Best of our wild blogs: 10 Aug 16

Happy birthday Singapore! From 90 volunteers who celebrated with a mangrove cleanup!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Otter Love in Singapore

51 Huntsman Spider Portraits from Singapore - Happy 51st Birthday!
Macro Photography in Singapore

51 reasons why the sun rises in the north in Singapore
The Long and Winding Road

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Pandan flats swarmed by midges nightly

My Paper 10 Aug 16;

PESKY: Although they do not bite or spread diseases, the midges are a nuisance to the residents.

Residents at three blocks of flats in Pandan Gardens have been plagued by thousands of midges which are said to appear in swarms at night.

Residents in the affected blocks near Pandan Reservoir told Chinese daily Lianhe Wanbao in a report yesterday that they have been affected by the flying insects almost daily for a month now.

The midges are a nuisance to those living in blocks 411, 409 and 408, dropping into their food and even flying into some residents' noses.

Efforts to chase them away are futile, and it is impossible to kill them all, said some residents.

Chen Zhongbao, 50, who works in the funeral business, told Wanbao that the problem has been ongoing for a month.

"In the day, the midges fly about along the ceiling in the common corridor. But after 7pm, once the lights are on at home, they will fly in," said the Block 411 resident.

Housewife Weng Lizhen, 66, who lives on the 12th floor, said the bugs land on her face now and then, which she feels is unhygienic.

"Even though they do not bite, they frighten my grandson when he comes for a visit," she added.

Wanbao visited the flats and found dead midges littering the corridors, with more on lower floors.

A cleaner, who was sweeping away midges from the corridor ceiling, said he clears away the insects in the mornings but more appear later, with thousands gathered on the ceilings.

A spokesman for national water agency PUB told My Paper yesterday that it has observed a recent increase in Chironomid midges around the HDB blocks near Pandan Reservoir.

"PUB has been closely monitoring the situation and is carrying out measures such as fogging, misting and larvicide application at Pandan Reservoir," said the spokesman.

"Midges do not bite or spread diseases but are a nuisance when present in large numbers. PUB will step up the frequency of the measures to control the population."

According to a guide to non-biting midges on PUB's website, here are three tips for residents to minimise the nuisance:

Install insect screens across windows and doors to prevent them from entering.
Close the blinds and curtains during dusk and dawn when the midges are most active.
Midges are attracted to light. Switch off the lights in rooms that are not in use, or dim the light if possible.

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Malaysia: Landowners in Sarawak to be responsible for fires on their land

STEPHEN THEN The Star 9 Aug 16;

MIRI: Landowners will be held wholly accountable for haze and air pollution resulting from fires on their land.

Under a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), which was unveiled on Tuesday, the landowners will be compelled to prevent and suppress all fires on their land or face legal consequences.

Four major land developers in Miri came forward to sign the SOP with the Sarawak Natural Resources and Environment Board.

The management of Naim Holdings, Pantai Bayu Indah Sdn Bhd, Shin Yang Forestry Sdn Bhd and Woodman Kuala Baram Sdn Bhd inked the SOP with Sarawak NREB controller Peter Sawal.

Sarawak Resource Planning and Environment Second Minister Datuk Awang Tengah Ali Hassan witnessed the signing.

He said the new rules would apply to landowners throughout the state.

“The responsibility for preventing and suppressing fires must be on the part of the landowners.

“In Miri, earlier this year, the Air Pollutant Index exceeded the 300 mark due to these fires.

“We had to hire aircraft to carry out aerial water bombings and that cost us a lot of money and manpower resources,” he said.

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Malaysia: Two men arrested with bear paws, teeth and gall bladders in their possession

ROY GOH New Straits Times 9 Aug 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah Wildlife Department rangers yesterday arrested two men and made a gruesome find on them - mutilated parts of two Malayan Sun Bears meant to be sold off for the right price.

Among the items seized from the two men were eight bear paws, two gall bladders and eight teeth, all supposedly from two bears.

Sabah Wildlife director William Baya said the arrests and seizures were made following a tip-off from the public about two men who were on their way to Tanjung Aru to sell the parts.

“Our enforcement unit arrested the two suspects as they were getting out from their vehicle.

"Their pickup truck and mobile phones were also confiscated in the raid.

They are now being remanded at the Penampang police station awaiting further questioning by our investigating officer," William said.

He said the Malayan Sun Bear is a totally protected species under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

If convicted under Section 41(1) of the Enactment, the penalty is a jail term of up to five years or a fine of up to RM 50,000 or both.

Two Sabahans nabbed over sun bear trade
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 9 Aug 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Two local men were arrested trying to sell body parts of the totally protected Malayan sun bears.

Sabah Wildlife Department director William Baya said the suspects, in their 30s, both from interior Sabah, had arrived here to sell the body parts on Monday.

Wildlife rangers seized eight bear paws, two gall bladders and eight teeth belonging to sun bears from the suspects.

He said the public had tipped off the department that the suspects were on their way to Tanjung Aru to arrange for a sales transaction.

“I directed my team to immediately go to the location and look for the suspects,” he said.

Baya declined to say how much the body parts were sold for.

He said the team arrested the suspects as they were alighting from their vehicle and confiscated several items, including a 4WD and hand phones.

“We have remanded the duo at Penampang district police headquarters,” Baya said.

Malayan sun bears are totally protected under Sabah’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

Offenders can be jailed up to five years or fine up to RM50,000 or to both.

The illicit trading of the bear’s gall bladders could fetch between RM1,500 and RM2,000 a piece, the paws up to RM200 per piece while the teeth could fetch about RM100 a piece.

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China to spend US$65 billion to improve water supplies: Ministry

Channel NewsAsia 9 Aug 16;

SHANGHAI: China plans to spend a total of 430 billion yuan (US$65 billion) on around 4,800 separate projects aimed at improving the quality of its water supplies, the environment ministry said late on Monday.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a notice on its website ( that the central government had already allocated funds of 13 billion yuan for 2016, which will be used mainly to improve urban drinking water and prevent pollution in China's major rivers.

The notice did not give a timeframe for the projects.

China is spending heavily to improve the quality of its water supplies as it tries to reverse the damage done by unregulated chemical run-offs, untreated wastewater and the excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers.

Nearly two-thirds of its underground water and a third of its surface water is deemed unsuitable for human contact, according to a survey published last year.

To meet its objectives to tackle water pollution, China will also set up an incentive system that will reward provinces for completing projects on time and cut funding to those regions that fail to spend their allocations, the ministry said.

China has struggled to create the incentives to persuade local governments to build water treatment plants that are expensive but have a limited impact on local economic growth. Fears stemming from China's crackdown on corruption have also slowed local infrastructure spending.

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Richard Pullin)

- Reuters

China drafts new rules to curb mining pollution
Channel NewsAsia 9 Aug 16;

SHANGHAI: China plans to raise environmental standards in its highly-polluting mining sector, according to a policy draft circulated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Amid rising concerns about the state of its environment, China has declared war on polluters and has drawn up new laws, standards and punishments aimed at forcing firms and local governments to toe the line.

The mining sector has been a crucial part of China's rapid economic expansion in the last three decades, but poor regulation and weak enforcement of standards has contaminated much of the country's soil and left parts of its land and water supplies unfit for human use, threatening public health.

According to draft rules published on the website of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) ( late last week, miners will be forced to treat more than 85 percent of their wastewater, and they must put systems in place to achieve the "comprehensive utilisation" of tailings and other solid waste.

Firms will also be forced to implement measures to remediate land and minimise emissions while mines are still in operation, rather than treating soil and water long after it has been contaminated.

Mining firms will also be pressured to implement measures to protect or even relocate valuable ecosystems. Producers of toxic heavy metals like lead or cadmium also need to make use of biological or chemical technologies to remediate contaminated soil.

The new rules will cover metals such as tin, copper, lead and rare earths, as well as minerals like calcium carbonate, though they do not apply to the coal industry, which has separate guidelines.

Other government bodies and state-owned mining firms like Jiangxi Copper and Yunnan Tin have been invited to submit their opinions on the draft rules before Aug. 25.

As much as 16 percent of China's soil exceeds state pollution limits, according to environment ministry data published in 2015, and farming on 3.3 million hectares (8.15 million acres) of contaminated land across the country has been banned indefinitely.

China published an action plan to treat soil pollution earlier this year, saying that it aimed to bring the problem under control by 2020.

However, the cost of making China's contaminated land fit for crops or livestock could reach around 5 trillion yuan (US$750 billion), according to Reuters calculations.

(US$1 = 6.6620 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Joseph Radford)

- Reuters

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We’re trashing the oceans — and they’re returning the favor by making us sick

Chris Mooney The Washington Post 8 Aug 16;

Six years ago, in a bracing TED talk, coral reef scientist Jeremy Jackson laid out “how we wrecked the ocean.” In the talk, he detailed not only how overfishing, global warming, and various forms of pollution are damaging ocean ecosystems — but also, strikingly, how these human-driven injuries to the oceans can be harmful to those who live on land.

Toxic algal blooms, for instance, can actually damage air quality near the coast. “The coast, instead of being paradise, is harmful to your health,” he said.

We saw a striking example of this earlier this summer off the coast of Florida, when a toxic bloom that began in Lake Okeechobee — fanned by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution — spread to Florida’s coast after flows from the swollen lake were released to keep water levels down.

Now, unfortunately, new research suggests yet another example. In a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers find that Vibrio bacteria, tiny marine organisms capable of causing deadly infections in both human and also fish, are becoming more prevalent in North Atlantic coastal regions as ocean waters warm. (We’re causing that overall trend of warming, of course, by driving climate change, though there are also natural oscillations at work here.)

Indeed, human infections caused by these critters are also on the rise. The research finds these are growing at an “unprecedented rate” along the U.S. Atlantic coast and also the coasts of Northern Europe.

“We were able to demonstrate that there was an increase in the numbers of vibrios, probably a two or threefold increase, correlated with the increase in climate temperature, and then correlated with outbreaks of vibrio infections that have been recorded in the medical records,” said Rita Colwell, a microbiologist at the University of Maryland who is a co-author of the study, and who was also formerly administrator of the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Colwell published the study along with researchers from the University of Genoa in Italy, the University of Plymouth in the UK, and other U.S. and global institutions.

Vibrio are very simple organisms, but nonetheless capable of causing severe damage. Vibrio also come in many species — some are responsible for causing cholera. Another species, Vibrio vulnificus, was described as “highly lethal and…responsible for the overwhelming majority of reported seafood-related deaths in the United States” in a recent scientific paper.

This species of vibrio can not only poison us through food, but can cause deadly infections to people who swim with cuts or wounds, into which the bacteria can enter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 80,000 cases of vibriosis in the U.S. annually, the vast majority from consuming seafood. Vibrio also thrive in warmer sea waters, suggesting the risk is greater in the summer — which, of course, is when people are in the water or near beaches, consuming seafood.

The new study examined 133 samples of long-term marine plankton levels from across the North Atlantic region, and then analyzed the vibrio content within them, in proportion to other bacteria levels. The samples dated back about a half century.

In eight out of nine regions of the North Atlantic, the study found that as temperatures warmed, numbers of vibrio bacteria also grew. Furthermore, it also showed a relationship between growing vibrio numbers and growing vibrio cases in humans, a relationship that was particularly pronounced during heat waves. “An increased Vibrio concentration in seawater as a result of ocean warming can be concluded to be linked with increased incidence of environmentally acquired infections,” the study concludes.

When asked if growing numbers of vibrio are just one kind of deleterious changes to the ocean brought on by climate change — changes that, in turn, can harm us — Colwell responded, “The answer to that would be yes. It’s a disruption of the natural pattern, and it will be selecting for a number of species, and that’s the problem.”

“What this new research does is present evidence of the increased prevalence of these bacteria over broad regions of the North Atlantic from preserved samples collected over 54 years,” said marine ecologist Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, who was not involved in the research. “The prevalence of these bacteria has increased as the ocean has warmed, both as result of global warming and multi-decadal variations in ocean circulation. This trend may be caused by changes in the plankton community rather than just the temperature alone. In other words, increased prevalence may be an ecosystem-level effect of climate change.”

“The relationship of these trends with the incidence of the human diseases reported caused by Vibrio species as reported in the paper is less-convincing, particularly because the long-term plankton monitoring was not conducted off the US coast,” adds Boesch. “Nonetheless, there is ample other information on this relationship to counsel increased vigilance in protecting public health from these natural environmental pathogens in our warming world.”

So in sum, it’s more evidence supporting Jackson’s point — we don’t just damage the oceans with impunity. Rather, from harm to fisheries to direct human health threats, that damage hurts us, too.

“I think the public would not expect that the oceans would have that direct impact on human health,” said Colwell.

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