escape unscathed.

Dr Reichelt said the vast bulk of bleaching damage was confined to the far northern section off Cape York, which had the best prospect of recovery due to the lack of ­onshore development and high water quality.

The report emerged as Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten traded political fire on the reef’s future this week at the halfway point of the election campaign.

As Labor announced $500 million towards protecting the reef, the Opposition Leader said: “We will invest in direct environmental management. We will invest in science and research. We will invest in proper reef management.’’

He said if Australia did not spend the money on the reef, “it is in serious danger of being irreparably damaged. If we do not act, our children will rightly ask us why didn’t we.’’

The Prime Minister said the reef and its health were “a great passion of mine and my government’’. He cited the chairman of the World Heritage Committee, Maria Bohmer, who said last year Australia’s management of the Great Barrier Reef was a world-class example of coral reef management. “So there is no question that we are doing a good job,’’ Mr Turnbull said.

Activist groups last week seized on reports that a UN ­assessment of the impacts of climate change on iconic Australian World Heritage sites, including the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and the Tasmanian Wilderness was censored by Australia. It later emerged that the report the government was accused of censoring was complimentary of the Turnbull government’s actions to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

The political debate and the ­release of the authority’s survey results highlights a growing conflict between the lead Barrier Reef agency and the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce headed by Terry Hughes.

Dr Reichelt said the authority had withdrawn from a joint ­announcement on coral bleaching with Professor Hughes this week “because we didn’t think it told the whole story”. The taskforce said mass bleaching had killed 35 per cent of corals on the northern and central Great Barrier Reef.

Dr Reichelt said maps accompanying the research had been misleading, exaggerating the ­impact. “I don’t know whether it was a deliberate sleight of hand or lack of geographic knowledge but it certainly suits the purpose of the people who sent it out,” he said.

“This is a frightening enough story with the facts, you don’t need to dress them up. We don’t want to be seen as saying there is no ­problem out there but we do want people to understand there is a lot of the reef that is unscathed.”

Dr Reichelt said there had been widespread misinterpretation of how much of the reef had died.

“We’ve seen headlines stating that 93 per cent of the reef is prac­tic­ally dead,” he said.

“We’ve also seen reports that 35 per cent, or even 50 per cent, of the entire reef is now gone.

“However, based on our ­combined results so far, the overall mortality rate is 22 per cent — and about 85 per cent of that die-off has occurred in the far north ­between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250km north of Cairns. Seventy-five per cent of the reef will come out in a few months time as recovered.”

Former climate change commissioner Tim Flannery described diving on the Great Barrier Reef near Port Douglas recently as “one of the saddest days of my life”.

“This great organism, the size of Germany and arguably the most diverse place on earth, is dying ­before our eyes,’’ Dr Flannery wrote for Fairfax Media.

“Having watched my father dying two years ago, I know what the signs of slipping away are. This is death, which ever-rising temperatures will allow no recovery from. Unless we act now.”

Dr Reichelt said Dr Flannery’s language had been “dramatic” and “theatrical” and his prognosis, ­although of concern, was “specul­ative”. Dr Reichelt also rejected ­reports, based on leaked draft docu­ments, that improving water quality would cost $16 billion.

He said the interim report had been rejected by a board of which he was member and “taken totally out of context” in media reports.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society said the leaked information demonstrated the legacy of years of poor farming practices and government inaction, and highlighted the scale of ambition needed for political leaders to protect the reef.

The society’s reef campaign ­director, Imogen Zethoven, said Australia’s plans to protect the reef’s water quality were “shockingly underfunded”.

Meanwhile, tourism operators have stepped up a campaign to fight back against the onslaught of negative publicity. “It seems some marine scientists have decided to use the bleaching event to highlight their personal political beliefs and lobby for increased funding in an election year,” said Association of Marine Park Tour Operators executive director Col McKenzie.

Read more!

Australian storm disrupts everything from internet to shipping

A weekend of wild weather in Australia disrupted everything from the internet to shipping and banking, while pummelling coastal towns and exposing insurance companies to hefty payouts.
Channel NewsAsia 6 Jun 16;

SYDNEY: A weekend of wild weather in Australia disrupted everything from the internet to shipping and banking, while pummelling coastal towns and exposing insurance companies to hefty payouts.

Stocks in Australia biggest insurers, including QBE Insurance, Insurance Australia Group and Suncorp, were lower on the Australian Securities Exchange, with the wider market trading in positive territory.

A clean-up was underway on Monday after a low pressure system that brought flooding and strong winds combined with high tidal surges along much of the Australian east coast started to ease.

Australian websites including Channel Nine, Foxtel Play and Domino's Pizza went down on Sunday when Amazon Web Service's Sydney zone experienced a two-hour power outage, according to Australian website ITnews.

Amazon first warned of the outage affecting Elastic Compute via its status page on Sunday afternoon and an hour later confirmed the issue was related to a power problem, the website said.

An Amazon spokesman declined to comment on the matter but Amazon Web Services’ status page on Monday showed several connectivity issues in Sydney had been resolved.

The New South Wales state emergency services said it had received more than 9,250 calls and had conducted 280 flood rescues.

A spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New South Wales state said the Newcastle port, the world's largest exit point for seaborne thermal coal and used by global miners Glencore, Rio Tinto and Anglo American, was placed on restricted ship movements over the weekend but did not sustain any damage.

Port Kembla, the largest vehicle import hub in Australia remained closed, as the storm moved south, according to the spokeswoman.

Big waves were expected to pound the coast on Monday, with the Bureau of Meteorology predicting another day of dangerous conditions, chiefly south of Sydney.

Banks also needed to restore services to automated teller machines that went down.

Mobile, ATM and point-of-sale banking services had been restored after an outage late on Sunday, Westpac said.

“While we aim to ensure continuity of our systems, the severe storm system created disruptions across our network which impacted our services," it said.

Commonwealth Bank said some of its customers were affected by intermittent problems with another ATM provider.

Jan Van Der Schalk, a CLSA analyst said IAG and Suncorp faced few catastrophes in fiscal 2016, ending on June 30.

"Hence, there should be no earnings impact because of this event," Van Der Shalk said.

Insurers said it was too early to tell what the impact might be.

(Reporting by James Regan and Swati Pandey; Editing by Robert Birsel)

- Reuters

Australia flooding forces hundreds into evacuation centres
Torrential rain and high winds battered Australia's east coast on Sunday, leaving up to 26,000 homes without power while flooding forced hundreds of people into evacuation centres.
Channel NewsAsia 5 Jun 16;

MELBOURNE: Torrential rain and high winds battered Australia's east coast on Sunday (June 5), leaving up to 26,000 homes without power while flooding forced hundreds of people into evacuation centres.

Residents from towns along the coast of New South Wales state were evacuated as flood waters rose, while state-owned electricity infrastructure firm Ausgrid said it expected the number of homes without power to rise.

The extreme weather also prompted Sydney Airport to close two of three runways, and forced a Qantas Airways Ltd flight from Shanghai to land at a military air base.

The New South Wales State Emergency Service issued evacuation orders for low-lying areas along the coast and assisted in rescuing stranded residents and livestock.

"NSW forecasters can't recall having a floodwatch for the entire east coast of NSW in the last 30 years," senior meteorologist Adam Morgan of the Bureau of Meteorology's extreme weather section told AFP.

An east-coast low usually affects only a local region intensely, but the current weather system was "very unusual" as it has tracked along the coastline, affecting four states particularly NSW which has a 2,000-kilometre (1,243-mile) long shoreline, Morgan added.

"It's really affected a very large proportion of Australia's population given that a large percentage of Australians live along the eastern seaboard," he said, describing it as an "extreme event".

In a 24-hour period to Sunday morning, the weather bureau said there were widespread rainfalls of between 100-200 millimetres (four-7.9 inches), with the highest-recorded level recorded at Wooli River at 469 millimetres.

Victoria state and the southern island state of Tasmania also experienced a deluge of rain.

At the same time, the east-coast low is coinciding with a king tide, the highest tide of the year, leading to serious erosion on Sydney's northern beaches.

"The fact that we are getting a storm event at the exact same time as those king tides creates this perfect scenario for coastal erosion," Mitchell Harley from the University of New South Wales told AFP, adding that it was the worst erosion in three decades.

While storm conditions usually generate waves of up to eight metres, individual waves of up to 13 metres have been recorded this weekend, he said.

More rain is forecast for NSW later Sunday as the weather system moves south, with fears of localised flooding, with conditions due to ease Monday.

- Reuters/AFP/sk

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Value of eco crimes soars by 26% with devastating impacts on natural world

Environmental crime is now the world’s fourth biggest crime and is a growing threat to security and natural resources, say UN and Interpol
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 3 Jun 16;

The value of the black market industry behind crimes such as ivory smuggling, illegal logging and toxic waste dumping has jumped by 26% since 2014 to between $91bn (£62bn) and $258bn, according to an assessment by the UN and Interpol.

Environmental crime is now the world’s fourth largest illicit enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking and has outstripped the illegal trade in small arms.

The impact on the natural world has been devastating in some cases. More than a quarter of the world’s elephant population have been killed for their tusks in the last decade alone, according to the joint report from the UN’s environment programme (Unep) and Interpol. Efforts to stem the global crime wave have been thwarted by weak laws, ill-prepared security forces, corruption and chronic underfunding.

The report argues that new laws are needed as well as sanctions at national and international levels, the disruption of overseas tax havens, and increased crime-fighting funds.

Interpol’s secretary general, Jürgen Stock, said: “Environmental crime is growing at an alarming pace. The complexity of this type of criminality requires a multi-sector response underpinned by collaboration across borders.”

Unep’s director, Achim Steiner, said: “The vast sums of money generated from these crimes keep sophisticated international criminal gangs in business, and fuel insecurity around the world. The world needs to come together now to take strong national and international action to bring environmental crime to an end.”

The report’s $91bn to $258bn figure is an estimate of the value of crime this year. Prior to the estimated 26% spike since 2014, there had been a 5-7% increase every year since 2006 in the value of felonies including wildlife poaching, smuggling, illegal logging, minerals theft and toxic waste dumping, the study says. As a result, the value of the black-market industry is now increasing at two to three times the rate of the global economy.

‘Environmental crime’ is a collective term to describe illegal activities harming the environment that involve illegal damage to, trade or theft of natural resources.

International agencies currently spend just $20-$30m annually on tackling the crime wave, a sum dwarfed by the revenues of organised crime networks, which often overlap with drug traffickers, terror groups and militias in war-torn states.

In Tanzania, the market price for the 3,000 elephants killed each year is five times higher than the national budget of the country’s wildlife protection service.

Interpol is trying to encourage better coordination and intelligence sharing between the world’s national crime agencies. But a greater focus is needed on long-term investigations that can take down crime kingpins, as well as low-level poachers and smugglers, officers say.

The agency’s approach to environmental crime has evolved towards more controlled operations. These can involve the use of tracking devices on smuggled cargo, satellite surveillance of major shipping routes and analysis of commodity chain data to verify how illegally sourced products reach the market.

The high-profit, low-risk nature of environmental crime is matched by the low funds and uncertain priorities given to fighting it by many decision-takers.

“It is a spiralling problem,” said Davyth Stewart an Interpol criminal intelligence officer. “Law enforcement is over-stretched. The profits made from these crimes are up to 10,000 times higher than the investments to combat them. There’s a very similar disparity between the profits made by organised crime gangs and the resources available to law enforcement and prosecutors.”

More investment, support and capacity building was needed to help officers who were increasingly being met by armed and violent offenders, he added.

Crimes with a lesser financial value but more immediate impact, such as firearms trafficking, routinely benefit from a greater security focus when environmental crime can have consequences just as profound, even if they are felt further down the line.

The destruction of ecosystems can spark violence and unrest as well as social conflicts, mass migrations and the disruption of human habitats and food chains.

Ibrahim Thiaw, Unep’s deputy director said: “Too often, criminals target poor communities that simply can’t afford to feed their families and bring them into the criminal chain. We need to snap this and create programmes that help people earn a living by protecting, conserving and sustaining the environment through either ecotourism or agriculture.”

Unep has recruited celebrities including Gisele Bündchen, Yaya Touré and Neymar Jr to promote a Wild for Life campaign which aims to raise consciousness about the issue and mobilise public support.

In an opinion piece for the Guardian, Bundchen writes: “Environmental awareness is growing all over the world. But so is wildlife crime, and the struggle between those forces seeking to preserve Earth’s rich biodiversity and those trying to turn it into illicit profits is just getting started.”

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