Best of our wild blogs: 22 Jul 16

Mass coral bleaching at Labrador
wild shores of singapore

Green Drinks: Relief & Sustainable Impact
Green Drinks Singapore

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Singapore firms 'lag behind in sustainability reporting'

Wong Wei Hanm The Straits Times AsiaOne 21 Jul 16;

Listed companies in Singapore were not as active in sustainability reporting as those in neighbouring countries, a recent study has shown.

The main reason was that companies here have not been mandated to do such reporting, but the situation is expected to improve with the Singapore Exchange (SGX) recently updating regulations on this front.

Only 71 per cent of companies listed here had conducted reporting on matters related to sustainability, the study, looking at the top 100 mainboard companies by market cap in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, found.

Singapore's performance was well below the 100 per cent reporting level in the other three nations.

But in terms of the quality of those disclosures that were made, Singapore firms outperformed those in Indonesia and Malaysia. Singapore scored 48.8, ahead of Malaysia's 47.7 and Indonesia's 48.4. Thailand scored the highest, at 56.8.

The study covered corporate information for a two-year period from the start of 2014 to the end of last year. It was conducted by the Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations (CGIO) - part of the National University of Singapore - and ASEAN CSR Network.

"Singapore companies lag behind their ASEAN counterparts because it is currently not mandatory for them to communicate sustainability, unlike Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand," CGIO director Lawrence Loh told the Straits Times.

"However, this is expected to change in Singapore when regulations will require companies here to comply or explain from financial year ending on or after Dec 31 2017," he added. He was referring to newly announced SGX requirements that ask all listed companies here to either issue an annual sustainability report, or explain their decision not to do so.

The new requirements came as the Government recently stepped up its commitment to environmental sustainability. Starting from the third quarter this year, the Government will procure only printing paper products with the Singapore Green Label, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said yesterday at a conference where the study findings were revealed. But Mr Zulkifli stressed that companies, consumers, investors and academia all have a key part to play - both in Singapore and across ASEAN. "With the private sector and academia coming together, we can seize the opportunity to play a bigger role in shaping the sustainability agenda to build a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive ASEAN," he said.

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Malaysia: ‘Turn marine parks into sanctuaries if all else fails’

The Star 22 Jul 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah will have no choice but to turn marine parks into sanctuaries if the Federal Government refuses to enforce laws against shark hunting.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said the move was necessary if the state government was serious about wanting to save the sharks, with the marine species being one of the main reasons tourists came to Sabah to dive.

Legal officers are now looking into the mechanics of establishing the shark sanctuaries and the relevant laws that could be enacted to outlaw shark hunting in all the marine parks covering over two million hectares, he said.

Masidi said like many others, he was furious over the incident but could only helplessly watch the unnecessary killing of the sharks in an industry that rakes in some RM380mil in tourism revenues.

“Declaring marine parks simultaneously as sanctuaries is the next best thing for sharks if laws cannot not be implemented to protect them,” he said, adding that an announcement would be made in a month or two.

He also lamented the fact that the state government’s numerous proposals to the federal authorities to amend the Fisheries Act three years ago had been misinterpreted as an attempt to restrain the fishing industry.

“There is nothing much we can do until the law is amended to give us power to take action,” Masidi said, adding that the proposed amendment aimed to ensure the sustainability of the tourism industry, which depends heavily on the beauty of the sea and marine life.

For Sabah to continue benefiting from the tourism industry, sacrifices (shark hunting) needed to be made, he said.

Activists: Ban shark hunting
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 22 Jul 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Environmentalists and divers in Sabah have started a campaign to get the Federal Government to amend laws to ban shark hunting in the state’s islands.

The campaign came about following the revelation of pictures of sharks being finned and slaughtered in the diving haven of Pulau Mabul near Sipadan.

The images were also featured on the Facebook page of the US Embassy.

Among others, the campaign calls for the people to stop eating shark fin soup and claims that finning sharks is equivalent to killing elephants for their tusks.

Conservation groups have also expressed concern that the slaughter will affect the local tourism industry.

Sabah Shark Protection Association president Aderick Chong said the unemployment rate would spike if the Government ignored the call to ban shark hunting for the sake of some fishermen.

“Tourists come here to see our marine life and to have such horrific photographs circulated or have no sharks left to see would not do any good to the tourism industry,” he said.

He added that “reasons” such as protecting the livelihood of fishermen should not be an excuse for the Federal Government to not act on the issue.

As for the fishermen’s livelihood, Chong said there were many alternatives, especially in the tourism industry.

“Other options such as seaweed planting could also be taken up,” he added.

Chong said although there are ongoing programmes by the Tropical Research and Conservation Centre in Pom Pom and Kalapuan islands that work with communities to adopt more sustainable livelihoods, the killings are still happening.

Conservation groups claim sharks are butchered in Mabul at least three times a week, with many of the incidences witnessed by horrified tourists.

Marine biologist Ric Owen said shark-viewing is among the main products offered by tour operators, adding: “You have thousands of tourists coming from all over the world just to see sharks, yet you have people here killing them for food.”

Netizens have reacted angrily to the pictures, with one Kelvin Fong saying that countries such as Australia have enacted laws to protect sharks in their waters, while Justin Immanuel said there was no point having laws when there is no enforcement.

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Massive mangrove dieback in Australia, a climate tragedy for Indonesia to learn from

Muhammad IlmanMuhammad Ilman, Senior advisor of Wetlands International Indonesia in Bogor
Jakarta Post 21 Jul 16;

As we prepare to celebrate International Day for the Conservation of Mangrove Ecosystems on 26 July, harrowing aerial pictures of large swathes of dead mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia, have emerged on news platforms around the world.

The massive dieback of mangrove forests may have been reported in the past but the latest Australian incident is considered unprecedented due to its mammoth 10,000 hectare (ha) scale and the apparent absence of natural or man-made disaster to cite as the cause. The size of the dieback in Australia is equivalent to the stretch of land from Ujung Kulon in Banten to Cirebon in West Java.

The case serves as a loud alarm for Indonesian scientists and policy makers. Indonesia shares many mangrove habitat characteristics with Australia, their importance for the national economy, and the fact that both countries disproportionately harbor the largest portion (23 percent) of the world’s mangrove forests.

It is worth contemplating the mangrove dieback in Australia and considering why Indonesia should prepare for the possibility of a similar disaster occurring in Indonesia.

Various studies have found factors that could cause mangrove death, including water pollution, chemical defoliant, pest outbreaks, hydrological triggers, and high or frost level temperatures.

How mangroves expand and die

Most of the mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria coast formed at the narrow fringe of an emerged flood plain, especially along the shores of tidal estuaries. Species that stand out and quickly grow in this environment are those with wide range salinity tolerance and high dispersal ability seedlings (propagule) such as Avicennia and sometimes Sonneratia.

These species have limiting factors; the pencil or knee-like pneumatophore (breathing roots) only grow to around 30 cm, meaning that persistent flooding above 30 cm could severely weaken or kill the species.

Species with small breathing roots are also sensitive to fine sediment and substances such as oil that could clog root pores, effectively suffocating the trees.

Species with high prop-up breathing roots like Rhizophora, also found in the region, withstand persistent inundation and sediment cover, but their expansion is bound by decreased seedling dispersal ability. The species is also less tolerant of extreme salinity change.

The combination of physical coastal features like those found in the Gulf of Carpentaria paired with mangrove root sensitivity makes the species prone to dieback. However, past cases did not lead to dieback on such a massive scale.

Initial assessment by scientists at James Cook University in Australia (JCU) suggests that the mangrove dieback occurred between November – December last year and may have been triggered by extremely poor rainfall and high temperatures in the region. This is explained by meteorology records which show the extreme conditions faced by the region in 2015 due to El Nino.

What is missing in the assessment is information highlighting that the harsh environmental conditions were coupled with an unusually long period of low tides that prolonged scorching sun and sediment exposure.

As the result, sediment temperature could have increased, causing hypersalinity and toxic conditions in stagnant water, turning the 700 kilometers fringe coast into a dangerous place for mangrove forests. Unfortunately, this scenario may only partially represent the situation in the region last year. Until now, scientists struggle to understand the exact mechanism that led to the dieback.

Should Indonesia be worried?

The massive mangrove dieback in Australia was rightly described by Professor Norm Duke of the JCU as the “unprecedented”. This is partly because current climate-mangrove research is predominantly focused on slow, large-scale mangroves disappearance triggered by rising sea levels and or their potential destruction due to storms and cyclones. The sudden-yet-large-scale dieback due to extreme rainfall, temperature, and tidal period, was not anticipated.

Understanding and preventing such tragedy is of paramount importance for Indonesia for two reasons.

Firstly, the same habitat characteristics are found all over Indonesia, particularly along the east coasts of Sumatra, north coast of Java, east coast of Kalimantan and south coast of Papua.

Although relatively rare and far smaller in scale, mangrove dieback triggered by similar mechanisms have been known to occur in Indonesia in the past, including the famous Cilacap case reported by Soerjanegara ( 1968 ). Therefore, it is hard to declare that the 10,000 ha mangrove dieback will be an isolated incident.

Secondly, mangroves are the backbone of US$ 3.2 billion per year brackish water aquaculture industries. The livelihoods of two million coastal communities across Indonesia directly depend on (MMAF 2015). The economic value skyrockets when other mangrove ecosystem services like coastal protection and carbon emissions are included in the calculation.

Indonesian scientists and policy makers should follow the situation in Australia, reposition mangrove-climate studies to anticipate sudden impact, speed up efforts to map vulnerable areas across Indonesia and revisit the government decision to shut down its 128 tidal monitoring station services.

The author, a senior advisor of Wetlands International Indonesia in Bogor, is currently researching mangrove management strategy for his PhD degree at the University of Queensland Australia. The views expressed are his own.

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Taiwan: Coral bleaching prompts call for fishing reductions

Jake Chung Taipei Times 22 Jul 16;

A joint panel of academics from the Mission on Monitoring the Whitening of Corals in Taiwan called for the nation to reduce development, scuba diving and fishing in coral reef areas to allow coral reefs to recover.

The mission, formed by coral reef experts from Academia Sinica, National Taiwan University, National Sun Yat-sen University, the National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium, the Taiwan Environmental Information Center, the Oceanus Honors Gaia Association and the Taiwanese Coral Reef Society, said that there had been increasing amounts of coral whitening around the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Islands 東沙群島) and Kenting (墾丁) area since May.

Changing weather patterns, as well as El Nino has led to the warming of seawater, which causes coral bleaching once water temperatures exceed the corals’ heat tolerance levels, mission member Chen Chao-lun (陳昭倫) said.

Chen said that Typhoon Nepartak, which crossed Taiwan earlier this month, had done little to cool local waters, adding that coral reefs are likely to suffer more bleaching in the near future due to above-average water temperatures off Taiwan’s coast.

Strong sunlight and large waves can expose coral reefs in costal areas to hot air, which also increases bleaching, Chen said.

The mission will continue to monitor coral bleaching until September, it said, adding that should the public have any information on coral bleaching, they can contact the Oceanus Honors Gaia Association on its Facebook page.

Chen said that there is very little people can do to help stop coral bleaching.

Chen said people must strive to lower carbon emissions and avoid disturbing coral reefs, adding that fishing trawlers in the area should curb overfishing.

Chen also called on the local tourism industry to suspend scuba diving and snorkeling to allow reefs to recuperate.

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Drought 'shuts down Amazon carbon sink'

Mark Kinver BBC News 22 Jul 16;

A recent drought shut down the Amazon Basin's carbon sink by killing trees and slowing trees' growth rates, a study has shown.

The term carbon sink refers to the ability of a natural zone to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

In the first basin-wide study of the impacts of the 2010 drought, data showed trees' mortality rate went up while growth rates declined.

The findings have been published by the Global Biogeochemical Cycles journal.

The Amazon Basin is a key player in the Earth's carbon cycle, holding 17% of the terrestrial vegetation carbon stock.

An international team of scientists studied the affects of two drought events, in 2005 and 2010, that affected large swathes of forest across the region, using data from the long-running Rainfor network that gathers data from almost 100 locations across the Amazon Basin.

Co-author Ted Feldpausch from the University of Exeter, UK, said the study was the first large-scale, direct demonstration of tropical drought slowing tree growth, describing the findings as "extremely important".

Carbon neutral

He told BBC News that the droughts had effectively shut down Amazonia's function as a carbon sink.

"Our plots across the basin indicate that this forest became carbon neutral, so they were not taking up more carbon than they were losing," he explained. "This was regardless of whether the plots had experienced a drought or not.

"The second thing was that we found was an impact in 2010 on the growth of trees. This did not happen in 2005. Those trees that had a most intense precipitation anomalies also had lower growth.

"Mortality was also affected. We saw mortality go up and growth go down, which - again - we did not see in 2005.

"The final key point was that we did not find some sort of compound effect between the 2010 events and previous droughts."

Dr Feldpausch said the study's results showed that the response of trees to droughts was complex and dynamic.
"It certainly does raise a new set of questions because something did change in the way that these trees responded to drought, so it raises questions about other environmental conditions that are changing across the Amazon basin, such as the temperature increasing," he suggested.

"This is one area that we need to investigate in the future; is there going to be some sort of interaction between precipitation deficits and increasing temperature?"

Ecosystem service

Fellow co-author Oliver Phillips from the University of Leeds, UK, explained that the Amazon had provided a "tremendous service, taking up hundreds of millions more tonnes of carbon every year in tree growth than it loses through tree death".

But Prof Phillips added: "Both the 2005 and 2010 droughts eliminated those net gains."

Dr Feldpausch did highlight that it was not all bad news: "We do find that these forests are fairly resilient, and we do need to keep that in mind.

"We did have this reduction in carbon uptake but then between those drought years, such as prior to 2005, we had a carbon sink.

"In 2005, it was more or less turned off but then again between 2005 and 2010, the forest again became a carbon sink rather than a carbon source, and then in 2010 it switched back to being carbon neutral.

"In terms of policy, that is an important thing to note. This shows that these forests do have the continued capacity to take up carbon even though they are affected by these drought events.

"So they do provide this great ecosystem service… but that means that the forest needs to remain standing to provide this service."

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