Best of our wild blogs: 29 Sep 16

Fishy business at Changi Creek
The Long and Winding Road

Pelagic Birding in the Straits of Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

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The world passes 400ppm carbon dioxide threshold. Permanently

We are now living in a 400ppm world with levels unlikely to drop below the symbolic milestone in our lifetimes, say scientists.
Brian Kahn for Climate Central the Guardian 28 Sep 16;

In the centuries to come, history books will likely look back on September 2016 as a major milestone for the world’s climate. At a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its minimum, the monthly value failed to drop below 400 parts per million (ppm).

That all but ensures that 2016 will be the year that carbon dioxide officially passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark, never to return below it in our lifetimes, according to scientists.

Because carbon pollution has been increasing since the start of the industrial revolution and has shown no signs of abating, it was more a question of “when” rather than “if” we would cross this threshold. The inevitability doesn’t make it any less significant, though.

September is usually the month when carbon dioxide is at its lowest after a summer of plants growing and sucking it up in the northern hemisphere. As fall wears on, those plants lose their leaves, which in turn decompose, releasing the stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. At Mauna Loa Observatory, the world’s marquee site for monitoring carbon dioxide, there are signs that the process has begun but levels have remained above 400 ppm.

Since the industrial revolution, humans have been altering this process by adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than plants can take up. That’s driven carbon dioxide levels higher and with it, global temperatures, along with a host of other climate change impacts.

“Is it possible that October 2016 will yield a lower monthly value than September and dip below 400 ppm? Almost impossible,” Ralph Keeling, the scientist who runs the Scripps Institute for Oceanography’s carbon dioxide monitoring program, wrote in a blog post. “Brief excursions toward lower values are still possible, but it already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year – or ever again for the indefinite future.”

We may get a day or two reprieve in the next month, similar to August when Tropical Storm Madeline blew by Hawaii and knocked carbon dioxide below 400 ppm for a day. But otherwise, we’re living in a 400 ppm world. Even if the world stopped emitting carbon dioxide tomorrow, what has already put in the atmosphere will linger for many decades to come.

“At best (in that scenario), one might expect a balance in the near term and so CO2 levels probably wouldn’t change much – but would start to fall off in a decade or so,” Gavin Schmidt, Nasa’s chief climate scientist, said in an email. “In my opinion, we won’t ever see a month below 400 ppm.”

The carbon dioxide we’ve already committed to the atmosphere has warmed the world about 1.8F since the start of the industrial revolution. This year, in addition to marking the start of our new 400 ppm world, is also set to be thehottest year on record. The planet has edged right up against the 1.5C (2.7F) warming threshold, a key metric in last year’s Paris climate agreement.

Even though there are some hopeful signs that world leaders will take actions to reduce emissions, those actions will have to happen on an accelerating timetable in order to avoid 2C of warming. That’s the level outlined by policymakers as a safe threshold for climate change. And even if the world limits warming to that benchmark, it will still likely spell doom for low-lying small island states and have serious repercussions around the world, from more extreme heat waves to droughts, coastal flooding and the extinction of many coral reefs.

It’s against this backdrop that the measurements on top of Mauna Loa take on added importance. They’re a reminder that with each passing day, we’re moving further from the climate humans have known and thrived in and closer to a more unstable future.

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Cambodia: Government slams UN figures of sand exported to Singapore

Erin Handley Phnom Penh Post 28 Sep 16;

Government officials have denied the sand-dredging industry is mired in corruption in the wake of damning figures pointing to a 70-million-tonne hole in Cambodian sand-export numbers to Singapore.

Acting Minister for Mines and Energy Dith Tina yesterday cast doubt on the reliability of the data on the UN Commodity Trade (UN Comtrade) Statistics Database, which showed Cambodia claimed to have exported about 2.8 million tonnes of sand to Singapore – worth $5.5 million – over the past nine years.

In stark contrast, Singapore recorded importing 72.7 million tonnes of sand from Cambodia, at $752 million.

In his office yesterday, Tina entered random options into the database to highlight other discrepancies between importing and exporting countries, such as between Malaysia and Singapore, but would not comment on whether those differences amounted to $700 million.

He described media reports on the database as “misleading”, and said those crying corruption were potentially “politically motivated”.

“People who use this data seem unprofessional to me,” he said. “It’s not helpful to destroy their credibility when there is no concrete proof [of corruption].

“We don’t tolerate it.”

Tina said figures were extremely difficult for his ministry to track down as it gave priority to fighting illegal mining. However, he said, in 2015, Cambodia exported a total of 149,250 cubic metres (228,000 tonnes) of sand worldwide.

He could not give figures specific to Singapore or the dollar value of exports, but said the royalties collected by the state amounted to about $111,000 on both imported and exported sand products.

However, Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Soeng Sophary yesterday provided a document listing Cambodia’s sand exports to Singapore for the past nine years, including their weight and dollar value, which corresponded almost exactly to the figures on the UN Comtrade database, with one exception.

In 2013, UN data and Cambodia’s figures did not align. According to the database, Singapore imported 20,000 tonnes more than the Cambodian export document showed, valued at $45,000.

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay yesterday dismissed Tina’s claims that there was no corruption in the sand-dredging industry. “I believe there is corruption, starting from the way the government is giving licences to the companies,” he said.

“We found the amount of sand imports to Singapore was many times more compared to what the government claimed it to be. Where did the money go?”

Chhay urged the government to be more transparent with issuing licences and said the full environmental toll should be made public. “Sand dredging is a dirty business, causing environmental impacts.”

Sand Export Figures Disputed
Khmer Times 28 Sep 16;

Dith Tina, a secretary of state and a spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, talked to Khmer Times about sand exports to Singapore after some local media claimed the exporting figures in this sector in Cambodia did not match the database of imports in Singapore.

KT: There have been stories in the local media claiming that Cambodia has lost about $700 million in revenue over eight years of exporting sand. What are your comments on this allegation?

Mr. Tina: The reporters called me to comment on what some NGO claims based on the UN Comtrade database. I declined to comment because our ministry is not involved in providing any figures to that database. Some media quoted figures showing a discrepancy from the UN Comtrade database between the total import figures in eight years by Singapore and the total export figures during the same period from Cambodia and automatically pointed to corruption of over $700 million. This is something we have to react to.

The difference in values between exporters and importers is not what one government lost but rather a different value in the trade and transport. I tried the UN Comtrade database with Spain as an exporter and the US as an importer on wood and articles of wood and there are millions of dollars in discrepancy between the value of the imports and exports. Does that imply any corruption or any wood or wood article smuggling between the US and Spain? Although UN Comtrade is a very convenient tool, a user has to understand that tool too. In this sense, the declaimer needs to be read first and the copyright and policy needs to be observed too.

I think it would be fair if the media dealing with UN Comtrade just quoted the UN Comtrade disclaimer for non-connoisseurs to understand, especially points five and six about limitations. I quote: “Imports reported by one country do not coincide with exports reported by its trading partner. Differences are due to various factors including valuation (imports CIF, exports FOB), differences in inclusions/exclusions of particular commodities, timing etc.

“Almost all countries report as partner countries for imports the country of origin...which is determined by the rules of origin established by each country...Hence, the term ‘partner country’ in the case of imports does not necessarily imply any direct trading relationship.”

This declaimer would give a reader a clearer opinion on the figures given by the tool rather than just its UN tag.

A user has to be aware of its copyright disclaimer which states that the data is provided for internal use only and may not be re-disseminated in any form without the written permission of the United Nations Statistics Division. I believe there must be a reason to set such a policy and copyright…and I took care to not infringe on this copyright by re-disseminating any figures.

KT: So, do you think figures provided by UN Comtrade are erroneous?

Mr. Tina: Once again, I won’t comment on UN Comtrade. I think people can make their own opinions based on the concrete figures given, the disclaimer and its policy. Our ministry is not involved in providing data to UN Comtrade, but we do have our own data as we collect royalties from licensees. In 2015, our data recorded a total of 149,250 cubic meters of sand exported, which is higher than the Cambodian export report in UN Comtrade, but lower than Singapore’s import report. The Ministry of Mines and Energy does not have the value to compare with the value in the database as we only deal with royalties. Customs will deal with tax.

So those who use this UN Comtrade as evidence to point out systematic $700 million of corruption might be jumping too quick to judge. I would advise them to try the same comparison with Singapore’s imports of sand versus other export partners like Vietnam, Malaysia or Philippines and to look for concrete proof if they want to fight corruption rather than pointing fingers at the whole institution.

KT: Don’t you think there is any corruption in the area?

Mr. Tina: I am not aware of any. We are all working hard to fight illegal mining, to harmonize the social cohesion between communities and mine concessionaires, to efficiently collect royalties and develop our mining resources. It would be rather unfair to look at our civil servants with suspicious eyes from hearsay. But if there is concrete proof of any corruption, we encourage people to file complaints to the competent authority so the innocent can keep on fulfilling their civil servant duties with pride.

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Zika cluster at Bishan St 12 closed: NEA

Channel NewsAsia 28 Sep 16

SINGAPORE: The Zika cluster located at Bishan St 12 (Blocks 122, 123 and 134) is the first Zika cluster to be closed since the first case of locally transmitted Zika virus infection was confirmed on Aug 27, the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced in a media release on Wednesday (Sep 28).

The cluster was closed on Sep 19 after no new cases were reported there after two weeks, NEA said, adding that it has continued to keep the area under "close surveillance" and will continue to do so until Oct 10 this year, three weeks after the cluster was declared closed.

NEA said the continued surveillance period takes into account the incubation period of the Zika virus and the lifespan of the Aedes mosquito.

"Even though the cluster has closed, the NEA urges all residents and stakeholders to continue to maintain vigilance and keep to a high standard of housekeeping to eliminate all mosquito breeding habitats, as there could still be asymptomatic cases in the area, which might fuel further transmission of the virus if there are mosquitoes in the vicinity," the media release said.

The Bishan cluster was first announced on Sep 6, and a total of five Zika cases were reported.

"Since the cluster was notified, NEA had conducted inspections in residential premises and outdoor areas, including common areas in the estate. Eight mosquito breeding habitats – comprising two in homes and six in common areas/other premises – were detected and destroyed," the agency said.

NEA also said it appreciates the cooperation and vigilance from both residents and stakeholders in the area in contributing to the closure of the cluster.

"This includes residents who kept their premises free from mosquito breeding, grassroots volunteers and community leaders who organised the Mozzie Wipeout Movement over the weekends and conducted outreach efforts, as well as premises owners and members of the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force (IADTF), including the Town Council, for maintaining housekeeping in areas under their care," the release said.


In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Senior Minister of State for Health and for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor thanked various stakeholders for working together to contain the spread of the virus.

"The closure was possible because everybody in the community - residents, grassroots organisations, premises owners and the Town Council, played their part in staying vigilant and taking care to prevent mosquito breeding at their premises," she said.

She also urged members of the public to "maintain a high standard of housekeeping to prevent mosquito breeding, as there may still be asymptomatic cases in the area".


According to NEA, there are eight other Zika clusters located at Aljunied Crescent, Bedok North Ave 3, Joo Seng Road, Elite Terrace, Ubi Ave 1, Balam Road, Sengkang Central and Hougang Ave 7 as of Sep 27, 2016.

Out of these eight clusters, seven of them have not seen cases with an onset date in the past one week or more, NEA said.

"NEA is continuing with vector control operations and outreach efforts in the cluster areas," the release said. "When there are no cases with onset dates within the last two weeks at these clusters, they will also be closed under surveillance."

The agency also noted that Singapore's largest Zika cluster, located in Aljunied Crescent, has seen a drop in the number of cases reported. "At its peak, more than 20 cases were being reported there in a day, but this has dropped to about 29 cases in the past two weeks - approximately two cases per day," it said.

- CNA/dl

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Pangolins thrown a lifeline at global wildlife summit with total trade ban

World’s most illegally trafficked mammal wins total ban on international trade in all species under the strictest Cites protection possible
Damian Carrington The Guardian 28 Sep 16;

Pangolins, the world’s most illegally trafficked mammal, were thrown a lifeline at a global wildlife summit on Wednesday with a total trade ban in all species.

More than a million wild pangolins have been killed in the last decade, to feed the huge and rising appetite in China and Vietnam for its meat and its scales, a supposed medicine. The unique scaly anteaters are fast heading for extinction in Asia and poachers are now plundering Africa.

But the 182 nations of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) unanimously agreed a total ban on international trade on all species at the summit in Johannesburg, prompting cheers and applause from delegates.

Cites works to crack down on wildlife trafficking, currently a $20bn-a-year criminal enterprise, and to ensure the legal trade in food, skins, pets and traditional remedies does not threaten the survival of species. The summit also boosted protection for the barbary ape on Wednesday, Europe’s only wild primate, and a spectacular-horned mountain goat.

The four Asian species of pangolin – Indian, Philippine, Sunda and Chinese - have been decimated by illegal poaching. The animals breed slowly and are easy to catch – they simply roll up when threatened. “It is an effective strategy against a hungry lion, but a disadvantage when approached by a human collector,” said Nigeria’s delegate, who added that the price of pangolin scales has risen tenfold in last five years.

The rampant scale of the black market has been revealed by frequent huge seizures: Indonesian authorities confiscated and burned thousands of frozen pangolins in 2015, while a Chinese ship which ran aground in the Philippines in 2013 was carrying 10 tonnes of pangolin. But traffickers have increasingly targeted the four African species: giant, South African, long-tailed and white-bellied. In June, more than 11 tonnes of pangolin scales were seized in Hong Kong in just two shipments from Africa.

Vietnam’s delegate said the upgrading of pangolins to Cites appendix 1 on Wednesday – the strictest protection possible – was critical for the survival of the Sunda and Chinese pangolins in particular, which are critically endangered. The move will pressure affected nations into tougher law enforcement and higher penalties for criminals.

Indonesia was the only nation to oppose the new protection for Sunda and Chinese pangolins, while China abstained, noting that pangolins are also caught for bushmeat in many countries and that habitat loss is also a factor. Laos supported the Asian pangolin proposals, but the Guardian revealed on Tuesday how senior Laos officials have cut deals with wildlife traffickers.

“This is a huge win and rare piece of good news for some of the world’s most trafficked and endangered animals,” said Ginette Hemley, head of the WWF delegation to Cites. “This eliminates any question about legality of trade, making it harder for criminals to traffic them and increasing the consequences for those who do.” She said efforts to reduce the demand in China and Vietnam were vital too.

“This decision will help give pangolins a fighting chance,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The world is standing up for the little guy with this pivotal decision. These species need extra protection and now they will get it.”

Like pangolins, the protection for the endangered barbary ape – the only wild primate in Europe – was increased to the highest level. The population of the ape, found in Gibraltar, Morocco and Algeria, has at least halved in the last 30 years, to as few as 6,500.

Many barbary apes, mostly infants, are illegally captured each year, largely for the European exotic pet trade and to be used as props for tourist photos. Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, MEP and head of the European parliament delegation to Cites, said: “This is a key next step in protecting a species for which the EU is unfortunately a key destination market.”

Some of the Cites decisions on Wednesday removed existing protection from species where conservation efforts have been successful. South Africa won unanimous support for the removal of the strictest protection from the Cape mountain Zebra. Its population is now growing at 9% a year, with 4,800 living in the country.

The protection for the endangered barbary ape - the only wild primate in Europe - was increased to the highest level.
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The protection for the endangered barbary ape - the only wild primate in Europe - was increased to the highest level. Photograph: Bruno D'Amicis/NPL/Alamy Stock Photo
“It is one of the success stories of large mammals in South Africa” said South Africa’s environment minister, Edna Molewa. “It is no longer at risk of extinction.” The looser protection will allow more trophy hunting, which South Africa says provides incentives for conservation efforts on private land.

The wood bison, one of the two subspecies of American bison, was completely removed from the Cites protective list on Wednesday, as its population has grown to 9,000 and is not threatened by poaching. There are about 500,000 American bison in total, far fewer than the 20 million or more that once roamed the continent.

Also on Wednesday, Georgia and the EU gained some protection for the western tur, a mountain goat with spectacular horns found only in the Caucasus mountains. The population of the goat, hunted as trophies, has fallen from 12,000 to 4,000 in Georgia in the last 30 years. Russia, which hosts 20,000 of the goats, had opposed the proposal, arguing the goat was already well protected and that trophy hunting encouraged gave conservation and helped prevent poaching.

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New report finds no slowdown in tiger trafficking

TRAFFIC 29 Sep 16;

Johannesburg, South Africa, 29th September 2016—a new report from TRAFFIC and WWF finds no evidence of a decline in tiger trafficking across Asia, with parts equating to a minimum of 1755 tigers seized between 2000 and 2015—an average of more than two animals per week.

Published ahead of a critical debate on the illegal tiger trade at the world’s largest wildlife trade meeting underway in South Africa, Reduced to Skin and Bones Re-examined found there had been 801 recorded seizures of tigers and tiger products across Asia since 2000.

With only an estimated 3,900 tigers left in the wild, evidence indicates that an increasing number of seized animals undoubtedly originate from captive breeding operations: at least 30% of the tigers seized in 2012-2015 were known to be of captive-sourced tigers. It is widely believed this increase in live seizures is directly related to the rise in tiger farms.

While the largest number of overall seizures was reported by India, there is evidence that traffickers are still exploiting a previously-identified trade route stretching from Thailand to Viet Nam through Laos — three countries where the number of tiger farms has risen.

“This analysis provides clear evidence that illegal trade in tigers, their parts and products, persists as an important conservation concern. Despite repeated government commitments to close down tiger farms in Asia, such facilities are flourishing and playing an increasing role in fuelling illegal trade,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC.

This week representatives from more than 180 countries meet at the 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild fauna and flora (CITES) and conservationists will be urging those countries with tiger farms – including China, Viet Nam, Thailand and Laos – to commit to providing a clear timeframe for the phasing out and final closure of these facilities.

Last week, Laos announced it would discuss ways to phase out its tiger farms after the country was highlighted at CITES for its lack of regulation and control over wildlife trade. Thailand has also cracked down on the infamous Tiger Temple and pledged to investigate all tiger breeding facilities.

“Criminal networks are increasingly trafficking captive bred tigers around Asia, undermining law enforcement efforts and helping to fuel demand. Tiger range countries must rapidly close their farms or wild tigers will face a future only as skin and bones,” said Ginette Hemley, WWF Head of CITES Delegation. “Laos and Thailand have announced steps in the right direction but they need to act now and other countries should swiftly follow the same path marked ‘close all tiger farms’.”

Recent seizures have highlighted hotspots for trafficking in Vietnam, which has come under scrutiny at the CITES conference for its lack of progress in tackling the illegal trade in rhino horn, ivory and tigers.

In a move to combat the poaching of tigers collaboratively, India is asking other governments at CoP17 to share photographic evidence of seized tiger skins for comparison with camera trap images of wild tigers held in a database. Each tiger’s stripe pattern is unique, much like a person’s fingerprints, so this would help enforcement agencies and tiger biologists to identify poached tigers and trace their origins.

There has been an international ban on the trade in tigers and their products for decades yet poaching for the illegal trade remains the greatest direct threat to their survival.

“Critical decisions cannot be put off until the next CITES meeting in three years’ time or we risk undermining recent important gains in tiger conservation,” said Hemley.


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Malaysia: Having rare species puts Sabah on the mangrove

Daily Express 28 Sep 16;

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah can become a world centre for mangroves and one advantage in realising this is the recent discovery of an extremely rare mangrove tree species – Bruguiera hainesii – in one of the islands in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, off the State Capital.
"Having the tree here is equivalent to China having pandas," Singaporean plant scientist Prof Dr Jean Yong said.

"The tree species can become another exciting tourism attraction for Sabah."

He said he came to learn about the tree from one Wong Yun Yun, a Malaysia from Penang.

"I provided the scientific confirmation," he said.

The tree grows up to 35 metres, he said, adding that there is another rare species in the peninsula.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the Bruguiera hainesii is very rare and has a limited and patchy distribution.

There are approximately 200 known mature individuals remaining in Singapore, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea, and there has been at least 27pc loss of mangrove area in this species range over a 25-year period (less than one generation length) due to extensive coastal development.

The international body has listed it as Critically Endangered.

Hence, he suggested that Sabah take the initiative to set up the world's first centre for mangrove tree species as there are 61 mangrove species in the world of which 53 are in Malaysia.

Dr Yong suggested that information about the existence of the tree in the State be promoted widely within the industry.

Dr Yong announced the discovery to participants in the Second International Symposium on Conservation and Management of Wetlands, Tuesday.

The two-day symposium's theme is "Wetlands: Connectivity, Corridors & Catchments that aims to identify new and innovative ways to conserve wetlands as well as to understand the scientific basis and importance of local stakeholders' involvement in conservation and management of wetlands.

According to Dr Yong, a former associate professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, a holistic approach must be applied in Wetlands conservation and management.

"Key to protecting wetlands is that you need integrated solutions, meaning you have to go from the terrestrial forests down to agriculture lands and coming through urban areas and going down to river.

"To keep mangroves you need to have the whole drainage pattern. That's fundamental," he said.

He also stressed that it is important for people to be aware that mangroves are not limited to the sea areas.

"There are three major types including fresh water mangroves," he said, adding Sabah has all three types.

The symposium was officiated by Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun who announced that the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands may attain its RAMSAR status sometime next month, after a long wait.

Also present at the symposium's opening were Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society president Datuk Zainie Abdul Aucasa and organising chairperson Dr Rahimatsah Amat.

Various topics are covered in plenary sessions by local and international experts throughout the two-day symposium.

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Malaysia: Semenyih factory main culprit of river pollution

The Star 29 Sep 16;

PETALING JAYA: A factory in the Semenyih Hi-Tech Park caused the river pollution that resulted in water supply disruption to over a million homes in the Hulu Langat, Petaling Jaya, Kuala Langat and Sepang districts last Saturday.

Kumpulan Air Selangor corporate communications department head Amin Lin Abdullah said initial investigations confirmed that pollution from the industrial park had affected Lalang River, which provides raw water to the Semenyih treatment plant.

“We have zoomed in on the industrial park as the source of the river’s pollution.

“We are now focusing on identifying the factory responsible for the discharge,” he said yesterday.

He said identifying the factory was a tedious process as the Semenyih Hi-Tech Park has several hundred factories operating.

“We are going on the ground to take water samples.

“Investigations will not stop until we find the source of the pollution,” he added.

Amin Lin added that water samples were being analysed by Air Selangor and an independent company to determine the pollutant involved.

Preliminary test results of raw water samples found no hazardous substances such as sulphide, formaldehyde, selenium, anionic detergent, cyanide and mineral oil.

Sungai Semenyih is the main waterway from the Semenyih dam to the treatment plant about 55km away, and this facility produces more than 630 million litres of clean water daily for consumers.

On Wednesday, Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Dr Maximus Ongkili said the culprit that caused the pollution would be punished.

Dr Ongklili said such incidents affected the lives of people and could not be tolerated.

The Selangor government has said that it would revoke the licence of the factory responsible.

Source of water pollution at Semenyih plant to be known in a week's time
BERNAMA New Straits Times 29 Sep 16;

SHAH ALAM: The source of water pollution which resulted the Semenyih water treatment plant being shut down and causing water supply disruption in Selangor will be known in a week’s time, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

He said authorities were still investigating whether it was caused by the industrial sector or otherwise.

“The plant operators have taken water samples to be analysed following complaints about foul smell emanating from the water.

Subsequently, we have also examined about 226 factories in the vicinity, but investigations had so far not shown any links to the premises as the source of the water pollution,” he told reporters after opening the Department of Irrigation and Drainage (JPS) Senior Managers’ Meeting 2016 here, today.

The Semenyih water treatment plant had been closed several times previously due to odour pollution which affected several areas including Hulu Langat, Kuala Langat, Sepang and Petaling.

According to reports, the pollution may have stemmed from Sungai Lalang at the High Technology Industrial Area in Semenyih. --BERNAMA

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Indonesia: Eggs of rare turtles from Riau traded in Pontianak

Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 28 Sep 16;

Authorities in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, recently confiscated more than 260 eggs of rare turtles allegedly smuggled from Riau Islands province.

Officials are investigating the case to uncover the suppliers of the turtle eggs.

The case emerged with the confiscation of 139 turtle eggs by officials of the local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) at Dwikora Port, Pontianak.

The West Kalimantan BKSDA head, Sustyo Iriono, said the turtle eggs were seized on Sept. 20 from a woman who said she received them as gifts from relatives on Serasan Island near Tambelan Island, Riau Islands province.

On Saturday, the BKSDA team arrested a 16-year-old suspected of selling turtle eggs on a section of road in Pontianak and seized 125 turtle eggs.

“The teenager said he was told to sell the eggs by his cousin and that the eggs came from Tanjung Pinang, Riau Islands,” Sustyo told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday, adding that the eggs were being sold for Rp 2,500 each.

The two suspects so far have been required to sign statements declaring that they would not repeat the offense. Sustyo said the cases would be developed to target suppliers that they suspected were involved in the turtle egg trade network in the city.

West Kalimantan have turtle habitats in various areas, such as the Paloh coast, Sambas regency, where the collection of turtle eggs for consumption is a serious threat to two species in the region.

The 63-kilometer-long Paloh coast is a habitat of green and hawksbills turtles. It is the longest coastline in the country.

The Word Wide Fund (WWF) Indonesia’s West Kalimantan program recorded more than 2,000 green turtle nests a year at Paloh Beach, making it the place with the second-biggest population of turtles along the chain, which spans from the Malay Peninsula to the Sulu Sea, Sulawesi.

A marine biodiversity conservation officer of the WWF Indonesia’s West Kalimantan program, Hendro Susanto, said the monitoring of the turtles continued to collect data on the number of missing or raided turtle nests. The move involves, among other things, former turtle egg collectors.

“Provisional data show that turtle egg hunting continues decreasing thanks to the intensive dissemination of information that the activity is illegal,” Hendro said, adding that one turtle nest could contain up to 100 eggs.

Hendro also said turtles existed in prehistoric days and could live for up to 150 years but only started to lay eggs at 30 to 50 years of age.

The high price and proximity to Malaysia have been blamed for triggering an increase in the illegal trade of turtle eggs to Malaysia. Melano Bay in Sarawak, Malaysia, is only some 10 kilometers from the outmost village in Paloh district.

To help curb turtle egg theft, a number of programs conducted jointly with the community have been introduced, including an annual festival in which information is disseminated during entertainment.

Other programs include encouraging locals to run home industries producing various handmade crafts using turtles as a theme.

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The cost of cheap drugs? Toxic Indian lake is 'superbug hotspot'

Channel NewsAsia 29 Sep 16;

HYDERABAD, India: Centuries ago, Indian princes would bathe in the cool Kazhipally lake in Medak. Now, even the poorest villagers here in India's baking south point to the barren banks and frothy water and say they avoid going anywhere near it.

A short drive from the bustling tech hub of Hyderabad, Medak is the heart of India's antibiotics manufacturing business: a district of about 2.5 million that has become one of the world's largest suppliers of cheap drugs to most markets, including the United States.

But community activists, researchers and some drug company employees say the presence of more than 300 drug firms, combined with lax oversight and inadequate water treatment, has left lakes and rivers laced with antibiotics, making this a giant Petri dish for anti-microbial resistance.

"Resistant bacteria are breeding here and will affect the whole world," said Kishan Rao, a doctor and activist who has been working in Patancheru, a Medak industrial zone where many drug manufacturers have bases, for more than two decades.

Drugmakers in Medak, including large Indian firms Dr Reddy's Laboratories Ltd, Aurobindo Pharma Ltd and Hetero Drugs Ltd, and U.S. giant Mylan Inc, say they comply with local environmental rules and do not discharge effluent into waterways.

National and local government are divided on the scale of the problem.

While the Central Pollution Control Board (PCB) in New Delhi categorizes Medak's Patancheru area as "critically polluted", the state PCB says its own monitoring shows the situation has improved.

The rise of drug-resistant "superbugs" is a growing threat to modern medicine, with the emergence in the past year of infections resistant to even last-resort antibiotics.

In the United States alone, antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause 2 million serious infections and 23,000 deaths annually, according to health officials.

Thirteen leading drugmakers promised last week to clean up pollution from factories making antibiotics as part of a drive to fight the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, while United Nations member countries pledged for the first time to take steps to tackle the threat.


Patancheru is one of the main pharmaceutical manufacturing hubs in Telangana state, where the sector accounts for around 30 percent of GDP, according to commerce ministry data. Drug exports from state capital Hyderabad are worth around US$14 billion annually.

Local doctor Rao pointed to studies by scientists from Sweden's University of Gothenburg that have found very high levels of pharmaceutical pollution in and around Kazhipally lake, along with the presence of antibiotic-resistant genes.

The scientists have been publishing research on pollution in the area for nearly a decade. Their first study, in 2007, said antibiotic concentrations in effluent from a treatment plant used by drug factories were higher than would be expected in the blood of patients undergoing a course of treatment. That effluent was discharged into local lakes and rivers, they said.

"The polluted lakes harbored considerably higher proportions of ciprofloxacin-resistant and sulfamethoxazole-resistant bacteria than did other Indian and Swedish lakes included for comparison," said their latest report, in 2015, referring to the generic names of two widely used antibiotics.

Those findings are disputed by local government officials and industry representatives.

The Hyderabad-based Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association of India (BDMAI) said the state pollution control board had found no antibiotics in its own study of water in Kazhipally lake. The state PCB did not provide a copy of this report, despite several requests from Reuters.

"I have not seen any credible report that says that the drugs are no longer there," Joakim Larsson, a professor of environmental pharmacology at the University of Gothenburg who led the first Swedish study and took part in the others, told Reuters by email.

"There might very well have been improvements, but without data, I do not know."


Local activists and researchers say the Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) built in Medak in the 1990s was ill-equipped to handle large volumes of pharmaceutical waste.

After protests and court cases brought by local villagers a 20-km (12-mile) pipeline was built to take effluent to another plant near Hyderabad. But activists say that merely diverted the problem - waste sent there, they say, mixes with domestic sewage before the treated effluent is discharged into the Musi river.

A study published this year by researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad, found very high levels of broad-spectrum antibiotics in the Musi, a tributary of the Krishna, one of India's longest rivers.

Local government officials responsible for the plants did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

Nearly a dozen current and former officials from companies producing medicines in Patancheru told Reuters that factory staff from various firms often illegally dump untreated chemical effluent into boreholes inside plants, or even directly into local water bodies at night.

All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity and Reuters was unable to independently verify those allegations.

Major manufacturers in the area, including Dr Reddy's and Mylan, said they operated so-called zero liquid discharge (ZLD) technology and processed waste onsite.

"Mylan is not dumping any effluent into the environment, borewells or the CETP," said spokeswoman Nina Devlin.

Dr Reddy's said it recycled water onsite and complied with all environmental regulations.

The same industry officials who spoke to Reuters said the pollution control board rarely checked waste-treatment practices at factories, adding that penalties for breaches were meager.

The Telangana state government did not respond to requests for comment.

"We are aware some companies are releasing more than the allowed effluent, but they are profit-making companies," said state PCB spokesman N. Raveendher. "We do try and take action against the offenders, but we cannot kill the industry also."

Many smaller companies also lacked the funds to install expensive machinery for treating waste, he added.


A series of local court cases have been filed stretching back two decades, accusing drug companies of pollution and local authorities of poor checks. In some cases, companies have been ordered to pay annual compensation to villagers, but many are still grinding through India's tortuous legal system.

Wahab Ahmed, 50, owns five acres of land near the shores of Kazhipally lake, where he grew rice until a decade ago. He says the worsening industrial pollution from several nearby pharmaceutical factories left his land barren.

"We have protested, sued, and done all sorts of things over the years ... that's how some of us are now getting around 1,700 rupees (roughly US$20) a year from the companies," he said.

"But what can you do with that small sum today?"

More than 200 companies were named as respondents in the case he was referring to, filed by a non-profit organization on behalf of villagers.

While pollution of farmland is a serious problem for villagers who depend on it for their livelihood, the potential incubation of "superbugs" in Medak's waterways has wider implications.

The issue is particularly worrisome in India, where many waterways also contain harmful bacteria from human sewage. The more such bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the greater the chances they will mutate and render such drugs ineffective against them.

The risk is that resistant bacteria would then infect people and be spread by travel.

So far, most of the focus worldwide on antimicrobial resistance has been on over-use of drugs in human medicine and farming.

"Pollution from antibiotic factories is a third big factor in causing antimicrobial resistance," the chairman of one of the world's largest drugmakers told Reuters. "But it is largely overlooked."

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in LONDON; Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques and Alex Richardson)

- Reuters

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Lightning storms knock out power to entire Australian state

Channel NewsAsia 28 Sep 16;

SYDNEY: Severe storms and thousands of lightning strikes knocked out power to the entire state of South Australia on Wednesday, authorities said, leading to port closures and commuter chaos.

South Australia is the country's fifth most populous state, with 1.7 million people and Adelaide as its capital, and is a major wine producer and traditional manufacturing hub.

The Bureau of Meteorology said a vigorous cold front was moving across the state with an intense low pressure system due on Thursday.

"We'll have gale force winds and large seas (across the south of the country); also heavy rain and thunderstorms, which will lead to renewed river rises," it said on its website.

SA Power Networks said repairs to its transmission network were underway.

"There were more than 21,000 lightning strikes recorded over a 12-hour period from midday yesterday on the West Coast, and as a result it is likely some damage has occurred to our distribution network," it said.

The state had been brought to a standstill, with ports closed, trains and trams stopped, traffic lights out and long commuter delays, state agencies said.

South Australia was relying on accessing power from Australia's populous east coast via a power interconnector with the neighbouring state of Victoria when there was a failure on Wednesday.

No power was flowing from Victoria into South Australia, said a spokesman for the Australian Energy Market Operator, which operates the power systems in southern and eastern Australia.

When the state tried to compensate, it experienced what is known as a "voltage collapse", Simon Emms, executive manager of network services at network operator ElectraNet, told ABC Radio, due to storm damage to power lines. This led to a statewide outage.

A spokeswoman for Electranet said power was being restored to some areas of Adelaide, but could not say when the lights would go on across the state.

"Now, clearly, questions will be raised," Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg told Sky News. "Serious questions will be raised that need to be answered as to how this extreme weather event could take out the whole of the electricity supply across a major state such as South Australia."

The impact was wide-ranging, with traffic coming to a standstill in Adelaide while power supplies were disrupted to BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine, a huge mining operation more than 500 km (300 miles) to the northwest.

A BHP spokesman said back-up power generation was being used to run critical infrastructure.

(Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Nick Macfie)

- Reuters

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