Best of our wild blogs: 23 Sep 16

Of Vipers and Vivipary
Herpetological Society of Singapore

Read more!

Indonesia forest fires well-managed, fewer hotspots this year: Minister

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 22 Sep 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has said that the forest fires this year have been well-managed as seen by the reduction of hotspots of up to 88 per cent as compared to 2015.

Giving an update on the forest fires this year to lawmakers at the House of Representative on Thursday (Sep 22), Dr Siti Nurbaya said slight haze only occurred for a few days in August.

“Last year, there was thick haze (for) up to three months, but this year, slight thick haze happened between Aug 26 and 29 in Rokan Hulu, which affected Singapore for a few hours," said Dr Siti Nurbaya. She added that hotspots in Riau province went down by up as much as 81 per cent.

The land areas devastated by the fires were also much less this year. Dr Siti Nurbaya said more than 274,000 hectares were affected by forest fires across the archipelago, compared to more than 2 million hectares last year.

The fires also cost the government significantly much less money this year.

Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said that to date, it spent just about US$23 million fighting the flames. This is about 60 per cent less than what was spent during the massive fires in 2015, a year that saw the haze reach critical levels.

Last year's forest fires that destroyed swathes of land and contaminated air quality were one of the worst on record.

BNPB, whose job is to put out the fires, spent about US$57 million in 2015. That figure goes up even higher after taking into account the cost incurred by others involved in the firefighting effort, such as the Environment and Forestry Ministry, the army and police.

“Last year, about 1 trillion rupiah (was spent), because the forest fires were widespread and we had to use more from the budget, as compared with this year,” said BNPB's head of data, information and public relations, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

“If we look at the number of hotspots ... there are no rampant fires in several of the provinces. All have been managed by the government," he added.

At the peak of the crisis last year, there were about 2,000 hotspots on record each day. This year, there are much fewer of them. Satellite images show that in the last 48 hours, there were only 131 hotspots across the whole of Indonesia.

In August, when forest fires started to affect the air quality in Indonesia and the region, BNPB said it would be able to put out most of them by October. It is still confident this can be done, especially with the promise of more rain in the weeks ahead.

"We got lucky because the weather is on our side," said Yuyun Indradi, team leader of Greenpeace Indonesia’s Political Forest Campaign. "So, it's a wet-dry season and later on in October it will be the real wet season. So, we expect there will be no more fire."

The forest fires this year may not be as bad as 2015 but this is no guarantee of clear skies next year. “It’s not possible to have zero hotspots because the satellite detects not only big forest fires but also fires on factory rooftops,” said Dr Sutopo. “Small fires set by farmers are also considered as hotspots."

Green activists hope that the government will do more to ensure clear skies, and not rely too much on just divine intervention. "If (the government) does not want to see anymore hotspots, it has to be more serious (about) regulating, monitoring (and) enforcing the law,” said Yuyun Indradi.

But the Environment and Forestry Minister refuted claims that the lower hotspot numbers were primarily because of the wet weather. “The National Disaster Mitigation Agency still deployed 22 aircraft this year. Last year, between 27 and 29 aircraft were used. So, there were still intensive efforts to fight the fires,” said Dr Siti Nurbaya.

- CNA/ec

Read more!

Indonesia: Floods, landslides leave 23 dead

Ina Parlina, Agus Maryono and Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 22 Sep 16;

Heavy rains, arguably caused by the La Niña weather phenomenon that increases precipitation, have wreaked havoc in two regencies in West Java, leaving at least 23 people dead from rapid flooding and landslides in the past two days.

A flash flood struck Bayongbong, Karangpawitan, Garut regency, in the early hours of Wednesday after heavy rainfall hit the area starting on Tuesday evening and caused the Cimanuk and Cikamuri rivers to overflow.

At least 20 people were found dead and 14 others, including four children, were still missing as of Wednesday afternoon. Hundreds of people have had to leave their homes, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

Meanwhile, in Sumedang regency, landslides buried three houses in Ciherang village and two houses in Cimareme village, killing three people.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ordered on Wednesday Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa, as well as other relevant officials, to undertake immediate efforts to help the affected residents in Garut and Sumedang, as he extended condolences to the families of the victims.

“The President also wants people to raise their alertness in dealing with weather conditions, whether it is floods or landslides,” said presidential spokesperson Johan Budi on Wednesday.

Amid ongoing search and rescue efforts, BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho warned people across the country of the increasing rainfall caused by La Niña.

A BNPB quick response team and the West Java Natural Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), as well as the military, have deployed personnel to help search for the missing victims and to assist the Garut BPBD and the Sumendang BPBD.

“Rainfall will continue to increase until it reaches its peak in January 2017,” Sutopo said. “That [La Niña] will bring more rainfall, heavier than normal, and therefore it can also trigger floods and landslides.”

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar has also instructed the ministry’s secretary-general to study what environmental factors, like soil conditions and its geomorphology process, actually caused the landslides in Garut.

“There are many aspects that have to be resolved,” said Siti. “The problem is that [...] letting many houses be built in a disaster-prone area will also cause [such problems when disasters occur].”

Intense rain over the past three days has also caused flooding in a number of areas in Central Java, especially in Banyumas and Cilacap regencies where dozens of houses and hundreds of hectares of rice fields were inundated — causing possible crop failure.

Hundreds of people have been relocated to safer places because of the floods caused by a number of overflowing rivers, which was the result of continuous heavy rains in the southern part of Central Java.

The floods in the western part of Cilacap regency, which initially hit only Sidareja district, have now reached two other districts, Kedungreja and Gandrungmangu, engulfing about 600 houses with up to 1 meter of floodwater, said Cilacap BPBD.

In another part of the regency, two people in Kroya district were killed in floods that occurred over the past three days.

“If rain continues for the next couple of days, floods would definitely hit us as we are subject to flooding every rainy season,” said 43-year-old Saridin, a local resident of Sumpiuh district in Banyumas.

Relief aid, equipment rushed to victims of Garut flooding
Fardah Antara 22 Sep 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia is in mourning following the tragedy in Garut District, West Java Province, where flash floods have led to at least 23 deaths and left 18 others missing, four seriously injured, and 27 slightly wounded.

The natural disaster that displaced more than one thousand people, was triggered by incessant heavy rains, which caused the Cimanuk and Cikamuri rivers to overflow on Sept. 20 evening.

Dr Slamet Public Hospital, Tarogong Kidul police office, main roads, school buildings, and residential areas were submerged by floodwaters, which reached a height of up to two meters in one area, according to an eye witness.

The flood-affected sub-districts included Bayongbong, Garut City, Banyuresmi, Tarogong Kaler, Tarogong Kidul, Karang Pawitan, and Samarang.

Search efforts are still underway for the missing people, involving a joint Search and Rescue Team, which includes officers of the local Search and Rescue office (Basarnas), the Regional Disaster Mitigation office (BPBD), the military and the police, as well as Red Cross agents and volunteers, according to spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

The search efforts have focused on three flood-affected locations - Paris, Cimacan, and Wado - and areas along the Cimanuk River basin, stated Joshua, a spokesman for the Bandung Basarnas.

Several victims were believed to have been swept away by the river current.

"Many people have been reported missing, so the search continues," he said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of refugees have been accommodated at the district military office with the West Java BPBD helping cope with the emergency.

Relief aid has come in the form of funding, food, and medicine. Currently, the floodwaters have begun to recede, but the incident has left scenes of disaster in its wake.

Flood victims were accommodated in temporary shelters, among other things, at the Tarumanegara Regional Military Command Headquarters in Garut.

BPBD has set up command posts and managed food packages for the refugees. The Garut district head has named the district military chief as the leader in charge of mitigating the impact of the disaster and controlling the emergency situation.

Furthermore, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has ordered several relevant ministers to visit the disaster-hit district to coordinate rescue efforts and send relief aid.

On Sept. 22, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa visited victims of the flood and held prayers for the deceased.

Each family of the deceased victims received Rp15 million as compensation from the minister.

Minister Parawansa also visited flood-hit residential areas in the district and Dr Slamet Public Hospital, which was also inundated.

She hoped the hospital could resume normal operations quickly to help flood victims needing medical treatment.

The minister also visited Cimacan Kampong in Tarogong Kidul Sub-district to distribute relief aid.

To help speed up the rescue efforts, the Public Works and Public Housing Ministry has deployed various necessary equipment and facilities to Garut.

The ministry has sent seven clean water tank trucks, 17 public hydrants, 20 knockdown toilets, one sludge truck, and 200 jerrycans of drinking water, according to spokesman of the ministry Endra Atmawidjaja in Jakarta, Sept. 22.

The facilities were provided for flood evacuees taking refuge in Gandasari Indah apartments, the local military office, Dr Slamet Hospital, and the manpower office.

The public works ministry has also dispatched 2,000 gabion wire baskets to confine local rivers that had spillover on their banks.

Public Works and Public Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono also visited Garut to coordinate with Garut District Head Rudy Gunawan on the equipment and facilities needed to aid rescue efforts.

In the meantime, some 60 km from Garut, landslides triggered by heavy downpours hit several villages in South Sumedang Sub-district, Sumedang District, also West Java Province, on the same night (Sept. 20), killing four people and displacing over 700 villagers.

A road connecting Bandung and Cirebon in the Cadas Pangeran area was covered with mud from the landslide. The local police and disaster mitigation office had deployed heavy equipment to clear the mud.

In December last year, BNPB had warned that La Nina might intensify hydrometeorological natural disasters, such as floods, landslides, and whirlwinds, in parts of the country this year.

According to the agency, at least 315 districts and municipalities across the country are prone to flooding, that might affect more than 63.7 million people. Some 274 districts and municipalities are at risk of landslides.

Due to high precipitation, the provinces of Central, West, and East Java are prone to flooding, landslides, and strong winds, he pointed out.

Nearly 99 percent of the natural disasters hitting Indonesia in 2014, such as floods, landslides, and whirlwinds, were hydrometeorological in nature.

The agencys data revealed that 496 instances of whirlwinds, 458 occurrences of floods, and 413 incidents of landslides had affected Indonesia in 2014.

Landslides led to 338 deaths, displaced 79,341 residents, and damaged 5,814 houses in Indonesia in 2014.

Garut flood victims` needs will be met: Minister
Antara 22 Sep 16;

Garut, W Java (ANTARA News) - Minister for Social Affairs Khofifah Indar Parawansa visited the public kitchen and shelter locations set up for flash flood victims in Garut, West Java, saying their logistical needs will be met.

"I have checked two public kitchens to ensure that the flash flood and landslide victims logistic needs are met," said the minister at the Garut Social Services office, Thursday.

In the public kitchen that prepared over two thousand portions of meals for both refugees and volunteers, the minister joined the participants from the Disaster Alert Youth Group (Taruna Siaga Bencana) to help them prepare meals for the refugees.

The minister also visited the public kitchen and refugee shelter in the Garut Resort Military Command (Makorem).

From both kitchens, Minister Khofifah thinks there are enough supplies to cater to refugees and volunteers.

"The most important thing is to ensure that the supplies are being evenly distributed as there are some victims, who are currently staying in a relatives house, and their logistic needs should still be fulfilled," she remarked.

The Operational Procedure Standards for disaster handling states that once a sub-district head issues an emergency decree, the authorities can release up to a hundred tons of the governments rice reserve.

Once the hundred ton-supply runs out, the regional Governor can then issue a decree that will allow access of up to 200 tons of the rice reserve.

If the emergency situation requires over 200 hundred tons of rice supply, the Social Minister will be the one to issue the decree.

"I have checked with the Bureau of Logistics and they have reserved 50 tons of rice in their warehouse for the Garut shelters," Khofifah added.

Flash floods and landslides hit a number of areas in the Garut sub-district on Tuesday due to the overflowing Cimanuk river, which was a result of heavy rainfall.

It is reported that 23 people were pronounced dead and hundreds of housing units were ruined due to the natural disaster.(*)

18 missing after floods in W. Java: BNPB
Antara 22 Sep 16;

Bandung (ANTARA News) - Eighteen people have gone missing due to recent flash floods in the district of Garut, West Java, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said here on Thursday.

"The team is still searching for the missing people," BNPB Chief Willem Rampangilei said when visiting the flood-affected location in Cimacan, Tarogong Kidul.

He said he had deployed national resources to find the missing people. The search team includes elements from the Regional Disaster Mitigation Agency, the police, the military, volunteers and community members.

They carried out the search in three areas hit by the floods and along the Cimanuk river. The Bandung chapter of the National Search and Rescue Agency has determined search locations covering Paris field, Cimacan, Cimanuk and Wado.

He said 23 people had died because of the flood.

Read more!

Indonesia: C. Java farmers insure crops against losses during natural calamities

Suherdjoko The Jakarta Post 22 Sep 16;

In their effort to prevent losses during unforeseen disasters, 88,492 paddy farmers in Central Java’s northern coastal areas have participated in an agriculture insurance program.

With the insurance, paddy farmers who mostly have only less than 0.5 hectares of farming land can request for payments to cover financial losses suffered from harvest failures caused by natural disasters, plant pests and diseases. They can later use the payment to start working on their paddy fields again.

Sumadi, the marketing manager of state-owned insurance firm PT Jasa Asuransi Indonesia (Jasindo) at the Semarang office, said the farmers had paddy fields amounting to 22,123.59 hectares of land.

“One hectare of paddy field can be worked on by three or four farmers,” he said on Wednesday.

Sumadi further explained that with a crop insurance program, farmers could be protected from losses during times of natural calamities.

The government introduced the paddy farming insurance program in 2015, based on Law No.19/2013 on farmer protection and empowerment, Agriculture Minister Decree (Kepmen) No.40/2015 on paddy farming insurance premium guidelines and Kepmen No.2/2016 on paddy farming program management and implementation methods.

Launched during a rainy season in October 2015, the program aims to cover one million hectares of paddy fields in 16 targeted provinces.

The government has appointed Jasindo, which has five branches in Central Java, as the implementing entity of the program. Those offices are in Purwokerto, Semarang, Surakarta, Tegal and Yogyakarta.

For Central Java, Sumadi said, Jasindo was targeting to cover 150,000 ha of fields. For northern coastal areas, which comprise five regencies, namely Kendal, Magelang, Semarang, Temanggung and Wonosobo, Jasindo targeted 24,000 ha, but only 13,356.64 ha had been realized.

Jasindo also aimed to cover 38,500 ha of fields in seven other northern coastal areas, namely Blora, Demak, Grobogan, Jepara, Kudus, Pati and Rembang. Only 8,766.95 ha had been realized, however, said Sumadi.

Read more!

Indonesia: President Jokowi wants simpler forestry procedures

Jakarta Post 22 Sep 16;

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has urged Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar to simplify social forestry regulations and procedures to make it easier for people to access the benefits of forests.

Jokowi said that in their implementation, many social forestry initiatives had missed their targets and people were still facing difficulties in getting necessary permits.

Citing an example, he said, only 610,000 of the 2.5 million hectares of the village forests and community forests targeted could be exploited, partly because of complicated permit procedures.

“I want all obstacles hampering the realization and implementation of social forestry resolved soon,” Jokowi said on Wednesday.

He further highlighted the importance of paying attention to indigenous people, calling on the Environment and Forestry Ministry to immediately settle issues related to customary forests.

Last year, the government launched an ambitious program that earmarked 12.7 million hectares of forests to be managed by communities through social forestry schemes. These include community forests, village forests, community plantation forests and customary forests.

Read more!

Indonesia: 2.5 years sought for ivory traders in Riau

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 22 Sep 16;

Prosecutors have demanded two-and-a-half years' imprisonment for five ivory traders in Pekanbaru, Riau. They also sought a fine of Rp 15 million (US$1,142.16) for each of the defendants, or an additional six months in prison.

The prosecutors said all of the defendants had violated Article 40 of Law No.5/1990 on the conservation of natural resources and the ecosystem and Article 55 of the Criminal Code.

“The defendants also acknowledged the roles they had played [in wildlife trading] as stated in their indictment documents,” said Wilsa, one of the prosecutor team, during a trial session at Pekanbaru District Court on Tuesday afternoon.

“Factors that made their charges heavier were that they had traded wildlife body parts and damaged the ecosystem of rare animals protected by law. Meanwhile, what could mitigate their charges was that they were polite during their trial and had not previously been involved in any crime.”

Based on the prosecutors’ indictment documents, the five defendants, identified only as Ma’ruf, Nizam Akbar, Syafrimen, Wartono and Yusuf, were arrested by personnel from the Riau Police’s special crime investigation directorate in a luxury restaurant in Pekanbaru on May 23. They were waiting for the buyers of two elephant tusks they were offering. It was estimated the tusks, which are 170 centimeters long and weigh around 46 kilograms each, were selling for Rp 1 billion.

“We also hope the judges' panel can make a decision for the confiscation of the evidence, which we will hand over to the Natural Resources and Conservation Agency [BKSDA] so they can be used for research and scientific purposes,” said the prosecutors. (ebf)

5 Riau residents declared guilty of illegal ivory trade
Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 28 Sep 16;

The Pekanbaru District Court’s (PN) judge panel imposed prison sentences to five Riau residents proven guilty in the illegal trading of elephant ivory.

Two defendants, Syafriman, 61, and Ma’ruf, 45, were sentenced to two years' imprisonment and ordered to pay Rp 10 million (US$770.62) in fines or face an additional four months in prison.

Meanwhile, three other defendants, Yusuf, 41, Wartono, 44, and Nizam, 43, were sentenced to 1.5 years in prison and Rp 10 million in fines or face an additional four months’ imprisonment.

“The defendants have been proven guilty of violating Articles 40 and 21 of Law No.5/1990 on the conservation of natural resources and their ecosystem and Article 55 of the Criminal Code,” said presiding judge Sorta Ria Neva during the trial on Tuesday.

The verdicts were lower than sentences sought by prosecutors from the Pekanbaru Prosecutor's Office, in which they asked the judge panel to sentence the defendants to 2.5 years in prison and order them to pay Rp 15 million in fines or face an additional six months in prison.

“Among factors mitigating the defendants is the fact that they have never been sentenced before for committing crimes. Meanwhile, some aspects that made their sentences heavier are their actions, which have damaged the ecosystem and threatened the sustainability of protected species,” said Sorta.

“The defendants also enjoyed operational costs, although two elephant tusks, which are 170 centimeters long and weigh around 46 kilograms each, that they wanted to sell at Rp 20 million per kg had not yet been sold.”

The five defendants, who were not accompanied by any lawyer since their first hearing, accepted the verdicts. (ebf)

Read more!

Indonesia: Conservation Efforts for Critically Endangered Rhinos Not Enough to Save Them - WWF Indonesia

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 22 Sep 16;

Jakarta. The World Wildlife Fund has slammed conservation efforts to save Javan and Sumatran rhinoceros from extinction as "insufficient" in a statement released Thursday (22/09).

According to WWF Indonesia, the Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorinus sumatranus) population is not increasing and in a worse position than the Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus) which, despite inadequate habitation, continues to grow.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry claims there are 63 Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon National Park in Banten, West Java, and 100 Sumatran rhinos in Kerinci Seblat National Park between four provinces — Jambi, Bengkulu, West Sumatra and South Sumatra .

While the Javan rhinos population has increased from 57 in 2014,the population has halved in 10 years.

"As the population of Sumatran rhinos in the wild is reaching critical levels, conservation efforts in Indonesia need to be directed towards semi-natural breeding programs, as habitat protection alone is not enough to save them," WWF Indonesia conservation director Arnold Sitompul said in the statement.

In 2015 the government launched a drive to protect wildlife and set a target population growth of 10 percent by 2019 for 25 of the country's near-extinct species.

WWF Indonesia will celebrate World Rhino Day on Sept. 22 at the Global March for Rhinos in Banda Aceh, Aceh, on Saturday with a series of educational events and newborn Javan rhino calves as the main attraction at Ujung Kulon park.

Read more!

Thailand: Reclaiming mangroves for shrimp production

Communities in Thailand turn to restoring degraded mangrove forests to grow and harvest clean shrimp.
Laura Villadiego Aljazeera 22 Sep 16;

Surat Thani, Thailand - For many years, farmer Noppadol Tawee lived with the constant fear of waking up and finding all the shrimp that were growing in his pond floating dead in the water.

"The shrimp used to get sick, and I lost all of them several times. Some years, I could make a lot of money; in others, I could lose everything," explains Noppadol, a shrimp farmer living in Kanchanadit, a district in the province of Surat Thani in Southern Thailand.

His neighbours advised him that the solution to his problem was related to a very specific kind of tree: the mangrove. Years ago, before shrimp production came to the region, mangroves had covered the coastline of the region, housing dozens of marine animals, including shrimp, small fish and crabs.

Mangroves are known (PDF) for purifying the waters and working as nurseries for a number of marine species, as well as being huge areas of carbon storage.

But, since the early 1970s, the Thai government promoted (PDF) semi-intensive and intensive shrimp production, which quickly spread to coastal areas, placing Thailand as the world's third-largest exporter (PDF) of seafood and one of the main producers of shrimp in the world.

This rapid expansion came at the cost of thousands of hectares of mangroves, a complex and rich ecosystem comprising different species of trees and a high number of other plants, animals and micro-organisms that grow in coastal areas in tropical regions.

Noppadol's followed the advice of his community and planted mangroves.

"Since I planted the mangroves in the pond, the shrimp have never died again," says the farmer, who also stopped administering antibiotics and fertilisers to the water and stopped feeding the shrimp artificial food.

"They get everything they need from the mangroves," he says.

Shrimp farms have been linked to the net loss of mangroves in countries like Thailand [Antolin Avezuela Aristu/Al Jazeera]
Essential mangroves

Jim Enright, Asia coordinator at the Mangrove Action Project (MAP), an NGO that advocates for the recovery of mangrove forests, explained the significance of the mangrove in the area:

"We often refer to mangroves as the supermarket for the local people because, there, they have some building supplies, food supplies, shelter and medicines. So people have been traditionally relying on the mangroves for all those things in the local fishing communities," Enright said.

According to data released by the World Resources Institute, the world lost between 9,000 and 25,000 hectares of mangroves each year between 2001 and 2012.

A report (PDF) from the Environmental Justice Foundation notes: "Evidence suggests that shrimp aquaculture has been a major contributor to global mangrove forest loss, and in a number of countries, it is considered to be the biggest threat to these ecosystems." The report estimates that as much as 38 percent of recent mangrove loss may be due to shrimp farm development.

As in many other places in the world, the loss of biodiversity and the concentration of farms in Kanchanadit came at a high environmental cost, causing frequent disease outbreaks in the ponds, like the ones in which Noppadol's shrimp used to suffer.

Intensive shrimp farms use antibiotics, fertilisers, disinfectants and pesticides that, in Thailand, are often released (PDF) into the natural streams of water without being treated beforehand.

"We were having many problems with the wastewater coming from the farms. The fish died and the fishermen couldn't catch anything, and we couldn't grow oysters any more," said 53-year-old Preecha Danchulchai, a villager who owns an oyster farm a few metres offshore.

The Thai Department of Fisheries did not comment on the environmental regulations of the shrimp industry, claiming that the latest legislation regarding the sector, the Royal Ordinance on Fisheries BE 2558, approved at the end of 2015, was too recent. The department is now drafting a new ministerial regulation along with a notification to implement it, as the Royal Ordinance commands.

The Thai Shrimp Association, which represents shrimp farmers in Thailand, did not respond to Al Jazeera regarding these allegations.

For Kanchanadit villagers, mangroves were a natural solution to all their problems. Little by little, some of the old shrimp ponds started to turn into mangrove forests as the trees spread along the shoreline.

Some farmers returned to their abandoned farms when they saw their neighbours obtaining good crops. "I didn't grow shrimp for a few years because they were all dying," farmer Supasit Intrapirom told Al Jazeera. "When I went back, I just stopped using chemicals. I now take the water coming from the mangroves, which is rich in nutrients."

Recovering mangroves

In the December 2004 tsunami, coastlines along both sides of the Indian Ocean, from Thailand to Sri Lanka, were destroyed, many lamented that they had lost the mangroves that used to protect the shorelines. Research, however, revealed later that mangroves reduced the deadly impact of the tsunami waves in areas where the plants flourished.

The 2004 disaster launched a race to recover the coastal forests in countries such as Thailand by replanting the mangroves. The results of these efforts, however, have been disappointing, according to advocates. "There has been a huge failure - [up to] 70-80 percent in most places," says Enright of MAP. He said that only using a single species of the mangrove tree from about 70 different species available, and their planting in areas not suitable for mangroves, were two reasons for failure.

"We are trying to build awareness that mangroves don't necessarily need to be planted," he said, adding that they had to overcome hydrological problems and over-exploitation by people in the region.

Mangroves are ecosystems that have a complex relationship with tide, as the plants need to be periodically submerged in seawater in order to survive, Enright said. This makes every restoration unique, depending on the natural characteristics of the site and the level of degradation.

Mangroves, shrimp farms and community

In the case of the shrimp ponds, said Enright, the hydrology of the areas is usually highly damaged because the tidal exchange has been stopped, making rehabilitation even more challenging. Noppadol's pond is a good example of this complexity. Mangroves are planted in an elevated area in the centre of the pond where crabs and small fish live. Shrimp grow in the more profound side areas.

Noppadol controls the level of water with a system of doors that he opens and closes following the tides. However, the water has to be decanted before bathing the ponds to make sure that the external pollution does not kill the trees or the animals.

For MAP, the most successful approach for restoration is the Community-Based Ecological Mangrove Restoration, a method that focuses on the recovery of the natural ecological processes of the mangroves as the first step in the mangrove rehabilitation process. It also depends on the involvement of local communities to ensure that the environmental conditions remain intact.

With this approach, they are rehabilitating about 10 ponds in the provinces of Krabi and Phang Nga in southern Thailand.

In Kanchanadit, the rehabilitation has been slow, and only an area of 21 hectares has been recovered over the past 10 years.

"It all depends on the community. The local government gives us the seedlings, but the community covers the rest of the costs, so reforestation is slow," says Danchulchai, the oyster farmer.

More and more villagers are getting involved in the project since mangroves are an opportunity to obtain a profit from their abandoned ponds and recover other marine crops, such as oysters or crabs, that have been lost.

"Turning the ponds into natural polyculture systems ... while restoring mangroves ... can be one of the ways to encourage owners to restore disused ponds. This way, they can receive some direct economic return and food over the long-term without expensive artificial feeding or other inputs," says Enright.

Finding customers for these sustainable shrimp can be a bigger problem. Farmers in Kanchanadit say that they can sell most of their shrimp at the local markets. However, international markets are much more demanding in terms of cost efficiency. The industry is now at a crossroads between efficiency and sustainability.

"Shrimp are treated as a commodity. Consumers want them cheap, and this is part of the problem," says Brian Szuster, associate professor at the University of Hawaii who has extensively researched environmental impacts on the Thai shrimp industry.

"Thailand has been trying to find technological fixes to keep the production going. First, they moved the production inland into fresh water, and later, they introduced new species like the white shrimp," says Szuster.

The white shrimp, supposedly more resistant to diseases, is now also being affected by the Early Mortality Syndrome, an epidemic that first hit Thailand in 2011. Since then, the country is no longer (PDF) be the largest exporter of farmed shrimp.

"I don't see what other fixes they can find now, and it is not going to be easy to keep up with the demand if shrimp are produced in a sustainable way," says Szuster. "We will have to view shrimp as a more valuable product."

In this challenging scenario, mangroves can be key in the survival of the Thai shrimp industry, but sustainable shrimp can also be a lifesaver for mangroves.

"We urgently need to restore these abandoned shrimp ponds," insists Enright, "because they were mangroves, and there is no other ecosystem that provides both the numbers and quantities of goods and services."

Read more!

100 countries push to phase out potentially disastrous greenhouse gas

Hydrofluorocarbons, commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioning systems, could add 0.5C to global temperatures by the end of the century
Oliver Milman The Guardian 22 Sep 16;

A loose coalition of more than 100 countries, including the US and European nations, is pushing for an early phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a powerful greenhouse gas that if left unchecked is set to add a potentially disastrous 0.5C to global temperatures by the end of the century.

At a meeting in New York on Thursday, world leaders called for an “ambitious phase-down schedule” for HFCs, which are commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioning systems, and pledged adaptation money for developing nations where HFC use is rapidly increasing.

“The growth in some HFCs is extraordinarily fast right now so it’s critical that we have an ambitious agreement,” a White House official told the Guardian. “This is an extraordinarily important opportunity.”

Concerns over the gaping ozone hole over Antarctica spurred countries to agree to phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), an ozone-depleting gas found in fridges and aerosols, in the 1987 Montreal Protocol.

While this proved successful – scientists recently forecast the ozone layer may well be completely healed by the middle of the century – CFCs have been routinely replaced by HFCs, which trap thousands of times more heat in the Earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Their growing use in developing countries could mean they account for nearly 20% of all emissions by 2050. The replacement of HFCs could prove crucial if the world is to avoid dangerous runaway climate change, driven by a temperature rise of 2C or more.

The new coalition of nations, which will push for an early phase-out of HFCs at a gathering in Rwanda next month, includes the US, all 28 European Union nations, all 54 countries in Africa and South American nations including Argentina and Colombia.

The US is proposing that growth in HFC use be “frozen” at 2021 levels and then scaled down so that it is largely eliminated by 2050. China wants a later peaking date, at 2025, but is still considered part of an early drawdown group when compared to other Asian nations. India is the most reluctant, having pushed for a 2031 date.

A group of 16 countries, including the US, UK, Japan, Germany and Australia, has agreed to provide $27m next year to help support an early end to HFCs. Private philanthropists have pitched in even more, pledging $53m to efforts to promote energy efficient alternatives.

“This effort to reduce potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons while cutting energy waste and costs is a great example of the critical role innovation can play in addressing climate change while prioritizing international development,” said the Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, one of the donors via his foundation.

“This initiative is a great opportunity for the public and private sectors to work together to solve a critical problem.”

Jamshyd Godrej, chairman of Indian multinational form Godrej & Boyce, said a phase-out of HFCs would provide India with “significant energy and financial savings for consumers, industry and government”.

The growing use of air conditioning and refrigeration risks undermining international efforts to cut emissions to avoid dangerous heatwaves, extreme weather and sea level rise.

Worldwide power consumption for air conditioning alone is forecast to surge 33-fold by 2100 as developing world incomes rise and urbanization advances. By mid-century people will use more energy for cooling than heating.

“Most people tend to think of energy in terms of heat and light and transport,” said Toby Peters, visiting professor of power and the cold economy at the University of Birmingham, last October.

“But more and more, it’s going to be about cold. Demand for cold is already huge, it’s growing fast, and we’re meeting it in basically the same way we’ve been doing for a century.

“Cold is the Cinderella of the energy debate. If we don’t change the way we do it, the consequences are going to be dramatic.”

Read more!

Paris climate goal will be 'difficult if not impossible to hit'

Top scientists meeting in Oxford this week say they see few scenarios that would meet the Paris target to limit temperature rise to 1.5C
Agence France-Presse The Guardian 22 Sep 16;

The global target to prevent climate catastrophe, crafted at a landmark summit last year in Paris, will be very difficult if not impossible to hit, said some of world’s top scientists meeting this week in Oxford.

The first-ever climate pact to enjoin all nations vows to cap global warming at “well below” 2C compared to pre-Industrial Revolution levels – and under 1.5 C if possible.

“Currently we only have a few scenarios that get us there, and they are outliers,” said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, a climate scientist at Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace in Paris, said of the more ambitious goal.

All but a few of the hundreds of complex computer models plotting the rapid reduction of greenhouse gases that drive climate change, in other words, zoom right past it.

“The 1.5 C target took the scientific community by surprise,” said Prof Jim Hall, director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford, which is hosting the three-day conference ending Thursday.

The question stretches back to the chaotic Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, which nearly derailed more than a decade of UN talks, set the threshold for dangerous global warming at 2C.

A huge body of scientific literature has accumulated around that benchmark, feeding into periodic reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But a recent crescendo of devastating impacts – heatwaves, deadly flooding, storm surges fuelled by rising seas – pushed world leaders to inscribe even more demanding temperature targets in the Paris pact, inked by 195 nations in December.

The effort was led by small island nations, some of which are likely to disappear under the waves within decades.

Major emerging economies, notably India, went along despite fears that the new threshold would be a brake on economic development.

On current trajectories, the world is set to warm at least 3C by century’s end, a recipe for human misery and species extinction on a global scale, scientists say.

The inclusion of 1.5C – even as an aspirational goal – was hailed as a political victory, especially by poor, climate-vulnerable nations.

But it caught the scientific community tasked with informing policy makers off-guard.

Top climate scientists gathered in Oxford to help fill this knowledge gap, and to funnel raw material for a major review – called for in the Paris agreement – to be delivered in mid-2018.

“The findings from our conference are going to lead directly into the evidence base for the IPCC special report on 1.5C,” Hall said.

“The bad news is that we are already two-thirds of the way there,” he added, noting that average global temperatures in 2015 – the hottest year on record – were a full degree higher than 150 years ago.

Indeed, the 2018 report is likely to make for grim reading.

A 2C cap on warming was already seen as hugely ambitious, both technically and politically.

For many scientists, 1.5C seems virtually impossible – at least not without “over-shooting” the target.

“We may see the first year of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels within a decade,” cautioned Dr Richard Betts, head of climate impacts research at the Met Office Hadley Centre in England.

For some scientists, even setting the target is a bad idea.

“There is a risk that the 1.5C temperature threshold is a distraction,” said Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research in England.

“The danger is that it will push us to look at geoengineering solutions rather than how to achieve deep decarbonisation.”

Slashing the output of greenhouse gases that heat the atmosphere and oceans – decarbonisation, in other words – has long been the preferred solution to global warming.

But despite a boom in renewables, emissions have continued to grow, putting even a 2C target out of reach unless engineers find ways to suck CO2 out of the air and store it underground – so-called “negative emissions.”

The 1.5C goal depends on these geoengineering schemes even more, and could tempt policy makers to opt for “quick fix” solutions rather than a wholesale transformation of national economies, Anderson said.

The problem, scientists agree, is that few of these technologies have moved beyond the experimental stage, and those that have may pose new quandaries.

Schemes that depend on biofuels, for example, would – if scaled up sufficiently to make a real dent in CO2 levels – compete with food crops that scientists say must double in the next 30 years to keep up with an expanding world population.

“Radical changes will be required,” said Nebojsa Nakicenovic, deputy director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, a major centre for climate modelling.

“And not just technically – to be successful, we need new values and norms,” he told the conference.

Read more!

Global coral bleaching event might become new normal, expert warns

Bleaching may be standard by 2020s says leading reef researcher as new images show the damage to areas around Japanese islands of Okinawa
Michael Slezak The Guardian 22 Sep 16;

The worst global bleaching event on record could simply be the new normal, according to one of the foremost experts on coral reefs and their response to warming oceans.

Mark Eakin, head of the Coral Reef Watch program at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has told the Guardian he was hopeful the current global bleaching event would end in 2017, but said it was possible it would just roll on, alternating between the northern and southern hemispheres as the seasons changed.

Some of the most recent reefs to be hit by the unprecedented event are those around the Japanese islands of Okinawa.

Eakin said he had received preliminary reports that some reefs around the Japanese islands of Okinawa had 90% of their coral bleached, and about 10% of it had died so far.

“What I’d heard was that this is the worst since 1998,” Eakin said.

Striking new images reveal the impact unusually warm oceans are having on coral reefs around Okinawa in Japan have been shared exclusively with the Guardian.

Coral begins to bleach when comes into contact with water that is unusually warm. Unless that water returns to normal temperatures quickly, it begins to die.

Sometimes when coral is moderately stressed, it over-expresses some of its colour pigments, glowing in unusually rich colours, in what’s known as “fluorescing”. Each state – bleached, fluorescent and dead coral – was seen in striking detail around Okinawa.

“The fluorescing was spectacular, especially the corals that were glowing a brilliant shade of blue,” said Stephanie Roach the underwater photographer from XL Catlin Seaview Survey who took the images.

She said the bleaching was widespread in the shallow areas, generally under about two metres in depth. In that region almost all the branching coral, called acropora, was bleached, if not dead.

She said as she went below 4m, the bleaching was more sporadic.

As is commonly the case with severe bleaching, the rest of the ecosystem appeared to be suffering too, with Roach reporting that she saw very few fish, and those that she did see were mostly herbivores, which would be feeding on the algae beginning to grow over dead coral.

Richard Vevers from XL Catlin Seaview Survey said the bleaching appeared to be similar to what they witnessed in the Maldives in May, except for the widespread and spectacular fluorescing.

“It is certainly unusual to witness this level of fluorescing, however we did see even more of it in New Caledonia,” Vevers said.

The global coral bleaching event began in 2014 as a splurge of warm water spread across the Pacific Ocean was pushed further through 2015 and early 2016 by a strong El Niño weather pattern. It has continued during an unprecedented run of record warm weather.

The phenomenon of global coral bleaching was seen for the first time in recent decades, and the current event is the longest and most severe such event recorded.

Every major reef region has been hit by it, and some areas like Hawaii have been affected three years in a row.

Eakin said although there wasn’t a global coral bleaching event in 2013, every year featured bleaching somewhere in the world. That meant some of those regions had bleached four years in a row.

Eakin was speaking from Guam, where he was attending a US Coral Task Force meeting. He said some reefs around Guam had been hit for a fourth year in a row.

Eakin said the current forecasts suggested there would be bleaching next in Micronesia and the Marshall Islands and there was a good chance of bleaching in the Caribbean.

“It’s not finished yet but I’m hopeful at this point we are going to be seeing the end of it soon,” Eakin said.

But worryingly, Eakin said there was no guarantee. Forecasts as far out as 2017 were not very reliable but were already suggesting some warming in the Pacific, which could affect corals there again.

“I expect to see some bleaching every year from now on,” Eakin said. “The questions is: Does it continue to look like a global event, or is it just places here and places there?”

“At some point, we’re probably going to hit that level [of global warming] where it doesn’t go away and it’s continuous,” Eakin said. “The climate models have been saying for well over a decade that we’re looking to some time around the 2020s where global bleaching becomes the norm.”

Eakin said he was still hopeful that the models were over-predicting the bleaching risk in the future but he was also worried they could be under-predicting.

“That’s always been one of the problems – the global climate models tend to under-predict things,” Eakin said.

Read more!