Malaysia: Wildlife crossings not enough - Mycat

LOH FOON FONG The Star 3 Aug 16;

MERAPOH: Some RM60mil has been spent on building highway underpasses for wildlife to cross at Sungai Yu, but these will be useless if the Pahang government does not stop illegal land clearing in the area, warns a conservationist.

Dr Kae Kawanishi, head of conservation for the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (Mycat), also said that a critical 20sq km of forested state land in the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor, should be turned into a wildlife reserve to better protect wildlife.

That’s because the land, situated between Taman Negara and the Main Range, has been cleared for illegal rubber and oil palm planting.

Dr Kae said this not only destroyed the wildlife habitats there but also put humans in conflict with wildlife, resulting in the animals being killed.

“Enforcement has to be stepped up,” she said after leading Mycat’s Citizen Action for Tigers (CAT) Walk, an anti-poaching and anti-deforestation surveillance event conducted by volunteers on Saturday.

Merapoh is near the border of Pahang and Kelantan, with Kuala Lipis 74km to the south and Gua Musang about 40km to the north.

Dr Kae said that if rubber tappers see a tiger in the morning, they would call the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (Perhilitan).

“Why does Perhilitan have to catch the tiger when the area is a tiger corridor?” she said, adding that out of three underpasses, two in the north could not function as eco-viaducts because the surrounding land had been cleared and wildlife was no longer detected there.

On Friday, Tengku Puteri Seri Kemala Pahang Tengku Aishah Sultan Ahmad Shah launched the Sungai Yu Reforestation Project on Global Tiger Day, on behalf of Tengku Mahkota of Pahang Tengku Abdullah.

She planted a tree under the southernmost Sungai Yu eco-viaduct, which is almost 1km long, the longest for tiger conservation in the world, as part of the ceremony.

The forest had been separated by the Kuala Lipis-Merapoh trunk road (Federal Route 8) and the tiger corridor was further threatened when the road was upgraded to a four-lane highway known as the Central Spine Road (CSR).

Dr Kae said the Sungai Yu Tiger Corridor viaduct area was about 40sq km and the bulk of it was a forest reserve, with parts of it in Taman Negara and the Tanum Forest Reserve.

“But there is about 20sq km, around 2,000ha, of state land which is not protected.

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Indonesian seaweed farmers launch class action over Montara oil spill

Jewel Topsfield Sydney Morning Herald 2 Aug 16;

Jakarta: More than 13,000 Indonesian seaweed farmers will on Wednesday launch a class action in the Federal Court in Sydney against the company responsible for the worst oil spill in the history of Australia's offshore petroleum industry.

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for the loss of income it says the farmers suffered when their seaweed plots died after the 2009 Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea.

"Our investigations show that the operator of the oil rig has a serious case to answer for cutting corners that endangered lives, the environment and the livelihoods of thousands of seaweed farmers," said Maurice Blackburn managing principal Ben Slade.

He said the seaweed farmers, who are from East Nusa Tenggara, one of Indonesia's poorest and most remote provinces, suffered "north of $200 million" in loss of income.

Indonesia is one of the world's top producers of seaweed, which is used in food, cosmetics, medicine and fertiliser.

The company that operated the Montara oil rig - PTTEP Australasia - has denied liability.

"PTTEP Australasia maintains its position, based on extensive independent scientific research overseen by the Australian government, that no oil from Montara reached the shores of Indonesia or Australia and that no long-term damage was done to the Timor Sea environment," a company spokesman said.

An estimated 300,000 litres of oil a day spewed into the ocean for more than 10 weeks after an explosion at the oil rig, 250 kilometres south-east of Rote Island, on August 21, 2009.

"In the second half of September in 2009, all the seaweed farmers in Oenggaut (a village in Rote) lost their seaweed crops after the surface of the water changed; it went from the normal blue colour and had all the colours of the rainbow," 58-year-old seaweed farmer Daniel Aristabulus Sanda said in a statutory declaration.

"The seaweed that I was growing was totally destroyed, it broke up and washed away. I saw dead fish, in uncountable numbers, sometimes more than 100 in one place."

Mr Sanda said that after the oil killed his crop he tried to plant new seeds but they all died.

"I felt desperate at this time; I was sad and disappointed that my seaweed would not grow and I could not provide for my family."

Mr Sanda's yield shrunk from 14,000 dry kilograms of seaweed in 2008, the year before the oil spill, to just 500 in 2010.

It was not until 2013 that his crops improved.

He said the "difficult years" made things very hard for his family because he was paying to put his two children through university.

"If the company thought that this issue would go away because the farmers are Indonesians, or because they didn't understand their legal rights, they were sorely mistaken," Mr Slade said.

The class action will be bankrolled by Harbour Litigation Funding Limited, one of the largest litigation funders in the world, in return for a share of the proceeds if the case is successful.

"Although we invest in a wide range of commercial litigation, it is particularly rewarding that our financial support helps those whom otherwise may not get access to justice," said Ruth Stackpool-Moore, the head of Harbour's Asia-Pacific hub.

A report last year by the Australian Lawyers Alliance, "After the Spill", called for a full independent investigation, saying evidence pointed to a larger environmental and social disaster than has ever been officially acknowledged.

The class action is a victory for West Timor Care Foundation president Ferdi Tanoni, who has spent years fruitlessly lobbying the Australian government and PTTEP Australasia to fund an environmental assessment on the impact on the East Nusa Tenggara community.

"Six years, 11 months and 10 days … it's a long fight," he said.

"I believe soon we will be able to bring justice to the people of East Nusa Tenggara and West Timor who suffered."

Montara oil spill has damaged livelihoods, ecosystem: Foundation
Djemi Amnifu The Jakarta Post 4 Aug 16;

The head of the concern for the West Timor Foundation’s (YPTB) advocacy team, Ferdi Tanoni, says oil leaking from PTTEP Australasia’s Montara oil rig in the Timor Sea in 2009 had a devastating effect on the livelihood of fishermen and coastal communities in East Nusa Tenggara, with fish catches and seaweed harvests continuing to decline in the heavily polluted waters.

The oil spill also affected sea life, with disrupted food chains causing changes to marine ecosystems, he went on.

Citing data from the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry and the East Nusa Tenggara provincial administration, among others, Ferdi said the oil leak had caused environmental damage to 70,541.76 square kilometers of area.

“The advocacy team has received satellite imagery data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA] that shows an oil spill on 28,662.1 square kilometers of area. Spread by waves and wind, the polluted areas have continuously widened,” he told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Representing 13,000 East Nusa Tenggara fishermen and seaweed farmers affected by the Montara oil spill, Ferdi and Daniel Sanda, a seaweed farmer from Rote Island, filed a class action lawsuit against PTTEP Australasia with the Federal Court of Australia on Wednesday.

Greg Phelps of WardKeller, the biggest law office in Northern Australia, and Ben Slade from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, a reputable Australian law office established in 1919, are two Australian lawyers ready to support the class action lawsuit.

Ferdi said such support showed that affected seaweed farmers in East Nusa Tenggara, such as Daniel, did not stand alone, adding that their voices were heard and they had allies ready to help them fight for their rights. (ebf)

Montara oil spill brought suffering to E. Nusa Tenggara: Farmer
Djemi Amnifu The Jakarta Post 4 Aug 16;

Daniel Sanda, a seaweed farmer from East Nusa Tenggara, could not hide his happiness about the fact that the case of the Montara rig oil spill in the Timor Sea would finally be brought to court.

Daniel said he and all seaweed farmers in the province had experienced losses and suffering after their seaweed plots had been ruined following the oil spill in 2009. They could no longer afford school tuition fees for their children, among other things.

Representing 13,000 East Nusa Tenggara seaweed farmers affected by the Montara oil spill, Daniel and Ferdi Tanoni, heading the Care for West Timor Foundation (YPTB)’s advocacy team, filed a class action lawsuit against PTTEP Australasia as the owner of the oil rig over its alleged failure to take responsibility for the incident.

Ferdi said that holding an advocacy mandate from the local people and administrations in the province, he felt relieved that the Montara oil leak case would be brought to court. He was satisfied that the local people affected by the incident could finally file a lawsuit against PTTEP Australasia with the Federal Court of Australia.

“Today, their voices have arrived on the Australian court’s desk. For around seven years, I’ve been working with them and striving to fight for their rights and justice over what they have suffered. And through hard work, I met with Greg Phelps, who then met with people from the Maurice Blackburn Lawyers office and Harbour Litigation Funder that has agreed to fund this case,” said Ferdi in a press conference after the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney accepted the class action lawsuit, on Wednesday. He said the Indonesian government fully supported the case. (ebf)

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Myanmar: Saving the mangroves

Environmentalists are campaigning to prevent the destruction of the nation’s remaining mangrove forests because they provide protection from extreme weather and support a rich variety of marine life.

IF another powerful cyclone were to pummel the Ayeyarwady Delta it could have a more devastating impact than Nargis in 2008, one of the worst natural disasters in Myanmar’s history, environmentalists have warned.

The reason is the continuing destruction of mangrove forests that provide a coastal buffer against extreme weather.

To help protect the delta and other coastal areas where mangroves are or have been abundant, projects to rehabilitate, regenerate and replant the forests are taking place in Ayeyarwady and Tanintharyi regions, as well as Rakhine State.

“If a cyclone comes to the [Ayeyarwady] delta, the impact could be twice that of Nargis because most of the coastal areas are flat with no mangrove cover,” said U Win Maung, chairman of Worldview Myanmar, an non-government organisation associated with Sri Lanka-based Worldview International Foundation, that is planting mangroves in Ayeyarwady Region.

Deforestation has led to a dramatic reduction of mangrove cover in Myanmar.

Mangrove cover in Ayeyarwady, Tanintharyi and Rakhine fell from 647,497 hectares (1.6 million acres) to 376,357 ha (930,000 acres) between 1980 and 2007, show figures from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation.

When Nargis roared out of the Indian Ocean and slammed into the delta on May 2, 2008, it killed an estimated 140,000 people and caused massive property damage. The United Nations said more than 2.4 million people were affected.

A 2009 study by the United Nations Environment Programme said Nargis “destroyed 38,000 hectares (93,900 acres) of natural and replanted mangroves, submerged over 63 percent of paddy fields and damaged 43 percent of freshwater ponds in the delta.” The report also said that pre-existing deforestation and the degradation of mangroves exacerbated the impacts of the cyclone.

The government has since built 54 cyclone shelters throughout Ayeyarwady but that is not enough for the region’s population of more than six million.

“We need the urgent rehabilitation, planting and enrichment of mangroves in our country,” said Dr Maung Maung Than, an environmentalist and mangrove specialist. “If we do not have a mangrove plan over the next 10 years, it will be to the great detriment of the country,” he said.

The ministry is working with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Japan International Cooperation Agency and Worldview International Foundation, to increase mangrove cover.

U Kyaw Zaw, director of the ministry, said mangrove cover in Ayeyarwady had fallen by 90 percent in the last five years, mainly because of shrimp farms and the illegal expansion of paddy fields.

A coastal area with mangrove cover less than 100 metres from the sea can reduce the impact of natural disasters such as cyclones by between 70 percent and 80 percent, said Maung Maung Than, citing research from Thailand.

Nearly 24,281 ha (600,000 acres) of coastal land in Myanmar is vulnerable to natural disasters because of the depletion of mangroves, said a ministry spokesperson.

U Aung Than Zin, chief executive of the Myanmar Environment Rehabilitation-conservation Network, said the main reasons for mangrove destruction in Ayeyarwady, Tanintharyi and Rakhine included charcoal production, and land clearing for shrimp and salt farms.

MERN is working with other organisations to try and protect mangroves, but a challenge they face is the use of charcoal as an energy source for cooking, said Aung Than Zin.

Four out of five households use charcoal or wood as an energy source, the 2014 census showed.

Win Maung said Ayeyarwady has been the main source of charcoal and other wood used in Yangon in the last five years.

He said the State Peace and Development Council government that ruled the country until 2011 had promoted the expansion of paddy fields and shrimp farms without considering the impact on the environment, including mangrove forests.

U Maung Maung Kyi, chairman of the Rakhine Coastal Region Conservation Association, said 8,093 hectares (20,000 acres) of mangroves was lost in the state because of the military government’s push for more paddy fields and shrimp farms.

“The SPDC pushed for more paddy field and shrimp farming and this led to so much loss of mangroves in Rakhine State. Now, three-fifths of the mangrove cover has been lost in Rakhine,” he told Frontier.

As well as providing protection from extreme weather and erosion, mangrove forests create unique ecosystems that sustain and protect a range of marine life, and serve as nurseries for many species.

“As the saying goes, ‘no mangroves, no fish’,” said Maung Maung Kyi. “That is really true because many of the smaller fish depend on mangroves and the life of a tiger prawn starts in the mangroves,” he said.

The ability of mangroves to tolerate high salinity levels in the tidal areas where they grow is because some species have root systems that exclude salt from water uptake and others excrete salt from glands on their leaves.

Mangrove conservation can contribute towards easing the impact of global warming because the forests have the ability to store large volumes of carbon dioxide, much of which is produced by burning the fossil fuels blamed for the gradual rise in our planet’s temperature.

Maung Maung Kyi said each hectare of soil in mangrove forests can store 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and their leaves can absorb carbon dioxide at five times the rate of other trees.

It’s essential that mangroves be protected, he said.

“If we cut down mangroves, it will only have a negative impact on our lives.”

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Are local efforts to save coral reefs bound to fail?

Two recent reports on the state of the world’s coral reefs appear to contradict each other. But which is right?
Johnny Langenheim The Guardian 2 Aug 16;

Over the last six weeks, scientists have published two major reports on coral reef resilience that appear to contradict each other. The first - “Bright spots among the world’s coral reefs” was produced by 39 scientists led by Professor Josh Cinner of James Cook University in Australia and drew on data from 6000 reef surveys from all over the world. Cinner et al concluded that those reefs that were sustainably managed had a much better chance of withstanding bleaching impacts related to global warming and periodic climate events like El NiƱo. The second however suggested remote coral reefs not subject to human stressors like overfishing or pollution were faring no better than those close to populated areas and that ecosystems management made no real difference to the overall health of reefs. So which is right?

“Coral reef degradation is not correlated with local human population density,” by Professor John Bruno and co-author Abel Valdivia of the University of North Carolina was published on 20 July. It suggests that contrary to prevailing scientific opinion, local pressures do not act synchronously with global stressors (most notably warming) and that their impact on reefs is negligible. According to Valdivia “Widespread arguments that coral reef degradation is mostly caused by local factors are unsupported. We found the problem is better explained by global impacts such as climate change.”

This is controversial because it throws into question the efficacy of current marine conservation strategies that attempt to mitigate human impacts and the “widespread argument that human-dominated reefs can be made more resilient to global stressors.” The overriding message is a simple one according to the report’s author & lead researcher John Bruno - it “illustrates the far-reaching effects of global warming and the immediate need for drastic and sustained cuts in carbon emissions to help restore the health of coral reefs.”

The first report - published in June - identified 35 “dark spots” where coral reefs were suffering the greatest degradation and 15 “bright spots” that were, if not flourishing, certainly faring better than most. Many of these bright spots are in the Coral Triangle in countries like Indonesia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Like Bruno & Valdivia, Cinner et al found that remote reefs did not necessarily fare better than those close to high population densities. What they did find though is that bright spots tend to be in locations where local communities have ancestral systems of reef tenure that protect fishing grounds from outsiders (such as West Papua in eastern Indonesia and some Pacific countries). The paper found that far from over-harvesting their reefs, these communities were acting as custodians.

“Bright spots are characterized by strong sociocultural institutions such as customary taboos and marine tenure, high levels of local engagement in management, high dependence on marine resources, and beneficial environmental conditions such as deep-water refuge,” the report concludes.

The apparent contradictions here are partly due to each report analysing different types of data. According to Bruno “Cinner et al was about spatial patterns in fish populations while we asked how coral and macroalgal cover are related to human population density.” Put simply, one was looking at fish, the other at coral cover.

Still, the question remains, is local management of the kind highlighted by Cinner et al having a real impact on the health of reef ecosystems? Says Bruno, “Although I doubt most coral bright spots are bright because of local management, I do agree that... we should throw all our conservation dollars at them to keep them that way as long as possible.”

The problem is in how each of these reports is interpreted. Cinner et al imply that sustainable management means healthy reefs - even though they are harvested by local populations. A positive message for conservationists and the local programmes they support. Bruno’s point however seems to be that all of this is academic in the face of climate change, lulling us into a dangerous and altogether unjustifiable sense of security. If we fail to drastically reduce the volume of CO2 entering the atmosphere, coral reefs everywhere will bleach and die, however well they are being managed.

But while Bruno & Valdivia frame their argument very carefully, it is possible that unscrupulous policy makers could seize upon their study to justify continued exploitation of marine resources, claiming that it makes no difference to the bigger picture. Professor Avigdor Abelson of Tel Aviv University who works on restoration ecology such as building artificial reefs fears it “may lead to undesirable consequences of accelerated coral reef degradation.”

Both reports are right. The danger is that they will be misinterpreted.

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