Best of our wild blogs: 14 Jul 16

Sea slugs in sunny Singapore
Hantu Blog

Feral cats on Pulau Hantu
Hantu Blog

12-14 August 2016: Climate Innovation Challenge
Green Drinks Singapore

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NEA and NTU to develop S$40m waste-to-energy research facility

Lee Li Ying, Channel NewsAsia 13 Jul 16;

SINGAPORE: The National Environment Agency (NEA) and Nanyang Technological University signed an agreement on Wednesday (July 13) to co-fund the development of a S$40 million waste-to-energy research facility.

This facility will be an open platform that will allow researchers and companies working on emerging waste-to-energy technologies to demonstrate and test-bed their projects, they said.

Possible projects include turning ash into slag, a glass-like material that could be used in construction. The facility also has a plug-and-play configuration that allows users to test multiple different technologies, they added.

Executive Director at NTU's Nanyang Environment and Water Research Institute Ng Wun Jern said this facility will help turn research findings into industry applications.

"You must understand that what you do in the lab is research, and research is still a long way from actual application. At the end of the day, we need to move research to engineering. So what this facility allows us to do is to address the engineering issues."

Mr Ronnie Tay, CEO of NEA, said: "We hope this facility will provide stakeholders such as research institutes, academia and industry with a platform to collaborate in and create more effective and sustainable waste management solutions through research, development, demonstration and test-bedding."

Construction of the facility will begin in Tuas early next year, and the facility is targeted to be commissioned by late 2018.

- CNA/kk

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Indonesia: Interactive Map Launched to Spot Potential Forest Fires

Beh Lih Yi & Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 13 Jul 16;

Jakarta. The World Resources Institute’s global forest monitoring network, Global Forest Watch (GFW), has launched a new tool that can spot potential forest fires as the dry season draws nearer in Indonesia.

The Fire Risk Map, launched last Thursday (07/07), will help authorities prevent fires before they spread to forests in Indonesia and Malaysia — the cause of last year’s haze emergency.

“We hope the Fire Risk Map will help government officials and land managers to be more proactive about fires,” Susan Minnemeyer, a forest fire expert at GFW, told Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday (12/07).

According to Susan, the Fire Risk Map is updated daily to calculate fire risks using satellite-based data on temperature, humidity and rainfall. It can also estimate the wetness or dryness of forest litter.

Dry forest litter indicates a higher risk of forest fires, as it easily catches fire and spreads it.

“It is cheaper to prevent fires than to react to them,” Susan said in a statement.

The map was developed with help from the environmental group Conservation International and is based on the U.S. Forest Service’s Fire Danger Rating System.

New US tool to help RI predict hot spot locations
Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 14 Jul 16;

As the country enters the dry season, from June to October, a new tool may help the country overcome the annual fires by detecting fire risks daily.

The tool, developed by a team of experts with Conservation International’s Firecast initiative, the Global Solutions Group and the World Resources Institute (WRI), is based on the US Forest Service’s fire danger rating system.

The tool comes in the form of a fire risk map that calculates the risk of a fire catching and spreading in a given area using satellite-based data on temperature, humidity and rainfall.

These measurements help estimate how wet or dry forest litter (dead tree and plant materials) is —the drier the litter, the higher the risk.

“We’re using data from Terra and Aqua satellites by NASA. And then we aggregate the data into our platform by adding contextual information, such as concessions, land cover, peat or non peat,” WRI Indonesia deputy director Andika Putraditama told The Jakarta Post.

Indonesia, however, already has its own fire danger rating system, says the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s fire mitigation director, Raffles Brotestes Panjaitan.

“We’ve been using FDRS [fire danger rating system] since 2006 with the help of Canada and we also have fire prone map in 10 provinces, which we’ve shared with governors,” he told the Post.

However, Andika said the system was not as robust as the one provided by the WRI.

“We can only see hot spots and their number in each regency. But we wouldn’t be able to know what’s actually happening on the ground because we don’t have contextual information on that,” he said.

Through the tool, a computer model generates a new interactive map every day showing where dry conditions increase fire risk in Indonesia and Malaysia.

“If we can access the data of hot spots and wind direction, which is updated daily, we can know where the fires might spread,” said Andika.

Therefore, the tool can help decisionmakers take action to prevent fires before they start, especially during the current dry season, which will last until October, when fires typically spike and air quality deteriorates.

This year’s dry season is expected to be less dry than last year, which had an abnormally long dry season due to El Niño, a cyclical climate event that warms sea temperatures.

El Niño has now largely ended. Instead, there is a 75 percent chance of La Niña, the cooler inverse of El Niño, which would create wetter-than-average conditions for Indonesia and perhaps a shorter dry season.

So far in 2016, most of Indonesia has been relatively rainy and with few fires, although conditions are growing drier.

The new fire risk data shows that average fire risk is at moderate to low in provinces that saw significant fire outbreaks last year, but beginning to enter high-risk conditions in portions of Riau, Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan.

Last week, 288 hot spots were detected throughout the country, with North Sumatra having the largest number of hot spots.

As the threat of land and forest fires grows, the government could use the fire risk map to inform the public when fire risk is high.

In the US, fire danger warnings help forest users know whether it is safe to build a campfire or operate certain equipment.

Similar warnings or prohibitions on fires on dry days could help raise awareness.

The government could also coordinate fire response actions when fires occur to prevent spreading based on information from the fire risk map.

“If the WRI has a more up-to-date map, then it is nice to utilize it as well,” Raffles said.

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Indonesia: Rare species under threat as Leuser park’s forest shrinks

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 13 Jul 16;

A number of endangered species are under threat as the government plans to convert forests in a national park in Sumatra into a geothermal power plant.

The government has announced a plan to turn 18,000 hectares of protected forests in the Mount Leuser National Park (TNGL) into productive areas to make room for an investor from Turkey that has expressed interest in tapping into the geothermal potential of the area, which has long been part of the Leuser range, a line of ancient, non-volcanic formations.

The park, with its 800,000 ha of land spanning three provinces in northern Sumatra, is home to seven protected animals including the Sumatran Elephant, Sumatran gibbon (siamang), orangutans and tigers.

Orangutan Information Center director Panut Hadisiswoyo said the government should drop the land conversion plan in Kappi, Gayo Lues, Aceh, because the area was still well-preserved and home to the endangered species.

“Kappi is a crucial part of the Leuser ecosystem. If it is taken away, rhinoceros, tigers and elephants in the area will become extinct,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

He also questioned whether the government had conducted thorough study on the geothermal potential of the area.

Once dubbed the largest conservation area in Southeast Asia, Leuser park has been encroached upon by illegal plantations and other agricultural activities.

It has also been named a world-heritage tropical rainforest by UNESCO.

In 2014, the government recorded that the park’s preserved area had fallen from 1 million hectares to 838,872 hectares due to legal and illegal land use.

The core preservation area, including Kappi, had been reduced to only 631,542 hectares by this year, down from almost 700,000 hectares in 2009.

Head of the TNGL center Andi Basrul confirmed reports about the land conversion plan in Kappi.

He said that the proposal was currently waiting for approval from the Environment and Forestry Ministry.

“The land conversion is to support President Jokowi’s plan to tap into geothermal potential, although it will harm the conservation area,” Andi told the Post.

However, he said that there had not been any formal agreement with the Turkish investor as the government was still assessing the plan.

Andi argued that the park’s land allocation for productive purposes was largely flawed, pushing the authorities to destroy an increasing amount of forest areas.

“All [productive areas] have been damaged,” he said, citing Ketambe, Lawe Alas in Southeast Aceh as some of the damaged areas.

The authorities’ lack of commitment to protecting the areas is often cited as the cause of the degrading condition of the national park.

A group that has united as Gerakan Rakyat Menggugat (GeRAM) is raising awareness of the need to protect the Leuser park in Aceh through an online petition.

Posted on in February, the petition calls on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to protect one of the richest expanses of tropical rainforest in Southeast Asia.

Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio has also promoted the petition through social media following his visit to TNGL in late March.

The petition is just one of GeRAM’s efforts to urge the government to revise an Islamic bylaw on spatial planning that does not include KEL among the protected forests and national strategic areas in its land-use plan.

The group filed a class action lawsuit in January against Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo, Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah and Aceh Legislative Council Speaker Muharuddin at the Central Jakarta District Court.

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U.S. Florida: Manatee die-off in polluted Indian River Lagoon begins anew

Craig Pittman, Tampa Bay Times 13 Jul 16;

The manatees are dying again.

Between 2012 to 2015, state officials said 158 manatees died in Florida's Indian River Lagoon, once known as the most diverse ecosystem in America. They weren't alone — pelicans and dolphins died by the score in the polluted lagoon too.

The manatee die-off sputtered out last summer. But now, according to St. Petersburg's Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, it has begun anew.

Since May nine new victims have been discovered. The most recent was found on July 4. All came from the Melbourne area.

Because manatees are an endangered species, whenever one is found dead in Florida, it's brought to the FWRI's laboratory to determine its cause of death. Examinations there are overseen by Dr. Martine de Wit.

The deaths do not appear to be connected to the toxic blue-green algae bloom afflicting the state's Atlantic coast and Lake Okeechobee, she said Wednesday. So far, no manatees deaths have ever been tied to that species of algae, she said, although the state continues to monitor it.

But this wave of manatee deaths may be indirectly tied to two other, different algae blooms, apparently fed by pollution in the lagoon, she said.

The Indian River Lagoon has had algae blooms before, but none of them were like the one that hit in 2011. Experts called the explosion of the greenish Resultor species a "superbloom" because it covered nearly 131,000 acres and lasted from early spring to late fall.

Then came the "brown tide" algae bloom of 2012, which tinted the water a chocolate brown. The algae, Aureoumbra lagunensis, have been a recurring headache for Texas. Why it suddenly showed up in Florida is another mystery.

A large algae blooms shades out sunlight needed by sea grass. By the time the "brown tide" algae bloom was done, the lagoon had lost more than half its sea grass, essential to nurturing fish and other marine species — including manatees.

With much of the seagrass gone, the manatees turned to eating a red sea weed called gracilaria. That's what was found in the guts of the dead ones, de Wit said. One theory is that the change in diet, prompted by the algae bloom's impact, is what killed them.

"The loss of seagrass led to them eating something else that caused them a gut upset," she explained.

Normally the stomach contents of a dead manatee are fairly dry, she said, but what was in these stomachs was "like a Slurpee."

So far, she said, there is no discernible pattern to the 167 manatees killed by whatever is in the lagoon — the victims are calves and adults, males and females.

That's out of the 1,500 or so manatees that normally swim around the Canaveral area.

"The majority of the manatees were apparently able to deal with the different vegetation," she said.

The only good thing, she said, is that so far the pelican and dolphin die-offs haven't started back up yet too.

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