Best of our wild blogs: 17 Jun 16

World Sea Turtle Day (June 16th)
Herpetological Society of Singapore

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Warmer seas causing mass coral bleaching in Singapore waters

SIAU MING EN Today Online 17 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — Swathes of coral reefs along the fringes of the Southern Islands and in the north-east of Singapore are bleaching — a phenomenon caused by stress from higher-than-usual sea temperatures in recent months due to the El Nino effect.

Along the Cyrene Reef, about 80 to 90 per cent of the hard and soft corals are bleaching, while 60 to 70 per cent of the hard and soft corals at Terumbu Hantu are also facing a similar situation, wrote Ms Ria Tan, who runs the Wild Shores of Singapore blog.

The situation is not as dire in Pulau Jong, with about 30 to 40 per cent of the hard and soft corals bleaching — including those in the deeper waters, she added.

In response to TODAY’s queries, Dr Lena Chan, the National Parks Board’s (NParks) group director of the National Biodiversity Centre, confirmed that “from the start of June, various stages of bleaching were reported at reefs within our southern waters”.

She added: “This includes some that are completely bleached, while the majority are partially bleached or not bleached at all. We are hopeful that those that are partially bleached will recover completely if temperatures do not increase further.”

Coral bleaching occurs when the water is too warm, forcing corals to expel the algae called zooxanthellae living in their tissues, exposing the limestone skeleton.

The zooxanthellae will tap on sunlight to make food in the form of sugars, while the corals provide shelter and raw materials.

Mildly bleached coral can recover if the temperature drops, otherwise it may die.

El Nino is the abnormal warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean which, in the case of South-east Asia, leads to prolonged drier and warmer weather.

Marine biology expert Huang Danwei noted that the widespread bleaching event is “definitely a cause for concern” as it might have an adverse impact on the long-term health of the coral reef ecosystems.

Although temperatures appear to have somewhat stablised in the last two to three weeks, Assistant Professor Huang noted that the bleaching continues to worsen mainly because the high temperatures have been sustained over such a long time.

Without the nutritional support from the algae, corals have to expend more energy capturing plankton for food. This affects their growth and immunity levels, which can cause corals to die, he said.

“The loss of living corals is detrimental to the health and function of the coral reef. These reefs have been built naturally over hundreds of years, and have provided ecosystem services such as coastline protection, food, medicines and recreation. Coral bleaching at the scale we are witnessing will impact these services,” he added.

Since the onset of the El Nino phenomenon last year, Dr Chan said NParks has been monitoring global and local temperature trends. Since the start of the year, NParks has also initiated bleaching monitoring, which entails monitoring sea surface temperatures and photosynthetic responses of corals.

To “augment the genetic diversity of each species” and strengthen their survival capability during extreme conditions, NParks is moving locally-rare species into deeper waters with stronger currents or into controlled environments and at the same time, making efforts to increase the number of individuals of each species through programmes like Plant a Coral.

NParks is in also in discussion with researchers on ways and means to propagate bleaching-resistant species, added Dr Chan.

Asst Prof Huang said there are about 200 species of hard corals in Singapore waters, while Dr Chan puts the number at more than 250 species. Singapore’s total reef area is about 13.25sqkm.

The last mass coral bleaching in Singapore occurred in 2010 when Singapore also experienced moderate to strong El Nino effect and before that in 1998, when Singapore experienced a similar situation.

Both events were more serious than the present situation, although Asst Prof Huang noted that it is difficult to predict the relative severity of the current situation given that bleaching in the last two weeks has worsened.

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Short showers expected on most days for rest of June: MSS

In the first half of June, the highest daily temperature recorded was 34.6°C, around the Seletar area. On days when there was rain, the lowest daily minimum temperature fell to between 22°C and 23°C.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: Expect short thundery showers mostly in the late morning and afternoon on five to seven days in the second half of June, according to the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS).

In a media release on Thursday (Jun 16), MSS said the southwest monsoon conditions that set in during the first half of the month are expected to persist.

Those in Singapore may also experience widespread showers on one to two days, in the predawn hours.

"The rainfall for June is likely to be near average," MSS said, adding that daily maximum temperatures are expected to reach between 32°C and 33°C, and could rise to 34°C on a few days.

In the first half of June, the highest daily temperature recorded was 34.6°C, around the Seletar area. On days when there was rain, the lowest daily minimum temperature fell to between 22°C and 23°C, MSS said.

"As of Jun 15, the mean monthly temperature recorded at the Changi climate station was 28.6°C, slightly warmer than the June long-term mean of 28.3°C," MSS said.

Singapore also saw showers in the late morning and early afternoon on most days in the first fortnight of June, MSS said, with the heaviest rain occurring on Jun 2. MSS added that most parts of Singapore received above average rainfall in the first two weeks of the month.

"The highest rainfall of 222mm (187 per cent above average) was recorded around Seletar. Rainfall was lowest around Sentosa where 46.8mm (31 per cent below average) was recorded," MSS said.

- CNA/dl

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New agriculture land to be offered longer, 20-year lease: AVA

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore says the longer lease period will give farms here more certainty and for them to invest in highly productive technologies.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) will be offering new agriculture land on 20-year leases instead of the previously announced 10-year blocks, it announced on Thursday (Jun 16).

In a news release, AVA said the policy change is a result of engagement and consultation with farms.

"Farmers have given us feedback that investing in technology and automation requires a longer pay back period. The longer 20-year lease tenure will provide more certainty to farms and enable them to invest in intensive, highly productive technologies that operate on minimal manpower," said AVA CEO Tan Poh Hong.

Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon, who visited Seng Choon Farm on Thursday, said: "There's always room for more negotiations, but 20 years I think is a reasonable time frame for them to at least have a certain longevity in planning for their capital investment.

"And of course, in this kind of discussion, it's an ongoing discussion. When it comes to near the end of the lease, we can discuss and see how best we can support them, either to transit to new technology or to further extend the lease."

Additionally, 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang which are affected by redevelopment plans with tenures expiring in 2017 will have their tenures extended until the end of 2019, AVA said.

This comes after the Government said in 2014 that the land the farms occupied would be needed for redevelopment, and that new farm sites would be available for tender at the end of 2015.

"Due to extensive land preparation works needed at the new sites, the 1st tranche of land sales will be launched from early 2017. To cater for sufficient transition time, the leases of the affected farms will be extended to end of 2019 instead," AVA said.

Added Dr Koh: "Farming is one way in which we can ensure our food security. While we import most of our food from overseas, there is always going to be the risk of disruption to our food supply. Having some degree of farming capability locally will ensure that we have the means to actually cope with sudden supply disruptions and ensure that prices of food are kept at an affordable level."


Earlier this year, some farmers told Channel NewsAsia that the 10-year lease for new sites was a cause for concern.

Following Thursday's announcement, Ms Chai Sheau Shi of Fire Flies Health Farm, which grows organic vegetables, said the tenure extension to 2019 is "good news". However, looking ahead, she is cautious about rent and the challenges that come with farming.

As for the longer 20-year lease, Ms Chai said more research needs to be conducted so farmers will be able to better contend with a different era of agriculture.

"Now, all over the world, the weather is crazy. Climate change is one thing - what's the support (available)?" she told Channel NewsAsia. "How much support do we have between different ministries and institutions?"

Ms Wan added that farming serves as an educational tool. "Singaporeans in general will be able to know how food is being produced at all," she said.

Jurong Frog Farm's director Ms Chelsea Wan also welcomed the announcements, but added that there are some grey areas that need to be clarified.

"(This is) especially for my industry - since they're not food-producing farms, if we're still being shifted to the new land parcels, is it still valid for them to be there?" she asked. "We need clarity from the authorities - even though they are going to shift us to the new land parcels, will those land parcels be there to stay?"

Ms Wan noted that moving forward, local farms will need to be in line with the Government's vision and use technology to upscale their businesses.

"That's the only way to attract succession planning, for younger people to join," she said. "We'll take this challenge and try to plan things (so they are) a bit more favourable for us over the next three years."

She also said she hopes Jurong Frog Farm will be able to keep its doors open.

"It's a three-and-a-half decade-old business. There's so much more potential," she said.

- CNA/dl

New agricultural land leases to be extended to 20 years: AVA
NEO CHAI CHIN and ILIYAS JUANDA Today Online 16 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — In a move welcomed by land farmers here, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) announced on Thursday (June 16) that new agricultural land tendered will be based on 20-year leases instead of the current 10-year blocks, to provide more certainty and enable investment in better technologies.

The 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang that have to make way for redevelopment will also have their tenures expire at the end of 2019, instead of June next year.

The first tranche of land sales for these farmers will be launched early next year, and the extension of their lease will allow for sufficient transition time, said the AVA.

The 62 farms are making way for the Ministry of Defence, which needs to replace training land used to develop Tengah New Town.

Some farmers had recently lamented the uncertainty and lack of answers from the authorities on their future, according to recent reports by Channel NewsAsia.

Quail farmer William Ho, 50, one of the affected farmers, said the announcements yesterday were “quite positive”. The extension of leases is “only fair”, and new agricultural land leases of 20 years will be of great help to farmers and investors.

The previous policy of 10-year leases with the option to extend a further 10 years was something that farmers felt very uncomfortable with because return-on-investment in farming takes longer, said Mr Ho.

He expects the relocation and rebuilding of his farm to cost S$8 million to S$10 million.

Although he is still sad to move, and expects the potential new plot of land to be less than half the size of his 2.7ha farm, Mr Ho welcomed greater discussion of issues between the private sector and the authorities.

“We are ‘alive’ again,” said Kin Yan Agrotech general manager Lam Wee Wah in response to the 20-year leases for new agricultural land.

His farm, which grows wheatgrass, pea sprouts and mushrooms, is now looking into microgreens and vegetables such as lettuce and bok choy to fully utilise its land.

The farm, which is not among the 62 affected but whose lease expires next January, has stabilised growth techniques for wheatgrass, pea sprouts and mushrooms.

Output has risen from less than 12 tonnes per year when it started in 1997, to almost 100 tonnes now, estimated Mr Lam.

AVA chief executive Tan Poh Hong said it was important to understand farmers’ challenges and concerns in order for the agriculture sector to grow.

The longer tenures will enable farmers to invest in intensive, highly productive technologies that operate on minimal manpower, she said.

Dr Koh Poh Koon, Minister of State (National Development and Trade and Industry), said details on the size and prices of plots up for bidding for the 62 affected farms will be released closer to the tender.

During a visit to Seng Choon Farm yesterday, Dr Koh said Singapore needs to raise local production to achieve greater food security for the future.

“AVA has also regularly organised sourcing trips to bring farmers to look at productive practices in different farms overseas, and help bring some of these technologies in,” he added, referring to some of the steps taken to help farmers raise their productivity.

At Seng Choon, the use of conveyor belts has helped the egg farm to reduce its reliance on manpower and raise its average output from 400,000 to 500,000 eggs daily.

Eggs that are hatched will be neatly ferried by these belts during two collection periods, in the morning and afternoon.

Inspection, grading and cleaning of eggs are all done on the belts through separate specialised machines.

A different set of belts is used to collect manure from under the chicken cages. The farm’s custom-made chicken feed is also transported automatically using conveyor belts.

The 18 chicken houses on the farm are fitted with LED lamps to ensure just the right amount of light for the chickens. Cooling and ventilation systems are fitted to keep the indoor temperature at 28 degrees Celsius for the chickens.

Mr Koh Yeow Koon, Seng Choon Farm’s managing director, said: “There are a lot of new technologies that we’ve not tried out on the farm, so we need a lot of resources to look into them, and to find out which one is the best technology that’s suitable for the farm.”

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Indonesia not opposing Singapore's efforts against forest fire culprits: Official

The country is only concerned about ensuring these actions are being conducted in line with international regulations, says foreign ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir.
Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 16 Jun 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia has been wrongly perceived as opposing Singapore for acting against Indonesians suspected of causing forest fires, its foreign ministry said on Thursday (Jun 16).

Spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said that whatever actions any country wishes to take against Indonesian companies and its employees have to be in line with international regulations.

“He has to be guaranteed of his legal rights, it must be ensured that it’s in line with the law, he has to be given counsel and so on. This is what we are concerned about,” said Arrmanatha in a news conference.

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

Singapore passed the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) in 2014 to go after companies that start fires or let their concessions burn.

Arrmanatha added that it is Singapore’s right to call the director for the interview, but stressed that it has to be done according to the law.

He reiterated that Indonesia is serious about and has a high commitment to tackling the haze-causing forest fires, and is doing this by using existing mechanisms in the context of ASEAN.

- CNA/hs

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Malaysia: 40 per cent of food waste generated daily actually consumable

HASHINI KAVISHTRI KANNAN New Straits Times 16 Jun 16;

PUTRAJAYA: Around 3,000 tonnes or 40 per cent of food waste generated from 38,000 tonnes of waste produced every day are actually consumable.

Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman said, during the fasting month, the amount of food waste will increase between 15 to per cent every day.

"This is a saddening situation especially to see food which is still consumable being thrown away.

"During this month, people are encouraged to practice modesty and not give in to temptation which leads to food being wasted," he said after a 'buka puasa' event with ministry staff today.

Rahman also urged hotels not to prepare excess food especially during buffet dinners where often leftover food is often wasted.

He also called for initiatives by various bodies to help gather leftover foods to be distributed to the homeless.

"We have many people especially non-governmental organisations who distribute food to the homeless in major cities like Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and Johor Bharu.

"The respective bodies and people should join hands and work with these people who are committed to fed the homeless," he said.

At the event, Rahman gave out 'duit raya' and goodie bags to 27 orphans from Rumah Bakti Al-Kautsar.

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Malaysia: Country on alert for HFMD

The Star 17 Jun 16;

PETALING JAYA: Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) has reached outbreak proportions, forcing the authorities to take urgent measures to contain it.

The Health Ministry has placed the country under the “alert level” following last week’s 1,379 cases nationwide with Selangor, Johor and Kuala Lumpur topping the list.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said there was an increase of 83 cases or 6.4% as compared with 1,296 cases the week before.

“The upward trend began in the last week of April with 794 cases.

“A directive was issued in early May to all state health departments to step up monitoring and preventive efforts,” he said.

Selangor has the highest number of cases with 4,441 (32.6%), followed by Johor 1,393 (10.2%), Kuala Lumpur 1,317 (9.7%), Sabah 1,299 (9.5%) and Sarawak 1,108 (8.1%).

In Negri Sembilan, health authorities have closed 12 nurseries and preschools to enable disinfection procedures to be carried out there.

State health director Dr Abdul Rahim Abdullah said the outbreak of the disease was also detected in six houses.

“Up to Sunday, a total of 485 HFMD cases have been reported.

“So far, there is no new outbreak besides the 18 spots,” he said, adding that nurseries and preschools in Taman Seri Pandan, Seremban, were among the first affected areas.

An alert will be put out to warn the public if the number of weekly cases exceeds 20.

Last month, the number of cases shot up to 87 in the fourth week from 28 in the second week.

In Kuala Terengganu, there was a 35% increase in cases as the authorities took prompt action to inspect day care centres, kindergartens and surroundings.

State Health, Women, Family and Community Development Committee chairman Datuk Muhammad Pehimi Yusof said 165 cases were reported in the first five months this year, a surge from 122 cases for the whole of last year.

In Ipoh, the number of cases was dropping, from a peak of 25 cases between February and May.

Perak health director Datuk Dr Juita Ghazalie said it was a cyclical pattern in which the disease would rise every two years.

Dr Juita said useful information on the disease had been disseminated to all parties and a sentinel surveillance laboratory set up at Taiping and Seri Manjung Hospital to monitor the situation closely.

HFMD is highly contagious and caused by enteroviruses, particularly the Coxsackie A16 and Enterovirus 71 strains.

Symptoms include fever, sore throat, rashes on the hands and feet, and mouth ulcers.

In severe cases, patients can come down with other complications such as meningoencephalitis or myocarditis and may even result in death.

Malaysia issues warning as number of HFMD cases spikes
The increasing trend in HFMD cases was seen in Apr 24 to Apr 30, during which 794 were recorded, surpassing the warning level of 644 cases a week, says the country's director-general for health.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Jun 16;

PUTRAJAYA: A total of 1,379 cases of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) were recorded across the country from Jun 5 to 11, an increase of 83 cases (6.4 per cent) compared to the previous week's 1,296.

Director-general for health Noor Hisham Abdullah said the increasing trend in cases of HFMD was seen in Apr 24 to 30, during which 794 cases were recorded, surpassing the warning level of 644 cases a week.

"The Ministry of Health issued a warning letter on the increasing number of HFMD cases in Malaysia on May 9 to all state health departments so that they can improve monitoring efforts to prevent it from spreading,” he said in a statement on Thursday (Jun 16).

Dr Noor Hisham said Selangor recorded the highest number of cases (4,441), followed by Johor (1,393), Kuala Lumpur (1,317), Sabah (1,299), Sarawak (1,108), Perak (892), Melaka (727), Penang (713), Negeri Sembilan (522), Pahang (345), Kedah (265). Other states had less than 200 cases.

He said the three districts in Selangor with the high number of cases were Petaling (1,626), Hulu Langat (1,172) and Klang (618).

Dr Noor Hisham said HFMD is endemic in Malaysia and occurs throughout the year, and has a cyclic trend which peaks every three years.

He said that although the disease is due to several types of viruses which mostly cause a mild to moderate infection only, the infection from Enterovirus 71 (EV71) can be severe and can bring death.

He added that the most HFMD cases were caused by the Coxsackie A16 Virus and EV71, and is spread by contact with saliva, liquid blisters and faeces of infected people. It has an incubation period of between three to five days.

Dr Noor Hisham said most mild infections have symptoms of a high fever followed by rashes at the hand, foot, mouth and tongue. Patients can recover without medical treatment within seven to 10 days.

He further explained that children can also have other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea and poor appetite.

However, Dr Noor Hisham said EV71 infections can cause severe complications such as encephalitis and myocarditis, though it is very rare.

"This disease quickly spreads at the rate of almost 100 per cent among children aged less than 10 years, especially in areas such as nurseries or kindergartens," he said.

Thus, he said, a parent or guardian of a child with signs of infection should adopt preventive measures such as not bringing them to public places, schools, nurseries, kindergartens or care centres because it can spread the infection.

He said children suspected of being infection should be brought to a doctor for treatment, and advised practising good hygiene by washing hands with soap and clean water after using the toilet or changing diapers.

Children’s toys, floors and toilets should also be cleaned, especially with chlorine, in addition to using separate eating and drinking utensils and not sharing items with other children.

- Bernama/ec

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Malaysia: No dry taps during Raya for Mersing folk

HALIM SAID New Straits Times 16 Jun 16;

JOHOR BARU: Although the water level at Chongok Dam is below critical level, residents in Mersing can rest assured that their taps will not be dry during Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

This is because SAJ Holdings has decided to temporarily lift the one month-long rationing exercise that was scheduled for June 16 until July 15.

The first day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri is expected to fall on July 6, and residents affected by the rationing exercise will get ample water supply for their festive needs.

SAJ Holdings chief executive officer Abdul Wahab Abdul Hamid said the company had earlier extended the rationing exercise in parts of Mersing, which gets its treated water from the Tenglu Water Treatment Plant, which in turn gets its source of water from the Chongok Dam.

The level at the Chongok Dam continues to fall below critical level due to the hot weather.

Wahab said that for the time being, the level at the dam remains below the critical level of 4.88m, as the water level presently stands at 3.63m.

"Although the level still low, there are positive signs as the level gradually increases due to frequent rainfall near the dam's catchment areas," said Wahab at the SAJ buka puasa event at Restaurant Selasih in Seri Gelam, here.

Wahab said the temporary lift on the rationing exercise will start on June 29 until July 9 where on the following day, the rationing exercise will resume as scheduled.

The rationing in Mersing which is affecting 15,000 residents and over 3,000 account holders, is the only remaining rationing exercise taking place at the moment.

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Indonesia: Low oxygen levels, salinity cause of beached pilot whales

Wahyoe Boediwardhana The Jakarta Post 16 Jun 16;

Cast ashore – East Java Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) officials work with one of the short-finned pilot whales on Wednesday. (Courtesy of the BKSDA East Java/-)

Decreased oxygen levels and water salinity are thought to be among the causes that led dozens of short-finned pilot whales to wash up on a beach in Randupitu village, Gending district, Probolinggo regency, East Java, on Wednesday.

Data from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Juanda, Surabaya, reveals that it was likely that strong currents in the northern Java Sea had carried the pilot whales ashore.

According to the data, strong winds of more than 28 knots caused high seas with 2 to 3.5 meter waves. The high waves also caused oxygen level decreases deep below the surface and lowered water salinity, which was accompanied with a sea level rise.

The BMKG added that these three elements had led deep water fish to migrate to the surface, leading many of them to become stuck in shallow waters.

As reported earlier, 32 pilot whales were found on the beach in Randupitu village, around 106 kilometers east of Surabaya on Wednesday.

Trapped – Several short-finned pilot whales stuck in shallow waters in Probolinggo, East Java, on Wednesday. (Courtesy of the BKSDA East Java/-)

Head of the East Java Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BBKSDA) Ayu Dewi Utari said that as of noon on Thursday, nine of the pilot whales had died due to lack of oxygen. “Seven whales were found dead on the Randupitu village beach while two others were found at Bentar beach, around 5 kilometers west of the location where the pod of pilot whales were first found,” said Ayu.

ProFauna Indonesia activist Rosek Nursahid said the reason the whales had become beached was not yet known.

However, he added that whales generally became trapped in shallow waters for one of four reasons.

“The most possible reason is, the group of whales were foraging for food, which had accumulated in the shallow water. They were then carried by strong currents onto the beach and then could not return to the deep sea,” said Rosek.

A team of veterinarians from the University of Airlangga, Surabaya, have been dispatched to remove the dead whales and perform an autopsy to reveal the cause of their deaths. (ebf)

Dozens of whales stranded on East Java coast, 15 likely dead
The Jakarta Post 16 Jun 16;

Dozens of pilot whales have beached on the coast of East Java, discovered on Wednesday by residents in Probolinggo, East Java. The giant marine mammals are thought to have become stranded due to changes in the sea temperature.

The short-finned pilot whales were seen around the shore on Wednesday afternoon. Most managed to return to the sea but returned to shore as one had become stuck, leaving them all trapped by the sudden low tide.

Wahid, the Maritime Resources Management Office head, said at least 32 pilot whales had been found stranded. Seven of them were less than two meters in length and the local fishermen had tied them to prevent them getting washed further ashore.

"Approximately 25 whales came ashore around the estuary, 15 of these whales are not moving and are likely dead […] the colony may have been searching for cooler waters but got stranded," he said as quoted by in Jakarta on Wednesday night.

The local residents have taken the deceased whales to land, through the creek, for burial. According to local tradition, the residents must hold a burial for dead whales as they believe that whales purposely come ashore to end their journey.

“What do you expect us to do? If they are still alive, we will surely help them return to deep sea. The dead ones, we must bury them,” said the Pesisir village chief Sanemo. (ags)

32 Pilot Whales Stranded, 10 Die After Beaching Themselves on East Java Coast
Jakarta Globe 16 Jun 16;

Probollingo, East Java. At least ten out of the 32 pilot whales which were washed up on beaches near Probolinggo in East Java had died, authorities confirmed on Thursday (16/06).

Probolinggo Maritime and Fisheries Agency head Deddy Isfandi told Antara news agency 32 whales had beached themselves on a beach near the village of Randu Pitu in the Gending subdistrict on Wednesday afternoon.

The whales—found by local residents—were three to five meters in length.

“Ten of the beached whales had died. They were found on beaches near Randu Pitu, Gending, Dringu and Bentar,” Deddy said.

The agency with the help of local residents tried to rescue the whales by pushing them back into the ocean on Wednesday night, but some of the stranded whales were too weak to swim out to sea and had drifted back to shallow waters by Thursday morning.

Marine biologists from Surabaya’s Airlangga University are in the area to work out why the pilot whales had ended up washed up on the beaches.

There is speculation that the whales had beached themselves after they got disoriented by recent extreme weather changes.

“Once the scientists are done with their research, the dead whales will be buried near the beach where they were stranded,” Deddy said, adding that whales had rarely been seen in the oceans off Probolinggo.

Rescuers struggle to save beached whales in Indonesia
Indonesian rescuers worked on Thursday to save a pod of beached whales that got trapped in a mangrove swamp at low tide, fisheries officials said.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Jun 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesian rescuers worked on Thursday to save a pod of beached whales that got trapped in a mangrove swamp at low tide, fisheries officials said.

Villagers in the area in the east of Java island were helping fisheries staff trying to lead the 30 or so whales, most of which were believed to be young pilot whales, back to sea.

Several of the whales had died after being hurt in the shallows and many of the others were weak, officials said.

"The residents are trying to push the active whales back toward deeper water ... but some are still stuck," Deddy Isfandi, a fisheries official in the coastal town of Probolinggo, told media.

Another fisheries official, Wahid Noor Azis, told Reuters seven of the whales were calves while the biggest of the adults was up to four metres (13 feet) long.

The officials said they did not know why the animals ventured into the mangrove swamp. Residents said whales were rarely seen in the area.

Whale beachings, while unusual, have been seen in other parts of Indonesia.

This year, a four-tonne, 16-metre (52 foot) sperm whale was found dead on a beach on the resort island of Bali.

(Reporting by Angie Teo; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Robert Birsel)

- Reuters

Dead pilot whales buried in mass grave in E. Java
The Jakarta Post 18 Jun 16;

Local people in a village in Probolinggo, East Java, held a traditional funeral for 12 short-finned pilot whales on Friday that died after being beached on the coast.

Not only were the tails of the whales covered in shrouds, locals also put up a gravestone and spread flowers on to the mass grave. Local people also chanted tahlil (prayers for the dead) for seven days in accordance with Javanese tradition.

The treatment was to uphold an ancient tradition passed down for generations, Pesisir village chief of Probolinggo Sanemo said on Friday as reported by Burying whales or sharks like humans had long been the tradition of the village, he added.

The 12 short-finned pilot whales were buried in one 30-square-meter hole not too far from the location where they were stranded.

Probolinggo Maritime and Fisheries Agency used an excavator to move the dead whales to the grave. Hundreds of people came to witness the burial process.

At least 32 pilot whales came ashore in the Probolinggo coast on Wednesday. Those that survived have been returned back to the sea. (rin)

The whales and the people
Aman Rochman Jakarta Post 28 Jun 16;

A recent unexpected visit from 32 pilot whales has recalled century-old local wisdom through which the giant sea mammals are venerated.

Amid the rumbling sound of northern sea waves, residents were thronging to the shoreline as the tide ebbed in the afternoon recently to watch dozens of pilot whales being washed ashore in Pesisir village, 15 kilometers east of Probolinggo, East Java.

Local residents showered the 32 giant mammals with sea water while waiting for the tide to run high to make their effort easier.

The rescue effort is part of an old local belief that venerates whales, dolphins and other sea creatures.

Descendants of the ethnic Madura group living in the northern coastal areas of East Java — Probolinggo, Bondowoso and Situbondo regencies — dare not hurt or consume the meat of these sea mammals and big fish for fear of karmic consequences and retribution.

If anyone in the area hurts or kills these animals by accident when fishing, the local community will hold a prayer ritual to ensure their safety by inviting neighbors in the afternoon or evening of the same day.

This time, however, the village residents encountered a different species of sea mammals.

Pilot whales have never before been swept onto the edge of the sea, especially not in such a large number, Pesisir village head Supeno said.

He said only this time had pilot whales been stranded as far as coastal downstream and mangrove areas.

“What we have mostly seen stranded here are whale sharks with white spots,” added Supeno.

The appearance of whales and dolphins is unpredictable, Supeno said, whereas white-spotted whale sharks have more often drifted ashore, ranging from yearly to every three years.

As part of their respect for the sea creatures, local fishermen will stop their work when whales, dolphins and whale sharks arrive and provide transportation services for residents wishing to witness the sea mammals and big fish swimming back to the sea.

“When sea mammals and big fish show up, we’re blessed with extra income from the rental fees for carrying people by boat. We dare not use fishing nets or rods for fear of hurting the animals,” said M. Nurhasan, a fisherman.

The rescue effort for the pilot whales lasted until night. At 8 p.m., as the tide was rising, villagers and volunteers along with soldiers using lamps and rubber boats managed to release 20 pilot whales out of the 32, enabling them to swim into the sea.

The other 12, comprising young whales 2 to 4 meters long, failed to escape for being entangled in mangrove roots. Their long struggle with hot weather and a lack of sea water immersion eventually caused their death.

The villagers then prepared a mass grave for the 12 pilot whales to be buried.

“The whale funeral follows the tradition of Pesisir village. It is conducted in the way a human funeral ceremony is carried out,” Supeno explained.

During the unique funeral, which also attracted neighboring villagers, local people contributed shrouds and tombstones, and later scattered petals and offered prayers for the deaths of the 12 whales.

They were praying to God, pleading for protection in connection with the death of pilot whales as well as for blessings so that the yield in their fishing operations would be abundant.

It seems that the local fishermen will keep protecting the giant sea animals as part of their big ancestral family’s cultural wisdom and tradition of respecting all living things, no matter how small or big.

— photo by Aman Rochman

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Indonesia: Riau biosphere reserve to regain illegally converted land

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 16 Jun 16;

The Siak regency administration in Riau is preparing for a massive police effort to combat encroachment on the Giam Siak Kecil (GSK) biosphere reserve and reclaim thousands of hectares for conservation. Large parts of the reserve have been turned into illegal residential complexes and oil palm plantations.

Siak Regent Syamsuar said encroachment on the biosphere had been happening since 2012. According to the latest data, 867 ha of the biosphere reserve has been turned into oil palm plantations and 28 houses have been erected, despite the area being out of bounds for conversion.

Over 2,384 ha of the biosphere reserve’s buffer zone has also been encroached upon, with 186 houses now erected in the area. Meanwhile in the transition zone, 1,300 ha have been turned into an open access area with 106 houses on it.

“Encroachers have created two residential areas and named them Kampung 40 and Kampung Tapsel,” Syamsuar told a meeting on law enforcement and security recovery for the biosphere reserve in Pekanbaru, the provincial capital, on Tuesday night.

Giam Siak Kecil is one of seven biosphere reserves in Indonesia. Located in Siak and Bengkalis regencies, GSK is divided into three zones comprising the main zone of over 55,048 ha, a buffer zone of 45,000 ha and a transition zone of over 102,000 ha.

Geographically the two illegal residential areas are located in Bunga Raya, Siak and Sungai Mandau districts. Yet, according to Syamsuar, neither have an administration or is registered in any district administration.

Syamsuar said the number of encroachers continued to increase year after year. He blames them for recurrent haze in the area. Unless law enforcement measures are taken against them, he said, encroachment activities would worsen and land fires would continue threatening the region.

He said several persuasive approaches had been attempted to get encroachers to leave voluntarily. Two warning letters have also been sent, asking them to them to dismantle their houses. Further incentive to leave could come from a massive evacuation in 2013 and 2014 following major fires in the area that caused many living in the area to pass out.

“Still, the bad experience did not make them wary or willing to leave the location,” said Syamsuar, adding that this accounted for why the Siak administration had finally decided to send the 210 families living in the area back to their respective hometowns.

He said it was just a matter of time before the plan was executed. His administration has already prepared temporary shelters for the soon-to-be evictees in Tuah Indrapura and put aside funds for the operation.

Siak Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Restika Pardamean Nainggolan said the eviction was scheduled to take place after National Environment Day, which will be celebrated in Siak on July 23 with the President in attendance.

“It has to be carefully prepared to avoid a horizontal clash,” Restika said, adding that such a clash was very possible because the encroachers had been living there for years and their oil palm plantations were four years old.

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Coral 'bright spots' offer clues to protecting threatened reefs

ALISTER DOYLE Reuters 15 Jun 16;

Some coral reefs are thriving and scientists say they may guide efforts to curb threats such as over-fishing and climate change which are blamed for widespread global declines.

A major study identified 15 "bright spots" among more than 2,500 coral reefs in 46 nations, including off Indonesia, the Solomon islands and Kiribati where given local stresses there were far more fish than predicted.

And the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, the world's biggest, was performing in line with expectations given its remoteness and high level of protection, lead author Joshua Cinner, a professor at James Cook University in Australia, told Reuters of the study published on Wednesday in Nature.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, facing a tight re-election battle, on Monday pledged an A$1 billion ($740 million) fund for the reef, which scientists say is suffering widespread coral bleaching due to climate change.

The report found that in many coral reef bright spots, local people depended heavily on reefs for food and took part in owning and managing fish stocks, while many also had deep waters near the reefs that fish could use as a refuge.

"People invest in creative solutions when their livelihoods depend on it," Cinner said.

The study also identified 35 "dark spots", from Jamaica to Tanzania, where there were fewer fish than expected.

In many, fishermen used nets that could snag and damage reefs. They also had access to freezers, which gave an incentive to catch and store extra fish, depleting stocks.

Another factor was that reefs with dark spots had recently suffered an environmentalshock, such as from a cyclone or from a rise in water temperatures that can bleach reefs."We can learn things from the bright spots about what to encourage," co-author Professor Nicholas Graham of Lancaster University told Reuters.

The authors stressed that bright spots were not those with most fish, but were outperforming expectations judged against baselines such as the size of local populations, tourism, and whether or not reefs were in a marine reserve.

Cinner said the study was unable to include all possible factors due to a lack of data, including the battering that reefs get from waves. Reefs with high "wave energy" typically have fewer places for fish to grow and hide.

(Editing by Alexander Smith)

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