Best of our wild blogs: 3 Sep 16

Johor oil spill affecting Port of Tanjung Pelepas operations
wild shores of singapore

Dengue/Zika advisory for ICCS Organisers, 02 Sep 2016
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Night Walk At Lower Peirce Reservoir (02 Sep 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

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Oil spill forces Maersk Line to shift ships from Johor to Singapore

Splash 24/7 2 Sep 16;

A 60 metric ton oil spill at Tanjung Bin on August 24 is badly affecting operations at the Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP) to the point where Maersk Line has sent a note to clients today saying it will have to divert a number of ships from PTP to neighbouring Singapore.

The accident happened nine days ago while the tanker Trident Star was taking on bunker fuel at a terminal controlled by VTTI, the storage division of the world’s largest oil trader Vitol. At the time spokespeople at PTP played down the impact of the spill, telling Splash operations were carrying on as normal. This is patently not the case however.

“As part of the ongoing contingency plan, we will be diverting a number of vessels from Tanjung Pelepas to Singapore,” Maersk Line said in a note to clients today. Initially, five ships will be diverted.

In addition to this, Maersk Line is in the process of moving Australian import shipments which were awaiting onwards connections in Tanjung Pelepas, to Singapore.

VTTI says suspends operations at Malaysia terminal after oil spill
Reuters 26 Aug 16;

VTTI, the storage division of the world's largest oil trader Vitol [VITOLV.UL], said on Friday it has suspended operations at its terminal in southern Malaysia after receiving a notice from the authorities following an oil spill.

The spill occurred on Wednesday when tanker MT Trident Star was taking on bunker fuel at the terminal, which is known as ATT Tanjung Bin (ATB), VTTI said.

The Johor Port Authority ordered the terminal to stop operations after the accident, the company said.

The Vitol unit has sent a request to the authority to re-consider the decision to suspend ATB's operations and to lift the suspension immediately.

The terminal at the port of Tanjong Pelepas in Johor has a total storage capacity of 1.155 million cubic meters. It handles gasoline, jet fuel, gasoil, fuel oil and biofuels.

(Reporting by Florence Tan; Editing by Tom Hogue)

VTTI says it resumes operations at Malaysia terminal
Reuters 27 Aug 16;

Aug 27 VTTI, the storage unit of world's largest oil trader Vitol, said late on Friday it has resumed operations at its Malaysia terminal ATT Tanjung Bin (ATB).

"The suspension has been lifted. ATB will resume its operations as normal, with immediate effect," a company spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

The terminal suspended operations earlier on Friday after receiving a notice from the authorities following an oil spill.

ATB located at Tanjong Pelepas in Johor has a total storage capacity of 1.155 million cubic metres. It handles gasoline, jet fuel, gasoil, fuel oil and biofuels.

(Reporting by Florence Tan; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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Johor oil spill affecting Port of Tanjung Pelepas operations, and Tuas? on wild shores of singapore.

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46 threatened plants and animals identified for species recovery

Lee Li Ying, Channel NewsAsia 3 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: The National Parks Board has identified 46 species of native flora and fauna, all classified as threatened under Singapore’s Red Book Data, for species recovery programmes under the Nature Conversation Master Plan.

This encompasses 31 plant species, seven land animal species and eight marine species.

These targets were announced by Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee during the Festival of Biodiversity educational fair held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Saturday (Sep 3).

He highlighted previous examples of successful recovery efforts for species like the oriental pied hornbill and the Singapore freshwater crabs. “This do not happen by chance. What we have is the result of active and comprehensive conservation efforts,” said Mr Lee.

Recovery efforts for these species facing extinction will span over the next two to 10 years, and field studies to further understand each species’ genetic diversity, distribution and relationship with the environment will be conducted.

Efforts have already begun for some, like the pixie dragonfly. According to director of the National Biodiversity Centre Dr Adrian Loo, they are only found in Western catchment area. To increase their numbers, the dragonflies have been translocated to a pond on the outskirts of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve since about three months ago. Their numbers are currently being monitored.

“For a species to have recovered fully, they must have a viable breeding population. (Signs include) mating, and that their progeny are doing well,” said Dr Loo.

Wildlife expert Subaraj Rajathurai, who has been working to conserve one of the animals on the list – the Raffles’ banded langur – said efforts like this are crucial to ensuring their survival.

“If we don’t help, chances are that in the long run, they may actually die out because Singapore keeps changing, and their genetic pool is limited,” said Mr Rajathurai. In Singapore, there are only 15 of these monkeys.

Updates on the biodiversity survey in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve which commenced in March 2015 were also given. Several rare flora and fauna, once thought to be extinct, have been discovered. These include the Malayan porcupine and slender walking catfish. Researchers have also discovered five potentially new species of spiders.

The survey is set to conclude in 2017, and results are expected to pave the way for subsequent conversation efforts.

'Extinct' sponge makes comeback in Singapore
Audrey Tan AsiaOne 5 Sep 16;

A specimen of the Neptune's cup sponge being relocated to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, as part of NParks' species recovery efforts.

A rare sea creature once thought to be globally extinct was rediscovered in Singapore waters in 2011, to the delight of scientists. It now seems to be thriving.

Last month, researchers from the National Parks Board (NParks) found three more specimens of the Neptune's cup sponge, bringing the total number to five.

The first time the sponge made an appearance after its disappearance in 1908 was near St John's Island five years ago.

Scientists had discovered two sponges, but only one could be located by divers later because of murky waters and low visibility.

In 2014, another was found in a lagoon at the offshore Semakau landfill. It was later moved to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park.

Dr Karenne Tun, director of the coastal and marine division at NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, said: "As part of our species recovery programme, we wanted to move the one we found in 2011 to the one in Sisters' Islands, so we did a survey to make sure it was in good condition and that we could move it."

But during that dive last month, there was good visibility underwater and divers found the "lost" sponge from 2011.

"The better news is that because the visibility was good, we did a broader survey and found two more," said Dr Tun. "So currently in Singapore, we have five individuals that we know of - we know where they are and we can monitor them."

Tropical Marine Science Institute researcher Lim Swee Cheng, who is working with NParks on the Neptune's cup sponge recovery programme, said the newly discovered sponges appear young - showing that the new individuals had developed recently.

"Their discovery could be due to an increase in diver surveys, or (the sponges) could have grown from larvae from neighbouring waters which settled in Singapore," said Mr Lim. "The sponge has also recently been recorded in Australia and the Gulf of Thailand. I believe there are definitely more of them in our surrounding waters, such as the Malacca Strait and the Java Sea, waiting to be discovered."

NParks is lending a hand to help the species recover after it was crippled because of overharvesting. Dr Tun said the next step is to see if the five sponges can be used as breeding stock to help repopulate Singapore's waters.

To do this, Dr Tun and her team went on a dive two weeks ago to relocate one of the St John's Island sponges to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park, about 5m away from the other one there.

Removing the sponge from its original location was not an easy task, as about half of its metre-long body was buried in the seabed. To remove it safely without parts of it breaking off, the team had to dig up the sand around it.

Mr Koh Kwan Siong, manager of the coastal and marine division at the National Biodiversity Centre, who was part of the team that helped to relocate the sponge, said that this stirred up the sediment and reduced visibility.

Dr Tun told The Sunday Times: "Now that they are closer to each other, there is better opportunity for them to reproduce through sexual reproduction, giving them a better chance to spread the eggs around Singapore waters."

Tropical Marine Science Institute's Mr Lim said that this strategy may help to increase the chances of reproduction.

However, he pointed out: "It is also important to find out its life history - such as when the sponges reach sexual maturity, when they release the eggs and sperm...

"Only after these studies are done can we propagate this iconic species effectively."

NParks further identifies 46 threatened native plants and animals for species recovery programmes
NParks press release 3 Sep 16;

Interim update of interesting discoveries found during comprehensive survey of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Singapore, 3 September 2016 — Following the announcement of the Nature Conservation Master Plan at the Festival of Biodiversity last year, the National Parks Board (NParks) has identified 46 species of terrestrial and marine native flora and fauna for species recovery efforts. This announcement follows the success of previous species recovery efforts such as the propagation and introduction of epiphytic native orchids under the Orchid Conservation Programme and increase in natural populations of faunal species such as the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus). All 46 targeted species are classified as threatened under Singapore’s Red Data Book and found in isolated habitats where they are vulnerable to external threats. These recovery efforts, which will span the next two to 10 years, are implemented to safeguard against the extinction of rare and endangered native species whose number of individuals are inherently low. These new targets were announced at the fifth installment of the Festival of Biodiversity held at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, held from 3 to 4 September. At the event which was officiated by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam, NParks also revealed that an ongoing comprehensive two-year survey of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve conducted has led to rediscoveries and new records.

Hosting DPM Tharman at the Festival, Senior Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said, “Singapore is a biophilic city, packed with biodiversity that we can celebrate and protect. And we have done so with active and comprehensive conservation efforts with close partnership with many passionate volunteers and the broader Singapore community.”

New targets for species recovery programmes

The conservation priorities for the species recovery programme are to ensure the persistence of our endemic and threatened plants and animals. Through the enhancement and protection of habitats and plant propagation, species recovery efforts are part of a consolidated approach to coordinate, strengthen and intensify efforts in biodiversity conservation.

The securing of long-term sustainability of marine biodiversity is covered under the NParks Marine Conservation Action Plan. Species recovery projects have been lined up for the reintroduction of the Giant Clam (Tridacna gigas), Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Neptune’s Cup Sponge (Cliona patera), and the setting up of a coral nursery at the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park that will harbour all the 255 species of hard corals recorded in Singapore. To safeguard against the local extinction of corals, NParks has collected and transplanted fragments of locally rare species like Gardeneroseris planulata, Plesiastrea versipora and Coscinaraea columna from Singapore’s waters to the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park where conditions are more favourable. Some of these corals have been moved to Reef Enhancement Units (REUs) to be nurtured and propagated. Twenty-five REUs will be installed at the Marine Park by late 2016, in addition to the nine REUs sponsored by HSBC as part of the “Plant a Coral, Seed a Reef” initiative.

The list of identified flora and fauna species can be found in Annex A. More information on NParks species recovery efforts can be found in Media Factsheet A.

Interim updates on the comprehensive survey of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

NParks had previously announced a two-year comprehensive biodiversity survey to be conducted in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in March 2015. The results and finding of this survey are important in helping NParks and researchers to better understand the conservation status and distribution of plants and animals in the 163-hectare reserve. This would guide species recovery plans for the flora and fauna found in the area when the survey concludes in 2017.

With seven months remaining of the survey efforts, several rare flora and fauna species, some previously thought to be extinct, have been discovered. These include the Dapania racemosa, Soejatmia ridleyi, Malayan Porcupine (Hystrix brachyuran) and Slender Walking Catfish (Clarias nieuhofii). Researchers and research partners have also discovered more than five potentially new species of spiders as well as a new record of climbing plant from the Aroid family, the Scindapsus lucens. More information on examples of unique species found during the survey can be found in Media Factsheet B.

The two-year comprehensive biodiversity survey on the Nature Reserve focuses on key groups of animals and plants that are integral to the rainforest ecosystem. NParks staff, corporate volunteers and scientists from academic institutions and individuals with domain knowledge of some of the taxonomic groups were involved in the collection and analysis of data, which will be used for systematic long-term monitoring and management of the reserve. The survey, which would pave the way for subsequent conservation efforts including a species recovery programme for identified species, was made possible by a donation and staff volunteers from HSBC. The reserve, an ASEAN Heritage Park, is home to more than 840 flowering plants and over 500 species of animals, around 40% of Singapore’s native flora and fauna including the endemic Singapore Freshwater Crab and the Straw-headed Bulbul (Pycnonotus zeylanicus).

Families for Nature initiative

NParks today also launched the new “Families for Nature” initiative under the Community in Nature (CIN) programme. CIN aims to conserve Singapore’s natural heritage, and this new programme serves as a more engaging platform for families to participate in nature-related activities. The year-long initiative will encourage participation in conserving our natural heritage through four categories, namely “Nature Adventurer”, “Wildlife Guardian”, “CIN ambassador” and “SGBioAtlas Contributor”. Families may collect activity booklets at the Festival of Biodiversity to begin their learning journey. Upon completion of each activity, they will be able to collect one of four puzzle pieces, which will form a map featuring Singapore’s rich biodiversity. Families can bond through spending quality time together amid nature while sharing knowledge with others through volunteering as guides and biodiversity surveys.

More information can be found at

Festival of Biodiversity 2016

The Festival of Biodiversity is an annual celebration of the community's efforts to conserve Singapore's natural heritage. Into its fifth year, the Festival of Biodiversity will be held on 3 and 4 September at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, Eco Lake Lawn. The theme for this year’s Festival of Biodiversity is on native species and the recovery efforts for rare flora and fauna. Children can also enjoy free art and craft workshops to learn more about Singapore's biodiversity.

Annex A - List Of Identified Flora And Fauna Species

Factsheet A - Species Recovery Efforts

Factsheet B - Interim Update On The Comprehensive Survey Of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Factsheet C - Nature Conservation Masterplan

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38 new local Zika cases confirmed Friday, bringing total to 189

Channel NewsAsia 2 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: 38 new cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection were confirmed on Friday (Sep 2), bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 189.

In a joint statement, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) said that of the 38 new cases, 34 are linked to the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive/Kallang Way/Paya Lebar Way cluster.

They added that four new cases have no known links to any existing cluster, but did not specify where these cases were located.

The agencies added that vector control remains key to reducing the spread of the Zika virus.

NEA said it is continuing with vector control operations to control the Aedes mosquito population in Aljunied Crescent, Sims Drive, Kallang Way and Paya Lebar Way.

The agency said that as of Sep 1, 55 breeding habitats – comprising 30 in homes and 25 in common areas or other premises – have been detected and destroyed. Indoor spraying of insecticides, outdoor fogging and the oiling and flushing of drains are continuing.

NEA added that it has also worked through the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force members to carry out vector control measures at their respective premises and assets, such as schools, construction sites, and expressway drains.

The agency said that its officers and grassroots volunteers have completed outreach efforts in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster, and are conducting outreach in the expanded cluster areas in Paya Lebar Way and Kallang Way.

NEA said it has also conducted vector control operations and outreach efforts in Bedok North Avenue 3. As of Sep 1, 19 breeding habitats – comprising 12 in homes and seven in common areas or other premises – have been detected and destroyed. Mosquito control measures are ongoing.

NEA added that there will be community outreach activities over the coming two weekends across the island to urge all residents to join in the collective effort in the fight against Zika by doing the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout, removing stagnant water and not littering.

"Premises owners should undertake vector control measures regularly, and ensure proper housekeeping within their premises at all times to remove potential mosquito breeding habitats. Residents also need to do their part to prevent mosquito breeding in their homes by doing the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout," it said.


38 new Zika cases reported on Friday, bringing total to 189
Today Online 2 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — There are 38 new cases of locally transmitted Zika virus infection in Singapore, as of 12pm Friday (Sept 2), bringing the total number of cases to 189.

Of the new cases, four have no known links to any existing cluster, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) in a joint statement. The 34 other cases are linked to the Aljunied Crescent/ Sims Drive/ Kallang Way/ Paya Lebar Way cluster.

The statement said the NEA has been continuing with vector control operations to control the Aedes mosquito population in Aljunied Crescent / Sims Drive / Kallang Way / Paya Lebar Way. As of Thursday, 55 breeding habitats (30 in homes and 25 in common areas/other premises) have been detected and destroyed.

The NEA has also conducted vector control operations and outreach efforts in Bedok North Avenue 3.

As of Thursday, 19 breeding habitats (12 in homes and 7 in common areas/other premises) have been detected and destroyed. Mosquito control measures are ongoing.

“There will be community outreach activities over the coming two weekends across the island to urge all residents to join in the collective efforts in the fight against Zika by doing the 5-step Mozzie Wipeout, removing stagnant water and not littering,” said the statement.

Cover up, stay in: Singaporeans wary as Zika spreads
Channel NewAsia 2 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Many of Singapore's five million people are covering up and staying indoors to avoid mosquito bites as health experts warned that the outbreak of the Zika virus in the tropical city-state would be difficult to contain.

One of the world's leading financial hubs, Singapore is the only Asian country with active transmission of the mosquito-borne virus, which generally causes mild symptoms but can lead to serious birth defects in pregnant women.

Authorities say they have found over 150 cases since the first locally contracted infection was reported a week ago, and with the virus spreading beyond the cluster where it was initially detected, more people are taking precautions.

"I'm not going to let her go outside much until Zika dies down," said Nat Bumatay, a self-employed mother, of her six-year-old daughter Sunshine. "Usually during short holidays, we go outside to the parks, go cycling, but now I will refrain."

A warm, tropical climate, forested areas and a network of public parks make outdoor activities popular across Singapore, especially during school holidays like the ten-day break that began on Friday.

Authorities have stepped up spraying insecticide and clearing stagnant water to prevent mosquito breeding, but many people said they were also avoiding the city's popular outdoor food centres and dousing themselves in repellent to avoid getting bitten.

"Prevention is better than cure," said Tomas Quong, a Filipino who has been working in Singapore for five years. "That's why I am wearing long sleeves."

Some fans of Nintendo's Pokemon Go mobile game are also becoming more cautious and crowds at outdoor Pokemon hotspots around the city are likely to be thinner. "I am still okay with outdoors, just not damp and dirty parks," said Nelson Ho, a 19-year-old gamer.

Pharmacies and supermarkets have reported a surge in mosquito repellent sales over the past week, with some running out of stock. Online retailers Lazada and have set up a Zika shop, while other enterprising Singaporeans trying to cash in are advertising mosquito net tents and "anti-bite" jewellery.


The outbreak coincides with a slowdown in trade-dependent Singapore. Worries about Zika could further crimp overall retail sales, United Overseas Bank economist Francis Tan said. "If it continues, people will generally not want to go out, so all the retail sectors will be slowing down," Tan said.

Zika could also increase concerns about tourism, a mainstay of the economy, especially with the city-state's key annual attraction - the floodlit Formula One Grand Prix race - due to start in two weeks. Several countries, including the United States and Australia, have advised pregnant women or those trying to conceive not to visit.

"It will certainly create a bit of caution in the minds of tourists and they may think about it twice," said Jonathan Galaviz, partner at consultants Global Market Advisors. "But I don't see Zika standing in the way of a successful F1 event or tourism flows in the short term."

Tourism arrivals topped 8 million in the first half of this year, around 1 million more than a year ago.

The Tourism Board has said it is premature to consider any impact on the industry, with at least two international chain hotels contacted by Reuters reporting business as usual. The promoters of the Grand Prix have also said planning for the event is going ahead "as per normal".

Several of those initially infected by the virus were foreigners, many believed to be among the thousands of migrant workers in Singapore's construction industry.

The latest tally includes two pregnant women, and officials and experts say the number of cases is likely to increase as the virus is likely to spread.

"The virus is extending beyond the square that was drawn out," said Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena hospital in Singapore. "We have re-draw the battle lines. We have to first admit defeat to Zika and accept that the whole country is at risk."

(Additional reporting by Nicole Nee, Natasha Howitt and Imogen Braddick; Writing by Miral Fahmy; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

- Reuters

Singapore a ‘role model’ in handling Zika outbreak: WHO
WONG PEI TING Today Online 3 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — The Republic’s handling of the Zika outbreak “represents in many cases a role model”, said a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official on Friday (Sept 2).

Singapore has confirmed 189 cases, as of 12pm Friday, since news of the first locally transmitted case emerged on Saturday. Dr Peter Salama, Executive Director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, pointed out the “enormous amount of epidemiological work, of lab work, of public health work, including vector control (and) the detailed follow-up including retrospective analysis of cases in Singapore”.

“And really, we have to congratulate the transparency and the quick reporting the government of Singapore have implemented in the case of this outbreak,” said Dr Salama during a meeting in Geneva for an update on the Zika situation during and after the Olympic Games held in Brazil.

The issues discussed included the latest findings on the virus’ geographic spread, natural history, and epidemiology. Current knowledge on microcephaly, the sexual transmission of the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome – a paralysing side effect suspected to be caused by Zika virus infection – were also shared.

Meanwhile, WHO reiterated its February position that Zika is still a public health emergency.

In the Friday meeting, Dr Salama also said the Brazilian government has “a very similar model” to Singapore’s approach, and has been “very successfully giving (the WHO) quick and comprehensive reporting”.

“We hope all other countries can do the same,” he said.

Low risk of Zika-related birth defects, say doctors
KELLY NG Today Online 3 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — The links between Zika infection and birth defects in babies could be blown out of proportion, some doctors suggest, stressing that no scientific association has been drawn between the mosquito-borne virus and microcephaly, a condition where a baby is born with an abnormally small head.

Reiterating that the risk of microcephaly ranges between 1 and 13 per cent, experts such as infectious disease specialist Leong Hoe Nam, who is based in Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said that risk levels for Singapore is likely to fall within the lower end.

The “extremely high rate” of Zika-hit pregnancies that result in newborns with deformities in Brazil — the epicentre of an epidemic that is now in 45 countries and territories worldwide — is an “outlier”, Dr Leong said.

The first alarms about microcephaly were raised last October, when doctors in the state of Pernambuco in north-eastern Brazil reported a surge in babies born with it. By the following month, 646 such births were reported in the state alone and Brazil declared a health emergency, Reuters reported in April.

Between 2001 and 2014, Brazil had, on average, about 163 cases of microcephaly a year.

In contrast, a retrospective study of French Polynesia’s outbreak between 2013 and 2015, published in the United Kingdom medical journal The Lancet, puts the risk of microcephaly at closer to 1 per cent.

Even in Colombia — the country second-most affected by the virus — updates from the World Health Organisation showed in July that the number of microcephaly births there stands at 21, despite recording nearly 100,000 Zika-positive cases.

Dr Leong said that the “disproportionately high” rates of microcephaly in Brazil could be due to environmental and cultural factors.

Agreeing, Dr Beh Suan Tiong, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist, pointed to suggestions that a new pesticide introduced into water supplies in Brazil to curb the development of mosquito larvae may be a culprit.

Dr Beh, who operates his own practice at Thomson Medical Centre, said: “Most countries reported (just) 2 to 3 per cent of babies affected. Brazil is the only one which reported a higher percentage. Obviously, there is something wrong with their data ... There must be some other factors apart from Zika that may have aggravated the situation (there).”

Microcephaly may be caused by a wide spectrum of factors, including rubella, consumption of anti-epileptic drugs and alcohol abuse.

“If you don’t test for all, you cannot be 100 per cent sure it is due to Zika,” obstetrics and gynaecology specialist Dr Christopher Chong said.

Although some doctors have said that there is no reason to delay pregnancy during the Zika outbreak, experts interviewed by TODAY said that the epidemic may cause a dent in the country’s already-low birth rate.

“People are getting worried, especially those just married, and they may try not to get pregnant in the meantime. But a lot depends on how the virus spreads or is contained in the next few weeks,” Dr Chong said.

The experts acknowledge that it is difficult to draw deep inferences, given that Singapore is still in the “early days” of the infection. Dr Beh said: “We will probably need to wait for a couple more months, or years, before a clearer association can be established ... It will be especially when more countries, especially in Asia, start to report their numbers.”

Singapore is in a “good position” to shed light and establish trends in these areas, he added, given its recent widespread testing of suspected cases.

Associate Professor Joanne Yoong from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health agreed that “active case finding” should be seen as a strength of Singapore’s control programme.

“Interpreting the spike in cases is not straightforward ... Part of the high rate of discovery is due to the efforts of the authorities to uncover otherwise hidden cases,” she said.

Mum-to-be who tested positive for Zika also has dengue
KENNETH CHENG Today Online 3 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE — A pregnant woman diagnosed with Zika infection in Singapore tested positive for dengue too — unheard of here until now.

Mary (not her real name), 24, who lives in Sennett Avenue, feared the worst when she went to a general practitioner in Bedok South on Tuesday (Aug 30) night with fever and joint ache.

The entrepreneur, who is six months pregnant with her second child, was referred to Changi General Hospital (CGH), where she tested positive for dengue and was warded.

Although doctors said it was unlikely that she had Zika, they gave her a blood and urine test nonetheless. The urine test results came back at 2pm on Thursday, and she tested positive.

Speaking to TODAY over the phone on Friday, Mary said: “The doctor at CGH broke the news to (my husband and me) together very slowly, and he was quite sensitive about it. “I broke down for a while, but my husband helped.” That evening, she was taken to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) for further checks. As the viral count in her second urine sample had “gone down”, she was told that she had probably caught the virus about a week ago and was no longer infectious. She was discharged that same night.

So far, the authorities have announced that there have been two pregnant women diagnosed with Zika here, with both linked to the Aljunied Crescent-Sims Drive cluster.

Mary, however, neither works there nor has relatives living in those areas. She added that she has not been to that area recently.

When asked, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said it would not disclose any information relating to patients.

Zika infections during pregnancy have been linked to microcephaly, where a baby is born with an abnormally small brain and skull. Amniotic fluid testing can be done to screen for the Zika virus, which is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito — also responsible for transmitting dengue — but the MOH previously said that a positive test did not mean a baby would be born with defects.

Mary said that tests so far showed her baby was fine, but in four weeks, she would have to go for another check-up to see if there are signs of her baby “not growing normally”.

She underwent a baseline scan at KKH on Friday, but said she would probably see her private gynaecologist for a follow-up.

Regardless, Mary said she intended to follow through with her pregnancy. “No matter what, we’re still going to go through with everything,” she said, noting that the overall risk levels of microcephaly in foetuses of infected expectant women was low — between 1 and 13 per cent. "We will keep monitoring to keep a close watch and pray for the best.”

Recounting what she had gone through over the past few days, Mary said she was puzzled by her “unexpected” diagnosis for Zika.

She had a fever last week, but because she also had diarrhoea, she had attributed that bout to food poisoning.

For the past few weeks, she has taken precautions such as using mosquito repellent. “I always (douse) my son in mosquito repellent ... I did the same for me for the past few weeks,” she said. Her father and two-year-old son had also come down with fever, but have not gone for further tests.

Her son’s fever has subsided after taking paracetamol, but Mary said she would take him to the doctor if his temperature spikes again. Asked about the support her family had given her so far, she said they knew “nobody can do anything right now”.

She has not considered shifting to an unaffected area, but would continue taking precautions such as using mosquito patches and repellent. “There’s not much I can really do right now besides buying all this stuff off (the) shelves (and) staying indoors,” she added.

Zika outbreak will not sting Singapore’s economy: Analysts
Tang See Kit, Channel NewsAsia 2 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: While startlingly swift, the outbreak of the Zika virus in Singapore is unlikely to create additional stress for the economy, which is already seeing growth faltering amid global headwinds, economists told Channel NewsAsia.

Since the first locally-transmitted Zika infection was confirmed last Saturday (Aug 27), dozens of newly-reported cases took the total number of people diagnosed with Zika to 151 as of Thursday.

Government agencies have since stepped up mosquito control efforts in high-risk clusters such as Aljunied and Bedok to curb the spread of the virus. While the recent spate of Zika infections has reminded many of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Singapore more than a decade ago, the economic impact of the latest mosquito-borne virus will likely be nowhere near, economists said.

“The impact of Zika would be marginal at worst,” said Nomura Singapore's economist Brian Tan. “Given the headwinds facing Singapore, I don’t think this is going to be the most significant issue for the economy.”

“People have been comparing this to SARS but it’s nowhere near as infectious or dangerous so we don't expect this to have that big of an impact,” said Mr Tan, adding that in terms of transmission, Zika is spread primarily via the Aedes mosquito and is not airborne.

OCBC’s head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling agreed, noting that the SARS epidemic in 2003 was region-wide and dealt a big hit to the travel and hospitality sectors. However, Zika has thus far failed to spark fears of the same magnitude.

“Hence, I suspect it’s going to be a muted impact unless you see a prolonged scenario and more severe medical implications,” Ms Ling concluded.

Even as some businesses in the high-risk areas have noted a slowdown following the breakout of Zika in their neighbourhoods, economists told Channel NewsAsia that this will likely be temporary and may not accurately reflect overall economic activity among residents.

“It is a kneejerk reaction by consumers,” Nomura’s Mr Tan said. “Besides, the effect could be distributional. You may avoid having lunch at Aljunied but you’ll still need to have lunch so somewhere else could see a pick-up in activity. It’s more of a distribution of activity in terms of geography, instead of a drop in overall activity.”

Banner detailing mosquito control measures near Blk 102 Aljunied Crescent, where Singapore's first locally transmitted Zika infection was discovered.


Still, uncertainty has loomed over the local tourism sector, which accounts for nearly 10 per cent of the economy, as countries including Hong Kong and Australia issued travel advisories for visitors to Singapore. Meanwhile, Malaysia and Indonesia have also stepped up protective measures by introducing thermal scanners at border checkpoints and airports.

Experts say the upcoming Singapore Grand Prix scheduled from Sep 16 to 18 will be the key event to watch for any impact on the travel industry, but for now, most travellers seem to be staying on course with their plans in Singapore, according to airlines, hotels and travel agents that Channel NewsAsia spoke to.

A spokesperson for Singapore Airlines said in an emailed reply that the carrier has not “observed any demand shifts worth highlighting for travel to or from Singapore”.

Mandarin Oriental Singapore said it has received enquiries regarding travel safety to Singapore from travellers who have booked upcoming stays at the hotel. According to its director of communications Usha Brockmann, the hotel has "implemented an increased rota of health and safety standards in both back and front of house areas" as a safety precaution.

Local travel agency Chan Brothers similarly has not received any cancellations for its inbound tours, which are predominantly made up of groups travelling to Singapore for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE), as well as educational-related trips, according to head of marketing communications Jane Chang.

Over at Star Holiday Mart, however, the travel agent had received around 10 to 12 cancellations as of Friday morning, alongside a rise in enquiries from concerned travellers regarding the state of the Zika virus outbreak in Singapore.

While general manager Dominic Ong said he is not too worried about the cancellations for now, there could be a cause for further concern if the outbreak of the Zika virus persists into October, where China begins its week-long Golden Week holiday. Mainland tourists made up nearly a fifth of the more than 8 million visitors to Singapore in the first half of 2016.

“There's the possibility that bookings from China may swing to somewhere else and there may be a reduction in tourists if (the rise in cases) doesn’t stop by this month. If the numbers stop then at least there’ll still be some confidence,” said Mr Ong.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has since weighed in with the assurance that the city-state “remains a safe travel destination”.


As for other sectors like construction, where migrant workers have made up a sizable number of those tested positive, the impact will likely be marginal.

“You may get a couple of construction sites getting stop work orders but because this remains highly localised and given the ongoing destruction of mosquito breeding grounds, the impact will not be so widespread until it impacts the economy as a whole,” said Mr Tan, referring to the issue of a stop work order to a construction site at Sims Drive on Aug 27.

However, this does not mean that the government and businesses should rest easy.

IHS Markit’s Asia-Pacific chief economist Rajiv Biswas reckoned that the rapid escalation of confirmed locally-transmitted Zika cases remains a potential risk to the Singapore economy, particularly if the outbreak is not rapidly contained.

“With the Singapore economy already feeling the transmission effects of China’s economic slowdown and the impact of lower oil prices on the marine and offshore engineering industry, the Zika outbreak poses a further downside risk to the near-term economic outlook in the fourth quarter of 2016 and into early 2017.”

IHS Markit expects Singapore’s economy to grow at a “relatively moderate pace” of 1.7 per cent in 2017. However, a downside risk scenario where the Zika outbreak escalates and results in lower tourism arrivals, could prompt a cut in the gross domestic product (GDP) forecast, Mr Biswas added.

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Weekend could be slightly hazy if winds shift, hotspots increase: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 2 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE: Singapore could see slightly hazy conditions at the weekend if hotspots increase in southern Sumatra and the winds become unfavourable, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Friday (Sep 2).

In a statement, NEA said that the prevailing light winds may shift to blow from the southwest or west over the weekend, and persist into next week. Dry weather conditions are also expected for southern Sumatra.

The agency said that a total of 13 hotspots were detected in Sumatra on Friday, mostly in southern Sumatra, and there was also no visible haze seen there.

NEA added that thundery showers are expected in Singapore the late morning and early afternoon on Saturday. The 1-hr PM2.5 concentration over the next 24 hours is expected to be in Band I (Normal). Overall, the PSI for the next 24 hours is forecast to be in the Moderate range.

- CNA/dt

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Malaysia: 12 animal traffickers nabbed, RM2mil worth of parts seized


KUALA LUMPUR: The Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) arrested 12 men and seized a variety of smuggled animal parts worth RM2 million in a special operation known as 'Ops Chameleon'.

Perhilitan director-general Abdul Kadir Abu Hassan said in the raid was conducted last month, about 300 animal parts were seized from the syndicate which included elephant tusks, tiger skins and teeth, bear claws, and beaks of various hornbill species.

The suspects, Abdul Kadir said, included eight Vietnamese, two China nationals, and two locals.

The Wildlife and National Parks Department deputy director for Enforcement Division, Rozidan Md Yasin shows a skull of an animal, believed to be of a tiger during a press conference at Perhilitan headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

Pix by Mohamad Shahril Badri Saali "Based on the intelligence sharing with Interpol, Wildlife Justice Commission, and Perhilitan since early this year, our teams have raided five locations around Kuala Lumpur and Selangor," said Abdul Kadir.

He said Perhilitan has yet to ascertain the origin countries of the seized animal parts and the syndicate's modus operandi but believed that the parts were smuggled in for local and international market.

The case is being investigated under Section 68 of the Wild Life Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716) which carries a maximum punishment of RM500,000 or a jail term not more than five years.

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Malaysia: Second Zika case confirmed

The Star 3 Sep 16;

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia has recorded its second case of Zika infection.

Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the patient is a 61-year-old Dusun male from Taman Public Jaya Likas, Sabah.

He said the case is also the first locally-transmitted Zika infection in the country.

“The Health Ministry is investigating further the patient’s recent travelling history. It was found that this Zika infection is most likely from a local source of infection, as the patient did not have any recent travelling history abroad and was probably been bitten by an Aedes mosquito infected with Zika,” said Dr Noor Hisham in a statement on Saturday.

The patient developed a fever on Aug 27 and sought medical attention for the first time at the Luyang Health Clinic on Aug 30.

The man sought further treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital 2 the next day when he experienced worsening fever, muscle aches and diarrhoea.

Vehicles must be sprayed with insect repellent when exiting Singapore, says Health Exco
The Star 3 Sep 16;

JOHOR BAHRU: The Johor Health Department will take various measures to curb the spread of Zika infection, including requiring all vehicles leaving and entering Singapore to be sprayed with mosquito repellent.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman, Datuk Ayub Rahmat said these measures were necessary in view of the sharp increase in Zika infections in the republic as Johor was frequented by Singaporeans.

"The vehicles we are referring to include lorries, public buses, school buses, private cars and trains. This is to ensure that no mosquitoes with the virus are brought into the country via the vehicles," he said in a statement.

Ayub said the local authorities and district officers had also been instructed to focus on cleanliness in the areas frequented by Singaporeans including open eating places or restaurants, open recreational and entertainment areas, farmers' markets, wholesale markets and so on.

Ayub said the state Health Department had been asked to intensify enforcement operations on individual premises and construction sites in all areas near the entry points and housing areas with a high percentage of residents working in Singapore until the Zika epidemic there was under control.

"The state government will monitor all action plans and the special meeting will be held again on Sept 29 to review the effectiveness of these strategies," he said.

Ayub said the committee viewed the Zika viral infection among Singaporeans as serious as many frequented Johor while 200,000 to 300,000 locals travelled to the republic each day to work.

He said, based on the number, the people of Johor were vulnerable to the viral infection if drastic steps were not taken to destroy the vector which transmits the Zika virus, the Aedes mosquito.

He said cleaning-up of the surroundings should also be intensified in the coming two to three months so that the Aedes Index could be kept at the lowest level of less than one per cent. -Bernama

Tourism industry not affected by Zika
BERNAMA New Straits Times 3 Sep 16;

KEMAMAN: The tourism industry, so far, has not been affected by the country’s first confirmed case of the Zika virus, said Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin.

She was confident that the increase in health monitoring and screenings carried out by the Health Ministry at all entry points into the country would be able to curb the spread of the virus.

“The overall number of tourist arrivals to the country this year shows an increase.

However, due to the Zika issue, the Tourism Ministry will enhance cooperation with the Health Ministry and take precautionary measures to monitor foreign tourists visiting the country.

“We also advise tourists to keep in touch with the Health Ministry and the Tourism Ministry if they notice any of the symptoms associated with the Zika virus for immediate medical treatment,” she told reporters after officiating the Kemaman UMNO Wanita, Puteri and Youth delegates meeting here today.

Present were Kemaman UMNO division deputy chief and Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Kemaman UMNO division Wanita chief Datuk Rohani Abdullah, Kemaman UMNO division Youth chief Ahmad Fikry Ibrahim and Kemaman UMNO division Puteri chief Shaheda Jusoh.

Last Thursday the Health Ministry confirmed that a 58-year-old woman from Bandar Botanic, Klang, Selangor was the first known case of Zika virus infection in the country after visiting her daughter in Singapore, who was also confirmed to have contracted the disease.

The woman who visited Singapore for three days beginning Aug 19 experienced a rash and fever. --BERNAMA

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Indonesia: Rainfall reduces hotspots in West Kalimantan

Jakarta Post 2 Sep 16;

Light to moderate rain has been falling in a number of regions in West Kalimantan, which has helped reduce the number of hotspots, say forecasters at the Supadio Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) in Pontianak.

On Tuesday afternoon between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., strong winds of over 25 knots hit Pontianak City, causing a number of trees and billboards to fall, as well as damaging dozens of homes.

Supadio BMKG station forecaster Mega Fitriyawita told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday that wind speeds at Supadio Airport on Tuesday afternoon reached 31 knots, while in Pontianak 22 knots was reached.

“Wind speed of over 25 knots is categorized as strong wind, where this occurred almost evenly across the 14 regencies and cities in West Kalimantan on Tuesday afternoon, especially in coastal areas in the west,” said Mega, adding that rainfall over the past week was categorized as mild to moderate, ranging between 20 to 35 millimeters daily.

The rainy conditions, Mega said, helped decrease the number of hotspots. West Kalimantan recorded the highest number of hotspots 636 points on Aug. 19.

Pontianak Disaster Management Agency (BPBD) head Aswin Thaufik said strong winds on Tuesday afternoon led to dozens of homes being damaged, mostly with roofs blown away.

“Some of the roofs hit trees and electricity poles, but no casualties occurred,” said Aswin.

Indonesian minister advises maintaining vigil in wake of forest fires
Antara 3 Sep 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia has continued to remain vigilant against forest fires, although the number of hotspots across the nation has been reduced by 70-90 percent, according to the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Forestry.

Based on data from the 19 observations conducted by NOAA18 satellite, the number of hotspots from January 1 to August 28, this year, decreased to 2,356, or 74.64 percent, compared to 8,247 during the same period last year, the ministry said in a statement posted on the foreign ministrys website.

The largest decline occurred in the provinces of Riau and Central Kalimantan.

In Riau, during the same period in 2015, a total of 1,292 hotspots were reported, while this year, it has dropped to 317. In Central Kalimantan, the number has decreased from 1,137 hotspots last year to 56 this year.

Based on observations by NASAs TERRA and AQUA satellites in the same period, the number of hotspots recorded in 2016 had decreased by 74.7 percent from that in 2015.

Last year, 11,690 hotspots were recorded, while the number dropped to 2,937 in 2016.

The significant decrease cannot be separated from the constant efforts of the integrated team working in the field. They have worked without any holidays and have even spent nights at the scene to keep the fires from spreading. Locations that are difficult to reach by land are being covered through aerial operations to extinguish the fires.

To maximize the efforts to control the fires, the provincial government has also declared the Smoke Disaster Relief Emergency Preparedness Status in provinces, such as Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, Jambi, and South Kalimantan.

Additionally, integrated patrols are being conducted to synergize efforts among parties at the community level to prevent land and forest fires. Integrated patrols involve elements of the Mangala Agni, forest police, military, police, the press, NGOs, village officials, and public figures.

The efforts to extinguish the fires by the integrated team are just one of the several steps taken by the government.

The ministry has imposed a temporary moratorium on the issuance of permits for forest management, palm plantations, and the management of peatland areas. This is one step to evaluate and simultaneously streamline the management of natural resources by taking into account environmental factors.

With regard to law enforcement efforts for controlling forest fires, the ministry has adopted a multi-door approach involving administrative sanctions and civil lawsuits.

Currently, some 30 companies are facing administrative sanctions. In addition to formal reprimands, the licenses of companies found guilty will also be revoked either temporarily or permanently.

Besides this, 10 companies are facing civil trials being conducted to improve public perception regarding justice in society, while the handling of criminal charges comes under the jurisdiction of the police.

"We respect the grievances of neighboring countries, but we do not work to handle land and forest fires due to pressure by other countries. Indonesia adheres to the principle of participation in the establishment of world order based on peace and not due to pressure," Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar affirmed.

Govt preparing steps to face floods, landslides
Antara 3 Sep 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government held a coordination meeting on Friday to discuss anticipatory steps to be taken in the face of possible floods and landslides as the rainy season approaches in the country.

"We held a coordination meeting to ensure that all relevant parities remain in a state of readiness in the face of landslides and flood disasters," Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture, Puan Maharani, said here on Friday.

The meeting was also attended by Health Minister Nila F Moeloek, Head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei and a number of officials/representatives of ministries and other state institutions.

The meeting also discussed the measures taken to familiarize people and educate them about handling natural disasters.

Other issues discussed in the meeting included the availability of flood and landslides related equipment; operations and logistical supports offered by the emergency command posts; and other matters in which steps are still to be taken by the relevant parties.

Based on a presidential instruction on flood and landslide disaster, each of the ministries/ state institutions and the relevant regional governments now know of their duties, beginning from prevention, disaster handling and post disaster restoration.

"However, prevention is more important when it comes to handling floods and landslides, and must be made a part of the planned and systematic effort," he added.(*)

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Hawaii and other big marine protected areas 'could work against conservation'

The Papahānaumokuākea marine park created by Barack Obama could end up as just a ‘paper park’, argue US and UK marine experts
John Vidal The Guardian 2 Sep 16;

British and US marine scientists say that the race to designate ever-bigger marine national parks in remote parts of the world could work against conservation.

In an commentary timed to coincide with President Obama’s announcement of the huge extension of a marine park off Hawaii, the authors argue that the creation of very large marine protection areas (Vlmpas) may give the illusion of conservation, when in fact they may be little more than “paper parks”.

“It is not enough to simply cover the remotest parts of our oceans in notional ‘protection’ – we need to focus on seas closer to shore, where most of the fishing and drilling actually happens,” said Peter Jones, a marine researcher at University College London.

Co-author Elizabeth de Santo, an assistant professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, added that the push for quantity over quality threatens to undermine sustainability.

“There are concerns that marine conservation aims could be undermined by this focus on a few big areas. The marine biodiversity target is about much more than the proportion of the seas that are covered,” she said.

In the past five years over 20 huge new marine parks have been designated by countries, including Britain, in response to calls by marine scientists to protect more of the oceans.

The Papahānaumokuākea park off Hawaii, which will cover 582,578 square miles and include the world’s longest and most remote chain of coarl islands, is by some way the world’s biggest, covering an area larger than all US country’s national parks combined.

The authors question the motives of the conservationists. “Every time there is a new ‘leader’ in the size stakes, it is feted... giving the impression of a competitive edge. This race has been enthusiastically supported by conservation campaign groups and donors, and many governments have joined in, all keen to gain the green credentials associated with remote VLMPAs,” says the paper in the journal Marine Policy.

But other marine scientists this week defended the size of the VLMPAs. “Size is often a critical component of effectiveness. What is needed is for the conservation NGOs to wake up to the fact that size isn’t everything, and to push equally hard for representative, equitable, effective, local, nearshore protected areas,” said Nature Conservancy marine researcher Mark Spalding, in email correspondence.

The global target, agreed in 2010 at the Convention for biological diversity meeting in Japan, is to designate 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. But what has happened, say the authors, is that countries have taken the politically easy route, creating vast parks in remote places without taking into account their conservation value or their ability or countries’ willingness to police them.

There is now a great imbalance between a few giant protected areas and the many thousands very small ones which together cover only 3.27% of the global marine area, they say. “Without remote VLMPAs , the 10% target would be even further from being reached,” said Jones.

The authors emphasise that they do not discourage the designation of vast remote MPAs, but fear that by focusing on size could divert attention, political will and resources from the need for smaller MPAs in seas that are being overfished.

“[Their] vastness and remoteness pose major enforcement challenges. Whilst emerging satellite surveillance technology can help detect illegal fishing vessels, there are still challenges in detaining such vessels through interception by a fisheries patrol vessel, which are very expensive to operate in such vast distant areas,” they say.

Last year the UK said it would create what was then the world’s largest continuous marine reserve around the Pitcairn islands, and another huge protected area was designated around Ascension Island in January 2016. Chile, France and New Zealand have all made similar moves turning the waters surrounding their remotest island territories into huge nature reserves.

“From the perspective of governments, it is clear that remote VLMPAs are win-win, in that they gain green credentials and contribute to each country’s progress towards the Aichi [2010] target.

“Why go through the politically and economically expensive process of designating relatively small MPAs around the mainland when you can designate remote Vlmpas in overseas territories with minimal costs and many gains?”, the authors ask.

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Organized poaching is decimating Madagascar's sea turtles

Wildlife Conservation Society ScienceDaily 1 Sep 16;

The illegal hunting of Madagascar's sea turtles is reaching a crisis level as a result of organized trafficking networks says a team of conservationists. The team asserts that the recent spike in the exploitation of marine turtles is being driven by increasing demand for marine turtle meat and oil both on local markets and in Southeast Asia and the participation of local villagers in the illegal hunting for monetary gain.

The illegal hunting of Madagascar's sea turtles is reaching a crisis level as a result of organized trafficking networks says a team of WCS conservationists.

The WCS team asserts that the recent spike in the exploitation of marine turtles is being driven by increasing demand for marine turtle meat and oil both on local markets and in Southeast Asia and the participation of local villagers in the illegal hunting for monetary gain. With an ongoing crises from illegal exploitation of precious timber, land tortoises, and now sea turtles, Madagascar is developing an unfortunate reputation as an illegal trafficking hotspot, WCS warns.

"The beaches of Madagascar are important nesting sites for four species of marine turtle -- Green sea turtles, Hawksbill sea turtles, Loggerhead sea turtles and Olive Ridley sea turtles, so the increase in poaching is of great concern," said Alison Clausen, WCS's Regional Director for Madagascar and the Western Indian Ocean. "These species are all protected by national and international laws, but the growth of organized trafficking is outstripping the country's enforcement capabilities."

Marine turtle hunting has always existed at low levels throughout Madagascar, but over the last several years hunting levels -- particularly for illegal international trade -- appear to have increased dramatically. All marine turtles are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and any international commercial trade in their parts or products is illegal. To address the issue conservationists and government agencies have increased enforcement along with an effort to raise awareness in local communities of the importance of protecting sea turtles.

WCS has been particularly active raising awareness of the importance of marine turtles for marine ecosystems and as a tourist attraction. In May 2016, the second annual marine turtle festival was organized by WCS in northwest Madagascar and attracted around 350 local villagers and Government officials. An exhibition of marine turtle photos and information from Madagascar was also developed and exhibited in Madagascar and Reunion attracting over 35,000 visitors.

In spite of recent successes in the protection of Madagascar's sea turtles, indications of a recurrence of rampant exploitation have emerged in the past year. Just this month, a mission in the Radama Islands archipelago in northwest Madagascar resulted in the seizure of 13 immense nets and 3 live captured sea turtles were found on site. Authorities also discovered the carapaces of hundreds of recently killed Green sea turtles at the site which are the most commonly hunted species because of their large size. Similar discoveries in April of the remains of poached turtles were found in Ankivonjy Marine Protected Area which is managed by WCS in collaboration with local communities.

"The Government of Madagascar has made many strides in the past several years to protect its natural resources and has pledged to triple the coverage of marine protected areas in the country," added Clausen. We are committed to working with the Government and communities to protect Madagascar's natural resources but it's a huge challenge when a single sea turtle can be sold at the same price as a fisherman's monthly income."

The northwest of Madagascar in particular is a global marine biodiversity hotspot, exhibiting some of the highest diversity of coral reef ecosystems in the world. WCS has been working in the northwest of Madagascar for over 10 years to create marine protected areas to protect marine turtles and other important marine ecosystems and species including coral reefs, seagrasses, dugongs and sharks and rays. In April 2015 the MPAs of Ankivonjy and Ankarea were formally established by the Government of Madagascar and are managed by WCS in partnership with local communities.

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