Best of our wild blogs: 6 Oct 16

Mystic Flamebacks and Flying Lizards
Winging It

Missing Birds-Moustached Babbler
Singapore Bird Group

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Despite small size, Singapore can play big role in food production: Khaw

Sara Grosse, Channel NewsAsia 6 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: The Republic has the potential to be a “living lab” for new food production technologies, said Minister for Transport and Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure Khaw Boon Wan on Thursday (Oct 6).

At the meeting of ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry held here, Mr Khaw shared Singapore's vision for its farms: "We envision our farms of the future to be high-tech, innovative, highly intensive and productive, able to do more, with less.

“As an urbanised state, Singapore promotes the development of urban farming solutions and progressive farming technologies."

A modern and technologically savvy farm sector, he added, is also key to attracting a new generation of agricultural professionals. These “agri-specialists” will write the next chapter in global and regional food security efforts, he said.

While acknowledging the small agricultural sector in Singapore, Mr Khaw emphasised that the city-state can contribute and play its part in food security.

He cited examples of how Singapore is actively looking at the use of technology and research and development (R&D) throughout the agricultural value chain. This include developing indoor vertical vegetable production systems for Asian leafy greens that are potentially five times more productive than conventional farming systems.

The Minister also cautioned that food security will become increasingly challenging in the face of climate change. "Thus, it is timely that we are implementing the ASEAN Multi-Sectoral Framework on Climate Change. Progress has been made in information exchange, cross-sectoral coordination, and stakeholder collaboration on climate change adaptation and mitigation projects," he said.

Other than food security issues, Mr Khaw also raised his concern on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in agriculture, which threatens global public health and can significantly impact food security and safety. On its part, Singapore will coordinate ASEAN AMR efforts in agriculture and enhance AMR surveillance.

The ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry is a platform for cooperation in food, agriculture and forestry. Leaders meet annually to provide guidance for regional cooperation.

The region is home to two of the world's largest rice exporters and is a major producer and exporter of seafood.

- CNA/xk

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Two new Zika cases reported, taking total past 400

Channel NewsAsia 5 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: Two new Zika infections were reported on Wednesday (Oct 5), after Singapore saw three consecutive days with no new cases.

As of 3pm on Wednesday, a total of 401 locally transmitted Zika cases have been confirmed in Singapore, according to data on the National Environment Agency's (NEA) website.

Two more Zika clusters were closed on Wednesday, leaving the main Aljunied/Sims Drive cluster the only remaining one in Singapore.

The clusters at Elite Terrace and Sengkang Central were declared closed after no new cases were reported there in the last two weeks.

The Elite Terrace cluster, which also included Fidelio Street, Jalan Tua Kong (Park East), Tua Kong Green and Siglap Road (Flamingo Valley) was the second-largest in the country, with 13 cases in total.

The Aljunied/Sims Drive cluster remains open with 298 cases in total, two of which were reported in the last two weeks.

- CNA/mz

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Underwater World Singapore senior diver killed by stingray

Channel NewsAsia 5 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: An Underwater World Singapore (UWS) diver was killed on Tuesday (Oct 4) after he was stung in the chest by a stingray.

In a statement on Wednesday, Haw Par Corporation confirmed that Mr Philip Chan, 62, "was injured in the chest by a stingray" while preparing marine life for transfer to a new aquarium. He was the senior supervisor of UWS' curatorial department.

"He died from his injury a few hours later at Singapore General Hospital (SGH)," the statement added.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) sent an ambulance on Tuesday afternoon to UWS at around 2.20pm. Upon arrival, paramedics found Mr Chan lying near the venue's entrance and assessed the situation before conducting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on him.

He was then taken to SGH and paramedics continued to perform CPR during the journey, SCDF said.

Although UWS has ceased operations since Jun 26, Mr Chan was one of the 10 staff who stayed on to care for the animals while suitable homes were sought out for them, Haw Par Corporation said.

"He was a veteran diver, aquarist and animal caregiver who had been caring for the aquatic animals at UWS since its opening in 1991," it added.

"The management and staff at Haw Par Corporation are deeply saddened by the loss of a long-time staff and colleague and express our condolences to the family of Mr Chan. Haw Par is providing all possible support and assistance to Mr Chan’s family in this time of difficulty."

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it has instructed Haw Par to stop all activities associated with the transfer of the sea animals after the incident.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Manpower Ministry said officers from its Safety and Health Inspectorate "responded to the scene immediately and commenced investigations" after the ministry was informed of the incident.

"Preliminary findings indicate that a worker was pierced in his chest by the barb of a stingray while he was in the midst of transferring the stingray from its tank. He was conveyed to hospital where he subsequently succumbed to his injuries," it said, adding that investigations are ongoing.

Haw Par said it is assisting the authorities with investigations and has suspended the animal transfer programme at UWS.

Underwater World supervisor dies after getting stung in chest by a stingray
Today Online 5 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE — A senior staff at Underwater World Singapore (UWS) has died after getting stung in the chest by a stingray, prompting a suspension of efforts to transfer the defunct attraction's animals to new facilities.

The unusual incident happened on Tuesday (Oct 4) afternoon, as 62-year-old Mr Philip Chan was preparing some animals for transfer to a new aquarium.

Mr Chan was "injured in the chest by a stingray" in the midst of transferring the stingray from its tank and died from his injury a few hours later at the Singapore General Hospital.

Mr Chan, a senior supervisor of the Curatorial Department, was one of the 10 UWS staff who had stayed after the attraction's closure in late June to help care for the animals while suitable new homes were being found.

Haw Par Corporation, which ran UWS, said Mr Chan was a "veteran diver, aquarist and animal caregiver who had been caring for the aquatic animals at UWS since its opening in 1991".

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was alerted to the incident at 2.20pm on Tuesday and despatched an ambulance to UWS. They found Mr Chan lying near the entrance and the paramedics commenced CPR. The SCDF said the paramedics continued to administer CPR while on route to SGH. The hospital was also alerted to be on standby to receive the Mr Chan.

Haw Par said it is assisting the authorities with the investigations, adding that the company would provide “all possible support and assistance” to Mr Chan’s family.

A Ministry of Manpower (MOM) spokesperson said the ministry, which was informed about the incident on Tuesday, has instructed Underwater World Singapore to stop all activities associated with the transferring of sea animals. Officers from MOM’s Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate had responded to the scene immediately and commenced investigations, said the spokesperson. Investigations are ongoing.

Veteran Underwater World diver killed by stingray had loved animals and diving
TOH EE MING and CHRISTOPHER TOH Today Online 6 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE — When she received a call at 2pm on Tuesday that her husband had been involved in an accident at work and was sent to hospital, Madam Serene Tong thought little of it, assuming that it was minor.

Her husband, Mr Philip Chan, was a veteran diver at Underwater World Singapore (UWS). Years ago, a sand tiger shark bite had left him needing stitches and a hospital stay, but he recovered and continued working at the attraction.

By the time she reached the hospital, their two daughters broke the news that her husband was “gone”.

“The worst thing was ... I didn’t even rush down,” said Mdm Tong, 59, before breaking down in tears.

Mr Chan, 62, died in Singapore General Hospital (SGH) on Tuesday (Oct 4), after getting stabbed in the chest by a stingray while he was preparing some animals for transfer to a new aquarium from UWS, where he had been working since it opened in 1991.

The attraction closed in June this year, and Mr Chan, a senior supervisor of the Curatorial Department, was one of 10 employees who had stayed to help care for the animals while suitable new homes were being found.

All activities to transfer the defunct attraction’s animals to new facilities have been suspended since the incident, said the Ministry of Manpower, which sent officers from its Occupational Safety and Health Inspectorate to investigate when it was informed about the incident.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was alerted to the incident at 2.20pm on Tuesday and despatched an ambulance to UWS.

They found Mr Chan lying near the entrance, and the paramedics performed CPR. The SCDF said the paramedics continued to administer CPR en route to SGH.

The hospital was also alerted to be on standby to receive Mr Chan.

Family and friends turned up for Mr Chan’s wake at Block 52, Lengkok Bahru on Wednesday.

Beside his coffin, his old scuba diving suit was displayed as a reminder of his love of diving.

He was someone who passionately loved animals, and had a thirst for adventure and all-things diving related, often venturing out to the surrounding waters to catch marine wildlife, even sharks, as specimens for the aquarium.

Mr Jimmy Tan, 54, who has known Mr Chan for more than 30 years, was one of those who went on these marine specimen collection trips.

He said Mr Chan was thinking of continuing to work with animals after his contract with UWS ended, adding that he had received a job offer from River Safari.

“I remember he was still showing off his muscles, telling me he still felt very strong ... He was more like a brother to me, like family,” he said.

Last week, they met and floated the idea of a diving trip to their old haunt near Pemanggil island in Malaysia sometime in March next year.

“But now (this trip) will never happen,” Mr Tan said.

Mdm Tong told reporters that she had met Mr Chan while they were both working at Sentosa. He was a lifeguard and she was an administrative staff there.

“He was very honest, forthright ... We just clicked,” she said, revealing how the family used to go on diving trips during their 34-year marriage.

In a statement on Wednesday, Haw Par Corporation, which ran UWS, said Mr Chan was a “veteran diver, aquarist and animal caregiver who had been caring for the aquatic animals at UWS since its opening in 1991”.

Haw Par said it is assisting the authorities with investigations, adding that the company would provide “all possible support and assistance” to Mr Chan’s family.

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Malaysia: Sandbags to reinforce shorelines against floods

The Star 6 Oct 16;

IPOH: Embankments along shorelines in Kedah and Selangor will be reinforced with sandbags as the high-tide phenomenon is expected to occur twice during the next two weeks.

National Disaster Management Agency director-general Datuk Zaitun Ab Samad said the water level from the tidal waves in these flood-prone areas was expected to reach 5m deep.

She said this was the short-term solution that the agency, several NGOs and the private sector were implementing.

“As for the long-term, we will be proposing for bunds to be built, and the planting of more mangrove trees, which are an important natural barrier against natural disasters like floods.

“However, it is extremely costly to plant such trees,” she told a press conference after addressing a forum on the preparedness of the agencies concerned to overcome disasters here yesterday.

Zaitun also advised villagers to move to the relief centres early.

She said since it had been forecast that the next high tide pheno­menon was expected to occur between Oct 14 and 19, affected villagers and residents should move to the designated relief centres on Oct 13.

High tide phenomenon: Selangor, Perak & Kedah coastal residents urged to prepare for evacuation
SERI NOR NADIAH KORIS New Straits Times 5 Oct 16;

IPOH: People living in coastal areas and rivers, especially in Selangor, Perak and Kedah, have been urged to prepare for the high tide phenomenon, which is expected to escalate by the middle of the month, triggering floods.

National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) director general Datuk Zaitun Ab Samad advised residents of the three states living in vulnerable areas to be prepared for the possibility of evacuation.

The phenomenon is expected to strike between Oct 14 and 19.

Based on the forecast by the Meteorology Department, the high tide phenomenon is expected to worsen with waves predicted to be as high as five-metres.

She said that as such, initial preparations must be done now not only be residents, but also by government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Zaitun was speaking at a press conference after officiating the closing ceremony of the Forum on Disaster Preparedness and the launch of the National Preparedness Month 2016 here today.

She said the agency will also make preparations by placing sandbags on ramparts or existing bunds in Selangor and Kedah soon to prepare for the phenomenon.

She said the use of sandbags is important as existing bund, originally built to a height of about three meters, can decrease to 2.5 metres as a result of the sinking process caused by the high tide.

The use of sandbags, as such, will serve to bolster the previous height.

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Malaysia: Taps at Kota Baru fire station dry for past month

The Star 5 Oct 16;

KOTA BARU: Syarikat Air Kelantan Sdn Bhd (AKSB) has been urged to resolve the water supply problem at the Kota Baru fire station and its firemen's quarters here.

Kota Baru Fire and Rescue Department chief Senior Fire Superintendent Zaini Bidin said the problem that had been dragging on since last month and had caused them getting water for daily use and to extinguish fires.

"The low water pressure and frequent water supply cuts have also caused problems to 20 families staying in the quarters," she told reporters here.

Zaini said firemen resort to sourcing water from open sources such as ditches and rivers.

She said firemen were having problems aiding people and had to seek assistance from other parties to get water supply.

"The limited supply of clean water has to be rationed," she said adding that they had to buy water for drinking and cooking purposes.

Zaini said they had lodged a complaint over the matter with AKSB.

In a statement, AKSB said investigations were underway to identify the actual cause of the problem, saying it suspected a burst main pipe and a change in the distribution of water supply in that area.

It added that for the time being, AKSB would supply would be via water tankers until the problem was resolved. – Bernama

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Malaysia: Act on water security issue now -- Expert

JOASH EE DE SILVA The Star 6 Oct 16;

PETALING JAYA: A water specialist has called on the authorities to immediately address the issue of water security in the country.

Water quality and modelling specialist Dr Zaki Zainudin said that the frequency of water disruption was worrying, especially since it also af­fects Putrajaya, the administrative capital of the nation.

“There seems to be the same pro­blem every year and steps must be taken to prevent the contamination.

“If our water sources are susceptible to contamination, who is to say they are not susceptible to sabotage?” asked Dr Zaki.

On the recurring problems of contamination at Sungai Semenyih dam, he said the dam was around 50km away from the treatment plant and the river, which passes through the town, was susceptible to contamination from various sources along the way.

He proposed three options, firstly to build protective canals or pipes for the water to stream directly to the Sungai Semenyih Water Treatment Plant from the dam.

The second is to build a treatment plant near the dam and supply the water directly to existing water supply networks which are already protected and the third is to upgrade the treatment plant with advance water treatment technology.

“The first option is very costly as that would require the building of 40-50km of pipes, and the third is not recommendable because this would mean the river is allowed to be more polluted and the culprits will go scot-free, so the authorities have to weigh the pros and cons of all the options,” he said.

Regarding the water contamination at the treatment plant, Dr Zaki advised those at the plant to test and look be­­yond conventional contaminants such as ammonia and manganese which have been the usual cause of water disruption.

“My advice is that if the odour of the contaminant is a solvent and has a pungent smell, then maybe they should test for hydrocarbons as they give off a pungent smell,” he said.

He added that plant maintenance must also be in tip-top condition and all probable loose ends must be addressed until the source of contamination was identified.

“It may also be worthwhile for the treatment plant to assess and review its own treatment system and processes just to be sure it’s not compounding the problem,” Dr Zaki said.

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Indonesia: NASA satellites detect 48 hotspots across Sumatra

Antara 5 Oct 16;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - The Terra and Aqua satellites of NASA detected 48 hotspots across Sumatra Island on Wednesday morning.

Of the total number, nearly 71 per cent, that is 34 hotspots, were found in North Sumatra Province, Slamet Riyadi, spokesman of the data section of the Pekanbaru meteorology station said here.

In North Sumatra, 16 hotspots were detected in Padang Lawas district, 15 in north Lawas and three from other regions.

Riau Province had nine hotspots comprising four in Bengkalis District, two each in Kampar and Rokan Hulu Districts, and one in Indragiri.

Wildfires in Riau gutted a total of 3,734 hectares of forest, peatland and plantations.

The Riau provincial police have detained 93 suspects for allegedly intentionally setting fires, presumably to clear land for farming.

Meanwhile, West Sumatra Province had five hotspots.

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Indonesia: Philippine birds make stopover in Ketapang

Severianus Endi The Jakarta Post 5 Oct 16;

Conservationists in Ketapang, West Kalimantan have spotted several birds perching on shady trees in city parks and along streets, recently.

However, they are not the usual birds found in the area. They are migrating birds from the Philippines stopping over in Tanjongpura Park in downtown Ketapang. The 50 to 70 birds have been identified as Philippine starlings.

Ketapang Biodiversity Keeping (KBK) director Abdurahman Alqadrie said migratory birds from various parts of the world stopped over in Ketapang regency between September and April each year as part of their migratory cycle.

“Philippine starlings are forest birds. During migration, they transit in the city center,” Abdurrahman said Monday.

He added that birds stopping over in the city park indicated that the city provided adequate open green spaces for them to rest and find food.

Philippine starlings measure about 18 centimeters and are long and dark.

Males can be identified by their light gray or dark yellow head, with a whitish lower body, shiny dark purple back, black wings with white shoulder line and black tail. Meanwhile, the upper body of the female bird is grayish-brown, with a whitish lower body, black wings and tail.

The birds feed on small fruits and seeds of shady trees generally found in the city. Abdurahman said the presence of the birds serve was representative of the city’s conditions.

“They will stay for around a month before continuing their migration to other places. They are safe here,” said Abdurahman.

Ketapang and North Kayong regencies are located along the coast and every year serve as temporary destinations for migratory birds. KBK, mainly comprising wild nature photographers, conducts observation, documentation and data collection on the migratory birds.

Abdurahman said around 24 species of shorebirds stopped over along the coast in both regencies. Besides the shorebirds, several types forest birds, including the chesnut-cheeked starling, are also observed there.

The migratory chain of the shorebird species begins from the Siberian coast in northern Asia, then to Southeast Asia, including Ketapang and North Kayong regencies in Indonesia. They then continue their journey to the shores in Australia and New Zealand.

Three preying bird species, or raptors from Japan have also been observed in Ketapang. From Japan, these birds migrate to Peninsular Malaysia, then enter Indonesia in Ketapang and later return home to Japan. The three raptor species are identified as the oriental honey buzzard, nippon eagle and perigrin falcon.

Authorities in West Kalimantan have not carried out specific activities related to the migration of the birds, unlike in Gorontalo, North Sulawesi, where the migration of various types of birds from Alaska to Europe, Africa and Asia, has raised people’s awareness on the importance of maintaining the ecosystem and wildlife habitat. At Lake Limboto in Gorontalo this year, the Migratory Bird Festival was organized by a group of biodiversity observers.

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Has hope become the most endangered species in conservation?

As wildlife continues to decline around the world, conservation has become a bleak calling. Can a new Optimism Summit help reframe the mission to save life on Earth?
Jeremy Hance The Guardian 5 Oct 16;

Want to hear a sad story? You could read this article of mine about the first mammal lost to climate change. Or this one about how there are only 60 vaquita left on the planet. Or here’s my piece on how forest elephants are being decimated even as scientists debate if they are worthy of being called a distinct species. As an environmental journalist, I sometimes feel it’s my job to simply document the decline of life on planet Earth. The word ‘depressing’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.

For many of us – myself included some days – the desperate state of our environment leaves us numb with sadness and, frankly, lost in hopelessness. We don’t act, because we don’t know what to do; we don’t act, because there’s only so much negativity we can swallow before we throw up our hands and go back to playing Pokemon Go. Without any dose of hope, we feel ourselves succumbing to despair.

Optimism summit

There may be a cure coming, however. As I write this, there is a small but growing movement within conservation to bring back a little optimism, a little hope, a little wonder into what has become a decidedly bleak calling. This week, the Zoological Society of London and Oxford University announced a Conservation Optimism Summit for 2017 in Oxford, culminating in a big Earth Day public celebration focused on the world’s youth.

For the first time, the summit will see conservationists from around the world gather to discuss how to change the culture of despair in conservation and share upbeat stories about what’s working from the Philippines to Belize to the hedgeros of the UK.

The concern that conservation, and environmentalism for that matter, has become drowned in a culture of negativity has been simmering for awhile now. A paper in 2010 identified a “culture of hopelessness” in conservation biology, which the authors feared would make it harder for conservation to succeed. They argued eloquently that a glass-half-empty outlook would make it difficult to attract young peopleto conservation careers. They also warned that the constant drip-drip-drip of despair would only succeed in bringing in people who already have a negative view of the world, creating a feedback loop of despairism.

The call for more optimism in conservation is underpinned by psychology: it turns out if something sounds hopeless, or too big to turn around, most people will just shrug their shoulders and go on with their lives. Apathy is often the result of gloomy messaging. This has been extensively studied in regards to climate change, but next year’s summit will be the first time it’s addressed for conservation in such a formal and public setting. If conservationists aren’t able to turn around the narrative, they fear they will continue to lose public interest, support, and, in the long run, the battle to preserve life on Earth.

Understandable gloom-and-doom

But it will be a delicate dance to inject optimism without undercutting the fact that biodiversity and bioabundance around the world are in deep trouble.

It’s not an exaggeration to say we’ve mucked up our world. The climate is rapidly warming while our oceans are being emptied and acidified. We are still cutting down forests as if they have no value beyond chopsticks and office paper, while many of the world’s habitats have simply been silenced by over-hunting, indiscriminate trapping, and relentless killing. Meanwhile, there are 7-plus billion Homo sapiens – and we all require food, clothing and shelter, not to mention cars, air conditioners and smart phones. All this means we are facing the prospect of a mass extinction not seen since the comet that took out the dinosaurs.

But there are other stories in conservation. Without the passion of generations of conservationists, we would very likely live in a world today without bison, rhinos, big cats or whales. There would be few, if any, bald eagles left. There would be zero California condors. Elephants might only be in zoos. There would never have been any Prezwalski’s horses or Kihansi spray toads to re-release back into the wild.

Without hard-working conservationists, we would live in a world lacking national parks and other protected areas. Imagine that: how many more species would be extinct? How many more wildernesses would have been razed? The fact that around 15% of our land has been set aside as protected or indigenous areas is something worthy of unbridled celebration.

The long game

Part of what makes optimism in conservation so challenging is the global trend of decline in wildlife, but it’s also that success stories are often decades, if not generations, in the making.

The people who first started caring for the last dozen European Bison could only have faith that their efforts could one day lead to a population of some 3,000 free-roaming individuals in nine countries. The Greenpeace activists who passionately fought for the end of whaling could only dream of humpback whales rebounding to a population 80,000-strong.

Species can bounce back, even sometimes from stunningly small populations. But it has to be given a chance and it takes time. Lots of time. Something human beings, so focused on the short-term, have a hard time grasping.

We already know that conservation works. In fact it works really well. We just need a lot more of it – and we need faith in the long term instead of listening only to naysayers who say ‘we’re all screwed.’

And what about my role in this?
Journalists like myself are hardly blameless for the largely negative portrayal of conservation today. On the one hand, we know that bad news often gets more attention – i.e., eyeballs – than happy stories. And journalism today is measured by clicks.

But even more so, journalists are trained to point out what’s wrong in world. That’s our job: to uncover things that aren’t working and put them in front of the public. Journalists are not trained to fix problems – believe me – but to communicate them to those who could do something about them.

But covering environmental stories, especially those with global impact, only exacerbates our journalistic penchant for focusing on the dire. The stakes of issues like climate change and ocean acidification are so high that it’s almost impossible to write about them without sounding apocalyptic. Moreover, let’s be honest, environmental issues rarely show up on your Facebook or Twitter trending feeds, which means environmental journalists struggle to find ways to get people to notice. If I could drop celebrity names into every headline, I would: Vaquita almost extinct, proclaim Beyonce, Brad Pitt and Darth Vader.

In lieu of such desperation, I have to constantly ask myself: okay how do I get the public to notice this issue? And believe me I’ve tried many strategies: from oh-my-god-this-is-bad, to look-how-cute-this-animal-is, to isn’t-nature-freaking-awesome?, to seriously-wake-up-people!

But here’s my pledge to you: over the next 12 months I promise to amp up my coverage of what’s working in conservation, to find some little-reported stories of comeback species. This doesn’t mean I’ll ignore the bad stories by any means, but I’ll try to achieve a better balance on this blog.

After all, conservation is ultimately an act of hope. It’s a belief that actions taken today will bear fruit long in the future and that people, one day, will grow a little wiser. It’s the faith that billions of humans could, one day, cohabitate a planet with multitudes of wild tigers, flocks of orange-bellied parrots and herds of forest elephants. But we won’t get there without hope.

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Warm Ocean 'Blob' Triggered Worst-Ever Toxic Algae Blooms

Mindy Weisberger LiveScience Yahoo News 4 Oct 16;

Blooms of algae along the West Coast of the U.S. in 2015 were bigger and more toxic than ever before, contaminating food webs and closing fisheries from southern California to as far north as British Columbia, in Canada. Now, a new study links them to elevated ocean temperatures, with algae growth spurred by a mysterious patch of warmer-than-average ocean that scientists first noted years earlier and had dubbed "the warm blob."

The warm blob, which first appeared in 2013 and hung around into 2014, helped one species of toxic algae — Pseudo-nitzschia australis — increase in unprecedented numbers and expand farther north than was previously possible, with devastating effects on a wide range of marine life. [Yuck! Photos of 'Rock Snot' Algae Infestations]

Toxic algae events that are serious enough to merit fishery closures occur off the coasts of Washington and Oregon every three to five years, but the 2015 bloom was the largest by far, according to Ryan McCabe, the study's lead author and a researcher at the University of Washington's Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean in Seattle.

"And our results show that it was connected to the unusual ocean conditions,” McCabe said in a statement.

The warm blob began as a large, circular zone in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) long; 1,000 miles wide and more than 300 feet (90 meters) deep, spreading out along the coast and moving closer to shore in 2015. This infusion of warm water accompanied currents carrying nutrients from the deep sea, enabling P. australis to reproduce faster, the researchers discovered.

P. australis produces a neurotoxin called domoic acid, which can cause seizures and gastrointestinal distress, and is sometimes lethal. When shellfish and small fish like anchovies eat the algae, they can transmit the toxin to animals that feed on them — including people.

And because P. australis blooms were more widespread in 2015, more marine mammals were vulnerable to the impacts of the toxic algae, the researchers said.

Scientists have long studied the cyclical growth of algae populations in coastal waters, building a 25-year record that tracks the ebb and flow of the algae and the toxins they impart to local marine wildlife. By establishing a link between warmer oceans and increased toxic algal growth, the new study hints that rising global temperatures could make deadly blooms a more common occurrence.

"Species like Pseudo-nitzschia are extremely well poised to take advantage of background warming," McCabe said. "Pseudo-nitzschia are always out there along our coast. The fact that they are almost engineered to take advantage of situations like this — warm temperatures and low nutrients — that is concerning."

The study was published online Sept. 20 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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