Best of our wild blogs: 12-13 Jun 15

Singapore Bird Report-May 2016
Singapore Bird Group

Butterfly of the Month - June 2016
Butterflies of Singapore

Urban Nature Seminar – Thurs 23 June @ Hort Park

Black-headed Collared Snake (Sibynophis melanocephalus) @ Upper Seletar Reservoir
Monday Morgue

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Indonesia will not allow its citizens to be prosecuted under Singapore laws: VP Kalla

Indonesia's vice-president said those who are suspected for causing last year's forest fires are the concern of the country, where the offence happened.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 13 Jun 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesian vice-president Jusuf Kalla has said that the government will not allow its citizens who are suspected for causing last year's forest fires to be prosecuted under Singapore laws.

“If there is an offence, Singapore can (prosecute), but the offence happened in Indonesia. That’s our concern,” said Mr Kalla on the sidelines of an event on Sunday (Jun 12), according to online news portal Detiknews.

Last month, Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) said it has obtained a court warrant after the director of one of the Indonesian firms linked to illegal forest fires that caused the haze failed to turn up for an interview when he was in Singapore.

Indonesia objected against this move by lodging a strong protest through its ambassador in Singapore.

In September and October 2015, peatland fires caused the region to be cloaked in haze. Errant pulp and paper companies which started fires were believed to be responsible.

Singapore passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) in 2014 to go after companies that started fires or let their concessions burn, and contributed to last year’s haze that blanketed Singapore and part of the region.

The Republic's Foreign Affairs Ministry had said the THPA is consistent with international law, which allows a country to take appropriate action to protect itself from external acts which cause harm within the country.

It stated that the Act does not encroach upon the sovereignty of any specific country.

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli had promised that the government will "take what steps we can to enforce the THPA".

- CNA/hs

Singapore cannot enter Indonesia’s legal domain on forest fire issues: Forestry Minister
Indonesia had taken issue with Singapore's attempts to act against companies responsible for the haze-causing forest fires that choked parts of Indonesia and the region.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 14 Jun 16;

JAKARTA: Singapore cannot step further to enter Indonesia’s legal domain on the issue of forest fires because the two countries do not have an agreement in the matter, said Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar.

“The protocol on forest fires in the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) is a multilateral agreement, so there was never a bilateral agreement between Indonesia and Singapore, that must be remembered,” Dr Nurbaya said during a breaking of fast session with reporters on Monday (Jun 13).

She was responding to a question about Singapore’s Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) which it passed in 2014 to go after companies that start fires or let their concessions burn.

Indonesia has taken issue with Singapore's attempts to act against companies responsible for the haze-causing forest fires that choked parts of Indonesia and the region. Jakarta previously objected by lodging a strong protest through its ambassador in Singapore.

Dr Nurbaya said that she has explained to Singapore’s Foreign Minister that the THPA is controversial, and that it is being continuously discussed on the Asean’s sub-regional ministers level between Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

She added that every country who adhered to the ASEAN agreement needs to respect the sovereignty of each other’s country.

What Singapore has done did not show mutual respect to Indonesia, she said.

“Previously, Singapore's Environment Minister always gives an assessment on policies in Indonesia, for instance, on peatland, it should be like this and like that. That to me, is not an attitude that showed mutual respect,” said Dr Nurbaya.

- CNA/de

Haze: Indonesia won’t allow S’pore to act against its citizens
Today Online 13 Jun 16;

JAKARTA — Indonesia will not allow Singapore to prosecute its citizens suspected of causing forest fires that blanketed the region in haze in 2015, said Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, whose latest critical remarks on the matter were quickly echoed by the Indonesian Environment Minister as she lashed out at Singapore’s move to question the director of an Indonesian company over the haze.

Speaking on the sidelines of an event on Sunday, Mr Kalla claimed Singapore might not have the right to take action because the offence happened in Indonesia. “If there is any offence, Singapore can take action but the offence (occurred) in Indonesia, that is the concern,” he was quoted as saying by news portal.

He was responding to the Singapore National Environment Agency (NEA) announcement last month that it had obtained a court warrant against the director after he failed to heed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act notice served to him by the NEA when he was in Singapore. The notice required him to attend an interview with NEA in relation to ongoing investigations, but he failed to turn up.

Following the NEA’s move, Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar announced that Indonesia would scrap some collaboration projects with Singapore on environment, forestry and haze-related issues as part of a unilateral review by Jakarta on bilateral cooperation.

On Monday (June 13), Ms Nurbaya stepped up the angry rhetoric. “The most important principle is that cooperation is done with respect for each country’s sovereignty,” she said in Jakarta. “What has been done by Singapore, in my opinion, does not show their mutual respect to Indonesia.”

Ms Nurbaya had previously told Singapore to focus on its own role in addressing the haze issue instead of “making so many comments”, while Mr Kalla had said his country’s neighbours never “thanked” Indonesia for 11 months of fresh air and refused to apologise for last year’s haze, which blanketed Singapore and parts of the region.

In response to Mr Kalla’s latest comments, a Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources spokesperson said on Monday: “Transboundary haze pollution is a multilateral issue requiring greater bilateral and regional cooperation among all stakeholders to overcome.” AGENCIES

Indonesia lashes out at Singapore in new haze row
AFP Yahoo News 13 Jun 16;

Jakarta (AFP) - Indonesia's environment minister lashed out Monday at Singapore for failing to show "respect" after the city-state tried to question the director of an Indonesian company over last year's haze outbreak.

It was the latest row between the neighbours over the smog-belching Indonesian forest fires that choked Singapore, Malaysia and other parts of the region with acrid smog for weeks.

The blazes are an annual occurrence during the dry season as land is cleared using slash-and-burn methods but they were the worst for some time in 2015, with Singapore particularly angered at what it said was Jakarta's failure to take action.

Tempers frayed again after Singapore last month tried to call in the director of an Indonesian company suspected of being linked to the haze for questioning when the individual was in the city-state, Singaporean media reported.

Jakarta is furious at what it sees as a violation of its sovereignty, and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar stepped up the angry rhetoric Monday.

"The most important principle is that cooperation is done with respect for each country's sovereignty," she told reporters in Jakarta.

"What has been done by Singapore, in my opinion, does not show their mutual respect to Indonesia."

Bakar said she was seeking a review of "of all issues of cooperation with Singapore concerning the environment and forestry".

She also pointed out that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member regional bloc that includes Indonesia and Singapore, had an agreement to deal with forest fires that was based on cooperation.

Her comments came after Indonesia's Vice President Jusuf Kalla insisted that Singapore cannot take legal action against Indonesian citizens.

The director of the firm called in by Singaporean authorities reportedly did not turn up for the interview despite being served with a legal notice and has since left the city-state. The individual or the firm were not named in the reports.

Singapore is seeking to take legal action under a 2014 law that allows the city-state to levy heavy fines on local or foreign companies that contribute to unhealthy levels of haze pollution in the city-state.

Singapore has also given notices to six Indonesian-based firms, asking them to explain what they are doing to put out fires on their land.

S'pore can't take legal action against Indonesians over haze: Jakarta
Arlina Arshad, Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Jun 16;

Indonesia will not allow one of its citizens accused of causing forest fires last year to be "processed" under the laws of Singapore, said its Vice-President Jusuf Kalla.

"If there is an offence, Singapore can take action, but (the offence) occurred in Indonesia, that is the concern," he said on Sunday.

Mr Kalla was referring to Singapore's action against companies responsible for causing the forest fires in Indonesia that led to last year's transboundary haze crisis.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar yesterday echoed his sentiments in her response to questions from reporters after a climate change event in Jakarta.

She said the ASEAN agreement on transboundary haze pollution is a multilateral one, and not a bilateral pact between Singapore and Indonesia.

Thus, "Singapore cannot step further into Indonesia's legal domain", added Ms Siti.

She said Singapore's Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) remains a "controversial" law that is still being debated among ASEAN officials from Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. That is why she feels that Singapore's action under the law against errant firms in her country is not a show of "mutual respect" to Indonesia.

"The basic principle of co-operation is that countries should respect each other's sovereignty," she said.

She added that Indonesia is not "keeping still" and has imposed sanctions on firms responsible for fires that led to the haze.

These latest comments come after Singapore's National Environment Agency said last month that it had obtained a court warrant against an Indonesian company director in line with the THPA.

This is after the director had failed to turn up for an interview despite being served a legal notice to explain his firm's measures to tackle fires on its concession land.

Ms Siti had said on May 14 that certain bilateral collaborations with Singapore will be terminated and others subjected to a review.

Singapore's Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, however, said last week that it has renewed its haze assistance package to Indonesia, which it has been offering since 2005.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli has maintained that Singapore's action has the support of the international community. "We are not doing anything criminal nor wrong. We are just asking for the companies and the directors to own up and be accountable for what they've done."

Indonesia has yet to indicate its acceptance of Singapore's help, but Mr Kalla said his country will accept help if it is really needed and reminded its neighbours that tackling the forest fires is "not as easy as what our friends in ASEAN think".

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Ang Mo Kio gets Singapore's first red cycling paths

Two completed stretches of designated cycling paths opened in Ang Mo Kio on Saturday, with a 4km loop to open in July.
Channel NewsAsia 11 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: From Saturday (Jun 11), residents in Ang Mo Kio can make use of two completed stretches of designated cycling paths, the first in Singapore to be marked in red to make them more distinguishable.

They are part of plans to transform Ang Mo Kio into Singapore's first model walking and cycling town, which were unveiled by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in December 2014.

According to LTA, a 4km loop cycling route around Ang Mo Kio Avenues 1, 3 and 8 is also expected to open in July. Work on it started in December last year.

When fully completed, residents will be able to enjoy a 20km-long cycling path network, including a 2.6km cycling and walking corridor that will connect the MRT viaduct between Yio Chu Kang MRT station and Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.

LTA will also incorporate features, such as pedestrian priority zones, traffic junctions enhanced with safety features and map boards, to make it safer and more conducive for cycling and walking.

- CNA/ek

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Singapore is most 'light-polluted' country: Researchers

The bright side: global 'light pollution' obscures starry nights
WILL DUNHAM Reuters 10 Jun 16;

When Vincent van Gogh peered out the window of the Saint-Paul asylum at the nighttime sky in Saint-Rémy in 1889, he saw the brilliant light of innumerable stars over southern France that inspired his evocative painting "The Starry Night."

But nights no longer are so starry for billions of people. About 83 percent of the world's population, including more than 99 percent in Europe and the United States, live in areas beset by nocturnal "light pollution" from the incessant glow of electric lights, researchers said on Friday.

It is so pervasive that more than a third of people globally, including nearly 80 percent of North Americans and 60 percent of Europeans, cannot see the luminous band of the Milky Way, a familiar nighttime sight for the eons of human existence.

"It is surprising how in a few decades of lighting growth we have enveloped most of humanity in a curtain of light that hides the view of the greatest wonder of nature: the universe itself," said Fabio Falchi of the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Italy, who led the research published in the journal Science Advances.

"Our civilization's roots are connected to the night sky in every field, from literature to art to philosophy to religion and, of course, to science."

Physicist Christopher Kyba of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences added, "Appreciating beauty is just part of what makes us human."

The researchers used satellite and sky brightness data to create a global atlas of light pollution, the artificial illumination of the night sky sufficient to substantially wash out starlight. It is one of humankind's most omnipresent forms of environmental alteration, exemplified by the nocturnal glow over cities.

"Countries even as large as Italy or Spain or France or Germany do not have any single spot in their territory with a pristine night sky," Falchi added.

Despite the American West's vast open spaces, almost half of U.S. territory has light-polluted nights. The East Coast is particularly hit hard, with only part of Maine and the islands at the end of the Florida Keys having pristine sky quality, U.S. National Park Service researcher Dan Duriscoe said.

The most light-polluted country is Singapore. The hardest-hit G20 countries are Italy and South Korea.

Only small areas in western Europe remain relatively unaffected, mostly in Scotland, Sweden and Norway. Australia and Africa are least-affected among the populated continents.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Crowdfunding helps woman set up solar energy system at home

SIAU MING EN Today Online 13 Jun 16; 4:00 AM, JUNE 13, 2016UPDATED: 6:07 AM, JUNE 13, 2016
SINGAPORE — When Ms Joyce Goh, 49, was renovating her Bukit Timah home a decade ago, she wanted to build a solar energy system on her rooftop, but it was too costly.

Things changed last week when Singaporeans helped her fund a solar photovoltaic (PV) system — possibly the first successful solar crowdfunding project for residential homes in Asia.

The project raised S$22,500 from two investors in 11 days, and the homemaker will install a 4.725 kWp solar PV system on her three-storey home in Cheng Soon Garden in the weeks ahead.

SunVest, the crowdfunding platform from SolarPVExchange, will put up more renewable projects, such as solar PV systems, for crowdfunding.

If successful, homeowners could adopt solar energy and, instead of paying upfront costs, fund their systems through an instalment plan. For instance, as Ms Goh, who lives with her husband and five children, is paying for another round of home renovations, SunVest’s 12-month instalment plan helps spread out the S$22,500 payment, she said.

Meanwhile, investors could earn interest through such green, renewable projects. In Ms Goh’s project, they will get 7 per cent, but the returns can vary, SolarPVExchange managing director Rob Khoo said.

He added that it is difficult to pinpoint a range of returns, which depend on local market conditions and the project’s size, costs and profile, among other factors.

Minimally, SunVest requires at least S$3,000 from its “green investors” for each project, with returns “based on the commercial arrangement with the project partners”. So far, it has successfully crowdfunded two projects.

Ms Celine Lim, one of the investors for Ms Goh’s project, said she was “greening” her investment portfolio as part of a lifestyle overhaul to mitigate climate change however she can.

The co-organiser of Singapore Eco Film Festival felt the investment, her first in a solar energy project, made sense given that Singapore gets sunlight year-round.

Though she declined to reveal the amount she invested, Ms Lim said the return will probably be enough to offset her personal carbon emissions for this year, and “definitely beats the current rate of inflation”.

“As with any other investment, investing in solar energy carries a certain risk, so I did my due diligence, as well as made sure I didn’t have a bad gut feeling about it,” said Ms Lim.

The system at Ms Goh’s home will generate about 6,000 kWh of clean energy a year, which will go into the grid. The monthly grid contributions will be reflected as deductions — expected to be 20 to 35 per cent lower — to her monthly utilities bill.

The solar energy system will also double as a canopy to cool the house and reduce its reliance on air conditioning.

Though none of her peers had a home solar-energy system, Ms Goh told TODAY she wanted to try it out herself.

“I’m driving an electric car, and when I get my building materials, I try to get recycled materials ... Solar energy was in line with what I wanted and what I believe in,” she added.

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Malaysia: Curbing food wastage at source

SUZANNA PILLAY New Straits Times 12 Jun 16;

Stopping the rot: Food which does not reach dining tables was the focus of the recent MySave Food forum jointly organised by Mardi and the FAO, Suzanna Pillay writes

MENTION post-harvest losses of produce like fruits and vegetables and the immediate thought uppermost in most Malaysians minds is: How much more are these going to cost?

By removing part of the food supply from the market, food losses contribute to high food prices, says the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

They also have an impact on climate change as land, water, human labour and non-renewable resources, such as fertilisers and energy, are used to produce, process, handle and transport food that nobody consumes.

Crops also lose value from incorrect harvesting, exposure to the elements and extremes of temperature, physical damage from inappropriate handling, loading packing or transportation.

According to the FAO, the distribution of food losses and waste (FLW) varies greatly by region and product. In middle and high-income countries, most of the FLW occur at distribution and consumption stages, while in low-income countries FLW are concentrated at the production and post-harvest stages. FLW peak at 280-300kg per capita per year in Europe and North America and 120-170kg per capita per year in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia.

“There are many factors contributing to the prices of fruits and vegetables. Post-harvest losses are one of the factors. It will affect the farmers’ incomes more, since farmers are not getting optimum production due to these losses,” said Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) director-general Datuk Dr Sharif Haron.

“There is no direct correlation between reduction of post-harvest losses and increase in the price of produce, but as reduction of food losses can increase the production and yield of produce, it can potentially increase the export of our agriculture products and decrease the need to import from abroad.”

In 2014, about 1.4 million tonnes of vegetables, 1.6 million tonnes of fruits and 2.6 million tonnes of padi were produced in Malaysia. Post-harvest losses for padi were around 28.5 per cent and it was found that food losses also occurred in every step of the value chain as follows — harvesting (nine per cent), milling (six per cent), drying (3.5 per cent), transportation (six per cent) and storage (four per cent).

Post-harvest losses for fruits and vegetables were around 20 to 50 per cent with production (10 to 20 per cent), field handling (five to 10 per cent), post-harvest handling (two to 20 per cent) and distribution (five to 15 per cent), with an estimated loss of between three and 20 per cent to the average consumer.

Sharif said FLW in Malaysia could be tackled by educating industry players like farmers, wholesalers and market workers on the correct technologies and standard procedures to reduce post-harvest losses.

“Farmers can improve farm activities by using technology to harvest crops at correct maturity, to provide suitable storage temperature, proper handling and packaging. By changing their attitude and increasing their knowledge and awareness through courses and training, they can also achieve this objective.”

As an example, he cited the practice of composting. Most Malaysian farmers are aware of this, but aside from organic farmers, few farmers practise this. Instead, they prefer to rely on easily available chemical fertilisers in the market for higher yields and less diseased crops.

“Farmers haven’t fully embraced composting yet because not only can they get cheaper compost from the market, but also because they lack the proper facilities and space to do it. They do not have sufficient raw materials to be composted, plus it is a time-consuming process with high labour cost.”

Sharif also recommended that farmers use pesticides on their crops judiciously.

“The majority of the farmers are using pesticides to minimise the infestation of pest in the field. Indirectly, it helps to reduce losses.

“However, over-application of pesticides will cause higher losses due to rejection of the produce by the authority.”
Mardi’s recommendations to reduce post-harvest losses are: for farmers to adopt the numerous post-harvest technologies and handling systems that have been developed by Mardi and other organisations.

Farmers could be reintroduced to the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) systems.
“The former is an ecologically- based pest-control strategy that relies heavily on natural mortality factors, such as weather, natural enemies and seeks out control tactics that disturb these factors as little as possible.

“GAP refers to a farm management system implemented according to standards and laws or regulations to control or reduce the hazard, risk and impact of agricultural production to produce quality and safe food, while taking into account economical, social and environmental sustainability.

“Both systems not only increase farmers’ income and production yield, but also reduce health risks to humans and harm to the environment,” he added.

For the benefit of key players in the food value chain, Sharif said there should also be more training on how to reduce food losses through short courses; collaborations with ministries, extension agencies, private sector (exporters and distributors) and government-linked companies to reduce food losses under the MySaveFood Initiative or other initiatives; as well as partnerships with international agencies to improve research based on knowledge-sharing and creating awareness programmes.

Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama) deputy director-general Mansor Omar said food losses in the production and distribution segments of the food supply chain were mainly caused by the functioning of the food production and supply system or its institutional and legal framework.

Fama’s 3P System for adoption and implementation by farmers, which stands for grading, packaging and labelling, will ensure traceability of all produce marketed.

He said a Fama 2014 study on post-harvest losses of fruits and vegetables in Malaysia showed a 4.09 to 13.19 per cent loss at farm level for vegetables, a 0.69 to six per cent loss at the wholesalers and a 1.60 to 4.29 per cent loss at retailers.

Fruit losses ranged from 4.24 to 11.91 per cent at farms, 1.03 to 4.67 per cent at the wholesalers and 0.5 to 6.32 per cent at retailers.

Cameron Highlands Malay Farmers Association chairman Syed Abdul Rahman Syed Abdul Rashid said post-harvest handling of vegetables in the highlands had come a long way in the last 30 years.

The highlands produce 600 tonnes of vegetables daily and yearly production values of vegetables are estimated at RM600 million.

Seventy per cent is consumed locally, while 25 per cent is exported to Singapore and five per cent to countries, such as Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates and the Maldives.

“There has been much improvement and losses have been reduced to almost half over the period.

However, post-harvest losses are still relatively high, ranging from five to 30 per cent.

“From the farm to the table, losses occur at several stages, starting from field production to in-field handling, packaging and storage, marketing and distribution to consumption.”

Besides unstable and low vegetable prices, increase in cost of production, losses due to poor post-harvest handling and packaging, pest and disease, pollution of food from the environment and losses due to pesticide residue on crops are also major issues.

“Crops with residue are not harvested, while marketed produce with high pesticide residue are rejected and destroyed.
“Unregistered pesticides used in Cameron Highlands are estimated to be high, at between RM50 million and RM100 million per year, and may be the reason for pollution in the rivers.”

To overcome the problem, he suggested teaching farmers the right usage of pesticides, biological controls, IPM and GAP.
Apart from providing training support to farmers, he said facilitating access to credit and other supportive policies that promote the ease of doing business would be desirable.

His association is looking at recycling, measures to reduce soil erosion, retraining the farmers on correct pesticide use, re-introducing IPM and GAP and getting certification via the Organic Certification Scheme.

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Malaysia: Padi farmers: Do more for our rice bowl

The Star 11 Jun 16;

SEKINCHAN: Padi farmers here – known as the rice bowl of Selangor because of its high yield – are hoping that the Government can do more to help those who are struggling.

This year’s drier and hotter weather due to El Nino means the padi harvest this month was no cause for celebration.

Rice yield has dropped by as much as 20%.

“This means if our harvest used to be 10 tonnes, it is only eight now,” said Sekinchan’s Farm Operators Unit chairman Sam Fai.

An average farmer operates a 1.2ha padi field.

The Government, Sam added, was trying to help with announcements under Budget 2016 of a RM300 subsidy and an additional RM50 incentive for each tonne of rice produced.

“However, the deduction for wet padi has been increased from 17% to 20% this year. This was implemented across the board from Batang Kali to Sabak Bernam.

“It cancels out the subsidy we receive,” said Sam, who has a 2.4ha field.

Wet padi is deducted for moisture before being sold. Rice can only be harvested twice a year – in June and December – at a fixed price of RM1,200 per tonne.

The money was not enough to eke out a living, said Sam, a life-long MCA member.

“It is good that my six children are old enough now.

“They are all working in Kuala Lumpur and send me and my wife money every month,” he said.

Besides having to contend with others for water, he said farmers here were not allowed to sell their rice to other states.

“We hope this can be resolved soon,” Sam said.

A former rice farmer, known only as Siaw, said he now grew kangkung, okra and choy sum to make a living although these were also not risk-free.

Sekinchan is home to more than 1,000 padi farmers operating some 1,200ha of fields.

It has over 9,000 of the 13,000 Chinese voters in Sungai Besar.

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Indonesia: Protecting tiger habitats - Challenges, opportunities

Reidinar Juliane, Arief Wijaya and Satrio A. Wicaksono Jakarta Post 11 Jun 16;

The tiger is not only a charismatic example of megafauna, but also an umbrella species. As a predator at the top of the food chain, tigers maintain the balance between herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. Thus, by protecting and conserving tigers, we also help preserve biodiversity and a whole suite of ecological processes within their habitat.

Tigers are mostly solitary, which is why they need a large territory to survive. Unfortunately, habitat loss, along with poaching, has significantly brought down tiger populations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the world has lost 97 percent of wild tigers in just over a century and less than 3,500 tigers remain in the wild today.

There are currently 13 tiger-range countries in the world, including Indonesia with six priority Tiger Conservation Landscapes (TCLs) in Sumatra, i.e. protected areas to conserve tigers: Ulumasen-Leuser, Kampar-Kerumutan, Bukit Tigapuluh, Kerinci Seblat, Bukit Balai Rejang Selatan and Bukit Barisan Selatan.

In addition to the Sumatran tiger, Indonesia used to be home to Bali and Javan tigers, but they became extinct in the 1960s due to rampant poaching and abuse. A 2010 study by the Smithsonian Institution estimated that there are no more than 400 tigers in Sumatra. With only a few tigers remaining in Sumatra, TCLs have become more important than ever.

A recent joint study by researchers from the University of Minnesota, RESOLVE, Stanford University, the Smithsonian, the University of Maryland and the World Resources Institute revealed that saving tigers from extinction is within reach as long as their remaining landscapes are effectively monitored and protected. The study suggests that less than 8 percent of all 76 TCLs (nearly 79,600 square kilometers) was lost from 2001-2014, which was less than anticipated given that tiger habitats generally span fast-growing developing economies.

Other encouraging news is that the Khata corridor in the Terai Arc Landscape, Nepal, connecting Nepal’s Bardia National Park and India’s Katerniaghat Tiger Reserve, gained tree cover over 2.7 percent of its area in the last 14 years, which has likely resulted in an increase of 32 tigers between 2009 and 2013 in Bardia. Nepal and India in general also experienced 61 and 31 percent increases in tiger populations from 2001-2014 thanks to community-driven forestry programs and antipoaching efforts.

Unfortunately, their findings for Southeast Asia were not as rosy as those for Nepal and India. The vast majority (98 percent) of tiger forest habitat loss occurred within just 10 TCLs in Indonesia and Malaysia. Indeed, our analysis based on the Global Forest database revealed that the six priority TCLs in Indonesia have lost 12.5 percent of their forests in the past 14 years. Kampar-Kerumutan experienced the highest tree cover loss of 3,389.5 sqkm (34 percent of its total area), followed by Bukit Tigapuluh with almost 3,000 sqkm tree cover loss (42 percent) and Kerinci Seblat with 2,361.60 sqkm tree cover loss (8.35 percent).

However, Bukit Balai Rejang Selatan, Bukit Barisan Selatan and Leuser experienced less than 270 sqkm (less than 9 percent) tree cover loss, with Leuser only experiencing tree cover loss of 0.09 percent of its total area, suggesting that these landscapes are relatively intact and there is still hope for protecting Sumatran tigers’ remaining habitats.

Our analysis also revealed that more than 12,000 sqkm of oil palm and timber concessions overlap with 16 percent of the six priority TCLs in Sumatra, strongly suggesting that the conversion of natural forest to plantations for agricultural commodities has become a major driver of tiger habitat loss in Indonesia.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the three TCLs that recorded the highest tree cover loss also recorded major overlaps with oil palm and timber concessions. These concessions overlap with 48 percent of Kampar Kerumutan’s landscape, 42 percent of Bukit Tigapuluh’s and 13.5 percent of Kerinci Seblat’s.

We cannot afford to lose more Sumatran tigers. Many have suggested that habitat loss, poaching of tigers’ prey and tiger poaching are three major threats to tiger populations in Sumatra. Our analysis highlighted the threats posed by oil palm and timber plantations to defined TCLs in Indonesia, most of which have been designated as national parks or wildlife reserves. Therefore, merely turning tiger habitats into conservation areas is not enough. Collaborative efforts are needed to ensure that habitats for one of the most iconic species are protected and restored.

To protect existing Sumatran tiger habitats, continuous monitoring is needed. Satellite-driven data to monitor near real-time forest change via Global Forest Watch will be useful to preempt further efforts to encroach upon or convert TCLs for other land uses.

The involvement of locals both to protect habitat loss and to combat illegal tiger poaching is crucial.

The government should integrate the management of TCLs with the land-use plans of surrounding regions, including in addressing the challenges associated with human population growth. Finally, restoring degraded or deforested areas within TCLs will be critical. The lesson from Nepal, which succeeded in increasing its number of tigers by protecting and expanding tree cover in its TCLs, provides us with a glimpse of hope.

The authors, respectively, are communications coordinator, forest and landscape restoration manager and climate and forests manager at the World Resources Institute Indonesia in Jakarta.

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Indonesia: Rapid deforestation taking place in Jambi

Jon Afrizal The Jakarta Post 11 Jun 16;

An area of forest the size of eight soccer fields is lost every hour in Jambi, Sumatra, leaving forests in the province in a critical condition, according to a conservation organization.

Today, there are only about 1 million hectares of forest left in Jambi, or one-fifth of the province’s total area of about 50,000 square kilometers.

“The size of forest loss in Jambi is quite big and the province is struggling to preserve its remaining forests,” Rudi Syaf, chairman of the Indonesian Conservation Community (KKI Warsi), said recently.

The conservation group said based on satellite imaging, Jambi had lost up to 189,125 hectares of forest due to deforestation from 2012 to 2016. A 2012 survey showed that total forested areas in Jambi constituted around 1.16 million hectares. However, in 2016, that figure has dropped to 970,434 hectares.

Rudi said the loss of forests was due to human activity, including the issuance of industrial forest permits (HTI) for concession areas and legal and illegal mining activities.

“Deforestation has even reached into protected areas,” he said.

The most severe deforestation has been recorded in the south of the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park (TNBD), where land clearing activities are carried out by a number of HTI companies, including Lestari Asri Jaya and Wana Mukti Wisesa, and Mugitriman Internasional and Malacca Agro Perkasa in Bungo regency, as well as in Merangin regency, where the Hijau Arta Nusa and Jebus Maju HTI companies operate.

Field observations have also detected forest loss as a result of illegal land clearing activities carried out by other parties. Massive land clearing is also carried out in Tebo regency, especially after the opening of an access road in a forested area linking a plantation company owned by Sinar Mas with its timber processing plant in Tebing Tinggi, West Tanjung Jabung.

The deforestation is also caused by the presence of legal and illegal mines in forested areas. Mining activities in forested areas permitted by the Environment and Forestry Ministry between 2013 and 2015 reached 84,000 hectares, while other forested areas were cleared for illegal mining.

Monitoring at the Batang Tabir river stream in Merangin regency found a large forested area being opened up by illegal gold mining companies.

“Forest clearance for the illegal mines has even reached into the Kerinci Seblat National Park,” said Rudi.

He added that forest degradation and deforestation had caused additional ecological disasters in Jambi in recent years, such as the flash floods that hit a number of areas in Merangin, Bungo and Sarolangun regencies this year.

“This shows that the destruction of forests has caused the loss of a balanced ecosystem and this poses a danger to the survival of human beings, especially residents living around forests that are being demolished,” said Rudi.

He added that the government was not serious about improving forest management to save forests.

Based on analysis conducted in areas with natural forests that are densely covered, they should be maintained in order to preserve the ecosystem.

“So, the most important thing right now is the work of the government to improve the forest management of plantation companies,” he said.

As for illegal mining, Rudi added, the government should immediately revise spatial planning and allocate mining areas for traditional gold miners.

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Indonesia: Forest fire suspect freed from charges

Jakarta Post 11 Jun 16;

The Pangkalan Kerinci District Court has declared Frans Katihotang, who was accused of causing forest and land fires, not guilty on all charges.

“The defendant was not proven guilty,” chief judge I Dewa Gede Budhy Dharma Asmara said Friday, reading out the verdict.

The chief judge ordered state prosecutors to release Frans from detention and to rehabilitate his name and dignity. One judge, Ayu Amelia, however, voiced a dissenting opinion.

At an earlier court hearing, prosecutors charged the defendant with negligence for an act that eventually caused the fires, but the panel of judges said witness testimony did not support the charges.

On the contrary, according to the testimony of witnesses, the defendant directly led the effort to extinguish the fires that broke out on July 27, 2015. With the help of locals and the use of fire extinguishers belonging to his company, PT Langgam Inti Hibrindo, the fires were put out by July 31.

In addition, an expert witness from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said the hotspots were outside the company’s concession area.

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Indonesia: Firms promote best practices on North Sumatra peatland

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 11 Jun 16;

A number of oil palm plantation companies in North Sumatra claim that they implement sustainable agricultural practices in peatland areas. The claims have come about in response to public concerns over the destructive impacts of the industry’s excessive expansion over the past years.

Earlier this year, the government pledged to impose a moratorium on new oil palm plantation licenses on the back of weakening global demand for palm oil as well as massive deforestation fueled by the overexpansion of oil palm plantations in the world’s top palm oil producing country.

The anticipated moratorium will also pave the way for the government to restore up to 2 million hectares of damaged peatland as it plans to move the country away from a dependency on palm oil to other crops that are more suitable to the characteristics of peatland.

Responding to the plan, some industry players said they welcomed the proposed policy but also underlined their ongoing efforts to promote sustainable agricultural practices in peatland areas.

Syukri Noviar, unit manager for PTPN IV Meranti Paham, a part of state-run plantation firm PT Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) IV, speaking to reporters who recently visited the company’s plantation area in South Labuhan Batu regency, North Sumatra, said most of the company’s oil palm crops were cultivated on peatland as they yielded good quality products compared to those grown in mineral soil.

“We have been growing oil palm on peatland for about 50 years, and the result has been great because the land is very fertile,” Syukri said, adding the company cultivates oil palm crops on 3,750 hectares of peatland and on 1,010 hectares of mineral soil.

Yields produced by oil palm crops planted on peatland reach 24 tons per hectare of land. The results are higher than those generated by oil palm crops planted in mineral soil, Syukri said.

“We booked a net profit of Rp 62 billion [US$4.7 million] last year. Every year, our profits increase due to the implementation of peatland management,” he added.

If used properly, oil palm crops cultivated on peatland are also highly resistant to peatland fires, said Mardani Tampubolon, unit manager of PTPN IV Ajamu, another PTPN IV subsidiary. He added that the company had also implemented supervised water management systems in their plantation areas to maintain soil fertility.

Meanwhile, PT Socfin Indonesia manager Bambang Setia Hidayat said his company had been planting oil palm on peatland for over 70 years, referring to peatland as “the most suitable place” for the crop.

According to calculations from the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister, the country can meet its target of producing 40 million tons of crude palm oil (CPO) by 2020 sustainably without expanding existing oil palm plantations. Indonesia’s CPO production in 2015 was estimated to be 31 million tons, up from 27 million tons in 2013.

Erwin Harahap, an agriculture science professor at the University of North Sumatra, said oil palm crops provided economic benefits and also environmental benefits as the crops were capable of fertilizing the surrounding soil.

“Oil palm is the only crop that is able to grow on degraded and nutrient-poor peatland,” Erwin said. (vny)

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Indonesia: Calls grows for end to plastic bags in stores

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 11 Jun 16;

Last week, Environment and Forestry Ministry spokesman Novrizal Tahar headed to a minimarket near his house in Kampung Utan, Ciputat, South Tangerang, to buy four large bottles of water.

As usual, he brought along his own shopping bag. However, as he paid for his water, the cashier advised him there was no longer any need to do so, as the minimarket had begun providing plastic bags free of charge again.

“Can you imagine? I was furious,and I reported it to the ministry’s waste management director, Sudirman,” Novrizal recounted.

He is among a growing number of consumers who are aware that reusing shopping bags is a key measure in the reduction of plastic and not merely a question of saving a few thousand rupiah.

Plastic bag waste from modern retailers in Indonesia is estimated to reach 9.8 billion bags a year, or about 38 bags per person. Worldwide, only China uses more plastic bags than Indonesia.

Another estimate, by Greeneration Indonesia, puts plastic bag usage from both modern and traditional retailers at 700 per person per year, or 178.5 billion bags. More than 12 million barrels of crude oil are needed to produce that amount of plastic bags.

Plastic shopping bags are so resilient, pervasive and toxic that the country has arrived at a tipping point; the entire ecosystem is off balance, with tens of thousands of turtles, whales, sea birds and other marine creatures dying each year after ingesting plastic material.

Earlier this year, the government introduced a requirement for modern retailers to charge customers for plastic bags, the largest concerted effort to date to reduce plastic waste. The policy applied initially only to 23 cities, before being expanded nationwide on June 1.

The public reacted positively to the policy, with an immediate 25 percent reduction in plastic bag use in the 23 cities, according to Environment and Forestry Ministry data.

“The steepest decrease was in Banjarmasin, with 80 percent, followed by Palembang, Surabaya and Bandung, each with 40 percent,” Sudirman said.

Banjarmasin’s especially sharp reduction was a result of the local authorities’ blanket ban on the sale of plastic bags by retailers and consumers and retailers are now demanding a similar ban nationwide.

“Consumers’ main suggestion for this policy is to totally ban sales of plastic bags at modern retailers, rather than doing things by halves,” Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) researcher Natalya Kurniawati told The Jakarta Post.

The YLKI, she said, was contacted by ever-growing numbers of consumers saying they would like to see all modern retailers stop handing out or selling plastic bags.

“Consumers are increasingly saying they want to change their habits. They’re asking why there is still no clear policy on this matter,” Natalya said, adding that the YLKI had also received a number of reports that some Jakarta retailers were handing out plastic bags free of charge, in contravention of the policy.

Some modern retailers have reportedly decided to provide free plastic bags again after the end of the plastic bag tax’s first trial period, which ran until May 31.

The government subsequently issued a circular to regional governments stipulating the continuation of the policy, but some retailers are apparently unaware of this.

Others, though, seem keen to answer growing demand for tough action on plastic bags.

“We would have no problem with a blanket ban on plastic bags [...] In countries like Japan and South Korea, all retailers are banned from handing out plastic bags,” said Indonesian Retailers Association (Aprindo) chairman Roy Mandey.

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Mass bleaching of Sri Lanka coral reefs


Higher than normal ocean temperatures off Sri Lanka’s coast is threatening to damage the best coral reefs in the island, according to surveys done by marine scientists of the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA).

“Underwater surveys shows widespread bleaching or whitening along the reefs, especially in shallow depths (of less than 10 meters) in the south and south west coast and also reported in Jaffna and Bar Reef in Kalpitiya,” a statement said.

NARA scientists diving on the reefs said huge areas of previously pristine reefs they have seen in Unawatuna, Weligama, Mirissa and Polhena are being turned into barren white.

All signs point to a repeat of a similar bleaching event in 1997/1998 which saw over 50 per cent of some reefs in Sri Lanka being destroyed, NARA said.

“Coral bleaching events have been increasing in both frequency and extent worldwide in the resent past years. Global climate change may play a role in the increase in coral bleaching events.”

NARA said the intolerable heat experienced over the past months is being blamed for the coral bleaching, which experts fear could be worse than in 1997/1998.

According to Mark Eakin, co-ordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch, the bleaching is very strong throughout south east Asia and the central Indian Ocean.

“Increased ocean temperatures due to climate change, combined with the warming effects of an El Niño pattern are driving temperatures to record levels and threatening to severely deplete the coral reef ecosystems that support fish habitats, shoreline protection and coastal economies mainly through fisheries and tourism,” he said.

Many of the reefs affected by the 1998 El Niño have made at least partial recoveries, NARA said.

“However, even when reefs do recover, old growth corals that may have taken centuries to mature are often replaced with faster growing species that quickly colonize large areas, homogenizing the ecosystem.”

Bleaching of coral reef may result in changes in diversity, with more sensitive coral species gradually being replaced by more tolerant ones, reducing the biodiversity of the coral reef.
(Colombo/June 11 2016)

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Average 'dead zone' predicted for Gulf of Mexico in 2016

NOAA Headquarters ScienceDaily 10 Jun 16;

Scientists forecast that this year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone -- an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and marine life -- will be approximately 5,898 square miles or about the size of Connecticut, the same range as it has averaged over the last several years.

Scientists forecast that this year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone--an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and marine life -- will be approximately 5,898 square miles or about the size of Connecticut, the same range as it has averaged over the last several years.

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico affects nationally important commercial and recreational fisheries. Hypoxic zones or "dead zones" are caused by high levels of nutrients, primarily from activities such as industrialized agriculture and inadequate wastewater treatment.

The low oxygen levels cannot support most marine life and habitats in near-bottom waters. Organisms that can flee the dead zones leave the area, while others which cannot leave are stressed or die of suffocation. Reducing nutrients flowing to the Gulf would help the situation since, under normal conditions, this area contains a diversity of marine life, critical habitats, and a number of key fisheries.

"Dead zones are a real threat to Gulf fisheries and the communities that rely on them," said Russell Callender, Ph.D., assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service. "We'll continue to work with our partners to advance the science to reduce that threat. One way we're doing that is by using new tools and resources, like better predictive models, to provide better information to communities and businesses."

The NOAA-sponsored Gulf of Mexico hypoxia forecast is improving due to advancements of individual models and an increase in the number of models used for the forecast. Forecasts based on multiple models are called ensemble forecasts and are commonly used in hurricane and other weather forecasts.

This year marks the second year that a four-model forecast has been used. The four individual model predictions ranged from 5,204 to 6,823 square miles, and had a collective predictive interval of 3,200 to 8,597 square miles. The forecast assumes typical weather conditions, and the actual dead zone could be disrupted by hurricanes or tropical storms. Data from these four models are used to determine and meet the nutrient reduction targets set by the interagency Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force.

The ensemble of models was developed by NOAA-sponsored modeling teams and researchers at the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences/College of William and Mary, Texas A&M University, North Carolina State University, and the United States Geological Survey. The hypoxia forecast is part of a larger NOAA effort to deliver ecological forecasts that support human health and well-being, coastal economies, and coastal and marine stewardship.

The Gulf of Mexico hypoxia forecast is based on nutrient runoff and river and stream data from USGS. USGS estimates that 146,000 metric tons of nitrate and 20,800 metric tons of phosphorus flowed down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers into the Gulf of Mexico in May 2016. This is about 12 percent above the long-term (1980-2015) average for nitrogen, and 25 percent above the long-term average for phosphorus.

USGS operates more than 2,700 real-time stream gauges, 60 real-time nitrate sensors, and collects water quality data at long-term stations throughout the Mississippi River basin to track how nutrient loads are changing over time.

"By expanding the real-time nitrate monitoring network with partners throughout the basin, USGS is improving our understanding of where, when, and how much nitrate is pulsing out of small streams and large rivers and ultimately emptying to the Gulf of Mexico," said Sarah J. Ryker, Ph.D., acting deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior. "The forecast puts these data to additional use by showing how nutrient loading fuels the hypoxic zone size."

The confirmed size of the 2016 Gulf dead zone will be released in early August, following a monitoring survey from July 24 to August 1, conducted on a NOAA vessel and funded through a partnership between NOAA, Northern Gulf Institute, and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by NOAA Headquarters.

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