Best of our wild blogs: 8 Jul 16

Fires begin to appear en masse as Indonesia’s burning season gets going
Mongabay Haze Beat

Mass coral bleaching at Kusu Island
wild shores of singapore

A Visit to Coney Island
My Nature Experiences

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Not all business efforts at conservation are greenwashing, says expert

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 8 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE — Conservation scientists and palm oil and pulp companies make strange bedfellows — or do they?

Conservation opportunities exist in business, and scientists can help companies that want to do the right thing, argued Indonesia-based conservation scientist Erik Meijaard at a major scientific conference here last week.

Dr Meijaard had given his opening keynote address for the four-day Conservation Asia 2016 conference a somewhat provocative title: Integrating business and conservation. The way forward or a slide into greenwashed oblivion?

His conclusion, informed by over 20 years of experience: “I don’t think it’s all greenwashing. I think there’s a lot of greenwashing, companies that don’t care at all about environmental and social responsibilities, but there are examples of companies trying to do things differently and it’s important to work with these companies.

“Some companies don’t know how to do it; we have to help them and constructively move forward. So it’s important all of us seek that kind of opportunity to translate research into something meaningful for the company,” he said.

Dr Meijaard was approached a few years ago by a firm called PT KAL, which wanted to be the “best oil palm plantation in the world”. He asked for the firm to have an environmental manager on par with its senior managers, with a right to say no if conservation targets were in conflict with other targets.

The company gradually tackled the hunting, illegal logging and snares in its plantations’ set-aside areas in West Kalimantan, and Dr Meijaard said it has not had an illegal logging event for the past two years.

Some 150 orangutans can be found in its oil palm concessions, he told an audience of over 550 participants from 37 countries.

Dr Meijaard first went to Indonesia as a student in the early 1990s and found through his work that timber concessions can play an important role in conservation. A logged forest is better than no forest, and selective logging is the next best option after a protected area, he said.

But timber concessions are being lost — data from Indonesian Borneo from 1990 to 2014 shows a big decline in forests in non-protected areas. From 82 per cent of 365,863sqkm in 1990, the figure dropped to 62 per cent of 245,425sqkm in 2014.

Although commitments by major pulp companies that played a major role in deforestation in the past can feel a little too late, Dr Meijaard called for a rethink of the assumption that “big is bad”.

A study published in Conservation Letters last year found that four major industries — logging, fibre plantations, oil palm and coal mining — contributed to about 45 per cent of total forest-cover loss in Indonesia from 2000 to 2010. This meant 55 per cent of it occurred outside industrial concession boundaries.

One of the study’s authors, Assistant Professor Janice Lee of Nanyang Technological University (who was then with ETH Zurich), said non-governmental organisations can play the role of trusted third parties to help consumers identify companies that greenwash, or dishonestly present themselves as environmentally responsible.

Pristine habitats should not even be given out by governments as concessions areas for industrial activities, but such issues are often about governance and are beyond conservation science, she said.

Research could also deliver food for thought on the amount of growth needed. Asst Prof Lee recently co-authored a paper looking at the amount of palm oil and soybean oil needed to produce junk food.

People’s habits may not change overnight but such research could get them thinking if humans are razing the forest for poor nutrition, she said. Neo Chai Chin

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'Game-changer' in local waste management scene

Start-up's filter created from waste biomass can cut cost of managing liquid industrial waste
Cheryl Teh Straits Times 8 Jul 16;

A Singapore start-up, EcoWorth Tech, has developed a new technology that uses waste biomass, such as cotton wool and paper, to make filters to clean up liquid industrial waste.

The technology, named Carbon Fibre Aerogel (CFA), cleans the waste liquid to levels that allow it to be discharged into drains.

Dr Bert Grobben, chief executive of EcoWorth Tech, said the technology is set to be a game-changer in the Singapore waste management scene, by cutting the cost of managing waste in a sustainable, environment-friendly way.

He added that due to the technology's eco-friendly production process and durability of the CFA material, these filters will make cleaning liquid industrial waste cheaper for industrial plants.

He did not disclose the extent of savings that could be achieved, saying that it varied from client to client. But he said the use of CFA could be up to 20 times cheaper than other low-cost solutions in use today.

The filters are created by burning waste cotton in a special oven at high temperatures in controlled conditions, and then cooling it.

The size of these filters is customisable, and they can be used in a range of industries, from industrial wastewater treatment to food waste management to the oil and gas industry.

"We don't put any harsh chemicals in. We use natural materials, and there is no environmental impact in the entire production process," said Dr Grobben.

He said that 1g of CFA absorbs about 190g of fuel, oil or grease.

He added that CFA filters, unlike others, can be reused, as waste material can be squeezed out of them.

He said EcoWorth Tech plans to scale up its operations to produce the CFA filters quickly to meet the high demand for waste purification technology in Singapore.

The initial production facility will be based in the Nanyang Technological University, and Dr Grobben has plans to expand his team of five to about 15 people as the business grows.

"This technology will put Singapore on the global map, as it is a technology that can be used anywhere in the world," he said.

"It is my vision that, one day, we will have a geographically dispersed and optimised supply chain to cater to our global clients in an environmentally sensitive way," he added.

EcoWorth Tech will be showcasing the CFA technology at the Innovation Pitch at the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore.

The summit will be held in Singapore from Sunday to Thursday at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

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NParks collaborates with artists to transform trees into park furniture

Janice Tai, The Straits Times AsiaOne 7 Jul 16;

A 150-year-old Hopea sangal tree, which stood 35m tall in Halton Road in Changi, was chopped down by property management company DTZ Debenham Tie Leung in 2002.

The tree, thought to have been the last of its kind in Singapore, is believed to have given the Changi area its name because it was commonly referred to as Chengal pasir or Chengal mata kuching.

A group of nature lovers started a hunt for the trunk, and traced it to a sawmill.

Later, the National Parks Board (NParks) and other stakeholders decided that its wood would be turned into nine pieces of sculpture and housed at the zoo.

That was one of the earliest incidents when wood from felled trees was used to make art.

Since then, NParks has been collecting logs from felled trees to make objects such as sculptures and benches. These trees were taken down due to safety reasons or because they were diseased.

"The logs are mostly collected from trees in Fort Canning Park, as well as other parks located in the central district like Marina Promenade and Duxton Plain Park," said Ms Kalthom Latiff, director of Arts & Heritage Parks at NParks.

NParks works closely with artists and organisations, such as the Sculpture Society Singapore and Singapore Furniture Industries Council, to transform the logs into works of art or park furniture.

The finished pieces are donated back to NParks and displayed in its parks for the public to enjoy.

Recently, NParks provided timber from a Senegal mahogany tree in Marina Promenade to craftsman Adam Chan, who used it to create an electric guitar to promote conservation.

"We felt that Mr Chan's conservation message behind the project was meaningful, hence we collaborated with him," said Ms Kalthom.

"We continue to look for more opportunities to partner the community in such projects, and at the same time give our felled trees a new lease of life."

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Malaysia: Strong winds and rough seas expected over Selangor and east coast, says Met Dept

The Star 8 Jul 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Strong Southwesterly winds of 40-50 kmph with waves rising up to 3.5 metres are expected to occur over the waters off Phuket, Reef North and Palawan from tomorrow until Monday.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department in a statement said the condition of strong winds and rough seas is dangerous to small crafts, recreational sea activities and sea sports.

Thunderstorm activities occurring over the waters off Strait of Malacca is expected to continue until early morning Friday (July 8).

Meanwhile, thunderstorms occurring over the waters off Selangor, Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang are also expected to continue until early morning, Friday (July 8).

This condition may cause strong winds up to 50 kph and rough seas with waves rising up to 3.5 metres (11 feet) and dangerous to small boats. - Bernama

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Vietnam: Coastal erosion threatens southern province

Gia Bach, Thanh Nien News 8 Jul 16;

Vietnam UNESCO heritage threatened by erosion as dams stop sedimentation
Ca Mau authorities on Wednesday issued erosion warnings after the country's southernmost province lost a vast area of coastal land.

The new warnings are for 32 kilometers of coastline in Tran Van Thoi and U Minh Districts.

The province has lost nearly 305 hectares of land annually in recent years due to erosion that reaches as far as 50 meters into the land.

Nguyen Van Hieu, a local resident, said many areas of protected forest near his house have collapsed into the sea.

He said strong waves are now eroding the shore day and night.

To Quoc Nam, deputy director of Ca Mau Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the major reason of erosion is a combination of high tides and rough seas.

“We are rushing to repair seriously damaged sections to prevent the embankment from collapsing,” he said.

“With 252 kilometers of coastline, Ca Mau is vulnerable to erosion. If the embankment collapses, seawater will intrude into inland rice fields,” he said.

Tran Quoc Nam, deputy director of Ca Mau's Irrigation Agency, said it is now important to plant more trees to protect the land and end illegal construction activities.

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Australia's vast kelp forests devastated by marine heatwave, study reveals

About 90% of forests off the western coast were wiped out between 2011 and 2013, posing a threat to biodiversity and the marine economy, say scientists
Calla Wahlquist The Guardian 7 Jul 16;

A hundred kilometres of kelp forests off the western coast of Australia were wiped out by a marine heatwave between 2010 and 2013, a new study has revealed.

About 90% of the forests that make up the north-western tip of the Great Southern Reef disappeared over the period, replaced by seaweed turfs, corals, and coral fish usually found in tropical and subtropical waters.

The Great Southern Reef is a system of rocky reefs covered by kelp forests that runs for 2,300km along the south coast of Australia, extending past Sydney on the east coast, down to Tasmania and, previously, back up to Kalbarri on the west coast.

It supports most of the nation’s fisheries, including the lucrative rock lobster and abalone fisheries, and is worth about $10bn to the Australian economy. It is also a global biodiversity hotspot, with up to 30% of species endemic.

Dr Thomas Wernberg, from the University of Western Australia’s oceans institute and lead author of the study, told the Guardian that 100km of kelp forest died following a marine heatwave in 2011 which saw the ocean temperature increase by 2C.

The death of the kelp caused the functional extinction of 370sq km of rocky cool-climate reefs, extending down the coast from Kalbarri, about 570km north of Perth, Western Australia.

The area was then rapidly colonised by turf-forming seaweeds and bottom-grazing tropical herbivores, such as rabbitfish and parrotfish, which stopped the kelp from regrowing.

If the trend continued, Wernberg said, the kelp forests could retract to the southern tip of the state, with environmental and economic consequences as grave as the loss of the Great Barrier Reef.

“I think the next big heatwave is just going to push what we see in the north ultimately further down, and then it just depends on how bad that heatwave is, whether we go all the way down to Perth or whether we just go another 10km.

“All the projections are that it will get warmer, we will get more frequent heatwaves, so unfortunately I think it’s just a matter of time,” he said.

The heatwave in 2011 killed 43% of kelp in western Australia, but with the exception of the northern tip near Kalbarri most was able to regrow.

Wernberg said that northern area was now being colonised by corals and coral reef species, brought in by the Leeuwin current which runs north-to-south in a west coast replica of the East Australia Current.

He said the area would eventually become tropical, but “I don’t think that these things will turn into healthy functional coral reefs in our lifetime”.

“It’s not just a matter of a temperate ecosystem being replaced by a tropical ecosystem... You sort of get locked into this intermediate stage where you have lots of small turf-forming seaweeds, so you lose the best parts of both systems.

“We take these systems for granted because they’re right in your backyard, in contrast to the Great Barrier Reef. This is a cool water, seaweed-dominated system that for a lot of reasons is less attractive. The water’s not as clear, it’s cold... I can understand that, of course, but if you look at what kelp forests actually do for us I think we need to be as passionate about understanding this reef system,” Wernberg said.

The El NiƱo phenomenon that caused mass coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef earlier this year also caused the longest and hottest heatwave on record off the east coast of Tasmania, resulting in mass oyster deaths but not, surprisingly, a huge loss of kelp.

That suggested southern kelp forests were more able to withstand heatwaves than northern kelp forests, Prof Craig Johnson, from the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, told the Guardian.

He agreed with Wernberg that it was likely kelp forests would retract to the southern-most corners of the continent as temperatures warmed, which would see the majority of species dependent on the reef pushed out.

Tasmania’s remaining giant kelp forests appear to have been more resilient to the heatwave
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Tasmania’s remaining giant kelp forests appear to have been more resilient to the heatwave. Photograph: Darryl Torckler/Getty Images
Tasmania has already lost 95% of its giant kelp forests, due to ocean warming over the past 80 years, but the remaining species appear more resilient. The species grows so fast you can measure it in the morning and come out after lunch to find it’s grown another 30cm.

Johnson said the value of the Great Southern Reef was “completely under-appreciated,” and that the number of endemic species was “orders of magnitude more on the Great Southern Reef than the Great Barrier Reef”.

The study, Climate-driven regime shift of a temperate marine ecosystem, was published in the journal Science on Thursday.

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Arctic sea ice crashes to record low for June

From mid-June onwards, ice cover disappeared at an average rate of 29,000 miles a day, about 70% faster than the typical rate of ice loss, experts say
Suzanne Goldenberg The Guardian 7 Jul 16;

The summer sea ice cover over the Arctic raced towards oblivion in June, crashing through previous records to reach a new all-time low.

The Arctic sea ice extent was a staggering 260,000 sq km (100,000 sq miles) below the previous record for June, set in 2010. And it was 1.36m sq km (525,000 sq miles) below the 1981-2010 long-term average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

That means a vast expanse of ice – an area about twice the size of Texas – has vanished over the past 30 years, and the rate of that retreat has accelerated.

Aside from March, each month in 2016 has set a grim new low for sea ice cover, after a record warm winter.

January and February obliterated global temperature records, setting up conditions for the further retreat of the Arctic summer ice cover, scientists have warned.

Researchers did not go so far as to predict a new low for the entire 2016 season. But they said the ice pack over the Beaufort Sea was studded with newer, thinner ice, which is more vulnerable to melting. Ice cover along the Alaska coast was very thin, less than 0.5 meters (1.6 ft).

The loss of the reflective white ice cover in the polar regions exposes more of the absorptive dark ocean to solar heat, causing the water to warm up. This goes on to raise air temperatures, and melt more ice – reinforcing the warming trend.

Scientists have warned the extra heat is the equivalent of 20 years of carbon emissions.

From mid-June onwards, ice cover disappeared at an average rate of 74,000 sq km (29,000 sq miles) a day, about 70% faster than the typical rate of ice loss, the NSIDC said.

Sea ice loss in the first half of the month proceeded at a lower pace, only 37,000 sq km (14,000 sq miles) a day.

The overall Arctic sea ice cover during June averaged 10.60m sq km (4.09m sq miles), the lowest in the satellite record for the month, according to the NSIDC.

There was more open water than average in the Kara and Barents seas as well as in the Beaufort Sea, despite below average temperatures, the NSIDC said.

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