Best of our wild blogs: 21 Jun 16

Birdwatching in Singapore Botanic Gardens (June 20, 2016)
Rojak Librarian

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Families feeding wild boar at Lorong Halus as entertainment

Families are feeding the animals in Pasir Ris as entertainment

In a quiet corner in the north-east of Singapore, feeding wild boars has become a form of family entertainment.

The families gather in a fenced area at Pasir Ris Coast Industrial Park 6, near the Lorong Halus wetland, to feed the herd of wild animals.

Shin Min Daily News reported that as many as 30 people were feeding 10 wild boars in the area on June 18.

This was despite reports of boars attacking people - even killing a couple in Malaysia last year - and advisories from local animal conservation groups and the authorities not to feed them. (See report on right.)

When interviewed by Shin Min, Mr Aziz Wan, 20, said he has been feeding the wild boars for about three years as he sees them as meek and docile creatures.


When The New Paper visited the site at 6pm yesterday, there were eight big boars and five baby boars being fed bread and apples by two families.

A couple, who wanted to be known as Mrs Helen, 44, and Mr Simon, 54, said that about two months ago, there were no baby boars, but now there are five to six.

Mr Simon said that he is "worried that the wild boars do not have enough food to eat".

So the couple brought with them quite a lot of food, including one loaf of bread and a bag of biscuits.

A joint advisory by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, NParks and Wildlife Reserves Singapore warns that "although they appear shy, they are still wild animals and are unpredictable in behaviour which could pose a risk to public safety".

Ms Anbarasi Boopal, 33, the deputy chief executive of Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Singapore), said: "I would urge people not to feed them, because they would start to associate humans with a source of food. Once that happens, they may start charging at humans."

She encourages people to just appreciate the wild boars from a distance, but not approach to feed or interact with them.

"They have enough food in the wild, so if left alone they will forage on whatever food is available and survive. They don't need to be fed by humans," she said.

on wild boars

Be calm and move slowly away from the animal. Do not approach or attempt to feed the animal.
Keep a safe distance and do not corner or provoke the animal, for example, by using flash photography.
If you see adults with young piglets, leave them alone. These are potentially more dangerous because they may attempt to defend their young.

Source: Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore

Past cases

May 29

A boy was taken to hospital after being injured by a wild boar, although it is not clear what injuries he sustained. The incident happened near Block 184 in Edgefield Plains at about 2.15pm. A car dashcam showed a wild boar running on the road in the neighbourhood that day.

April 21

A 49-year-old motorcyclist, logistics worker Krishnan, fractured his right shoulder after a wild boar dashed onto the road while he was travelling on the Seletar Expressway, causing an accident. The wild boar died in the crash.

July 2, 2015

An elderly couple were attacked and killed by a wild boar while they were tapping rubber trees at a plantation in Segamat, Johor. The victims, Mr Loo See Sing, 66, and his wife, Madam Liow Mei Lan, 68, were going about their normal routine in the morning when the animal attacked them.

Woman feeding wild boars sparks praise and concern
Joanna Seow, Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Jun 16;

A video posted by a user on the Facebook group Love Cycling SG shows about 10 boars of various sizes at a muddy patch of bare ground in Pasir Ris. A woman is also seen emptying out the contents of several plastic bags near the animals, which the boars then eat.

Some wild boars that inhabit the area around the Lorong Halus Jetty in Pasir Ris have been getting fed by members of the public, and raising concerns among others.

A video and photos of one woman feeding the animals were posted on a Facebook group for cycling enthusiasts on Sunday.

The video, posted by a user on the Facebook group Love Cycling SG, shows about 10 boars of different sizes at a muddy, barren patch of land. A woman is also seen nearby, emptying out the contents of several plastic bags, which the boars then eat.

The user was cycling past the jetty when he saw the woman and the animals. He later saw the woman remove the plastic bags after feeding the animals.

Several people praised the woman's actions, with one person calling it a "lovely and heartwarming sight".

Others, however, expressed concern that feeding the boars might cause them to come into closer contact with humans in their search for food. A wild boar reportedly chased and injured a boy in Punggol last month. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) on June 1 said it has received 27 complaints about wild boars so far this year.

Feeding the boars might indeed cause them to associate humans with food, said Ms Anbarasi Boopal, deputy chief executive at the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

"Feeding should be stopped... If not, they might approach humans in the future, and people may report them as a nuisance, resulting in them being culled," she told The Straits Times.

Wild animals can also be unpredictable, so it is best to look at them from a distance, added Ms Boopal. "They will have enough food in their habitat to survive," she said.

A national serviceman, who gave his name as Aziwan, 20, said he has fed the boars at the jetty for nearly three years, and they typically do not come around after 6pm or 7pm, evening newspaper Shin Min Daily News reported yesterday.

"These wild boars are all very gentle, they won't attack people. And there is a fence surrounding the area, as long as people don't cross it, it should be safe," he said.

About 30 people were seen by Shin Min feeding the boars in the span of an hour, including some who drove to the jetty with their children.

According to an advisory on the AVA website, people should not try to feed wild boars and should keep a safe distance from them.

"Wild boars are unpredictable animals and can be dangerous. Their teeth can inflict serious injuries. Female wild boars, especially, are dangerous when protecting their young," said the advisory.

The public is also advised to not provoke wild boars by taking photographs with the flash turned on.

Feeding wild boar causes more harm than good
Woman photographed feeding wild boar in Pasir Ris
ONG YAN QUAN, MARIAN GOVIN The New Paper AsiaOne 22 Jun 16;

When animal activist Anbarasi Boopal saw this photo of a woman feeding wild boars, she was sad that the woman was "putting herself in danger".

And sad that the woman does not even realise the consequences of her actions.

"The wild boars are wild animals that will charge at humans when threatened," said Ms Boopal, 33, who is the deputy chief executive of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

"It's very sad because despite having good intentions, her actions are causing more harm than good."

By feeding the animals, the woman is creating a link between food and humans, she said.

"Once that happens, they may start charging at humans."

Despite safety warnings against feeding the wild boars, curious visitors continue to frequent Pasir Ris Coast Industrial Park 6, where the photo was taken.

It looks like a scene in the Singapore Zoo because the drain and the fence forms a barrier between the visitors and the wild boars.

But unlike the zoo, the woman who enters the clearing to feed the animals and clean up the rubbish appears to be untrained in dealing with wild animals.

A video and photos of her feeding the animals were posted on a Facebook page for cycling enthusiasts on Sunday.


Several people praised the woman's actions. One person called it a "lovely and heart-warming sight".

Ms Boopal wanted to set these people straight. "People who feed them want to feel good about helping them, but their lack of awareness only creates more problems in the long term," she said.

Ms Boopal recommends a strong outreach to raise awareness about the consequences of feeding wild boars and a nationwide ban on feeding wild animals.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) also advised the public not to feed the wild boars as this alters their behaviour and may cause them to be reliant on humans for food.

On June 1, the AVA said it had received 27 complaints about wild boars so far this year.

The frequent visits by families are also a growing concern.

"Bringing young children to feed the wild boars is not a good educational message," added Ms Boopal.

When The New Paper revisited the location yesterday, it was evident the visitors were not environmentally friendly.

The area next to the clearing had empty plastic bags and bread tags scattered on the ground and in the drain. Plastic bags, half-eaten apples and whole oranges could be seen strewn around in the clearing.

A cleaner, who wanted to be known only as Mr Lance, 39, said the litter from visitors is a growing problem.

The AVA said "control operations" are ongoing in the Punggol area in response to the feedback of wild boar sightings from the public.

In recent years, wild boars, which are foragers, have been culled when herds grow to a point where they start destroying the natural habitat.


As the wild boar population in Singapore grows, more people have been getting hurt in their encounters with these wild animals.

In 2012, an elderly woman broke her pelvis on Pulau Ubin after her excursion group started interacting with and feeding a wild boar and its two piglets.

The 64-year-old was carrying food in a red plastic bag when the wild boar charged at her from behind.

The woman, who fell and broke her pelvis, had to be carried away and was taken to a hospital on the mainland.

She was with a group of 40 when they saw the wild boars.

They even went up to the wild boars, which seemed unafraid of humans, to feed and snap photos of them before the woman was attacked.


Earlier that year, a five-year-old boy was flung a metre after a wild boar rammed into his rear in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park.

He was playing near a playground when the wild boar charged and hurled him into the air. He was not seriously injured.

The boar also attacked a patrolling Cisco protection officer, who injured his hand in a fall.

Across the Causeway, an elderly couple died from injuries caused by a wild boar last July.

Mr Loo See Sing, 66, and his wife Madam Liow Mei Lan, 68, were tapping rubber in a plantation in Segamat, Johor, when the wild boar attacked them.

They were found dead with cuts from the boar's tusks all over their bodies.

AVA conducting 'control operations' on wild boars in Punggol
'Control operations' on wild boars are being carried out after a video of a woman feeding the animals triggered discussion online.
Channel NewsAsia 21 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) on Tuesday (Jun 21) said it is carrying out "control operations" on wild boars in the Punggol area after a video which showed a woman feeding a group of the animals gained attention online.

The video, which was posted on the Love Cycling SG Facebook page on Sunday, sparked discussion among netizens about the act of feeding the animals and whether authorities would take action.

On Tuesday, an AVA spokesperson said that when it receives feedback on wild boar sightings, surveillance is conducted to assess the situation.

"If there are public safety or nuisance concerns, control operations will be carried out. Currently, control operations are ongoing in the Punggol area," AVA said. It added that as of Tuesday evening, no wild boars have been caught in the Lorong Halus area.

AVA also advised members of the public not to feed wild animals, as this alters their behaviour and may cause them to be reliant on humans for food.

According to the AVA website, members of the public should also keep a safe distance from wild boars and not provoke the animals with flash photography.

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Sustainability reporting for all listed companies mandatory from FY2017

A survey of institutional investors found that 90 per cent consider sustainability factors
Today Online 21 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — In another move to raise standards on sustainability reporting here, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) has made it mandatory for all listed companies to report their environmental, social and governance practices from the financial year ending Dec 31, 2017 onwards.

The announcement yesterday came less than a month after the bourse launched four new indices based on sustainability measurements, offering investors a transparent way to assess such practices among listed companies here. SGX said it received strong support to introduce mandatory sustainability reporting during its public consultation in January, adding it will allow the close to 800 mainboard and Catalist primary-listed companies up to 12 months — instead of the proposed five months — from the end of the financial year to publish their first reports. This would be especially helpful to smaller companies new to sustainability reporting, noted SGX Special Adviser Yeo Lian Sim.

“For small companies, they are usually in fewer locations,” said Ms Yeo. “They may, in fact, be in one location as opposed to larger companies that may cross many borders and have many products. So, the cost and the scale of work is different — we have to recognise that. Second, it doesn’t mean that small companies are not managing their risks,” she continued. “They already are. What we are asking the companies is to go a little further, write down clearly what are the risks they are managing and what are the opportunities they see.

“So, we believe this is relevant to both large and small companies ... For the market as a whole, I believe this increases the transparency ... We have always stood for good governance and this is one more instance in which we want to demonstrate that governance and the transparency.”

The report, done on a “comply or explain” basis, must include a board statement to describe the company’s sustainability actions, identify environmental, social and governance factors that affect business strategies, explain their practices and performances, and set targets.

This practice is a step up from the voluntary sustainability reporting regime that has been in place since 2011. As of end-2013, only about 160 out of 537 mainboard-listed companies filed these reports voluntarily, a joint study by the Singapore Compact for Corporate Social Responsibility and National University of Singapore Business School found.

SGX said it will invite company CEOs to a briefing for clarity and understanding of the new requirements, as well as organise training for all listed companies to build up their reporting capability. Other efforts include working with Global Compact Network Singapore to organise training workshops by sustainability reporting consultants, as well as developing an online portal. Details of these initiatives will be announced later, said the exchange.

Bourses around the world, such as those in Europe, the United States and Hong Kong have already adopted mandatory sustainability reporting, well ahead of Singapore, as investors increasingly focus on such issues when making their investment decisions. SGX’s own survey of institutional investors in June last year found that more than 90 per cent of respondents consider environmental, social and governance factors when investing.

Mr Loh Boon Chye, CEO of SGX, said: “SGX supports our listed companies’ efforts to meet the growing interest in sustainability from shareholders and potential investors worldwide. The annual reporting of non-financial information will enhance the visibility of SGX-listed companies among investors who seek sustainable investment and want to review a company’s environmental, social and governance efforts.”

SGX introduces sustainability reporting on 'comply or explain' basis
To help firms cope with new requirements, SGX will organise training workshops by sustainability reporting consultants.
Nicole Tan Channel NewsAsia 20 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Exchange introduced sustainability reporting on a "comply or explain" basis on Monday (Jun 20).

Singapore-listed companies will have to publish a sustainability report at least once a year, no later than five months after the end of each financial year, covering five primary components: material ESG factors; policies, practices and performance; targets; sustainability reporting framework; and their Board statement.

The new requirements take effect for any financial year ending on or after Dec 31, 2017. For the first year, firms will be given up to 12 months from the end of the financial year to publish their report.

If a company excludes a primary component, it must describe what it does instead, and its reasons for doing so.

To help firms cope with new requirements, SGX will organise training workshops by
sustainability reporting consultants. The bourse is also planning other initiatives, including an online portal.

SGX CEO Loh Boon Chye said: “SGX supports our listed companies’ efforts to meet the growing interest in sustainability from shareholders and potential investors worldwide. The annual reporting of non-financial information will enhance the visibility of SGX-listed companies among investors who seek sustainable investment and want to review a company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts.”


In a statement to the media on Monday, the Small and Middle Capitalisation Companies Association (SMCCA) said it "welcomes SGX's Sustainability Reporting Guide". It also noted that SGX has "softened many requirements ... in view of reducing anxiety to small- and middle-capitalisation companies when implementing this report".

The association urged companies not to worry about how to satisfy the new requirements, but to focus on "how to differentiate themselves in the eyes of stakeholders through making this report unique and useful".

"SMCCA highlights that the five components in the guide are not overwhelming to implement and provide sufficient flexibility to allow companies to customise and differentiate themselves if they put sufficient effort into working on this initiative," the association said.

"SMCCA also noted SGX has also given companies 12 months from their financial year end to publish their sustainability report in their first year of reporting. This is more than the seven months suggested by SMCCA in its feedback."

The association added that it has identified a consultant who has completed sustainability reports for Singapore-listed companies to provide such services.

"SMCCA will work with these consultants to monitor progress of preparing the report and provide feedback to SGX on difficulties and challenges periodically. SMCCA is also working on identifying more parties and consultants to work with to help companies on implementing the report," it said.

- CNA/dl

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Underwater World a regular target of marine park critics

Lin Yangchen, The Straits Times AsiaOne 20 Jun 16;

A persistent conundrum in nature conservation is finding a balance between breeding animals in captivity to prevent extinction and enhance public awareness, and channelling resources to protect them within their natural habitats.

The issue has been thrust into the spotlight again with the closure this coming Sunday of the 25-year-old Underwater World Singapore (UWS). The lease on its premises nears expiry and it faces stiff competition from the Marine Life Park and Dolphin Island at Resorts World Sentosa. UWS was the largest tropical fish oceanarium in Asia when it opened in 1991.

Conservation and animal welfare groups have criticised it for catching dolphins in the wild instead of sourcing ones bred in captivity, keeping animals in bad condition and forcing them to perform unnatural acts.

But UWS managers said in 2009 that their successful breeding of dolphins and other species indicated that the animals were well taken care of and helped to maintain a diverse gene pool for the viability of the species.

An Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin, or pink dolphin, was born UWS in 2002, which the attraction said was the world's first recorded captive birth of the species.

The oceanarium has also successfully bred about 15 species of fish, including sharks, some of which had not been bred elsewhere.

Then curatorial director Bruce Mackay said in 2001 that captive breeding saves these species from being taken from the wild for commercial trade.

In 2010, UWS released 18 critically endangered hawksbill turtles, eight of them with satellite tracking devices to study their migratory behaviour in collaboration with organisations in Japan and the United States.

However, photojournalist and activist Debby Ng, who founded local marine protection group Hantu Blog in 2003, said: "Success in captive breeding and release alone are not conclusive measures of conservation success." She added that long-term monitoring and management are necessary to determine whether the efforts have helped wild populations persist.

"Zoos and oceanariums can provide a crucial service if they teach respect for nature and foster endearment of the wild."

Outreach activities are part of the mix at UWS, such as holiday programmes in which children attend educational talks about marine life and spend the night in UWS' underwater tunnel sleeping with the fish.

UWS has also given stranded wildlife a home. Gracie the dugong was taken in in 1998 after its mother drowned off Pulau Ubin. Gracie lived at UWS until 2014, when it died of an acute digestive disorder.

But UWS still faced controversies. In 2004, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society discovered that the oceanarium's six dolphins had been originally caught in the wild rather than bred in captivity as previously recorded, and called for them to be set free.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), however, clarified that as the dolphins had already been in captivity for at least three years in a Thai marine park prior to coming to Singapore, UWS could legally keep them.

In 2014, animal welfare and conservation groups Wildlife Watcher (Singapore) and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reported that the dolphins were kept in rusty enclosures, had skin diseases, were made to perform unnatural acts and were exposed to loud music.

But an inspection by the AVA found the dolphins to be in a "satisfactory" condition. A pink dolphin was born there that year.

Mr Stephen Beng, chairman of the marine conservation group of the Nature Society (Singapore), said that the question remains of the "moral acceptability of keeping animals in captivity, especially those with larger ranges and complex social structures" such as dolphins.

Ms Ng noted that people can admire such animals in their natural habitats, even in Singapore.

In fact, there have been several recent sightings of wild pink dolphins in Singapore waters.

She added that some aquariums in the United States actually offer field trips to observe animals in the wild.

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Indonesia: 46 Killed in Central Java Landslide, Flash Flood

Stefi Thenu Jakarta Globe 20 Jun 16;

Semarang. The death toll from a series of flash floods and landslides that occurred in 16 districts in Central Java over the weekend has risen to 46, local Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPD) said on Sunday afternoon (19/06).

Purworejo BNPD Head Budhi Hardjono said the highest number of fatalities was recorded in Purworejo with 29 people confirmed dead — buried in landslides — and 17 in neighboring district Banjarnegara.

Dozens of people are still reported missing.

Indonesia's Search and Rescue Agency said the team is still searching for six missing in Banjarnegara and 11 in Purworejo.

Thousands of residents have been evacuated to safer areas after torrential rains caused flash floods and landslides that damaged many homes and infrastructures.

The rescue team has been joined by members of the the military and the police as well as volunteers to find those still missing.

Floods force relocation of 2,000 Surakarta residents
Ganug Nugroho Adi The Jakarta Post 20 Jun 16;

Heavy rains that showered Surakarta, Central Java, from Saturday afternoon through to early Sunday have caused floods that are 50 to 100 centimeters deep in several areas across the city. The flooding, to which the overflowing Bengawan Solo River contributed, has inundated hundreds of houses, forcing more than 2,000 people to take refuge elsewhere.

Three districts, namely Jebres, Pasar Kliwon and Serengan, are the most affected by the flooding and within them the hardest hit areas are Pucangsawit, Sewu, Sangkrah, Semanggi, Kedunglumbu, Joyontakan, Gandekan, and Gulon.

The floodwaters reportedly began to inundate residential neighborhoods at around 8 a.m. local time on Saturday, after which the water levels continued to rise until Sunday afternoon, forcing more residents to relocate. Search and Rescue Agency (SAR) teams were dispatched to assist the residents, especially women, children and the elderly, using rubber boats.

“We’re worried that the floodwater will not yet recede tomorrow [Monday] so it would be better for us to relocate,” said Rubiyah, 55, a Joyotakan resident.

On Sunday evening, hundreds of Joyotakan residents still packed evacuation posts on river dikes and sidewalks and in schoolyards.

Volunteers from the Surakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) and the city’s Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) have set up evacuation tents and dispatched public kitchen vehicles.

“We dispatched the vehicles to several flooded locations. We don’t erect public kitchen tents anymore to serve food to refugees. It’s much more efficient and effective to use public kitchen vehicles to provide the services,” said Surakarta Deputy Mayor Achmad Purnomo when he visited flooded areas in Joyotakan.

PMI Surakarta secretary Sumartono Hadinoto said the humanitarian aid agency had sent food supplies to the flood victims. He said it was predicted the number of evacuees would continue to increase as many residents were still trapped in their houses. The floods also hit Solo Baru, an elite residential neighborhood in Surakarta. (ebf)

Water levels remains normal in C.Java dam despite heavy rains
Ganug Nugroho Adi The Jakarta Post 20 Jun 16;

Despite high intensity rainfall in Surakarta, Central Java, over the weekend, the water level at the Gajah Mungkur dam in Wonogiri remains steady.

The water volume at the dam is not expected to trigger further flooding, despite concerns in the wake of deadly floods that hit Surakarta over the weekend.

“To date, the Gajah Mungkur dam remains at a safe level. We have not opened the floodgate since Saturday. Floodwaters that hit Surakarta over the weekend were not from this dam,” said Erwando, head of the water and water resources division at state-owned water company Perusahaan Jasa Tirta (PJT) I, on Monday. Erwando is currently overseeing the Bengawan Solo River area.

He said The water level at Gajah Mungkur dam currently measures 135 meters above sea level, slightly higher than its safe limit of 136 meters. He said Jasa Tirta did not have to open the dam floodgate because dam water volume remains at a normal level.

“The floods that hit Surakarta over the weekend were caused by high intensity rain, which fell evenly in areas across the city and its surrounding areas, especially Boyolali, Klaten and Wonogiri. River tributaries in those areas overflowed their banks. The water later flowed into the Bengawan Solo River, causing floods in the down-stream part of the river,” said Erwando.

Southern Wonogiri is the biggest contributor to water volume in the Gajar Mungkur dam. The dam is a factor that is often used to determine whether or not Surakarta is likely to flood because, if the dam water level increases, the water will flow into the Bengawan Solo River.

“In principle, if it wishes to open or close the Gajah Mungkur floodgate, Jasa Tirta will coordinate with the Surakarta administration and other cities in the down-stream side of the Bengawan Solo River, such as Bojonegoro, Ngawi and Tuban,” said Erwando.

As of 10 a.m. local time on Monday, the water level surface had reached 9.30 meters or Siaga I (high alert). (ebf)

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Coral bleaching event now biggest in history – and about to get worse

US weather agency says bleaching is now the most widespread on record and is likely to continue for unprecedented third year
Michael Slezak The Guardian 20 Jun 16;

The coral bleaching event sweeping the globe and destroying vast tracts of valuable coral reef is now officially the most widespread in recorded history, and is likely to continue for an unprecedented third year, according to the US weather agency.

For the coming four months, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration says its forecasts show warm ocean temperatures are expected to cause bleaching in the northern hemisphere, including around Hawaii, Micronesia, the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico.

“All northern hemisphere US-coral reefs are on alert for coral bleaching this year,” said Mark Eakin, coordinator of Coral Reef Watch at Noaa. “If we see bleaching in Florida or Hawaii this year it will be three years in a row.”

Coral in every major reef region has already experienced severe bleaching. About 93% of the reefs on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have been affected, and almost a quarter of the reef on the 2,300km stretch is now dead.

Hawaii and the Florida Keys, which will probably be hit by bleaching in the coming months, have been affected twice already, in mid-2014 and mid-2015. Reefs in the Indian Ocean around the Maldives and Western Australia have suffered severe bleaching, as have those in the rest of the Pacific, the Red Sea and the Caribbean.

Although the bleaching event was already the longest in recorded history and was predicted to run past the middle of the year, Noaa’s latest climate model-based forecasts now suggest it will run at least through to the end of 2016.

Coral bleaches when water temperatures are a couple of degrees above the normal summer maximum for longer than about two weeks. Climate change has caused global sea surface temperatures to rise by about 1C over the past century, pushing corals closer to their bleaching threshold. A strong El NiƱo, as well as other weather phenomena, raised the temperature further this year.

“It’s time to shift this conversation to what we can and are doing to conserve these amazing organisms in the face of this unprecedented global bleaching event,” said the director of Noaa’s coral reef conservation program, Jennifer Koss.

Coral reefs can often recover from bleaching when there is enough time between bleaching events, provided there aren’t too many other stressors, such as overfishing and water pollution.

Relieving the local stressors was important, but not enough, Koss said. “Globally, we need to better understand what actions we all can take to combat the effects of climate change.”

Noaa tracks the water temperature from satellite data and uses that to estimate the probable bleaching it will cause. Eakin said the information was then given to scientists and managers on the ground.

“The biggest bleaching threat over the next six months is to the reefs in two US freely associated states: Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia,” he said. “Islanders there are very dependent on their coral reefs and diving tourism is a major contributor to their economies. This event may have major ecological and economic impacts on those islands.”

He added: “It is crucial that scientists and the public continue in-water monitoring to track the actual extent and severity of the bleaching it causes.”

Global coral bleaching event expected to last through 2016
CALEB JONES Associated Press Yahoo News 21 Jun 16;

HONOLULU (AP) — After the most powerful El Nino on record heated the world's oceans to never-before-seen levels, huge swaths of once vibrant coral reefs that were teeming with life are now stark white ghost towns disintegrating into the sea.

And the world's top marine scientists are still struggling in the face of global warming and decades of devastating reef destruction to find the political and financial wherewithal to tackle the loss of these globally important ecosystems.

The International Coral Reef Symposium convened Monday to try to create a more unified conservation plan for coral reefs.

Federal officials said Monday the global coral bleaching event that began in 2014 with a super-charged El Nino is ongoing and is now the longest-lasting and largest such event ever recorded.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said that the event is expected to continue for its third year, lasting at least until the end of 2016.

While forecasters predict a change from El Nino to La Nina conditions, much of the warm water will remain in place or shift to other regions throughout the rest of the year.

All of the reef areas in the northern hemisphere — which includes almost all of the reefs in the United States — will experience another season of bleaching, said Mark Eakin, coordinator for NOAA's Coral Reef Watch program. Eakin noted that places like Hawaii and Florida have already had two consecutive years of severe bleaching, and a third is reason for concern.

"It's not likely to be as severe as last year according to the models, but time will tell," said Eakin. "It's very important for the managers to be ready for the fact that this may be a third year of bleaching."

Consecutive years of coral bleaching have led to some of the most widespread mortality of reefs on record, leaving scientists in a race to save them. While bleached coral often recovers, multiple years weakens the organisms and increases the risk of death.

Eakin said Palau and other Pacific islands in Micronesia face the biggest threats as warm waters push westward. Those islands are dependent on their reefs for both sustenance and the economic value of tourism.

"Local conservation buys us time, but it isn't enough," said Jennifer Koss, NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program director. "Globally, we need to better understand what actions we all can take to combat the effects of climate change."

"What we have to do is to really translate the urgency," said Ruth Gates, president of the International Society for Reef Studies and director of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

Gates, who helped organize the conference in Honolulu for more than 2,000 international reef scientists, policymakers and others, said the scientific community needs to make it clear how "intimately reef health is intertwined with human health."

She said researchers have to find a way to implement large scale solutions with the help of governments.

Researchers have achieved some success with projects such as creating coral nurseries and growing forms of "super coral" that can withstand harsher conditions. But much of that science is being done on a very small scale with limited funding.

Bob Richmond, director of the University of Hawaii's Kewalo Marine Laboratory, said the problems are very clear: "overfishing of reef herbivores and top predators, land-based sources of pollution and sedimentation, and the continued and growing impacts of climate change."

While reefs are major contributors to many coastal tourist economies, saving the world's coral isn't just about having pretty places for vacationers to explore. Reefs are integral to the overall ecosystem and are an essential component of everyday human existence.

Reefs not only provide habitat for most ocean fish consumed by humans, but they also shelter land from storm surges and rising sea levels. Coral has even been found to have medicinal properties.

In one project to help save reefs, researchers at the University of Hawaii's Institute of Marine Biology have been taking samples from corals that have shown tolerance for harsher conditions in Oahu's Kaneohe Bay and breeding them with other strong strains in slightly warmer than normal conditions to create a super coral.

The idea is to make the corals more resilient by training them to adapt to tougher conditions before transplanting them into the ocean.

Another program run by the state of Hawaii has created seed banks and a fast-growing coral nursery for expediting coral restoration projects.

Most of Hawaii's species of coral are unlike other corals around the world in that they grow very slowly, which makes reef rebuilding in the state difficult. So officials came up with a plan to grow large chunks of coral in a fraction of the time it would normally take.

Coral reefs have almost always been studied up close, by scientists in the water looking at small portions of reefs.

But NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is taking a wider view, from about 23,000 feet above. NASA and other scientists recently launched a three-year campaign to gather new data on coral reefs worldwide. They are using specially designed imaging instruments attached to aircraft.

"The idea is to get a new perspective on coral reefs from above, to study them at a larger scale than we have been able to before, and then relate reef condition to the environment," said Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences' Eric Hochberg, principal investigator for the project.

If the scientific community and the world's governments can't come together to address coral's decline, one of earth's most critical habitats could soon be gone, leaving humans to deal with the unforeseen consequences.

"What happens if we don't take care of our reefs?" asked Gates. "It's dire."

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New crop varieties 'can't keep up with global warming'

Crops yields around the world could fall within a decade unless action is taken to speed up the introduction of new varieties.
Matt McGrath BBC 21 Jun 16;

A study says temperatures are rising faster than the development of crop varieties that can cope with a warmer world.

In Africa, researchers found that it can take 10-30 years before farmers can grow a new breed of maize.

By the time these new crops are planted, they face a warmer environment than they were developed in.

The scientists behind the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, looked closely at the impact of temperature rises on crop duration - that's the length of time between planting and harvesting.

The found that in a warmer world durations will be shorter meaning these varieties will have less time to accumulate biomass and yields could be affected.

Out of date

In their paper, the researchers write that crop duration will become significantly shorter as early as 2018 in some regions but by 2031, the majority of maize-growing areas of Africa will be affected.

"The actual changes in yield may be different but this effect is there, the impact of this change in duration will occur unless breeding changes," said lead author Prof Andy Challinor from the University of Leeds.

"The durations will be shorter than what they were bred for - by the time they are in the field they are, in terms of temperature, out of date."

New varieties of maize need between 10-30 years of development before they are ready to be grown by farmers.

The scientists say the lag is down to a combination of factors including the limited number of crops you can grow in a season, the need for government approved testing and there are also a number of problems of access to markets that can increase the time it takes before the farmers have the new seeds to plant.

Increasing the speed of development is important but according to Prof Challinor, so is making smarter assumptions about future conditions.

"We can use the climate models to tell us what the temperatures are going to be," he told BBC News,
"We can then put those temperature elevations into the greenhouses and then we can breed the crops at those temperatures. People are beginning to do this, but this paper provides the hard evidence of the necessity of it."
Researchers are also working on the impact of heat stress on crops at sites in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ethiopia. Data from these trials is being used to identify species that could cope with warmer conditions.

But would the use of genetic modification (GM) help speed up this type of work?

"GM does some things faster, so you would get a new variety of crop faster," said Prof Challinor.

"But it doesn't get you out of the testing requirement in fact the testing may in fact be greater and it doesn't help it all with farmers accessing seeds and markets - the problem will remain even for a magic GM crop."

Better techniques and more money for research are the keys according to others in this field, familiar with the study.

"Investment in agricultural research to develop and disseminate new seed technologies is one of the best investments we can make for climate adaptation," said Dr Andy Jarvis, from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture,"Climate funds could be used to help the world's farmers stay several steps ahead of climate change, with major benefits for global food security."

The researchers believe that the study also has implications beyond Africa, especially in the maize growing regions of the tropics.

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