Best of our wild blogs: 12 Aug 16

Happy National Day from the Sisters' Islands Marine Park!
Sisters' Islands Marine Park

Predawn trip to Cyrene Reef
Offshore Singapore

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Putting nature back in nature photography

Photo contest gets photographers to capture more than just a pretty picture
Audrey Tan Straits Times 12 Aug 16;

A few black sheep may have earned nature photography in Singapore a bad name, but legitimate photographers here are on a mission to change that.

The Nature Photographic Society (Singapore) (NPSS) wants to show that photographs of wildlife can help with conservation, by nurturing in viewers and photographers themselves an appreciation of the surrounding nature.

In January next year, it will launch a unique photo competition that requires participants to submit a short write-up on the subject in the photograph.

It is the first time such a criterion is being introduced in a local photography competition, according to its president, Dr Fong Chee Wai.

The move aims to put the "nature back in the nature photographer", he explained.

"Instead of just trying to get a good shot, photographers are prompted to consider other aspects of (the subject's) ecology," added Dr Fong, a nutrition scientist.

Dr Wee Yeow Chin, the former president of the Nature Society (Singapore) who now heads the Bird Ecology Study Group, said the inclusion of the write-up in the competition is an excellent idea.

"Having a holistic knowledge of their subjects will make photographers more aware of the web of life - like pollination, seed dispersal, organic decomposition, the food web...," he said.

"This in turn will make people appreciate nature more. After all, to know is to love, to love is to protect, and to protect is to conserve."

To entice photographers to take part in the competition, the society is offering prizes worth $20,000, including cash prizes and Canon gear.

The latest initiative comes after a number of photographers in Singapore have been called out for controversial practices to get that perfect shot, such as the use of bait.

In June, orthopaedic surgeon Lee Soon Tai, 62, was charged with littering and feeding endangered birds with live fish injected with air. This was after a video showing three photographers allegedly baiting grey-headed fish eagles by using live fish injected with air made its rounds on social media in October last year.

And in December 2014, another photographer who tethered a tern chick's legs to a bush for a photograph was found guilty of animal cruelty and fined $500.

Dr Lena Chan, group director of the National Parks Board's (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre, said the board will be supporting the NPSS Nature Photographer of the Year 2017 competition and that the winning entries will be exhibited in one of its parks.

She said: "NParks hopes the exhibited photographs will foster a greater appreciation of Singapore's natural heritage, biodiversity and beauty in our City in a Garden through the lens of Singapore residents."

She added that proper documentation of biodiversity through photography by photographers and citizen scientists can contribute to a better understanding of our flora and fauna and aid in conservation management.

Dr Wee cited the example of photographer Wong Weng Fai, who had in May 2014 provided the first proof of cooperative breeding in the grey-rumped treeswift. His video showed how the parents received help from other birds in the incubation of the egg and the feeding of the chick, said Dr Wee.

"This was a major discovery by a citizen scientist and not an ornithologist (bird expert), as it provided the first proof of cooperative breeding in this species," he said.

As part of a series of events leading up to the launch of the competition in January, NPSS is organising a nature photography course starting on Sept 3. For more information, visit

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'Otterly' cute National Day gift on YouTube

Lee Min Kok Straits Times 11 Aug 16;

Can't get enough of cute animals on the Internet? A new YouTube video to commemorate National Day has provided a further glimpse into Singapore's wild otter population in their natural element.

Produced by otter watcher Jeffery Teo, 45, the five-minute clip combines footage taken by fellow enthusiasts over the past year.

It opens with Bishan's now famous otter family - fondly named the Bishan 10 - gambolling about in the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and swimming in its river.

It also captures other less well- known otter families in Tanah Merah, Serangoon and Pulau Ubin. In a poll earlier this week, The Straits Times' readers chose Bishan's otter family as their pick for the 51st object that best represents Singapore in its 51st year.

Said Mr Teo, a senior director in the financial service sector: "I couldn't be more delighted that the Bishan 10 has received so much recognition ever since they appeared on the public's radar last year.

"It shows Singaporeans have truly learnt to embrace the wildlife living in our midst, and to appreciate nature more."

Mr Teo, who spent three weekends putting together the video, said he hopes it will educate the public on the other otter families which call Singapore home. The otter population in Singapore is estimated to be about 50.

Mr Sean Yap, 24, an environmental biology student who frequents the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and has seen three pups there, said: "Singapore prides itself on being a city in a garden, and the otters are a testament of the country's ability to develop while preserving what is left of our native biodiversity."

He sees the clip as a good opportunity to expose Singaporeans to the animals that they share the island with, and also the potential problems posed by them.

"While they may be cute, we have already seen the results of human familiarisation of wild mammals such as macaques and wild pigs, where increased feeding and interaction has led to human-wildlife conflict. This often leads to culling or some other drastic measure."

There have been media reports of the otters eating fish, such as koi and tilapia, from homes and hotels. Owners and breeders of these fish have resorted to using measures such as electric fences to keep the mammals out.

But Mr N. Sivasothi, a senior lecturer with the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore, said: "There is a lot of interest in otters' ecological role as top predator now in rivers. They may be able to help reduce alien fish which may allow native fish recovery.

"Overall, Singaporeans are still very receptive to the otters and are enjoying this unique experience."

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New standards for pet industry to kick in from October

Today Online 12 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — To raise animal welfare standards in Singapore, a code for the pet industry — which incorporates pet groomers, pet retailers and even pet boarder businesses — will be introduced by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

To kick in from Oct 1, the Code of Animal Welfare (for the Pet Industry) spells out minimum standards on housing, managing and caring for animals, and pet businesses are expected to comply with them.

It also lists best practices in these areas that pet businesses are encouraged to adopt.

Failure to meet a minimum standard under the code is not an offence, but such incidents can be used to support prosecution or other enforcement actions in animal welfare cases, the AVA said in a press release issued on Thursday (Aug 11).

The code comes two years after the Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration Committee for Animal Welfare (MSCC) submitted a draft.

It will apply to all businesses dealing with pets, or goods and services for pets, including those not licensed by the AVA.

Last year, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) also submitted to the AVA its findings from an undercover operation, showing that several pet shops had failed to meet licensing conditions, which include providing adequately sized enclosures for dogs and cats, proper flooring conditions and sufficient clean drinking water.

The new minimum standards for pet retailers now include ensuring that animals kept and displayed for sale must be from legal sources that demonstrate compliance with regulations and accepted standards of breeding and sale.

The code’s suggested best practices go a step further, encouraging retailers to ensure there is documentation to show that the animal’s grandparents have been tested, where possible, to ensure the pets sold are free of genetic problems.

For pet boarding businesses, they must meet the minimum standard of securing areas for dogs to exercise under supervision, as well ensuring that there are separate rooms for food storage. The animals must also be provided with fresh drinking water at all times.

Best practices they could adopt include allowing all dogs to exercise or be walked at least twice a day on a leash, for at least half an hour each time. Pet businesses will be given a grace period of six months to comply, from Oct 1.

This means that during this time, any violations of the code will not be used as supporting evidence when prosecuting animal welfare offences.

The AVA will be inviting pet businesses and other relevant stakeholders for briefings on the code, and it is also considering another recommendation by the MSCC: A training curriculum for the pet industry.

The proposal is for operators and staff members of pet-related businesses to undergo mandatory training on animal care and handling, and it would cover topics such as animal welfare legislation, licensing requirements and business management.

Cat Welfare Society committee member Veron Lau, 44, said that these are “baby steps” towards better animal welfare, adding that more could be done, such as microchipping at source for cats on sale as part of the licensing requirements.

On the point that there would be no penalties when the minimum standards are not met, she called on greater enforcement on the ground and urged consumers to be alert: “It still boils down to enforcement, and for the public to highlight what they see in the shops that should be improved … to ensure the industry is well-monitored … This is not the final word, because society will continue to progress and people will become more aware (of animal welfare).”

Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals here, said that the code is a “good starting point” and ideally, as the industry adjusts to new standards, the legislation should be changed so that those who fail to adhere to the code would face enforcement action, and best practices become the minimum requirements.

MSCC chairman Alex Yam, who is also a Member of Parliament, said that the process involved many stakeholders, and the committee needed to ensure the code is “robust and yet fair, balancing the protection of welfare of animals but not making it an overwhelming (burden) on (the) industry”.

AVA issues new code of animal welfare for pet industry
Channel NewsAsia 11 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has issued a new code of animal welfare for the pet industry which will take effect from Oct 1, it said in a press release on Thursday (Aug 11).

The Code of Animal Welfare, developed by a Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration Committee (MSCC) chaired by Member of Parliament (MPs) Alex Yam, are based on recommendations issued by the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee (AWLRC) in March last year.

The MSCC, established in October 2013, comprises MPs and representatives from the animal welfare groups, hobbyists, pet industry, community, veterinary profession and AVA.

The code specifies minimum standards on animal housing, management and care, which pet businesses are expected to comply with as well as best practices on animal housing, management and care which pet businesses are encouraged to adopt to "further raise the standard of animal welfare in Singapore", AVA said in the release.

The authority added that the code applies to all businesses that offer pets or goods and services for pets, including those not licensed by AVA.

"Although failure to meet a minimum standard in the code is not an offence, it can be used to support prosecution or other enforcement actions for animal welfare cases," it said.

AVA added that pet businesses will be given a grace period of six months, until Mar 31, 2017 to comply with the rules, during which the code will not be used as supporting evidence to prosecute animal welfare offences. However, the authority will continue to take enforcement action where there is direct evidence of animal welfare and cruelty contraventions, it stated.


Separately, the MSCC submitted its recommendation for the curriculum on mandatory training on animal care and handling for operators and staff of pet-related businesses. The recommendations, which are for AVA's consideration and subsequent implementation, cover legislation and licensing requirements, basic knowledge for management of pet businesses and guidelines on care, housing and nutrition, as well as transport for different species and breeds of animals.

Like the Code of Animal Welfare, the development of the training curriculum was one of the 24 recommendations by the AWLRC to improve animal welfare in Singapore released in March last year.

MSCC said its recommendations on the training curriculum were drafted with the intent to ensure operators and workers in the pet industry have the necessary knowledge and skills to fulfil their duty of care to animals under their charges.

The recommended training curriculum is intended for any person who works in the pet industry, and is involved in the care and handing of animals, providing an overview of the basic knowledge and skills needed for the care and handling of animals with a focus on ensuring animal welfare, it added.

The committee also said a "consultative approach" was taken in the drafting of the curriculum recommendations, taking into consideration the views of representatives from various stakeholder groups. The set of recommendations put forth by MSCC to AVA reflects a "balanced outcome" arising from those discussions, it added.

Commenting on the curriculum recommendations made by MSCC as well as the code issued by AVA, Mr Yam said he was "confident" these measures would be "instrumental in helping pet businesses fulfil their duty of care to animals under their charge and enhance overall animal welfare standards".

- CNA/mz

New guidelines for pet businesses from October
AsiaOne 11 Aug 16;

Pet-related businesses operating in Singapore will soon have to comply with some animal welfare standards.

The new Code of Animal Welfare issued by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) will come into effect on Oct 1, and is applicable to all businesses that offer pets, or goods and services for pets.

While it is not an offence to violate the provisions within the code, it can be used to support prosecution or other enforcement actions for animal welfare cases, AVA explained in a statement.

Pet businesses will be given a grace period of six months, from Oct 1, 2016 to Mar 31, 2017, to comply with the code, which was adapted from a draft submitted by the Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration Committee for Animal Welfare.

"The code gives pet businesses an official guideline on their responsibilities to the animals under their charge," Ms Tan Poh Hong, AVA chief executive officer, said.

The code comprises minimum standards on animal housing, management and care that all pet businesses are expected to comply with, as well as best practices which businesses are encouraged to adopt.

For instance, the code spells out guidelines for pet businesses in the following areas:

For all pet businesses:

1. Proper management of pet businesses - with regard to accountability of owners, record keeping, pest control and security of animals.

2. Animal housing and environment - ensures animals are housed and kept in an environment which is sufficiently sheltered, safe, clean and comfortable.

3. Management of animals - covers aspects such as diet and feeding, food preparation, provision of water, activities to promote the animals' general well-being, and handling and transportation of animals.

4. Animal healthcare - includes health checks, keeping animals' health records, disease prevention and provision of veterinary attention and treatment.

For specific species of pets

Minimum standards and best practices specific to dogs, cats, small mammals and birds.

A minimum standard for businesses is to ensure that cold climate dog breeds, such as Siberian Huskies or Chow Chows, are given adequate shade and good fan ventilation or air-conditioning so that their environment is kept cool and less humid.

For pet retailing

Animals kept and displayed for sale must be from legal sources, and there should be no selling of unhealthy or diseased animals.

For pet grooming

All groomers must be adequately trained, and pet owners must be notified if an animal becomes unwell while under the care of a groomer.

For pet breeding

Proper records must be kept for breeding animals and their offspring, and all animals must be physically fit, healthy and free of disease prior to mating.

For pet boarding

All animals accepted for boarding must be identified, and their owners' contact information made available upon request by AVA, and all animals must be provided with adequate shade and shelter.

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Malaysia: Another palm oil mill cited for river pollution

KATHLEEN ANN KILI Today Online 11 Aug 16;

JOHOR BARU: The state Department of Environment (DOE) has issued a warning to another palm oil mill operating in Mersing after it was found flouting nine core licensing regulations that could lead to pollution.

Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said investigations revealed that the mill was cited for disregarding the regulations to prevent river pollution.

“The mill has been given three months to rectify the situation. If it fails to make the necessary improvements in its operations, we will not hesitate to suspend the company’s licence,” he told reporters the Johor Baru Health Department’s Safety and Health Week at Hospital Permai here Thursday.

“A check also showed that besides Mersing, the company has five other mills in Johor,” he added.

Ayub also said that the state government is still waiting for the full report on the Sungai Johor water pollution incident in July.

It was reported that some 600,000 consumers in the southern part of Johor were affected when three main water treatment plants were forced to temporarily shut down due to high ammonia content in Sungai Johor.

Following the incident, a palm oil mill belonging to a government-link company in Ulu Remis, near Layang-Layang, was issued a 60-day notice of closure when it was suspected to be the source of the pollution.

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Activists slam ASEAN roadmap to stop smog

AFP Yahoo News 11 Aug 16;

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) - Southeast Asian nations agreed to a roadmap on Thursday to combat acrid haze from Indonesian fires that cloaks vast swathes of the region every year, but the move was greeted by activists with scepticism.

Further doubts were raised about the agreement with the Indonesian environment minister skipping the one-day meeting in Kuala Lumpur attended by environment ministers from the the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-member regional bloc.

Malaysia's environment minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said to AFP that under the roadmap ASEAN members would need to take "measures and action" to fight forest fires and prevent the use of fire to clear jungles.

"But one of the challenges is that small land owners in Indonesia are allowed to use fire to clear land and so, Indonesian authorities have to negotiate with them to stop the practise," he added.

The ambitious roadmap ultimately aims to achieve a haze-free ASEAN by 2020. However, details of the roadmap remain scant and activists were doubtful the summit will result in progress.

"Indonesia, as usual is not willing to cooperate," said prominent Malaysian environmental activist Gurmit Singh, referring to the absence of the Indonesian minister.

"The haze issue in Indonesia is fuelled by corruption amid lack of enforcement against the culprits. As usual, nothing tangible comes out of ASEAN meetings."

An Indonesian official who attended the summit said the Indonesian environment minister could not attend due to an important domestic political meeting.

The ministry in Jakarta declined comment to AFP.

Last year's haze outbreak was among the worst in memory, shrouding Malaysia, Singapore, and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke as an El Nino weather phenomenon created tinder-dry conditions.

The blazes and resulting smog forced school closures and flight cancellations in the region, with thousands falling ill with respiratory problems as pollution levels hit hazardous levels.

"Looking at the Indonesian minister’s absence, it gives a clear signal that things are not going smoothly," said Andrew Sebastian, CEO and co-founder of Ecotourism and Conservation Society Malaysia.

"Indonesian forest fires are the biggest problem. We need to take clear and decisive action," he added.

Indonesian forest fires are an annual dry-season problem, started illegally to quickly and cheaply clear land for cultivation -- particularly for palm oil and pulpwood.

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Indonesia: Haze will not be so ‘serious’ this year

The Star 12 Aug 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Indonesia Thursday gave assurance that the transboundary haze will not be as serious as last year with drastic action taken to combat forest fires in the country.

Senior Adviser on Energy to Minister of Environment and Forestry of Indonesia Arief Yuwono said Jakarta has a strong commitment to prevent forest fires from the presidential level to the ground level.

“We have a lot of initiatives at the moment and we even have presidential directive which our minister has translated to action on the ground.

“For example, the establishment of 700 villagers who are ready to combat forest fires on the ground. We also strengthened our coordination from the central government to local governors plus the involvement of private sectors.

“When we make comparison between 2015 and 2016, I believe from our update forecast, there will be less haze, not so serious, only a small scale, “ he told the media after attending the 12th Meeting of the Conference of The Parties To The Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (COP-12) here Thursday.

Also present was Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

When asked whether Jakarta would be seeking Asean’s support to combat forest fires, Arief said they would use their own resources first to protect its sovereignty.

Arief pointed out that those responsible for forest fires would be penalised severely according to the laws and regulation.

Commenting on the establishment of the Asean Coordinating Centre to facilitate cooperation and coordination among ASEAN members in addressing the haze pollution, Arief said Jakarta plans to set up a workshop on the related issue by this year.

The establishment was pointed out by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi during his speech when opening the meeting early this morning.

Meanwhile, Wan Junaidi said Malaysia was ready to help Indonesia to put out forest fires by deploying firefighters and assets such as amphibious aircraft.

“At the moment, they want to use their own nation’s capacity and capability.

So, we have to respect that as they have their own initiative,” he said.

Touching on the meeting, Wan Junaidi said Asean ministers agreed to adopt the Roadmap on Asean Cooperation towards Transboundary Haze Pollution Control with Means of Implementation.

He pointed out that the Roadmap would serve as a strategic framework for the implementation of the collaborative actions to control transboundary haze pollution in the Asean region to achieve a vision of Transboundary Haze-free Asean by 2020. - Bernama

Zahid calls on Asean members to revive action plan over haze issue
NURBAITI HAMDAN The Star 11 Aug 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is urging Asean member countries to revive its high priority cooperation in tackling the transboundaryhaze for the region to be haze free by 2020.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said some of the activities have been dormant for “quite some time” due to lack of resources.

“Let us not only reflect on the issues, but also focus on solutions and encourage one another in achieving our national plans and targets to eliminate the transboundary haze problem,” he said in his speech at the 12th conference of the parties to the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) at a hotel here Thursday.

The high-priority areas or activities include technical cooperation to increase the preparedness for and to mitigate the risks to human health and the environment arising from land and forest fires and haze pollution, implementation of activities to promote zero burning and controlled burning practice, and conduct table-top and simulation exercises to enhance joint emergency response.

Dr Ahmad Zahid said last year was the worst haze experienced in the region.

The unprecedented severity of smoke haze, he said, affected millions of people in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the southern part of the Philippines and the northern part of Laos.

“We should be vigilant and undertake concrete actions particularly on preventive and mitigation efforts in order to be better prepared in the event of adverse weather condition in coming years,” he said.

The Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) was established in 2002 as one of the key steps towards air pollution management in this region to address the annual problem since 1997.

The agreement was ratified by all member states in January 2015.

Focus on high priority areas to meet haze-free Asean objective
ARNAZ M. KHAIRUL New Straits Times 11 Aug 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: The focus on high priority areas are vital towards ensuring objectives of the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) are met, said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Zahid, in his opening speech at the 12th meeting of the conference of parties to the agreement here, laid out seven areas which he called on delegates to deliberate on, highlighting the urgency of the required action.

"Due to the lack of resources, some of the activities have been dormant for quite some time," said Zahid.

The high priority areas include technical cooperation in the preparedness to mitigate health risks from haze caused by land and forest fires.

This would require focus on the promotion of zero burning and controlled burning activities, along with conducting table-top and simulation exercises to enhance joint emergency responses, while building the capacity of law enforcement and prosecution.

Zahid also called for a regular forums and dialogues with international donor communities and stakeholders to promote the implementation of the agreement and for partner nations to explore international partnerships to ensure sustainable financial support.

The final priority area Zahid called for was the establishment of an Asean coordinating centre (ACC) to facilitate cooperation and coordination among parties in addressing haze pollution.

He said the 11th meeting in Hanoi in October last year had endorsed a revision of the standard operating procedures (SOP) for monitoring, assessment and joint emergency response, incorporating alert levels, trigger points and action on fire prevention and suppression.

This, Zahid said, had been successfully adopted in Malaysia, particularly in dealing with localised haze incidents in Sabah and Sarawak.

"The AATHP in Hanoi had also adopted a new initiative on developing a roadmap on cooperation towards transboundary haze pollution control, with eight key strategies, measures of progress and actions towards achieving a haze-free Asean by 2020," said Zahid.

"We should not rest on our laurels even with all the initiatives being taken. The haze incidents of 2015 saw the region experiencing unprecedented severity of smoke haze, affecting millions of people.

"Using 2015 as a benchmark of the worst haze incidents in the region, we should be vigilant and undertake concrete actions."

Asean agrees on plan for a haze-free region by 2020
Today Online 12 Aug 16;

KUALA LUMPUR — South-east Asian leaders on Thursday (Aug 11) agreed on a roadmap to ensure the region is free from transboundary haze by 2020, as part of a series of joint actions to combat the annual problem.

Malaysia’s Natural Resources and Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said at the conclusion of the 12th meeting on the Conference of the Parties to the Asean Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution (AATHP) on Thursday that he was glad Asean had agreed to implement the roadmap.

“We adopted the roadmap to overcome haze by 2020. That is one concession that I appreciated. All ministers and Asean representatives have agreed with the adoption and have accepted this roadmap,” Mr Wan Junaidi told reporters.

“The Asean member states pledged to remain vigilant and continuously monitor and step up their haze preventive efforts... the Ministers underlined the need for members to place priority and commitment to resolve the haze problem within the expected targets and timelines.”

The AATHP was established in 2002 as one of the key steps towards eradicating the transboundary haze problem by 2020. The agreement was ratified by all member states in January 2015.

A press statement issued at the end of the meeting noted the progress in the implementation of activities and programmes in the AATHP which included the setting up of the Asean Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control.

“The roadmap will serve as a strategic framework for the implementation of the collaborative actions to control transboundary haze pollution in the Asean region to achieve a vision of Transboundary Haze-free Asean by 2020,” it added without elaborating.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, who was also at Thursday’s meeting said with the adoption of the roadmap, Asean now have a “time-bound, action-oriented framework” to complement efforts to tackle transboundary haze.

“As transboundary haze pollution is a shared challenge, Singapore is committed to work with our Asean neighbours to explore how we can better coordinate and prepare for the dry season, including offering timely assistance under the AATHP,” he wrote on his Facebook account.

“With greater national and regional commitment, we can resolve this decades-long problem by successfully implementing the AATHP. I am hopeful that closer collaboration among Asean (member) states will bring us towards the goal of a transboundary haze-free Asean.”

He also highlighted the Asean Haze Monitoring System (AHMS) as an important initiative to tackle the haze problem. Developed by Singapore, the AHMS is a computerised system to enhance hotspot monitoring by combining hot spot data, high resolution satellite pictures and concession maps. It was adopted by Asean leaders in 2013 but has yet to be operational.

“Our Asean Leaders have acknowledged the AHMS as a useful tool to assist in monitoring and internal enforcement actions against irresponsible parties contributing to fires. I hope we can operationalise the Asean Haze Monitoring System soon,” he added.

Mr Wan Junaidi also said on Thursday that both Singapore and Malaysia are ready to share skills and resources to help countries like Indonesia tackle forest fires, but they need to be asked.

“Don’t assume that just because we have something here, we can just bulldoze (through) anything, that when we know there is a fire somewhere, we can just go in on a boat or ship or truck or car, and cross over to the border and start doing it, we can’t do it like that,” he said.

“That’s still a foreign country and we have to deal with them and we must respect our neighbour’s sovereignty. We cannot assume that because the agreement already exists and we want to set up certain things, that we (can) do it whatever way we want to. We can’t.”

Absent from Thursday’s meeting was Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Dr Siti Nurbaya Bakar. She was said to be busy at a Conservation Day event in Bali.

When asked about Indonesia’s commitment to the commitment of ensuring a haze free region, Mr Arief Yuwono, senior adviser on energy to the Minister of Environment and Forestry in Indonesia said Indonesia have also “suffered from forest fires, which is why we have many initiatives, not just on the police level, but by the local government as well”.

He also said penalties for errant companies who are suspected of causing forest fires that contributed to the haze were “more stringent than before” but did not elaborate further.

Transboundary haze caused by widespread fires in Indonesia blanketed the region from September to November last year and affected tens of millions of people.

Last year, Singapore’s National Environment Agency sent notices to six companies directing them to put out fires allegedly contributing to the haze.

Earlier on Thursday, Malaysia’s deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi urged Asean members to revive “high priority” cooperation to tackle the transboundary haze problem, noting that some activities have been dormant for “some time” due to lack of resources. AGENCIES

ASEAN adopts roadmap for transboundary haze-free region by 2020
Sumisha Naidu, Malaysia Correspondent, Channel NewsAsia 11 Aug 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: ASEAN nations have adopted a roadmap on collaborative actions to control transboundary haze pollution, with the goal of achieving a transboundary haze-free ASEAN by 2020.

This was announced at a press conference for the ASEAN ministerial-level meeting on tackling transboundary haze held on Thursday (Aug 11), the 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution. It was the first such meeting since smoke shrouded parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore for weeks in 2015.

Slash and burn fires in Indonesian forests were largely blamed for triggering the haze that kept people indoors or having to wear masks before stepping out of the house. Even neighbouring Malaysia was forced to close schools for days.

The meeting also looked back on the year that was and planned for the year ahead.


A haze-free ASEAN by 2020 is an ambitious goal given haze has been almost an annual occurrence in some of the region's nations. However, Singapore, one of the countries hit hardest by the smoke, is hopeful.

Said its Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli: "I think if everyone sets out (to do) what they want to do, and if there's political will and the enforcement of the national laws that will prevent those things from happening, I'm very certain this will be achieved.

"But everyone must play their part. Even our own consumers in Singapore must play their part. We can't be complaining about the haze and then buying the products that are produced in the concession areas which produce this haze."

Malaysia's Minister for Natural Resources and Environment Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said his Indonesian counterpart has assured him the haze this year will not be as bad as the last.

However, Dr Siti Nurbaya Bakar was absent from the meeting for the second year in a row, as she was busy with a Conservation Day event in Bali.

"We have suffered from forest fires, which is why we have many initiatives, not just on the police level, but by the local government as well," said Mr Arief Yuwono, senior adviser on energy to the Minister of Environment and Forestry in Indonesia, when asked about the country's commitment to the cause.


At the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, ASEAN reaffirmed its support for Indonesia's plans to host a ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control, which is a place to arrange and sync up regional assistance when combating haze.

Singapore and Malaysia already say they stand ready to share skills and resources to help countries like Indonesia tackle forest fires, but they need to be asked.

Said Mr Wan Junaidi: "Don't assume that just because we have something here, we can just bulldoze (through) anything, that when we know there is a fire somewhere, we can just go in on a boat or ship or truck or car, and cross over to the border and start doing it, we can't do it like that.

"That's still a foreign country and we have to deal with them and we must respect our neighbour's sovereignty. We cannot assume that because the agreement already exists and we want to set up certain things, that we (can) do it whatever way we want to. We can't."

Meanwhile, Malaysia is looking to implement laws similar to Singapore that will allow it to take action against companies responsible for haze affecting the nation.

The next ASEAN meeting on transboundary haze pollution takes place in Brunei next year.

- CNA/hs

President Jokowi to lead meetings on forest fires, super holding firm
Ayomi Amindoni The Jakarta Post 12 Aug 16;

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo will lead a limited Cabinet meeting on several issues on Friday including forest fires and holding firms for state-owned companies.

Jokowi is scheduled to lead a meeting at the presidential office on the prevention and management of forest and peatland fires at 2 p.m., according to President's official agenda sent out by presidential staff. Following the meeting, the President will then discuss holding firms for state-owned companies at 3 p.m.

Indonesia suffered its worst forest and peatland fires in history in some parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan last year. At least 19 people died and 500,000 people suffered acute respiratory illness from the haze crisis. The crisis was sparked by the slash-and-burn practices for clearing land during the dry season last year.

As for holding firms for state-owned companies, the government has been considering the possibility of moving its state-owned enterprises into a giant holding company in a bid to improve their performance and increase their role in the economy. State-Owned Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno said in June the plan would transfer state-run firms into a "super holding" company. (rin)

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Indonesia: Haze begins to disrupt flights in West Kalimantan

Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 11 Aug 16;

Haze blanketed a number of regions in West Kalimantan from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning and was visible especially in Pontianak as days before the sky over the city had been relatively clear.

West Kalimantan councilor Maskendari said he had to wait 45 minutes before the sky was clear enough for the plane he was on to take off from Supadio Airport in Pontianak and head to Jakarta via Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, on Wednesday morning.

“When heading to the airport from home I saw the haze was relatively thick. I estimate that visibility was less than 200 meters,” Maskendari told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, adding that his flight was initially scheduled for 7:40 a.m.

Airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II’s general manager at Supadio Airport, Bayuh Iswantoro, however, assured that the haze had yet to disrupt flights.

“Haze appeared at 6 a.m. with a visibility of 100 meters. Alhamdulillah [praise Allah] it returned to normal again at 7 a.m. and caused no delays,” Bayuh said.

Dozens of hot spots were detected in a number of regencies in the province, according to the Sensor Modis and NoAA satellites.

A forecaster on duty at Supadio Airport’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) station, Mega Fitriyawita, said the Sensor Modis satellite detected 17 hot spots, 15 of which were in Sanggau regency and one each in Landak and Sambas regencies.

The NoAA satellite, meanwhile, detected 18 hot spots, five of which were detected in Sanggau regency, three in each Sintang, Landak, Melawi and Kapuas Hulu regencies and one in Ketapang.

West Kalimantan Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head TTA Nyarong said the provincial administration had declared an alert status for haze on June 1.

Some 74,000 hectares of peatland caught fire last year, significantly contributing to the thickness of the haze in the province.

“We are examining the locations of the new hot spots to see if they are on plantation concessions or on people’s land,” said Nyarong, adding that teams had been set up at the provincial and lower levels of administration in anticipation of a haze disaster.

According to the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s website,, total forest area and land burned in West Kalimantan last year was 3,191.98 hectares, a decrease from 2014’s 3,556.10 hectares.

The figure this year so far is 183.65 hectares.

The West Kalimantan Police are processing 35 cases of 2015 forest and land fires, four of which allegedly involved corporations and the remaining 31 individuals. The four former cases were dropped due to a lack of evidence.

West Kalimantan Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Suhadi SW said that in the cases, corporations had been suspected of each setting fire to 20 hectares or more of land while individuals allegedly burned two hectares or more.

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Malaysia: New subject on animal welfare could be introduced

FIRDAOUS FADZIL The Star 12 Aug 16;

AMPANG JAYA: To ensure a better understanding of the Animal Welfare Act, the Government is proposing that a new subject be introduced in schools.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek said the proposal was being discussed with the Education Ministry.

“Knowledge about ethical treatment of animals is important and should be taught in schools.

“We are looking at implementing the subject by next year when the Act comes into force,” he told reporters during his visit to the Selangor Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals centre here yesterday.

The Act, which was gazetted in December last year, will be enforced in mid-2017.

Ahmad Shabery said the Government and NGOs had embarked on more campaigns and roadshows, targeting mainly students, to spread awareness on animal welfare.

As part of the campaign, he said an Animal Welfare Day would be held for the first time in conjunction with World Animal Day, which falls on Oct 4.

“The aim is not only to increase awareness towards pets but also livestock,” he said, adding the Veterinary Services Department would work closely with the Education Ministry to provide animal welfare education modules.

Society chairman Christine Chin said she was delighted that the whole nation would join the battle to protect animal rights.

“At last, the Government is fully supporting us in our quest for the last 50 years.

“We hope to take part actively to educate people about love and compassion towards the animals, especially in schools,” she said.

Chin said the society was satisfied with the wider interpretations of animal cruelty in the Act.

She said the Act provides much more clout to catch animal abusers, with higher fines and an increase in the number of animal welfare officers.

Under the Act, animal cruelty includes dumping, abandoning and chaining animals with a short or heavy chain, selling them injured, malnourishment and keeping them in small cages.

In addition, animal owners must provide adequate accommodation, suitable food, and protection from pain, suffering, injuries and diseases, failing which they are liable to be fined between RM15,000 and RM75,000.

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Malaysia: Disciplinary action against wildlife officer who stole 67 permits

SIM LEOI LEOI The Star 12 Aug 16;

PETALING JAYA: A Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) officer stole 67 CITES permits – which allow for the import and export of endangered animals and animal parts – and gave 23 away.

The man returned the other 44 blank permits later. He has been arrested and handed over to police. However, the police have released him on bail.

The case was referred to the Attorney-General’s Chambers but the deputy public prosecutor recommended disciplinary action and not criminal action against the officer involved.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the loss of the permits was discovered by Perhilitan on July 13.

“A police report was lodged the next day. The officer who took these from storage later admitted to it.

“Perhilitan has reported the missing permits to CITES so that nobody can use these,” said Dr Wan Junaidi.

Malaysia sent a notification to CITES dated July 28, informing the secretariat that these permits were stolen from Perhilitan on July 5.

There are 23 permits, with serial numbers ranging from 89771 to 89793.

“The officer claimed he had given the 23 to other people,” he said.

He said Perhilitan has set up a committee to look into the safety and handling procedures of CITES permits after the theft.

The officer admitted to stealing them from its storage at Perhilitan Federal Territory office in Bandar Tasik Permaisuri, Kuala Lumpur.

“The matter has been forwarded to the Public Service Department,” he said.

Asked if the officer involved had been tasked with handling these permits, Dr Wan Junaidi said the committee would look into this.

“The committee will look into the safety and all the standard operating procedures on accessibility to these permits.”

In 2007, Malaysia had also informed CITES that three permits and a security stamp were missing from a wildlife office in Sarawak.

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Malaysia: Thai mauled to death by durian-loving bear

The Star 11 Aug 16;

GUA MUSANG: The body of a Thai, believed to have been mauled to death by a durian-loving bear, was found in an orchard at the Renok Baru Kesedar Land Development Plan here.

The remains of Mat Didik @ Madidi Basa, 40, was found at about 6am in a ditch on Thursday.

The victim was found with severe head injuries and his body was sent to the district hospital.

District police chief Supt Rajab Ahad Ismail said the victim's son, Mohamad Naim, 15, had earlier gone looking for him early in the morning when his father failed to return home from the orchard since 10pm Wednesday.

Met at the hospital, Muhamad Naim said he and an uncle, Mohd Zulhaidi Hamat, 23, initially went looking for his father at the orchard around 3am.

However, upon spotting a bear which was foraging for durians in the vicinity, he said they changed their minds and returned home.

About three hours later, the duo returned to the orchard, only to stumble on Mat Didik's body.

The teenager said his father had cautioned the family that a bear was spotted prowling at the orchard to eat durians," he said.

Mat Didik's mother-in-law, Mariam Ab Rahman, 56, said she had advised him repeatedly against going into the orchard at night for fear of attacks by wild animals.

"Last night after dinner, I advised him again not to go to the orchard...I am sad he was found dead with injuries," she said.

Mat Didik is survived by a local wife and four children. - Bernama

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Malaysia: Bornean elephant has backwards-pointing tusks

RUBEN SARIO The Star 11 Aug 16;

KOTA KINABALU: A unique Bornean bull elephant with its tusks pointing backwards is causing a stir among wildlife rangers sent to translocate it from a plantation in Sabah’s east coast.

The Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) rangers spotted the 20-year-bull elephant near the Felda Umas plantation in Tawau Thursday.

Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said it was only the second such elephant he had seen with tasks pointing backwards.

“It’s very unusual,” he said, adding that the elephant could be part of a herd from central Sabah that eventually moved towards the east coast.

Wildlife officials are discussing with other experts about the possible cause of the unusual tusks, including in-breeding.

Dr Sen said the bull elephant is among three pachyderms that the WRU is translocating from the plantation to an undisclosed location.

Department director William Baya said human-elephant conflicts have been on the increase in recent years at elephant habitat areas in the central and south eastern parts of Sabah, including Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Beluran, Lahad Datu, Tawau, Nabawan and Pensiangan.

Coupled with a probable increase in elephant population, this will further increase the fragmentation and nett loss of suitable elephant habitats, he added.

A 2008 survey showed that the Sabah elephant population stood at 2,000 heads.

He said translocating the elephants is not a permanent solution because there have been instances when some animals that were moved made their way back to cause more conflict in the area where they were caught.

Rare sighting of reverse tusker
The Star 12 Aug 16;

KOTA KINABALU: A rare Bornean bull elephant with its tusks in a reverse position is causing a stir among wildlife rangers sent to translocate it from plantation in Sabah’s east coast.

The Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) rangers spotted the 20-year-old bull elephant near the Felda Umas plantation in Tawau yesterday morning.

Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan said it was only the second such elephant he had seen with tusks pointing backwards.

“It’s very unusual,” he said, adding that the elephant was likely part of a herd from central Sabah that eventually moved towards the east coast.

Wildlife officials here are holding discussions with experts about the possible reasons for this phenomenon and this could include in-breeding.

Dr Sen said the bull elephant was among three pachyderms that the WRU was translocating from the plantation to an undisclosed location.

Department director William Baya said human-elephant conflicts had been on the increase in recent years at elephant habitats.

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Indonesia: Elephant population in Sumatra shrinks drastically

The Jakarta Post 12 Aug 16;

The population of Sumatran elephants has plummeted in the past nine years mainly due to the conversion of forest areas into plantations and settlements, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia has announced.

According to WWF data, the population of the critically endangered species drastically shrunk to around 1,700 currently from about 2,700 elephants in 2007.

Sunarto from WWF Indonesia said the Sumatran landscape changed quickly. The areas that were initially declared as conservation areas were in fact converted into plantations, forcing the largest land mammals to enter villages and the farmland, he explained.

“Even the Balai Raja wildlife reserve [in Riau] is planted with palm oil. The size of the conservation area is now only around 150 hectares, from the total area of 18,000 hectares,” he said in Jakarta on Thursday.

Sunarto added that many of the elephants entering villages were poisoned because they were considered parasites that destroyed farmland. To make matters worse, the elephants were often threatened by poaching.

He, therefore, called on all elements of society to intensify efforts to protect the elephants and their habitats. “Their existing habitats need to be preserved,” Sunarto said. (vny/ags)

World Elephant Day: Only 1,724 Sumatran Elephants Left in the Wild
Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 12 Aug 16;

Jakarta. The directorate general for natural and environmental resource at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has revealed only 1,724 Sumatran elephants are now left in the wild in the island of Sumatra, down 39 percent from the estimated population in 2007.

"From 2012 to 2016, 146 wild Sumatran elephants have been poisoned or killed by poachers for their tusks to satisfy demand in the illegal ivory trade in Riau and Aceh," Listya Kusumawardhani, the ministry directorate's head of environment conservation information, said on Thursday (11/08).

Listya said other than the growing threats from illegal ivory trade and habitat destruction, Sumatran elephants are also vulnerable to infectious diseases like herpes in conservation centers, due to poor sanitary conditions.

"There are eight elephant training centers in Indonesia, but their sanitation facilities leave a lot to be desired. We've got a lot of work to do," Listya said.

Nevertheless, Listya pointed out that some government-declared conservation areas have the potential to be comfortable and safe new homes for the Sumatran elephants.

"The government has declared 27 million hectares of forest in Indonesia as conservation areas. Sumatran elephants and other endangered wildlife can live safely there," Listya said.

Though the current Sumatran elephant population is still considered high for a critically endangered species, World Wildlife Fund Indonesia director of communication and advocacy, Nyoman Iswarayoga, said conservation efforts must be maximized to make sure the number does not slip.

"The official number may still be in the thousands, but we must continue to find innovative ways to save Sumatran elephants from extinction," Nyoman said.

World Elephant Day is celebrated on Aug. 12 worldwide to raise awareness of elephant conservation.

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With droughts and downpours, climate change feeds Chesapeake Bay algal blooms

Princeton University Science Daily 10 Aug 16;

A study shows that weather patterns tied to climate change may increase the severity of algal blooms in Chesapeake Bay as extreme rainfall cycles flush larger amounts of nitrogen from fertilizer and other sources into the Susquehanna River. The researchers found that a spike in rainfall can increase nitrogen levels in the bay even if the amount of fertilizer used on land remains the same, leading to explosive algae growth that poisons humans and wildlife, and devastates fisheries.

Nitrogen-rich agricultural runoff into the Chesapeake Bay presents an ongoing environmental and economic concern for the bay's massive watershed. Pollution from fertilizer application feeds algal blooms that poison humans and marine life, and devastate fisheries.

While efforts to restore the bay have been successful during the past several years, a study led by Princeton University researchers shows that weather patterns tied to climate change may nonetheless increase the severity of algal blooms by changing how soil nutrients leach into the watershed.

Extreme rainfall cycles caused by increased climate variability flush larger amounts of nitrogen-containing nutrients from fertilizer and other sources into the Susquehanna River, which carries them into the Chesapeake Bay, according to a report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Moreover, a spike in rainfall can increase nitrogen levels in the bay even if the amount of fertilizer used on land remains the same.

These chemicals feed explosive algae growth that can produce toxins that harm people, fish, wildlife and drinking water. Decaying algae also suck oxygen from the surrounding water, creating a low-oxygen state known as hypoxia that results in "dead zones" that suffocate fish and other species important to the aquatic food chain.

The researchers constructed a model that they say provides the most complete picture to date of how nitrogen moves from place to place in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It connects weather and pollution in places as far away as upstate New York to the water conditions in the bay.

"The model simulates nitrogen's fate from cradle to grave," said co-author Elena Shevliakova, a visiting research scholar in the Princeton Environmental Institute who works as a physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab located on Princeton's Forrestal Campus.

First author Minjin Lee, a postdoctoral scholar in Princeton University's Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Studies, decided to investigate how variations in rainfall -- amplified by climate change -- affected river nitrogen levels after she created simulations of nitrogen flow into the Chesapeake Bay watershed and looked for factors that affect nitrogen run-off.

"While running the model, I found that there was a lot of year-to-year variability in precipitation, which has implications for how much nitrogen was washed into the river," Lee said. "Even if farmers are using exactly the same amount of fertilizer each year, depending on the weather, more nitrogen can go into the river some years."

Lee developed the model during her graduate studies with Peter Jaffe, a Princeton professor of civil and environmental engineering. Lee and Jaffe worked with researchers at GFDL and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to build their model from earlier models of water, geology and biochemistry called Earth Systems Models. These Earth Systems Models had been built over the years by dozens of researchers at GFDL, including Shevliakova and co-authors Sergey Malyshev, a professional specialist in Princeton's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Chris Milly, a research hydrologist at USGS and a research affiliate at GFDL.

These models combine physics and biochemistry to simulate how ecologically important chemicals flow through organisms, soil, water and the atmosphere. Some predict how chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers will move between fertilizers, plants and the soil. Others project how those chemicals will flow through rivers -- and be consumed and excreted by plants and animals along the way -- until reaching the ocean.

The decision to look at precipitation variability stemmed from an understanding that rainfall is one of the largest factors that influence the amount of nitrogen fertilizer runoff, Jaffe said.

"When people talk about climate change, they think about a half-degree average temperature increase," he said. "But it's not the temperature increase that directly affects the nitrogen runoff. With global climate change, you have larger swings between dry and wet conditions. And these swings have a big impact on nitrogen flux."

The researchers looked at the effect of wet and dry spells by mixing and matching weather data from the 20th century to emulate possible future climate extremes. They simulated nine climate scenarios based on historical periods of unusually dry or wet years: four dry spells with lengths of one to four years using data from the 1960s; four wet spells of the same length using data from the 1970s; and one year of normal precipitation in 1954. They followed each of the nine wet or dry scenarios with weather from each of the 61 years from 1948 to 2008, creating several hundred total experiments.

The researchers found that the amount of rainfall in the years preceding a given year can have as much effect on nitrogen runoff as the weather in that year itself. Although researchers have known that a particularly rainy season can leach more nitrogen out of the soil and lead to algal blooms, the role that unusually dry years play was not expected.

Lee's model showed that because nitrogen builds up in the soil during dry years, even an average year following a dry spell could lead to high enough runoff to cause algal blooms. Dry spells of one to three years increase the likelihood of enough nitrogen entering the bay to cause a large dead zone -- a threshold of about 56,000 tons of nitrogen per year -- by 40 to 65 percent.

The research is just one example of how climate change's effects run beyond an increase in temperature, said Amilcare Porporato, a Duke University professor of civil and environmental engineering who is familiar with the research but was not involved in the study.

"It shows how climate change often produces the most dramatic consequences when the alterations involve rainfall and the hydrologic cycle," he said. "Increasing temperatures are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak."

"This highlights the need for different management strategies," Shevliakova said. Algal blooms can be prevented by decreases in fertilizer use, but using the same low amount of fertilizer every year could have subtle and varying impacts on algal blooms in coastal waters depending on the amount of precipitation during the past several years.

The study's authors envision adaptive watershed-management plans where models are combined with data from recent years' weather and predictions for the upcoming year to understand where and how much fertilizer can be applied in the watershed before it threatens algal blooms.

"It's a balance," Jaffe said. "If you tell the farmer to put in less nitrogen, maybe your crop yield goes down, but then the oyster yield goes up in the bay."

Such an environmental strategy would require understanding other sources of nitrogen -- such as automobile pollution and sewage -- and other nutrients, such as phosphorus, that contribute to algal blooms. Lee's model already accounts for all sources of nitrogen, and was developed in a manner that allows it to be expanded to a global-scale model that includes other chemicals and land-use patterns.

The article, "Climate variability and extremes, interacting with nitrogen storage, amplify eutrophication risk," was published July 16, 2016, in Geophysical Research Letters. The work was supported by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (grant NA08OAR4320752); the Korean National Institute of Environmental Research; the Princeton Environmental Institute; and Princeton's Mary and Randall Hack '69 Research Fund.

Story Source:

The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Princeton University. The original item was written by Bennett McIntosh. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Minjin Lee, Elena Shevliakova, Sergey Malyshev, P. C. D. Milly, Peter R. Jaff�. Climate variability and extremes, interacting with nitrogen storage, amplify eutrophication risk. Geophysical Research Letters, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/2016GL069254

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Our oceans aren’t just rising - they’re accelerating, and that’s even worse

It's been hidden from us for 25 years.
BEC CREW Science Alert 11 Aug 16;

It’s news to no one that our sea levels are rising as a result of global warming, but scientists have finally confirmed something even more worrying - rate at which they’re rising is actually accelerating.

And what’s truly crazy about this situation is it’s been masked from us for more than two decades, thanks to a massive, poorly timed volcanic eruption. Thanks, nature.

On 15 June 1991, Earth sustained the second-largest volcanic eruption of the century - Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines.

Described by the US Geological Survey as "cataclysmic", the eruption spewed forth more than 5 cubic km (1 cubic mile) of debris, and the resulting ash cloud rose some 35 km (22 miles) into the air above.

A typhoon happened to form at the exact same time, blowing ash in all directions, and avalanches of searing hot ash, gas, and pumice fragments filled nearby valleys with volcanic deposits up to 200 metres (660 feet) thick.

The volcano ejected so much matter that day, its groaning summit gave way and collapsed.

The event caused nearly 18 million tonnes (20 million tons) of sulphur dioxide to be deposited into Earth’s stratosphere, and this huge gas cloud managed to reflect so much sunlight, the volcano literally caused global temperatures to drop by about 0.5°C (1°F) from 1991 to 1993.

Amazingly, this all happened at the same time as when NASA and French space agency CNES decided to launch the world's first satellite altimeter, called TOPEX/Poseidon, which would allow scientists to start monitoring sea level changes from orbit.

So from 1992, right when Earth was experiencing a freak cooling period caused by a humungous volcanic eruption, scientists established a whole new way of measuring sea levels, and it’s lead to one of the biggest mysteries in climate science - why rising sea levels have remained so oddly consistent.

In fact, for the first decade of operation, the radar altimeter actually showed a decrease in sea level - not exactly what you’d expect when the planet continues to break temperature records every year, and the melting of our icebergs has accelerated.

"We’ve been looking at the altimeter records and scratching our heads, and saying, 'Why aren’t we seeing an acceleration in the satellite record?' We should be," John Fasullo, a climate scientist from the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, told The Washington Post.

Since the altimeter was launched in 1992, studies based on its data have recorded a consistent rise in sea levels of 3.5 millimetres per year, or about 1.4 inches each decade.

To test if that was accurate, Fasullo and his team decided to develop 40 different climate change models that for the first time treated the effect of the volcanic eruption as one big anomaly, and ended up with a much better representation of what's actually been going on.

"The scientists estimate as a result that sea level not only fell between 5 and 7 millimetres due to a major ocean cooling event in the eruption’s wake, but then experienced a rebound, or bounce back, of the same magnitude once the influence of the eruption had passed," Chris Mooney reports for the The Washington Post.

This rebound made it look like sea levels experienced a sharp increase, followed by a decline, and then ultimately, it appeared to even itself out, but in reality, the results were completely distorted.

Thanks to the new, more accurate models of what’s actually been going on, we now have the first real evidence that global sea levels have been rising at an accelerating rate - something that scientists have been expecting, given the warming of our planet, but the records have said the opposite.

Since we’re basically starting again, Fasullo says it’s too soon to figure out exactly how much the sea level rise is actually accelerating, but says we’ll have a good indication in five to 10 years’ time.

"Our initial impression of sea level rise was not only influenced by climate change and the rate of change, but the response and the recovery from the eruption itself," Fasullo told Mooney. "Those effects largely have ebbed by now, and once we get a few more years into the altimeter record, we should see a clear acceleration."

So the good news is science makes sense again, it was all a mistake, bad volcano, bad. But the bad news is sea levels aren’t just rising - they’re rising at an accelerating pace, and that’s terrifying for anyone who happens to live on a coast.

The study has been published in Scientific Reports.

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