Best of our wild blogs: 14 Aug 16

A visit to Lentor-Tagore forest
Nature and Us

Night Walk At Venus Drive (12 Aug 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

Company ordered to pay record $76m over fires in Sumatra

Read more!

Algae bloom turns water in Kranji Reservoir green

The authorities said the algae bloom has not affected fish in the reservoir or nearby fish farms and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, although they are monitoring the situation.
Tiffany Fumiko Tay Straits Times 13 Aug 16; Also in The Star.

The diving pool at the Rio Olympics is not the only body of water that has caused alarm because of its unusual colour - an algae bloom has turned large swathes of Kranji Reservoir emerald green.

Environmentalist Ria Tan, who runs wildlife website WildSingapore, posted pictures of the bloom on her website on Wednesday. In her post, Ms Tan, 55, expressed concern that the discharge of freshwater algae from the reservoir into the Johor Strait may affect marine life.

However, the authorities told The Straits Times that the bloom has not affected fish in the reservoir or nearby fish farms and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, although they are monitoring the situation.

National water agency PUB said water from the reservoir is released into the sea only when levels are high, and freshwater algae is unlikely to survive in a marine environment, which has a much higher salinity. Algae, an essential part of freshwater ecosystems, grows rapidly with favourable conditions such as warm and calm water or sufficient sunlight and nutrients, said PUB.

Professor William Chen, director of Nanyang Technological University's Food Science and Technology programme, said freshwater algae blooms usually result from an excess of nutrients, which may originate from sources such as wastewater. The warmer weather this year may also have been a contributing factor, said Prof Chen.

He noted that decomposing algae consumes dissolved oxygen in the water, which can suffocate fish. Some species of algae can also produce potent toxins, which can affect fish and the ecology. Last year, an algae bloom between February and March wiped out over 500 tonnes of fish in 77 coastal fish farms off the East and West Johor straits.

When The Straits Times visited the Kranji Dam yesterday, the contrast between the clear blue of the Johor Strait and opaque green of the reservoir water was stark.

A fishing enthusiast, who declined to be named, was seen casting his reel at the reservoir's fishing grounds yesterday. "The water has been green for a few months already. It's harder to catch fish because of lower visibility, and the fish seem a bit sluggish because of the lower oxygen levels," he said.

"But this happens sometimes when it's hot. I've seen worse."

Related link
Massive bright green bloom at Kranji Reservoir: what impacts? on wild shores of singapore

Read more!

Large ivory seizures in Singapore make it a smuggling hub of 'primary concern'

In the last three years, significant amounts of illegal ivory have been picked up in the Singapore – conservationists worry that new smuggling routes are opening up
Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 12 Aug 16;

Large-scale seizures of ivory in Singapore over the last three years make the south-east Asian city-state one of the world’s premier ivory smuggling hubs for organised crime, say conservation watchdogs.

Data from seizures, collected by the UN’s wildlife trade monitor Traffic and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and shared with the Guardian, reveals how the gangsters operate. Shipping containers carrying thousands of tusks are labelled as carrying anything from tea to waste paper or avocados. They leave Africa from a few ports well-known for high levels of corruption.

Customs officials in China and Hong Kong – where most ivory ends up – target containers which have come from those ports. In order to get around this, according to EIA director of campaigns Julian Newman and traffic wildlife trade expert Tom Milliken, ivory shipments are being dropped off in transit ports, such as Singapore or Port Klang in Malaysia, where they can sit for months before being loaded on to a new vessel with paperwork listing a new port of origin.

“You’d probably get a red flag if you were shipping dried fish from Africa to Hong Kong,” said Newman. “But if it came from Malaysia then it wouldn’t. There’s lots of loopholes that people are able to exploit to try and get their stuff through customs control.”

Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia are the transit countries traditionally favoured by the gangs. Between 2010 and today, the EIA recorded these countries seizing a total of 32, 18 and 14 tonnes of ivory respectively.

By comparison, there had been relatively few seizures in Singapore for more than a decade before 2013. Since then, authorities have made four large seizures of 1.8 tonnes, 1 tonne, 3.7 tonnes and 0.5 tonnes – all of which Singapore crushed in a display of defiance against the trade.

The speed at which the syndicates have established themselves in the city-state has caught the attention of wildlife trade experts such as Milliken. “Singapore literally came out of nowhere and became a country of primary concern. It’s not a lot of seizures but the ones that occurred were a large volume of ivory,” he said. Amounts of half a tonne and above indicate the involvement of criminal gangs.

Organised crime is a key threat to elephant survival, said Milliken, because of the huge volumes they are able to ship at once. The payoffs are huge and the consequences usually minimal. Traffic estimates that more than 95% of illegal shipments evade officials. Arrests are rare. As a result elephant poaching in Africa has exploded since 2008 with catastrophic results in countries such as Tanzania where the population dropped 60% from 2009 to 2014.

Milliken has prepared a report (pdf) for next month’s critical wildlife summit – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) conference in South Africa – in which he names Singapore as “a country of primary concern”. The conference will consider whether to put Singapore on a list of worst offending countries that are required to submit a plan for controlling the trade and overseen by their peers.

A spokesperson for the Singaporean Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said the agency was reviewing the recommendation made to Cites and that Singapore used “a multi-pronged approach to weed out illegal wildlife trade”. They would not comment on the apparent renewed presence of criminal gangs.

In June, when the country crushed its seized ivory, senior minister of state for national development and home affairs Desmond Lee said (pdf): “Tackling this illicit trade requires close international cooperation, and also the assistance of the public and NGOs. We will continue our enforcement efforts, to prevent Singapore from being used as a transit point.”

The Cites conference of parties (CoP) is the major global meeting on the wildlife trade. It occurs every three years, this year in Johannesburg. On the agenda are controversial proposals to allow some sales of ivory by some African countries. The international trade in ivory was banned by Cites in 1989.

Like most aspects of the ivory trade, global data on seizures varies in quality from country to country. Traffic and the EIA maintain databases of seizures using police records, tips, leaks and media announcements.

This is not the first time that ivory gangs have operated in Singapore. In 2002 a tip off to the EIA led to one of the biggest ivory seizures of all time (pdf) – 6.2 tonnes. The only person arrested was Toh Yew Lye, a middleman who had signed the port documents in Singapore (he claimed to believe the shipments were sculptures). Documents captured in Africa suggested the syndicate had made as many as 18 shipments from Malawi between 1994 and 2002. Lye was fined just $3,000. But the crime itself was worth millions of dollars. One of the most lucrative smuggling routes of the 1990s was broken and Singapore remained quiet for a decade.

Milliken believes the return of at least one smuggling ring to the world’s second busiest port could be motivated by increasing pressure on the trade in Malaysia. At the last Cites CoP in 2013, Malaysia was named a country of primary concern and forced to submit a national ivory plan. While Malaysia remains a premier smuggling route, the humiliation has led to some progress, according to Milliken, which may have pushed the criminals back to Singapore.

“If law enforcement gets tough in one place then of course the people behind these consignments will find another way. They are constantly looking for the path of least resistance,” he said. Newman calls this interpretation “credible”.

In Hong Kong and China, ivory has taken on an increased level of political importance. The Chinese government announced last yearit would phase out the country’s domestic ivory trade. As such, highly sophisticated systems have been developed to target shipments that fit certain profiles.

Thirty million containers pass through Singapore’s port every year. It is this volume that makes it attractive to gangs and a nightmare for customs trying to combat the illegal passage of everything from pangolins to rocket launchers.

“Most of their targeting and profiling, probably number one is looking for drugs and then perhaps armaments. Wildlife trade, ivory, it’s probably somewhere there but it’s certainly not a mega priority,” said Milliken.

Read more!

Ray of hope for monkey species near extinction

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 13 Aug 16;

A rare, reclusive monkey native to Singapore is on the brink of extinction, but a new strategy is in place to ensure its kind can live on.

The Raffles' banded langur, also known here as the banded leaf monkey, once thrived across the island. But urbanisation has whittled down its population to a paltry 60 at most, according to 2010 data.

However, help has arrived for the black-and-white leaf eaters. A strategy to conserve them was yesterday launched by Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh.

A collaborative effort between several organisations in Singapore and Malaysia - such as the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), the National Parks Board (NParks) and universities from both sides of the Causeway - will involve enhancing the forest habitat for the monkeys.

This will be done through reforestation and the provision of more forested habitats, such as new nature parks, which will allow the monkeys to move between forest fragments. These "green corridors" will give the monkeys a larger area to forage for food, thus expanding their living area from the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, where they can now be found, to nearby forest patches.

More research into the creatures, as well as the development of education material to raise awareness of the monkeys, is also on the cards.

Compared to its cheeky cousin, the long-tailed macaque, the Raffles' banded langur is less known, perhaps due to its shyness and preference for staying high up in forest canopies.

While its reclusiveness ensures it does not come into conflict with humans, it has also made it hard to study them. But the new initiative will put more eyes and ears on the ground to observe them.

Scientists and naturalists from Malaysia, such as those from the Malaysian Nature Society and the National University of Malaysia, will collaborate with Singapore organisations such as WRS, NParks and the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) to conduct surveys and research, for instance.

The Raffles' banded langur, which can be found only in Singapore and Johor in Malaysia, is one of three recognised sub-species of the banded langur, commonly known as the banded leaf monkey.

Each of the three sub-species is found in different parts of South-east Asia, and little is known about them. Singaporean researcher Andie Ang, 31, who has been studying the Raffles' banded langur since 2008 under National University of Singapore Professor Rudolf Meier, believes the strategy will allow more data to be collected.

"Plans to conserve the langur must be backed by data collected across its range to include the different populations in Singapore and Malaysia, and not just in specific geographical areas," she said.

Ms Ang chairs the Raffles' banded langur working group - a committee of experts formed under the new strategy - tasked with forming an action plan to guide and implement the conservation work, which will receive $250,000 in funding over the next two years from the WRS Conservation Fund.

Dr Sonja Luz, WRS director of conservation and research, said: "Together with NParks, we are fully committed to be a part of the pioneering approach to manage the species over the long term, so Singapore does not have a primate going extinct on our watch."

While the newly launched conservation strategy targets the Raffles' banded langur, Ms Ang believes information gleaned from it could inform future conservation strategies for the other two sub-species.

Chairman of the Johor branch of the Malaysian Nature Society Vincent Chow told The Straits Times: "Johor is very rich in biodiversity but we don't have enough specialised researchers.

"Any scientific research will go a long way towards unravelling the secrets of Johor's flora and fauna and (help in making) the first step towards preserving our natural heritage.

"(The society) will assist in any way we can in the species action plan for the Raffles' banded langur, and welcomes more cross-border collaborative projects."

Two species native to Singapore


The banded leaf monkey (above) and the long-tailed macaque, both native to Singapore.PHOTO: COURTESY OF NICK BAKER

Although it is known in Singapore as the banded leaf monkey, the Raffles' banded langur is actually a sub-species of the banded leaf monkey. There are three recognised sub-species, which are found in different parts of South-east Asia.

The other two are the Robinson's banded langur, which can be found in the north of Malaysia, Thailand, and Myanmar; and the East Sumatran banded langur, found in East Sumatra in Indonesia.

The Raffles' banded langur can grow up to 84cm in length, including its tail. It is about twice the size of the long-tailed macaque, the only other monkey species in Singapore.

Although the Raffles' banded langurs were once widespread here, there are now at most only about 60 of them in Singapore, according to 2010 research findings. These monkeys can now be found only in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The last one in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was mauled to death by dogs in 1987 when it ventured to the ground.


The banded leaf monkey and the long-tailed macaque (above), both native to Singapore.PHOTO: COURTESY OF PREMA

Including its tail, this monkey can grow up to 56cm in length.

It is native to countries such as Singapore, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

In Singapore, there are now more than 1,000 of them.

Their original habitat includes secondary forests and mangroves, but they can now also be encountered in parks and urban areas such as Bukit Batok Nature Park and Sentosa.

They often come into conflict with humans when they venture into residential areas in search of food.

Read more!

Malaysia: Close watch over river pollution in Johor

KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 13 Aug 16;

JOHOR BARU: The state government has issued a directive to the Environment Department (DOE) to conduct inspections on factories operating near rivers in Johor.

Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said this was to ensure the factories adhere to stipulated licensing regulations and monitor any discharge of effluents into rivers that could cause pollution.

“We have instructed the DOE to carry out checks on factories near rivers in the state including Sungai Johor, Sungai Muar, Sungai Batu Pahat, Kahang and Mersing.

“We will not hesitate to take action against those polluting the environment,” he told reporters at the Johor Baru Health Department's Safety and Health Week at Hospital Permai here.

Ayub also said that the DOE has warned another oil palm mill operating in Mersing after it was found flouting regulations.

He noted that following investigations, the factory was found to have disregarded nine regulations that could lead to river pollution.

“They have been given three months to rectify the situation and if they fail to conduct the necessary repairs and improvements, we will not hesitate to suspend the company's licence.

“A check also showed that besides operating in Mersing, the company also runs five other factories in Johor,” he added.

Ayub also pointed out that the state government is still waiting for a full report on the Sungai Johor pollution in July.

It was earlier 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, an oil palm mill belonging to a government-linked company in Ulu Remis near Layang-layang here was issued a 60-day notice of closure.

Read more!

Malaysia: Water rationing in Kluang for a month due to drastic drop in Sembrong Kiri river

Scheduled water supply in Kluang from Aug 16 to Sept 15
BERNAMA New Straits Times 12 Aug 16;

JOHOR BARU: SAJ Holdings (SAJ) today announced the implementation of the scheduled water supply for subscribers in Kluang who receive treated water from the East and West Sembrong water treatment plants, from Aug 16 to Sept 15.

SAJ chief executive officer Abdul Wahab Abdul Hamid said the scheduled water supply exercise would be carried out through the ‘36 hours with water supply and 36 hours without water supply’.

He said the water level at the Sembrong Kiri river, which is supplying raw water to the East Sembrong Water Treatment Plant and the Sembrong dam to the West Sembrong Water Treatment Plant, had dropped drastically for the past two weeks due to no rain in the area.

In this regard, Abdul Wahab said the scheduled water supply was aimed at extending the period of water storage at the dam and river.

“The exercise only involved certain areas in Kluang while (the water supply in) other areas in Johor is still stable.

Some areas in Mersing are still continuing with the scheduled water supply until Sept 15,” he said in a statement.

Consumers can obtain the schedule from, among others, the SAJ website and Facebook page ‘Setitis YANG Bermakna’.

For any enquiries, consumers can contact SAJ Info Centre at 1 800 88 7474 or SMS to 019-7727474 or email to --Bernama

Water cuts inKluang until middle of September
The Star 16 Aug 16;

JOHOR BARU: Residents staying in some parts of Kluang here will be experiencing scheduled water supply starting from today to September 15 due to the shortage of water at the Sembrong dam.

Syarikat Air Johor (SAJ) Holdings Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Abdul Wahab Abdul Hamid said that there was a shortage of raw water supply from the Sembrong Kiri River for the past two weeks.

He said due to the lack of rain at several areas in Kluang, there has been a shortage of water supply from the river to the east and west of Sembrong water treatment plant as well as the dam.

“This scheduled cuts would be carried out to extend the period of water storage at the dam and at the treatment plant,” he said in a statement.

Abdul Wahab added that residents would be experiencing 36 hours of complete water supply and another 36 hours of no supply as approved by the National Water Services Commission (SPAN).

“Residents are advised to prepare for the situation and are urged to store enough water,” he said.

He added that the scheduled water supply would be implemented in some areas in Kluang and Mersing while other parts of the state would not be affected.

“Residents are also advised not to store too much water before the exercise as it would affect the storage of water at the treatment plant and dam,” he said, adding that other treatment plants are stable and operating normally statewide.

For more information about the scheduled water supply, log on to or find the schedule on its Facebook page at “Setitis YANG Bermakna”.

The schedule would also be distributed to some Kluang community centres.

For inquiries, call SAJ Info Centre at 1 800 88 7474, SMS to 019-772 7474 or email

Read more!

Malaysia facing serious water risks


PETALING JAYA: Several areas in eight states and Kuala Lumpur are expected to be under increased risk of water issues by the year 2020, despite Malaysia being located in the tropical zone, which receives high rainfall.

The World Resources Institute (WRI), which developed the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, has projected a 1.4-fold increase in water stress levels for some areas in Kedah, Penang, Kelantan, Perak, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Negri Sembilan and Johor by 2020.

This is a 1.4-fold increase in water stress currently experienced by these places.

Kuah, in Kedah, is expected to come under a two-fold increase in the water stress level.

The projected change shows how development and climate change are expected to affect water stress in the country.

This is measured in a “business as usual” scenario, which represents a world with stable economic development and steadily rising global carbon emissions, said WRI.

Association of Water and Energy Research Malaysia (Awer) president S. Piarapakaran said development and densely populated areas were reasons for increased water demand in these places.

He added that an increase in population but decrease in resources could cause water-related stress.

“If you look at the equilibrium, we have sufficient water but some rivers are polluted so this also poses a risk,” said Piarapakaran.

SME Association of Malaysia president Datuk Michael Kang said water-related stress could dent the SME industry, especially the food manufacturing industry.

Kang said SMEs and the Govern­ment should start taking management and preventive measures for the future, should there be water shortage or rationing.

“Within the SMEs, they should know how to save water and fully utilise it. They can recycle water, collect rain water or have reserve.

“For example, some mixed concrete factories in China have ways of recycling water so it is not discharged outside. This is also environmentally friendly,” he added.

Kang said it was vital for SMEs to upgrade and improve themselves, adding that some members had slowly started taking proactive measures to face such challenges.

In 2014, Selangor was among the states that was hit by the worst water crisis since 1998. With dam levels falling to critical levels, water rationing was imposed in the Klang Valley. Businesses were also affected badly due to the water shortage.

Read more!

Malaysia: Miri kicks off nationwide campaign to save the sharks

STEPHEN THEN The Star 13 Aug 16;

MIRI: The Fisheries Department Malaysia has kicked off a nationwide campaign to reduce consumption of shark fin here Saturday.

The launch of the “Say No To Shark fin Consumption Campaign” in Miri will soon be followed by similar campaigns in Pahang, Perak and Sabah and the rest of the country, said its director-general Datuk Ismail Abu Hassan.

“This is part of our effort to enhance the preservation of sharks and other endangered marine life in our waters.

“We are serious and committed towards ensuring the preservation and conservation of our rich marine resources and we urge all parties in the public and private sectors to help in this effort,” he said.

Sarawak Assistant Minister for Industrial Development and Rural Development Datuk Julaihi Narawi, who launched the campaign, said this conservation project was fully supported by the state government via the state fisheries authorities.

“This project by the Malaysian Fisheries Department and Sarawak fisheries is a show of their commitment towards ensuring the survival of our marine resources.

“There are at least 67 species of sharks in our waters (in the South China Sea offshore Sarawak and Malaysia).

“Malaysia has the fourth highest number of shark species in the world after Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand.

“More species are becoming endangered and 27 countries have already banned shark finning and consumption of shark fin including China and Hong Kong.

“Through this campaign in our state and country, the government will take the lead by banning shark fin soup from any official functions.

“We will want to see the private sectors doing the same and stop eating shark fin soup during their gatherings.

“We will also appeal to restaurants, eateries and retail shops to boycott shark fin products.

“The conservation of sharks and other endangered marine resources is an international effort and we must do our part,” he said.

Julaihi said the state fisheries department will get the help of 16,000 fishermen statewide to join in the campaign and to stop shark hunting and finning.

‘Say no to shark fin’ campaign launched
STEPHEN THEN The Star 14 Aug 16;

MIRI: A national campaign has begun, telling Malaysians to “Say No To Shark Fin Consumption”.

“This is part of our efforts towards the preservation of sharks and other endangered marine life in our waters,” Fisheries Department director-general Datuk Ismail Abu Hassan said.

The campaign kicked off here yesterday and will soon be followed by similar campaigns in Pahang, Perak, Sabah and the rest of the country.

Sarawak Assistant Minister for Rural Economy and Fisheries Datuk Julaihi Narawi, who launched the Sarawak-level campaign, said the Government would take the lead by banning shark fin soup from official functions.

“We want to see the private sector doing the same, too, and stop serving shark fin soup during their gatherings.

“We will also appeal to the restaurants, eateries and retail shops to boycott shark fin products,” he said.

Julaihi said the state Fisheries Department would enlist the help of the estimated 16,000 fishermen in the state to join the campaign by instructing them not to catch any sharks.

“There are at least 67 species of sharks in our waters. Malaysia has the fourth highest number of sharks species in the world after Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

“More species are becoming endangered and 27 countries have already banned shark finning and consumption of shark fin, including China and Hong Kong,” he added.

Read more!

Indonesia: Five provinces declare fire alert emergency status

Antara 13 Aug 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Five governors have declared an emergency alert status in anticipation of land and forest fires in their provinces, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

"The move is aimed at anticipating and preventing land and forest fires," the head of the agencys data and information center and public relations, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said here on Friday.

The five provinces are Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

"The other provinves prone to land and forest fires are South Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, North Kalimantan and North Sumatra but they have not declared alert emergency status," he added.

Following the declaration of such an alert, the BNPB will lend assistance to regional disaster mitigation offices in the five provinces in addressing land and forest fires, he stated.

The BNPB is deploying eight water bombing helicopters, two water bombing planes and two cloud seeding planes to help the air task force.

Three of the water bombing helicopters, two air tractor planes and one cloud seeding plane are deployed in Riau.

South Sumatera received two water bombing helicopters and an air tractor water bombing plane.

Central Kalimantan received two water bombing planes.

Land and forest fires are being handled through five strategies: first involves fire fighting operations on land, fire fighting operations in the air, law enforcement operations.(*)

Peat Land and Forest Fires Emergency Alert Raised in Five Provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan
Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 12 Aug 16;

Jakarta. Five provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan are bracing up to face peat land and forest fires as the dry season comes close to its peak in September.

The governors of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan have already raised forest fire emergency alert for their provinces. South Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, North Kalimantan and North Sumatera — also vulnerable to forest fires — have not raised the alert.

"The national disaster management agency (BNPB) will provide assistance to their regional counterparts to handle the forest fires," said BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho in a statement on Friday (12/08).

According to Sutopo, BNPB has already deployed eight water-bombing helicopters, two water-bombing aircraft and two cloud-seeding aircraft in Riau, South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan.

In areas where emergency has been declared, the armed forces, the police, local and national disaster mitigation agencies, the Manggala Agni Forest Fire Brigade and volunteer firefighters will be deployed.

The BNPB will also have on standby 16 water-bombing and patrol helicopters, two water-bombing aircraft and eight cloud-seeding aircraft.

Last year's seasonal fires – which observers described as the worst on record – destroyed vegetation on millions of hectares of peat land, afflicted more than half a million people with respiratory problems and resulted in billions of dollars in economic losses.

The same tragedy may happen again this year if there is no coordination between palm oil companies, local governments, security officers and government agencies to work out a way to minimize the fires.

Riau Police continue to enforce law against land burners
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 12 Aug 16;

The Riau Police say they are committed to enforcing the laws against land burners and since the beginning of January have arrested 79 suspects.

“The suspects have been handled in 10 police precincts,” Adj. Sr. Comr. Hariwiyawan of the Riau Police’s general crime investigation directorate told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

He said land burned by the suspects totaled 380,485 hectares. “Most of the suspects were arrested red-handed clearing land using slash and burn methods. It was suspected they intentionally burned the land to open new plantations,” said Hariwiyawan.

Land and forest fires have continued to expand and Riau still has the highest number of hot spots in Sumatra. Local administrations reportedly have been overwhelmed by the rapidly growing hot spots.

On Thursday, 54 hot spots reportedly sprang up in Sumatra. Riau became the biggest contributor with 29. “Nine hot spots were identified in South Sumatra, followed by North Sumatra [with eight], West Sumatra [five], Jambi [two] and the Riau Islands with one hot spot,” said Sugarin, the head of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Pekanbaru.

In Riau, hot spots have spread in eight out of 12 regencies and cities in the province. Pelalawan recorded eight hot spots, followed by Dumai and Bengkalis, which identified five hot spots each. Kampar detected four hot spots while Siak saw three hot spots. Meanwhile, Meranti Islands reported two hot spots, followed by Rokan Hulu and Indragiri Hulu, which recorded one hot spot each.

“Of the total, 13 hot spots are indicated as fire spots with a trust level of more than 70 percent,” said Sugarin. (ebf)

Read more!

Indonesia: Nip Wildfires in the Bud, President Jokowi Says

Eko Prasetyo Jakarta Globe 13 Aug 16;

Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo held a cabinet meeting at his office on Friday (12/08) to respond to wildfire emergency alerts being raised by five provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan as the dry season comes close to its peak.

The emergency alert — which activated a series of coordinated responses — was declared by the governors of Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

"I saw several fire spots in Riau, North Sumatra and South Sumatra. We should put them all out before they spread," Jokowi said in a statement.

Despite the alerts, the president said there are fewer fire spots this year compared to last year. "74 percent fewer, the data said. But we still have 217 fire spots across Indonesia, and all of them need to be put out quickly," Jokowi said.

Jokowi praised residents in several provinces who have volunteered to join fire patrols and called for the use of cloud-seeding planes to create artificial rain and prevent the wildfires from spreading.

The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) already have 16 water-bombing and patrol helicopters, two water-bombing planes and eight cloud-seeding planes on standby.

Enforce the law, prevent wildfires

The president also stressed the importance of enforcing the law against those who caused the wildfires. The president said he would no longer grant new concessions to companies in peat land areas, and called on the Forestry Minister and Peat Land Restoration Agency to rehabilitate areas destroyed by fires last year.

"We have to be firm on people who break the law by starting up fires in forest and peat land areas. Sanctions should be imposed, and implemented. The public deserves justice," Jokowi said.

President orders for immediate action against forest fires
Antara 12 Aug 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has passed order for immediate action to prevent forest fires from spreading and became out of control.

Forest fires have been reported Riau and West Kalimantan spreading fast over the past week.

Jokowi said it is predicted that forest and bush fires were more devastating in August and September, therefore, action must not be delayed to put an end to fire when they are still easier to control.

He said there were fewer dots of fires compared with in the same period last year .

"But I want to draw your attention, that there are 217 dots of fire all over the country potential to cause big problem ," the president said at limited cabinet meeting here on Friday.

He said the fires already broke out in Riau and South Sumatra and North Sumatra although attempts had been made from the air and over land by fire fighters to isolate and put out the fires.

Attempts from the air is made with water bombs dropped from helicopters while overland firefighters sprayed water.

He said artificially made rain could also be produced when the sky was still wrapped with clouds.

He said law enforcement must also be effective imposing administrative or criminal sanctions against perpetrators to meet sense of justice.

He reminded relevant agencies that no more license for exploitation of peat lands, and evaluation has to be made to ensure that restoration of damaged peat lands is effective.

On Thursday the South Jakarta District court a punished a sago starch producer PT Nasional Sago Prima (NSP) for fire in its concession land last year destroying peat land.

The court decided in favor of the Forestry and Environment Ministry, which filed the lawsuit against the company.

Director General Law Enforcement of the Ministry Rasio Ridho Sani described the court verdict as historical.

"This is a historical decision against injustice on the environment and human rights," Rasio said.

It was rare that big corporation lost cases in forest fires that have extensively devastated the countrys tropical forests over the past year .(*)

President wants sub-districts to have forest fire command posts
Antara 13 Aug 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has asked all relevant agencies to set up land and forest fire command posts up to a sub-district level to prevent and handle land and forest fires.

"The president has asked all ranks and files including the Home Affairs Ministry, the National Defense Forces, and the National Police to make every effort to set up command posts at a sub-district level," Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung said in a press conference after a limited cabinet meeting at the Presidential Palace here on Friday.

Pramono said on Friday evening, President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla chaired two limited cabinet meetings. The first meeting discussed land and forest fire control and the second meeting discussed the establishment of more state-owned holding companies.

"The president has reminded all ranks and files of the need to take steps as early as possible to prevent a recurrence of the 2015 land and forest fires," he said.

Therefore, they must prepare an early warning system from now on to detect any sign of land and forest fires. As the satellite can detect the land and forest fires, they can take preventive measures from the beginning, he said.

Based on the satellite image, land and forest fires can be handled under the coordination of the Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal and Security Affairs and the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, he said.(*)

Efforts to tackle forest fires should be done quickly, effectively: Widodo
By Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 12 Aug 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has reminded members of his cabinet that efforts to tackle forest fires in the country should be done expeditiously and effectively.

“I wish to bring to your attention that there are still 217 hotspots that should be monitored in Indonesia. I hope that quick measures in prevention and handling (of the forest fires) are done in a timely and effective manner,” online news portal reported Mr Widodo as saying at a meeting at the President's Office on Friday (Aug 12).

Cabinet members present included Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto, and Health Minister Nila Moeloek.

Mr Widodo urged cabinet members not to let the number of hotspots increase, saying they will be difficult to quell when they grow to the thousands.

Still, he noted there has been a significant drop in forest fires compared to last year. “The report which I’ve received is very good. There has been a significant, 74 per cent reduction,” said Mr Widodo.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said that air quality has also improved. Readings for the air pollution standards index in Sumatra and Kalimantan are at moderate to good levels, the agency said. Visibility in many areas is also normal and has not disrupted activities in schools and flights at the airports.

However, the agency cautioned that based on past data, the forest fire hotspots usually peak from September to October. In anticipation of this, five provinces in Indonesia have been placed on emergency alert: Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan. Riau province has been on alert since March this year and this will continue to be so until the end of November.

The five provinces were the worst-hit by forest fires last year, which blanketed parts of Indonesia and the region.

- CNA/hs

Read more!

Indonesia: More firms to be on lawsuit list for causing haze

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 13 Aug 16;

The government is preparing more lawsuits against some of the alleged perpetrators of last year’s massive forest fires following a recent landmark ruling that sets a precedent for the upcoming legal battles.

The Environment and Forestry Ministry is set to file civil lawsuits against four palm oil companies allegedly responsible for some of the 2015 forest fires, a tragedy seen as a crime against humanity after they caused the deaths of 19 people, mostly children, and brought about US$16 billion in economic losses.

“It’s almost final. We just have to look at it again because we have to be careful and learn from existing processes,” the ministry’s environmental dispute settlement director, Jasmin Ragil Utomo, told The Jakarta Post.

Each of the four companies allegedly burned between 500 and 1,800 hectares of land in Palembang in South Sumatra, Jambi and South Kalimantan.

The ministry’s Directorate General of Law Enforcement has already filed one lawsuit against palm oil company PT Waringin Agro Jaya in South Sumatra at the South Jakarta District Court on July 18.

As for the four lawsuits, the ministry will use the concept of strict liability in two cases, according to Ragil. The concept means that companies can be held responsible for fires in their concessions, even if there is no proof that the fires were caused by them or their negligence.

Experts believe the concept is the key to upholding justice in environmental cases given that in many cases, the court has ruled in favor of companies as a result of the difficulties in proving that the fires were caused by concession holders.

The government has gained more confidence in using the concept after a panel of judges used it when handing down its verdict against plantation company PT National Sago Prima (NSP), ordering the firm to pay a record fine of Rp 1.07 trillion (US$81 million) for forest fires on its concession in the Meranti Islands regency, Riau.

The ground-breaking verdict is expected to set a precedent for future cases, as it marks the first time a court has used the concept of strict liability in an environmental case, as well as imposing a fine of more than Rp 1 trillion.

Ragil said the government had not included the strict liability concept in its lawsuit against PT NSP, a subsidiary of publicly listed plantation firm PT Sampoerna Agro, and that it was the judges’ initiative to use the concept.

Instead, the government used the unlawful misconduct concept, accusing PT NSP of violating Forestry Ministerial Regulation No. 12/2009, which states that concession holders are responsible for fires on their concessions.

“Even though the lawsuit used the unlawful misconduct concept, the judges concluded that what was initially unlawful misconduct was strict liability,” Ragil said.

According to lawyer Patra M. Zen, who represented the government in the case, the ministerial regulation was pivotal in winning the case, as it allows culprits to be held directly responsible for the fires, even with a lack of proof that they are responsible.

He added that the government was fortunate to have judges that understood the concept of strict liability.

A fire expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, Bambang Hero Saharjo, who also stood as an expert witness for the case, said it was apparent that PT NSP had not fulfilled its obligation to prevent forest fires in its concession.

PT NSP was among 17 companies audited by the now defunct presidential working unit for the supervision and management of development ( UKP4 ) in 2014.

The audit found that none of the companies had passed the compliance test, which measured the companies’ level of compliance with environmental regulations.

Most of them lacked adequate facilities and the infrastructure needed to prevent forest fires.

PT NSP’s legal representatives, law firm Lubis Ganie Surowidjojo, said the verdict was unjust because it did not take into account scientific opinions from experts presented by the defendant.

“This was proven by a dissenting opinion from one of the judges [I Ketut Tirta], who is competent in environmental issues,” the law firm said.

Ministry of Environment and Forestry Wins Wildfire Lawsuit
Ari Supriyanti Rikin & Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 13 Aug 16;

Jakarta. Sampoerna Strategic Group's agribusiness venture National Sago Prima (NSP) will have to pay damages and recovery costs of more than Rp 1 trillion ($76 million) after losing a civil lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the South Jakarta District Court ordered on Thursday (11/08).

The lawsuit was filed to the court on Oct. 2 last year after 3,000 hectares of peat lands and forest were deliberately set on fire in the company's palm oil concession area in Riau's Meranti Islands.

The case is the first legal fight won by the ministry and gives hope for justice to other communities who have also suffered from wildfires.

"This is a historical moment in our fight to enforce human rights – the constitutional right for everyone to live in a safe and healthy environment," the ministry's director general of law enforcement, Rasio Ridho Sani, said on Friday (12/08).

In the verdict, the South Jakarta District Court sentenced NSP to pay Rp 319,168 billion in compensation and to pay for Rp 753 billion worth of remedial action.

According to forestry expert and a witness in the case, Bambang Hero Saharjo, the compensation package was calculated to cover several issues, including ecological damage, opportunity cost, loss of biological diversity and carbon pollution.

In their verdict, the judges referred to a 2009 Ministry of Environment and Forestry regulation on forest fire control.

"When a company requests a forest concession, they have a responsibility to prevent or put out forest fires," said the ministry's attorney, Patra Zen.

According to Patra, NSP never did anything to prevent wildfires, had not built a single fire lookout tower and had no team ready to administer first responses in hazardous emergencies.

The ministry had also filed lawsuits against two other companies widely thought to have started a series of wild fires last year as well — Asia Pulp and Paper supplier Bumi Mekar Hijau and palm oil producer Jatim Jaya Perkasa.

NSP found guilty in forest fire, punished with compensation
Antara 12 Aug 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - A Jakarta district court on Friday found PT National Sago Prima (NSP) guilty of forest and bush fires and ordered the sago starch producer to pay a total of Rp1.07 trillion to the state in compensation.

The South Jakarta District Court decided on Thursday in favor of the lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Forestry and Environment, against the subsidiary of PT Sampoerna Agro over forest and bush fires destroying 3,000 hectares of peat lands in the companys forest concession on the island of Mernati, Riau in October 2015.

"After a long process of court investigations, the South Jakarta district court decided yesterday to punish National Sago Prima ordering it to pay a compensation of Rp319,168,422,500," Director General of Law Enforcement of the Forestry and Environment Ministry Rasio Ridho Sani told a news conference here on Friday.

Rasio said in addition to paying Rp319 billion in compensation, NSP was also ordered to pay Rp753 billion for recovery of the damage to the land.

The lawyer of the forestry and environment ministry Patra M. Zen said the court decided almost the same as demanded by the ministry.

Patra said if NSP failed to pay the compensation it is required to pay a fine of Rp50 million per day.

Meanwhile, forest expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture Bambang Heru who stood as expert witness in the case said the losses included losses in ecology and opportunity cost

"Losses in ecology was caused by the fire on the peat land. We calculate the role of peat land in holding water, preventing erosion and in maintaining biodiversity," Bambang said.

The forest and bush fire destroyed the peat at a thickness of almost 10 centimeters and could not be fully recovered, he said.

In addition , there were nearly Rp700 billion sacrificed as a result of the forest and bush fires over the concession area of NSP, he said.

NSP, however, has decided to appeal the verdict that the court order could not yet immediately executed by the prosecutor.

Read more!

US Agency Studies How to Detect Algae Bloom Outbreaks

BRADY MCCOMBS, Associated Press ABC News 13 Aug 16;

Scientists spent this week studying how nutrient levels contribute to algae blooms on the heels of this summer's massive outbreak that closed Utah Lake, sickened people and left farmers scrambling for clean water during some of the hottest days of the year.

The goal of the study on the waters of Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake is to determine how to predict outbreaks before they happen, said Christopher Shope, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Utah.

That would allow state and county officials to be able to warn boaters, swimmers and farmers ahead of time, he said. The federal agency conducted the study.

Toxic algae is a problem around the U.S. An enormous outbreak in Florida this year fouled beaches on the Atlantic coast, and a 2014 outbreak at Lake Erie left more than 400,000 people in the Toledo, Ohio, area without tap water for two days.

This study is an experimental "proof of concept" project designed to show longer-term research is worth the financial investment, Shope said. Currently, state officials monitor water bodies for algae on a limited basis because equipment is expensive, and monitoring and analyzing are time-consuming.

U.S. Geological Survey teams used one set of equipment to collect data at each lake — in the Great Salt Lake's Gilbert Bay and throughout Utah Lake. A larger study of Utah Lake, for instance, would require five sets of monitoring equipment that cost $150,000 each and an additional $50,000 annually to operate.

The study aims to hone in on which nutrients are causing the algae. Researchers will look at wastewater treatment plants and agriculture operations, among other things, Shope said.

The study was launched after this summer's bloom that covered large parts of the 150-square-mile Utah Lake and left about 100 people with symptoms such as vomiting, headache and rashes.

The bacteria commonly known as blue-green algae spread rapidly, turning the water bright, antifreeze green with a pea soup texture and leaving scummy foam along the shore. The lake was reopened after the algae dissipated at most locations.

Ben Holcomb of Utah's Division of Water Quality said his team is grateful for the U.S. Geological Survey's assistance.

"It really helps us fill in those gaps across the lake," said Holcomb, the biological assessment program coordinator.

He said he's unaware of any way to get rid of the bloom in huge bodies of water with protected wildlife. But he said being able to closely monitor water readings in real time would give officials a tremendous tool.

"We would be able to get the word out quicker to perhaps keep people off the lake," Holcomb said. "The amount of data limits our ability to make good, quick decisions."

Toxic algal bloom spurs warnings at Big East Lake in Utah County
MARIAH NOBLE The Salt Lake Tribune 3 Aug 16;

Despite opening Utah Lake for swimming Tuesday, the Utah County Health Department had issued a warning against water activities in Big East Lake in Payson Canyon after a toxin from an algal bloom contaminated the water.

The toxin, cyanobacteria, is considered dangerous at a frequency of 10 million cells per milliliter, according to the World Health Organization, but samples taken Thursday from Big East Lake had 45.6 million cells per mL — more than four times the concentration considered dangerous — a Utah Department of Environmental Quality news release said.

The specific species of cyanobacteria found in the lake is Gloeotrichia echinulata, which can cause gastrointestinal problems and skin rashes, the release said. Another cyanobacteria genus, Microcystis, was also found in the sample, but at "extremely low levels."

The health department announced it would post warning signs at the lake Wednesday, advising people to stay out of the water. Patrons are specifically asked to avoid swimming, boating and water skiing in areas with scum, and to avoid drinking lake water or allowing pets and livestock near the water, the release said. Health officials also advised anglers to "clean their fish well with nonlake water and discard the guts responsibly."

Last summer, several types of cyanobacteria forced the closure of Payson lakes, the release said.

County crews were collecting more samples Wednesday to conduct preliminary screening tests, the release said, to determine whether it was necessary to submit samples to a lab for more detailed toxin analysis.

Payson City stopped drawing water from the lake for its pressurized irrigation system and instead used water from Strawberry Reservoir, Spring Lake and wells and springs, the release said.

Though there is no reason for concern from residents, anyone interested in taking additional precautions, officials suggested running sprinklers after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m. to avoid any exposure to the spray.

Children should avoid playing in the sprinklers, the release said, and concerned parties may contact the city offices at 801-465-5200 for more information.

Exposure to cyanotoxins, the toxins produced by cyanobacteria, may lead to headache, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and skin rash, the release said. People concerned about possible exposure are asked to call the Utah Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 or a physician. Anyone concerned about possible pet or animal exposure to animals should contact a veterinarian.

Toxic Algae Bloom Closes Utah Lake, Contaminates Water for Farms
More than 100 people ill; lake is one of largest freshwater bodies west of Mississippi River
Associated Press Wall Street Journal 22 Jul 16;

SPANISH FORK, Utah—A huge toxic algae bloom in Utah has closed one of the largest freshwater lakes west of the Mississippi River, sickening more than 100 people and leaving farmers scrambling for clean water during some of the hottest days of the year.

The bacteria commonly known as blue-green algae has spread rapidly to cover almost all of the 150-square-mile Utah Lake, turning the water bright green with a pea-soup texture and leaving scummy foam along the shore.

“It smells like something is rotting,” said Jason Garrett, water quality director for the Utah County Health Department. “We don’t have an idea of how long this event will last.”

Toxic algae is a problem around the country. An enormous outbreak in Florida is now fouling beaches on the Atlantic coast, and a 2014 outbreak at Lake Erie left more than 400,000 people in the Toledo area without tap water for two days.

Utah Lake doesn’t provide drinking water, but its closure is causing problems for people who use the lake for swimming, fishing and other recreational activities and for farmers with thirsty crops.

Utah Poison Control said it has fielded hundreds of calls related to the bloom, including some 130 involving people who have reported vomiting, diarrhea, headache and rashes.

The contamination has now spread to the Jordan River, which supplies irrigation to dozens of farmers around Salt Lake City, about 45 miles north of the lake. The problem has occurred amid days of triple-digit temperatures as growers prepare for farmers markets and try to nurture crops such as corn and fruit trees at key points in their development.

“We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this crop, maxed out every dollar we have,” said Luke Petersen, who farms about 100 acres of tomatoes, summer squash and other produce in Riverton. “We’re real worried about it.”

The lake is largely fed by treated wastewater as well as agricultural runoff, said Erica Gaddis, assistant director for the Utah Division of Water Quality.

Longstanding drought conditions have made the water stagnant. Combine that with hot summer weather, and Utah Lake became a perfect petri dish for the cyanobacteria.

There are chemical and biological treatments for the problem, but using them on such a large bloom would be unprecedented and possibly harmful, Ms. Gaddis said.

For now, authorities are waiting for the bloom to run its course.

To stave off new blooms in coming years, the state is looking to reduce the levels of toxic algae-feeding phosphorous and nitrogen in wastewater that is pumped into the lake.

Read more!