Best of our wild blogs: 19 Aug 16

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News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Here’s where tropical forests have been destroyed for palm oil over the past 25 years
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'Chippy' the monkey removed to be rehabilitated, returned to wild

Monkey at Kent Ridge Park to be rehabilitated after complaints of nuisance
JUDITH TAN The New Paper 19 Aug 16;

Chippy the monkey, said to be bothering residents living near Kent Ridge Park, has been removed to be rehabilitated and returned to the wild.

In a joint statement to The New Paper earlier this week, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) and National Parks Board (NParks) said it was done "to ensure public safety".

Mr Louis Ng, head of the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (Acres), also said: "Chippy is a wild macaque. We are working on rehabilitating Chippy so that she can hopefully be wild and free again rather than be held captive."

The two agencies said they had received feedback about monkey nuisance and attacks in the vicinity of Kent Ridge Park and Normanton Park condominium.

Their statement said: "We have ascertained that this nuisance was caused by a lone macaque which was regularly fed by some members of the public.

"...Monkey nuisance and attacks often arise when monkeys are fed by irresponsible members of the public.

"Feeding wild monkeys alters their natural behaviour and makes them reliant on humans for food. This eventually leads the monkeys to display aggressive behaviour such as grabbing plastic bags and food containers from people."

Under the law, monkey-feeding is an offence and the penalty is a fine up to $50,000 or a jail term up to six months, or both.

But Madam Prema, a 70-year-old Normanton Park resident who befriended the long-tailed macaque, told TNP in a phone interview that Chippy "had never grabbed anyone's bag or attacked park-goers".

Chippy made his appearance in February.

Madam Prema's daughter, Ms Maria Chaya, said: "I remember my mother coming home that first day and telling us how he sat next to her and was friendly.

"We called the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), who then advised us to call Acres. Its staff came down to observe him and told us he was a young transient, a lone monkey, and for us to leave him alone and we did."

Prior to Chippy, the last monkeys seen in the area were between 2009 and 2010, said Ms Chaya.

"The troop was subsequently culled because they entered Normanton Park and had bitten someone. In the preceding six years, no monkeys, troops or transient, have been seen in Lower Kent Ridge or Normanton Park," she added.

Madam Prema's friendship with the monkey came to light when a petition was posted online by British monkey sanctuary, Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary, not to have the primate culled but re-homed with it.

The family said they contacted the sanctuary in April, only when the abuse of Chippy had escalated. Ms Chaya said she was willing to pay to have Chippy vaccinated, quarantined and then shipped to Britain.

Madam Prema said she misses her primate friend and is feeling depressed "because I helped them entrap him".

"I called, he came and went into the cage," she said.

Should rehabilitation fail, would Chippy be sent to a sanctuary abroad?

An NParks spokesman said the objective behind NParks, AVA and Acres working together was to rehabilitate the macaque so as to wean it off human food and "reverse the monkey's dependence on humans".

"Acres had successfully rehabilitated macaques and reintroduced them back to the forest previously. The rehabilitation process usually takes a few months, though it differs from monkey to monkey," said the spokesman.

She also added that Chippy is a native wildlife.

"In general, the Government and Acres do not support the export of native wildlife overseas," she said.

Chippy the monkey removed from Kent Ridge Park for ‘rehabilitation’
Lianne Chia Channel NewsAsia 19 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and National Parks Board (NParks) have removed a monkey in Kent Ridge Park in order to “ensure public safety”.

The long-tailed macaque, which was befriended at the start of this year by Normanton Park resident Madam Prema, is now with wildlife rescue organisation Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) for “rehabilitation”. This is so that Chippy can “hopefully be wild and free again rather than be held captive,” said ACRES’ Executive Director Louis Ng.

In a joint statement, NParks, AVA and ACRES said they were working together to rehabilitate the monkey. “The main objective is to wean the monkey off human food, so as to reverse the monkey’s dependence on humans caused by the feeding and interaction with the monkey by members of the public.”

They added that the rehabilitation process usually takes a few months, though this could differ from monkey to monkey. ACRES has, they said, also had successful cases of rehabilitating monkeys and reintroducing them back to the forest before.

The monkey was removed from the park last Thursday (Aug 11).

Channel NewsAsia had earlier reported that Mdm Prema and her family had wanted to send the monkey, which they named Chippy, to a UK sanctuary after expressing concerns about its ability to survive in the wild.

Chippy’s fate has garnered widespread international attention, with a petition started by Jan Garen, director of the Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary, receiving more than 4,600 signatures as of Aug 18. Prominent figures have also taken a stand, with rock band Queen’s guitarist Brian May signing and sharing the petition on his Twitter account.

While Mdm Prema and her family are willing to bear the cost of sending the monkey to the UK, people signing the petition have also pledged money to help. The cost of the sending the monkey to the sanctuary includes the cost of export permits, medical checks, crating and freight. It could come up to about S$6,000.


Mdm Prema had first seen and befriended Chippy at the beginning of this year. Since then, she had been returning to the park twice a day to visit and play with him.

She told Channel NewsAsia in June that there may be reason to believe he was kept as an illegal pet which was released into the wild, and would therefore have problems surviving on his own. “From day one he was lost and wanted to be close to humans and touch us,” she said then. “He was rolling at our feet and playing with us without food as a prompt.”

Channel NewsAsia observed this type of behaviour when it visited Mdm Prema and Chippy then.

When Channel NewsAsia visited Mdm Prema on Wednesday (Aug 17), she said that Chippy had grown “even more tame” since then.

“He understands and is able to respond to more words now…he will roll, and I’ll tell him to go and sleep…and he will immediately lie down. He can even look through the viewfinder in the camera,” she said.

Mdm Prema and her family had earlier sent footage of Chippy’s behaviour to three or four wildlife experts overseas, and they agreed he did not behave like a typical monkey.


But even now that Chippy is out of the wild, Mdm Prema and her family are now concerned about his well-being at ACRES.

“He’s got no chance with them…I’ve seen the way they handle him…I don’t trust them,” she said, citing the behaviour of an ACRES staff member towards Chippy earlier this year. In video footage captured by Mdm Prema’s daughter, an ACRES staff member can be seen waving and banging a long stick on the ground in front of Chippy in order to keep the monkey out of the Normanton Park condominium compound.

She claimed that her family’s calls and queries to ACRES have gone unanswered, and she has no idea how Chippy is doing. This has, she said, caused her some distress and sleepless nights, particularly because she said she was asked by the authorities to help catch Chippy.

“Chippy was running away and would not come down from the tree. We were told that he was going to the AVA, and they promised me he would not be culled. There was no talk about ACRES, no talk about rehabilitation, nothing.”

“So I used his favourite toy to coax him down, and we captured him in 45 minutes.”

“It was only the day after when we called NParks that we found out he was at ACRES. That made me feel like I wanted to die,” she said.

“Had we known Chippy was going to ACRES, we would not have helped catch him.”


In their statement, AVA and NParks said they had received feedback about monkey nuisance and attacks in the vicinity of Kent Ridge Park and Normanton Park. “We have ascertained that this nuisance was caused by a lone macaque which was regularly fed by some members of the public.”

“Monkey nuisance and attacks often arise when monkeys are fed by irresponsible members of the public,” they said. “Feeding wild monkeys alters their natural behaviour and makes them reliant on humans for food.”

“This eventually leads the monkeys to display aggressive behaviour such as grabbing plastic bags and food containers from people.”

Since January this year, AVA and NParks have each received six instances of feedback of monkey nuisance and attacks that they are certain are related to Chippy. NParks has also received two reports of the macaque biting members of the public. But both agencies cannot be certain that the numbers do not overlap.

They added that illegal monkey feeding is an offence which carries a penalty of a fine of up to S$50,000 or an imprisonment term not exceeding six months, or both.

But Mdm Prema reiterated that while she had fed Chippy “once or twice” at the start, she had not done so for a long time. Instead, she had taught him to gather wild seeds and flowers from the park.

She also said that Chippy had never grabbed plastic bags or food from other people.

But despite the assurances that Chippy would not be culled, Mdm Prema and her family remain resistant to his being released into the wild again. “He is still subject to Singapore’s culling policy, and he could be attacked by another troop,” she said. “That’s like culling him in a natural way.”

“If he is not sent to Wales, I hope he will at least be sent to the zoo here. He will be safe, the people are well-trained, and Chippy enjoys people.”

- CNA/lc

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Singapore, Indonesia to launch project, may discuss haze

Tama Salim The Jakarta Post 19 Aug 16;

The inauguration of an industrial estate in Central Java will be one of the highlights of an upcoming Indonesia-Singapore leaders’ retreat later this month.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, several Singaporean ministers and CEOs from Singapore’s 14 top companies plan to visit the Kendal Industrial Estate (KIK) during a retreat held in Semarang from Wednesday to Friday next week.

The Foreign Ministry’s East Asia and Pacific director Edi Yusup said on Thursday Prime Minister Lee and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo would attend a ceremony to inaugurate the 2,200-hectare industrial estate.

“The first phase of the estate’s development will cover up to 1,000 hectares of land. It is expected to finish in 2020,” Edi said, adding that the industries targeted to operate in the KIK included furniture, garment and automotive industries.

The estate is a joint venture between PT Jababeka, which holds a 51 percent stake, and Singapore’s Sembawang Corporation.

Edi said that so far, 16 companies from Singapore, Indonesia, Germany, China and Japan had started construction of business facilities in the industrial estate with total investment of around Rp 3.2 trillion (US$244 million).

“We hope the 14 CEOs from Singapore will be interested in investing in the industrial estate and also in other parts of the country,” Edi told a press briefing, adding that KIK’s development was expected to trigger economic growth in Central Java.

During the retreat, the leaders of Indonesia and Singapore will discuss various bilateral, regional and global issues that are of mutual concern for the two countries.

Meanwhile, ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir did not rule out the possibility that transboundary haze pollution (TBHP) would be an issue that Jokowi and the Singaporean prime minister might discuss during the retreat.

He did, however, emphasize that Indonesia had repeatedly proved its commitment to mitigating forest and land fires and its adverse effect on the environment and neighboring countries. “Among the steps we’ve taken are water bombing runs, weather modification, integrated patrols, awareness-raising campaigns and canal digging — all of them underscore Indonesia’s commitment to overcoming the [fire and haze pollution] issue,” he asserted.

TBHP has proved to be a thorny issue in the otherwise solid Indonesian-Singaporean bilateral relationship, with the city-state seeking any opportunity to lambast Jakarta for its perceived inability to cope with the annual forest and peatland fires that have posed serious health concerns to neighboring countries.

Earlier in June, Jakarta rejected a request by the Singaporean government to access confidential information on culpable companies, with the city-state later threatening to enforce a politically motivated Transboundary Haze Pollution Act aimed at deterring and prosecuting entities responsible for TBHP.

Arrmanatha insisted that concrete steps have been taken to penalize errant companies connected to the fires and that such efforts had significantly reduced the number of hot spots in Indonesia, dropping by 74 percent from the same January-August period of last year. According to recent data from the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there have been 1,950 hot spots so far this year, compared to 6,312 hot spots from Jan. 1 to Aug. 17 in 2015. (vny)

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Malaysia: Haze despite Indonesia’s swift action to combat forest fires

The Star 19 Aug 16;

TAIPING: The haze is back despite Indonesia’s swift action to combat forest fires.

Some cities in the country have recorded moderate API (air pollu­tant index) readings in the past week and when asked about it, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the haze season was back.

Wan Junaidi said it had been happening for a week due to the forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia.

But he said things had changed as the Indonesian authorities were taking swift action to combat forest fires but the effects of it were still being felt in the country.

“It hasn’t reached critical stage but I will write a letter to Indonesia Forestry and Environment minister (Dr Siti Nurbaya Bakar) to tell her that the haze is coming here.

“We don’t want to pick a fight but we just want to notify them that the haze is back,” he told reporters after launching the National Ecosystem Mangrove Conservation Day at the Larut-Matang Mangrove Swamp here.

Earlier last month, Wan Junaidi said Malaysia would not experience a severe trans-boundary haze this year.

He said this was because Indonesia seemed to be doing its part to honour its commitment to keep the annual phenomenon in check.

Wan Junaidi added that the haze would not be so serious this year as Indonesia faced a lot of pressure from Malaysia and Singapore as both nations suffer the most.

He revealed that there were seve­ral hotspots in the country but the Environment Department and other agencies had rectified the si­tuation quickly.

KL to tell Jakarta haze now hitting Malaysia
BERNAMA New Straits Times 18 Aug 16;

TAIPING: The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry will inform neighbouring country Indonesia that land clearing and forest fires in central Sumatra have brought haze to some parts of Malaysia.

Its minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said he would send an official letter to Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Dr Siti Nurbaya Bakar on the matter.

“We will inform her that we see the haze already reaching some parts of Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak,” he told reporters after officiating at the national-level International Day for the Conservation of Mangrove Ecosystem 2016 in Kuala Sepetang, here, today.

Wan Junaidi said although Indonesia had acted fast to put out the forest fires, the smoke could not be prevented from causing haze.

“Now they are quick (to extinguish the fires) when they get the indicators of fire outbreaks, unlike before, indicating that they are implementing what they had promised,” he said, adding that the haze hitting Malaysia had not reached unhealthy levels yet.

According to the Department of Environment website, as at 3pm today, 33 areas recorded moderate Air Pollutant Index (API) readings.

API readings of 0-50 indicate good air quality, 51-100 (moderate), 101-200 (unhealthy), 201-300 very unhealthy, and 300 and above (hazardous). --Bernama

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Indonesia: No reason not to immediately stop forest fires, expert says

Bambang Nurbianto The Jakarta Post 18 Aug 16;

Experts say with the current technology, Indonesia has no reason not to immediately extinguish forest fires that have started both in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“With the firebird technology, we can follow closely the spread of fires from one location to another,” said Suwardi, deputy dean at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB)’s School of Resources, Cooperation and Development, said on Thursday.

Speaking to the press on the sidelines of the International Peat Congress in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, Suwardi said the government needed to immediately utilize the technology to prevent the spread of hot spots, which have increased in number in recent days.

On Wednesday, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency’s (BMKG) station in Pekanbaru reported 365 hot spots, mostly were seen in Riau forests. Smoke in Sumatra and Kalimantan has posed health risks and disrupted air transportation.

“The government needs to take quick action to stop the fires,” he added.

Meanwhile, Basuki Sumawinata, an IPB expert on land science, added that the technology in place would also help the government enforce the law and immediately prosecute those responsible for the fires and other related parties before the fires spread further.

“We do not need to play the blame game as everything is clear,” Basuki said. (bbn)

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Malaysia: Country Garden expects 20 billion yuan in sales from Forest City project this year

China developer Country Garden expects 20 billion yuan in sales from Malaysia project this year
Cathy Zhang South China Morning Post 18 Aug 16;

Country Garden, China’s third largest home builder, expects to see at least 20 billion yuan in sales from its mega Forest City project in south Malaysia’s Johor state by the end of 2016.

“We expect sales at Forest City in the second half will not be below the 10 billion yuan recorded in the first half,” Mo Bin, president of Country Garden told the Post at the interim result briefing.

The company said the first tranche of flats in its 20 square kilometre city complex will be completed in late 2017 and begin contributions to its revenue.

The project, which will receive total investment of 250 billion yuan over 20 years, is the Chinese developer’s largest project overseas.

But Mo said the company had only paid five billion yuan for Forest City so far, including land cost.

The Guangdong-based firm reported a better-than-expected core net profit in the first half, thanks to strong sales during the period.

Core earnings, excluding revaluation gains, rose 1.6 per cent year on year to 4.96 billion yuan, or 24.18 fen per share, the company said in an exchange statement on Thursday. Analysts polled by SCMP were expecting core earnings of 4.1 billion yuan to 4.6 billion yuan. Revenue rose 21.2 per cent to 57.36 billion yuan.

Despite an industry trend of rushing to buy land plots in China’s largest cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, Mo said the company would look for opportunities in big cities as well as maintaining a strategic focus on smaller cities.

“The third- and fourth-tier cities are where we can do best,” Mo said, adding that he is positive about the market outlook as demand is solid.

The company’s gross margin in the first half contracted to 21 per cent from 23.2 per cent a year ago.

Chief financial officer Wu Jianbin expects the full year gross margin will remain at 21 per cent, but hopes to maintain a positive operating cash flow by the end of 2016.

Ryan Li, a property analyst at JP Morgan, said in a research note that Country Garden’s margin “has shown signs of stabilisation with development costs decreasing year on year”.

However, some analysts are concerned about the developer’s future margin growth.

“Although sales volume is growing, as a great part of Country Garden’s land bank remains in China’s third-tier cities which are struggling with oversupply, the margin has hardly improved,” said John So, a property analyst at China Merchants Securities.

The company plans to continue buying back perpetual bonds worth 16.6 billion yuan, after it bought back three billion yuan worth in the first half.

Mo said the company would strictly control financing costs and has set a 5 per cent target for its average borrowing costs.

Country Garden shares surged 5.3 per cent to a 15-month high on Thursday, closing at HK$3.58 in Hong Kong. The company declared an interim dividend of 6.92 fen per share, up 6.8 per cent from last year.

Wu said the developer would continue to conduct share buy-backs in the next six months if the price is acceptable.

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Malaysia: Benalec, Salcon abort talks on Tg Piai water project

M. HAFIDZ MAHPAR The Star 18 Aug 16;

PETALING JAYA: Benalec Holdings Bhd and Salcon Bhd have called off talks on the proposed water supply and sewerage treatment infrastructure in the 1,411-ha Tanjung Piai Integrated Petroleum and Maritime Industrial Park (TPIPMIP) in Johor.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU), signed by their units in August last year, was aimed at forming the framework geared towards exploratory efforts for establishing the water infrastructure.

However, the MoU has lapsed, the marine engineering firm told Bursa Malaysia on Thursday, adding that “the parties have no intention of extending the validity of the MoU”.

Benalec said it had recently appointed a water infrastructure consultant and was in the midst of finalising the water infrastructure design for TPIPMIP.

“Once the design is finalised and approvals have been obtained from the relevant authorities, Benalec will then engage engineering companies to commence construction works,” it added.

According to Benalec, there is no financial impact and obligation on the company regarding the terminated talks.

Benalec’s indirect unit Tanjung Piai Maritime Industries Sdn Bhd had entered into the MoU with Salcon Engineering, a leading water and wastewater engineering company in Asia, in August last year. The contract was initially expected to be concluded within six months.

Incidentally, just two months ago, Benalec had announced that the Department of Environment had approved reclamation works for the remaining two phases (Phase 2 and Phase 3) of the 1,411-ha TPIPMIP project in Johor.

Benalec shares fell one sen to close at 43 sen on Thursday, while Salcon shares slid one sen also to 63 sen.

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China’s empty oceans

ADAM MINTER Today Online 19 Aug 16;

On Wednesday, Indonesia celebrated its Independence Day with a bang — blowing up several Chinese boats that had been caught fishing illegally in its waters and impounded.

China does not dispute Indonesia’s territorial claims, but Chinese fishermen have more pressing concerns. According to reports in Chinese state media this week, overfishing and pollution have so depleted China’s own fishery resources that in some places — including the East China Sea —there are virtually no fish left.

That is a frightening prospect for an increasingly hungry country: China accounted for 35 per cent of the world’s seafood consumption in 2015. Seeking catches further afield — including in Indonesian waters — is not really a solution; fish stocks in the disputed South China Sea have themselves fallen by as much as 95 per cent from 1950s levels.

If China does not want the rest of Asia’s fisheries to suffer the same fate as its own, it is going to have to think much more ambitiously about how to create a sustainable food supply for the region.

As in other developing countries, China’s ascent up the income ladder has been accompanied by an improvement in quality and quantity of diet. Seafood — once a pricey luxury in much of the country — has become commonplace, even inland; China is now the world’s biggest seafood consumer and exporter.

The economic impact has been extraordinary. Between 1979 and 2013, China’s fleet of motorised fishing vessels grew from 55,225 to 694,905 boats, while the number of people employed in the fishing industry exploded from 2.25 million to more than 14 million.

Meanwhile, the average fisherman’s income increased from around US$15 (S$20) per month to nearly US$2,000 per month.

Today, the fishing industry generates more than US$260 billion annually, accounting for around 3 per cent of Chinese GDP.

But in pursuing growth (and catch) at all costs, China’s fishermen have exacted a terrible environmental toll.

Today, the Yangtze River, which supplies 60 per cent of China’s freshwater catch, produces less than a quarter of the fish it did in 1954, and most of the 170 species in the river are on the verge of extinction.

The situation is no better offshore. The government acknowledges that Chinese fishermen routinely exceed annual sustainable catch limits in Chinese territorial seas by 30 per cent or more.

A visit to any Chinese seafood market will turn up large inventories of under-sized fish that should never have been hauled in in the first place.

Blame for this state of affairs falls on both the fishing industry and the government, which spent US$6.5 billion on fishery subsidies in 2013 alone.

Nearly all of that money paid for cheap fuel that allowed, and arguably encouraged, Chinese fishermen to venture further from shore, often into the comparatively unplundered exclusive economic zones of countries such as Indonesia.

Worse, the Chinese military has openly abetted those efforts by subsidising everything from ice to GPS on Chinese fishing boats. The goal: To solidify China’s claim to “historical fishing rights” in the vast and deeply contested South China Sea.

Chinese regulators are fighting a losing battle against these other wings of the government. In 1999, China imposed a seasonal fishing ban in the South China Sea, and in 2002, regulators did the same in sections of the Yangtze River. But the continued deterioration of both fisheries only underscores how ineffective those restrictions have been. In response, in 2013, one Chinese scientist proposed an outright 10-year moratorium on fishing in the economically essential Yangtze. This week, Chinese officials signalled they were open to the idea and were even considering a wholesale culling of China’s fishing fleet.

While both measures would be a boon to Asia’s fisheries, they are only a start. To make a real difference, China would need to demilitarise its fishing fleets and end the ruinous military-funded fuel subsidies that are encouraging unregulated catches, not to mention raising geopolitical tensions. Fishing fleets should be regulated by civilian marine and agricultural authorities, not generals with little interest in environmental sustainability.

Equally important, China should explicitly link the task of reviving and preserving fisheries to the clean water and other environmental initiatives in its economic planning documents, including the government’s five-year plans. Doing so would raise them to a national priority akin to cleaning up Beijing’s air.

Those priorities could then be extended to trade agreements, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that China is currently negotiating with other Asian nations, as well as bilateral deals with other claimants in the South China Sea. The goal should be to make China a leader — and perhaps even a brand — in sustainable seafood.

With luck, that would buy China not just more fish to eat, but a reputation as a responsible global citizen. bloomberg


Adam Minter is an American writer based in Asia, where he covers politics, culture and business. He is the author of “Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade.”

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A floating threat: sea containers spread pests and diseases

International Plant Protection Convention grapples with challenges of globalized trade
FAO 17 Aug 16;

17 August 2016, Rome -- Oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, but "biological spills" represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile.

It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer - another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats - threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.

Perhaps the biggest "biological spill" of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans - the name of the genus comes from Greek for "plant destroyer" - sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants. In Rome, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonization.

This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.

"The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production," says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. "All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 percent," he explains.

Trade as a vector, containers as a vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one.

And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year - China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination. Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens.

"Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers," the study's lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC's governing body.

Stink bugs and the supply chain

Damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five percent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade's worth of natural disasters, according to one study. Factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that, Brockerhoff said.

Around 90 percent of world trade is carried by sea today, with a vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That's how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug - which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops - began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich. This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people's houses.

New Zealand, which is highly reliant on agricultural exports, has enforced a state of the art biosecurity and container hygiene system in its bid to keep invasive species out. It relies on partnership with the shipping industry and inspections at a host of Pacific ports and offers the economically material incentive of fewer inspections upon arrival for those who comply. Container contamination rates were higher than 50 percent before this system was adopted a decade ago, and have since dropped by 90 percent.

Designing a phytosanitary action plan

Last year, the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures adopted a recommendation encouraging national plant protection organizations to recognize and communicate the risks posed by sea containers, and to support implementation of related parts of the UN Code of Practice for Packing of Cargo Transport Units (CTU Code), a non-regulatory industry guide book.

This would allow stakeholders to implement a system to address these concerns without putting the brakes on the wheels of commerce - represented by automated cranes able to load or unload containers in around 20 seconds at a mid-sized port like Hamburg, which handles a quarter of the volume of Shanghai.

While additional time is needed, a broad consensus is emerging that the risks are significant enough to warrant action.

For now, it is a wait and see approach as stakeholders are allowed some time to implement these voluntary soft measures, more widespread use of best practices and more diligent implementation of existing procedures. Dependant on the success of these efforts, the Commission will revisit the possible development of an international standard in the future.

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