Best of our wild blogs: 11 Oct 16

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Mandai parks project: More measures to lesson impact on nature

TOH EE MING Today Online 10 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE — The Government has accepted the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report commissioned by Mandai Park Holdings (MPH) on its proposed mega-nature attraction for the Mandai area, after additions were made to further mitigate the impact of development works.

This includes the possibility of widening the planned Eco-Link to beyond the proposed 30m, in consultation with technical agencies and nature groups. The forested strip that runs through the middle of the proposed Bird Park site will also be maintained, so that it can act as a passageway for wild native birds and mammals living in trees to get to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve.

The extra measures, announced in a statement by MPH on Monday (Oct 10), were made after a month-long public consultation that kicked off in July 26 this year on the EIA report. Plans were revealed earlier in June to transform the Mandai area into two wildlife parks — a rainforest-themed adventure park and a new bird park relocated from Jurong — adding to the wildlife attractions already in the area.

Other measures to lessen the environmental impact include long-term noise monitoring to be con-ducted at the fringe of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, and the prohibition of night-time con-struction works. MPH — which manages the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Night Safari and Jurong Bird Park — will also develop and implement biosecurity and disease management procedures to minimise any risk of disease transmission.

All the mitigation measures are documented in the Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan, which will be reviewed on an ongoing basis in consultation with relevant government agencies.

An environmental advisory panel — which includes experts, academia, nature groups and the private sector — will also be set up to monitor the implementation of the plan during the detailed design, con-struction and operation phases.

Mr Mike Barclay, group chief executive officer of MPH, said: “We have listened carefully to all the feedback, and strengthened the mitigation measures associated with the project to help ensure we can deliver an enhanced Mandai nature precinct, of which we can all be proud.”

Experts who spoke to TODAY acknowledged the efforts to try to minimise the impact on nature.

Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai said that while most of the extra mitigation measures, such as monitoring the wildlife and noise levels, were good, it should have been a “given” when setting out such development plans.

And while the widening of the Eco-Link would give the wildlife more room to roam, there should be more connections for animals to move among the trees.

Ben Lee, founder of nature conservation group Nature Trekker, noted that it was still quite “vague” how much wider the Eco-Link would be, since there is a difference between adding “another 5m” or “an-other 30m”. He added that beyond giving space for wildlife to flourish, the widening of the link could min-imise the occurrence of roadkill.

Mr Subaraj hopes that the door is not closed to more suggestions and that these are “just the first few of many more mitigations to come” to protect nature and wildlife.

When asked about the timeline of the development, MPH said that it is taking a “phased approach” to construction, with the first phase targeted to be done by 2020, and all works to be completed by 2023.

The development and building plans for the Mandai project would be submitted progressively to ob-tain the necessary regulatory approvals for construction preparation works to start in early 2017, it add-ed.

Dr Ho Hua Chew, vice-chairperson of the conservation committee from Nature Society (Singapore), said that they had reiterated their position to MPH that there should not be a bird park and another safari park in the area because they were not in “ecological harmony” with the Central Catchment Nature Re-serve.

He suggested that an alternative would be to have more eco-friendly developments, such as an ad-venture camp that allowed participants to immerse in the rich biodiversity already existing in the planned project area, and not just introduce species “in a corralled-up park”.

“This is our position since 2007 when the development plan for this area was first mooted by Singapore Tourism Board, and we are sticking by it,” Dr Ho said.

More measures to minimise impact of Mandai Rejuvenation Project
Channel NewsAsia 10 Oct 16;

SINGAPORE: Additional measures have been included in Mandai Park Holding’s (MPH) revised Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report to mitigate the effects of the area's redevelopment.

This is in line with its continued efforts “to promote sustainability and conservation for the rejuvenation of the Mandai area”, the organisation said in a press release on Monday (Oct 10).

MPH said the revised EIA report follows the conclusion of the public consultation round on the EIA for plans to develop Mandai into an integrated nature and wildlife destination. “The Government has accepted the revised EIA report and MPH will be embarking on detailed design planning and a wildlife shepherding programme to facilitate the sensitive development of the area,” it said.

The key refinements and enhanced mitigation measures include:

Studying the possibility of widening the Eco-Link beyond the proposed 30 metres;

Long-term noise monitoring to address possible noise pollution during construction and operation phases;

No night-time construction works;

Daily recording and tracking of collection animals in the new parks to enable timely recovery and corrective actions in the event of any escapees;

Maintaining the forested strip that currently runs through the middle of the proposed Bird Park site as a passageway for wild native birds and arboreal mammals to connect to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve;

Locating the building footprint for the West Arrival Node at least 10 metres away from the fresh water stream adjacent to its boundary;

Developing and implementing biosecurity and disease management procedures in consultation with the relevant regulatory agencies to minimise any risk of disease transmission.

“We have listened carefully to all the feedback, and strengthened the mitigation measures associated with the project to help ensure we can deliver an enhanced Mandai nature precinct, of which we can all be proud,” said MPH Group CEO Mike Barclay.


All mitigation measures for the project identified through the EIA process are documented in an Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan (EMMP). The EMMP will be reviewed on an ongoing basis to “maintain its relevance to the detailed design, construction and operation plans as these progress through the project’s lifecycle”, said MPH.

MPH added that an Environmental Advisory Panel will be established to monitor the implementation of the EMMP during the design, construction and operation phases. It will consist of independent subject matter experts from the scientific community, academia, nature groups and private sector.

The EIA was commissioned and released by MPH on Jul 26 to consider environmental risk and protection measures from the outset as the project masterplan was being conceptualised.

“The completion of the EIA process represents a significant milestone in what will be a long journey,” Mr Barclay said. “We take our role as stewards of biodiversity very seriously, and we will continue to work with interested parties to help us deliver on our commitments as the project progresses.”

The final EIA report can be viewed on MPH’s website.

- CNA/ek

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WHO: Zika likely to spread in Asia Pacific

The Star 10 Oct 16;

Manila, Oct 10, 2016 (AFP) - The Zika virus is set to spread through Asia, the World Health Organization warned Monday, with hundreds of cases reported in Singapore and two Thai babies diagnosed with Zika-linked microcephaly.

The mosquito-borne virus has been detected in 70 countries worldwide including at least 19 countries in the Asia Pacific region, said WHO director for health security and emergencies Li Ailan.

A WHO report released at the annual regional meeting in Manila said the virus was “highly likely to further spread in the region” which includes China, Japan, Australia, most Southeast Asian nations and the Pacific islands.

”It is highly likely that the region will continue to report new cases and possibly new outbreaks of Zika,” the report added.

WHO director Margaret Chan said leaders in the region had expressed concerns over the outbreak, adding that experts were still grappling with ways to tackle the scourge.

”Unfortunately, scientists do not yet have answers to many critical questions,” she said.

There have been more than 400 Zika cases detected in Singapore, while Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia have reported fewer than 20 each, said Chan.

Zika causes only mild symptoms in most, including fever, sore eyes and a rash. But pregnant women with the mosquito-borne virus risk giving birth to babies with microcephaly -- a deformation that leads to abnormally small brains and heads.

Li said Zika has been in the region since 1947 but said it was difficult to pinpoint if individuals had been infected overseas, with the region’s tropical weather, large mosquito populations and international travel hubs potential factors.

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Malaysia: Prevent development on river reserve land, state governments told

ALLISON LAI The Star 10 Oct 16;

SHAH ALAM: State governments should not allow any industrial and housing development to take place on river reserve land, said Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

The Natural Resources and Environment Minister said all states in Malaysia should take a positive and strong stance in protecting the rivers and most importantly, preventing any contamination.

“State administrations should not allow any factory, plant or residential project to be build on river reserve land. The existing ones should be relocated.

“All rivers must be taken care of properly. It is the source of water that we consume everyday.

“I am not just talking about a particular state but this concerns all states in Malaysia,” he told a press conference after opening the MSU Environmental Sustainability Campaign 2016 at the Management and Science University here Monday.

With the management of land and rivers falls under each state’s prerogative according to the Federal Constitution, Dr Wan Junaidi said the ministry could only advise state administrations to seriously look into the relocation and take appropriate action.

“It is each state’s responsibility in resettling the affected factories and housing areas and they should take a positive stance on this issue.

“What is important is that we are on the same page. No political affiliation should exist in taking care of the very environment we live in,” he added.

The Department of Environment (DOE), he said, and its state offices would soon embark on a study to identify the number of factories built on river reserve land in each state, especially those along rivers that are intake source for raw water.

“Besides industrial, the DOE will also check on residences that are used as storage for materials that may release pollutants into the rivers.

“This is no easy task as there are thousands of households living along the Sungai Langat and we cannot simply go into a house without a warrant,” he added.

When asked about the contamination in Sungai Semantan, Dr Wan Junaidi said the ministry had so far identified two factories that operate along the river in Pahang that might have discharged effluent into the river.

“So far we have not ascertained the source of the contamination and investigation is still underway,” he said.

It is learnt that samples have been taken from a plastic processing plant and a natural rubber processing factory along the Sungai Semantan for lab analysis at the state Chemistry Department.

The Langat and Cheras water treatment plants were shut down at 8.30pm and 10pm respectively on Friday due to odour pollution suspected from Sungai Semantan in Pahang.

Both these plants receive raw water from the same river.

Several areas in Kuala Lumpur and parts of Klang Valley are still experiencing temporary water disruption.

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Malaysia: WWF calls for gazetting of Setiu wetlands as protected state park

ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 10 Oct 16;

KUALA TERENGANU: Gazetting the Setiu wetlands as a protected state park is crucial in conserving it as a critical water catchment area and maintaining its biodiverse ecosystem.

In making the call, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia’s Setiu Wetlands conservation team leader, Dr Wan Faridah Akmal Wan Jusoh, said authorities should make concerted efforts to formulate effective laws to ensure the protection of the park’s flora and fauna.

“Wetlands are environmentally-sensitive and high conservation-value areas that need proper protection against development into aqua- and agriculture land.

“Worse still is when wetlands are developed into incompatible industrial or housing estates,” she said in her paper ‘Experiencing Setiu Wetlands: Connecting communities and conservation’ at the Terengganu International Eco and Marine Tourism Conference (Temco) at the Primula Beach Hotel.

Dr Faridah added that a balanced and sustainable development is important to protect wetlands which are vital not just for plants and animals, but our own well-being and quality of life.

“Wetlands provide numerous benefits for people, ranging from food resources, building materials, water supply, flood mitigation, erosion control, economic income and fisheries livelihood.

“We should also remember that wetlands provide great potential as ecotourism destinations that can generate additional or alternate income for local communities,” said Dr Faridah, who is also Setiu Wetlands senior programme officer.

She warned that wetlands are increasingly facing threats from degradation due to land conversion and expansion for unsustainable practices that lead to water pollution from sedimentation caused by land clearing.

“Unregulated coastal development affects key nesting beaches for turtles, terrapins and birds. To stop the degradation of wetlands, we need to strengthen the local communities’ abilities and interests to conserve natural resources which they depend on,” said Dr Faridah.

She called for local communities to be integrated into conservation, tourism and development planning, as they are the key stewards of wetlands.

“Working in synergy with communities, government agencies and non-government organisations is crucial to achieving lasting conservation solutions,” she said.

Meanwhile, Temco organizing chairman Alex Lee, who is also Terengganu Tourist Association deputy president, said that apart from the Setiu wetlands, the conference also discussed various conservation efforts for the Setiu boardwalk, the Marang River Safari, bird watching activities, BRIS (beach ridges interspersed with swales) forests and boat building.

Also discussed were issues related to fishing villages, turtle hatcheries, terrapuri, fireflies, mangroves, river cruises, fish and oyster farming, the anchovy and budu industries, and local handicrafts such as lekar (pot stand woven from bamboo or rattan), kerecut, tikar (mat) and atap nipah.

“Swales are depression areas that are seasonally water logged to form freshwater swamps, while the ridges remain dry.

“The gelam putih tree, or melaleuca cajuputi, grows well in BRIS areas to form gelam forests,” said Lee.

In his conference welcome speech, Terengganu tourism and culture committee deputy chairman II Tengku Zaihan Che Ku Abdul Rahman said Temco is an ideal platform for Visit Terengganu Year 2017.

“Temco offers great potential for eco- and marine-tourism, with its unique products which are a wonderful spectacle for nature lovers and tourists alike.

“Every effort should be done to preserve wetlands and other tourism heritages for the benefit of future generations, rather than wantonly damaging them with excessive development,” said Tengku Zaihan.

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Malaysia: Social media fumes over images of foreign tourists manhandling fragile marine life, thought to be in Malaysia

HANI SHAMIRA SHAHRUDIN New Straits Times 10 Oct 16;

KUALA LUMPUR: Images circulating on social media of tourists removing marine life out of their habitat, thought to be near a beach in Malaysia, and posing with them in pictures have outraged nature lovers.

In one image, a group of sixteen people believed to be tourists from China, pose in their swimwear, with six of them holding corals and starfish.

One of the women is seen holding a sign by WorldVentures travel club with the message ‘You Should Be Here'.

The exact location of the beach is not yet known, but claims have been made that it is on an island in Malaysia.

Malaysia-based Worldventures in a statement to the NST denied organising the trip and believed it was arranged by the members themselves.

"WorldVentures has not organised any trip to Semporna (in Sabah).

The trip was probably organised on the members’ own initiative.

"The incident is being investigated internally by our compliance department," the statement said. The company added that conservation and preservation of the environment, including the marine habitat has always been its top priority.

It is understood that the compliance department is tracking down the said members involved in the incident. Reaction to the images by nature lovers ranges from irritation to fury.

Diver Mohd Azwan Ali, 27, said he was shocked and outraged when he saw the pictures.

"Sea creatures should be respected. As 'visitors' in their habitat, we should not simply touch anything under the water, let alone take it out to pose with for pictures.

"Such behaviour would stress the starfish and even the corals, which might cause them to die," he said.

Another diver, Muhammad Izzat Mainur, 25, said he could not believe how some people could be so ignorant when dealing with sea creatures.

"It saddens me to see how the corals and starfish were treated by this group of tourists.

"We are not supposed to touch corals, as our hands are contaminated with bacteria, which can kill them, as they are very sensitive.

"We are supposed to protect them, and such behaviour could damage the ecosystem," he said when contacted.

Izzat said he hopes that such behaviour will stop, and that tourists will be more careful when going for holidays at islands.

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Malaysia: ‘Laws regarding marine life need to be reviewed’

Borneo Post 11 Oct 16;

SHAH ALAM: Laws regarding marine life need to be reviewed to make it more inclusive, including in the aspect of preserving coral reefs, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

“As we all know, laws regarding marine life are under the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry

Ministry, but it has not been reviewed for the past 10 years,” he said after officiating the Management and Science University (MSU) Environmental Sustainability Campaign (MESC) 2016 here yesterday.

He said the lack of awareness on the preservation and conservation of coral reefs among public could inhibit the fish reproduction as it was the main element that acts as a source of oxygen in the sea bed.

“Currently, only five per cent of our ocean areas are covered with coral reefs. Preservation and conservation need to be enhanced to achieve 10 per cent, so they can be declared as marine park.

“Sabah and Sarawak are on the move to add more declarations to their marine protected areas which are quite big and this will help to increase our chance of expanding conservation programmes to safeguard this treasure,” he said.

Wan Junaidi said efforts by MSU in breeding and preserving coral reefs in Redang Island, Terengganu, need to be lauded for assisting the country in safeguarding the marine ecosystem. — Bernama

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Indonesia: Surakarta plans relocation of flood victims

Ganug Nugroho Adi The Jakarta Post 10 Oct 16;

The Surakarta city administration in Central Java has no choice but to relocate residents from flooded low-lying parts of the city as these places are inherently prone to flooding.

Floods repeatedly hit residential areas along the banks of the Jenes River in Pasar Kliwon district and Premulung River in Laweyan district, in downtown Surakarta.

Mayor FX Hadi “Rudy” Rudyatmo said there was no short-term solution for the flooding because the floods were related to the natural conditions and the environment.

“The recent flooding was due to the massive volume of water flowing from Boyolali and Klaten. There is only a long-term solution. The people have to be relocated to rusunawa [low-cost rental apartments],” Rudy said, referring to two neighboring regencies.

Floods hit downtown Surakarta on Tuesday, inundating hundreds of houses along the banks of the Jenes and Premulung rivers up to 50-90 centimeters in depth and forcing some 1,000 people to flee their homes. The flooding subsided at about midnight.

Rudy said the flooding was made worse by the narrow width of the rivers and thick sedimentation. As such, the capacity of the rivers to accommodate rainwater from Boyolali and Klaten had decreased.

As a short-term solution, Rudy added, he could only evacuate affected people to safer places. For the long-term solution, the banks of the two rivers as well as of those of the Pepe River in Boyolali needed to be widened and strengthened.

“The city administration has coordinated with the Bengawan Solo River Agency [BBWSBS] for the normalization of the rivers. Hopefully this can be realized next year,” he said.

At least 400 families or over 1,000 people live along the banks of the Jenes and Premulung rivers. The city administration has developed nine rusunawa complexes in five areas. So far, priority to live in the rusunawa has been given to families residing along the river banks.

Meanwhile, some residents of Bumi subdistrict expressed the hope that the government would dredge and normalize the Jenes River, arguing that the inability of the river to accommodate rainwater from Boyolali and Klaten had resulted in floods in their area. They also blamed garbage dumped in the river for the situation.

“If dredged, rainwater from Boyolali would run smoothly so that no relocation would be needed,” said local resident Bahtiar, 54, adding that the river had not been dredged for years.

Separately, head of daily operations of the city’s disaster mitigation agency (BPBD), Gatot Sutanto, said the city was facing an increased flood threat. Apart from Bengawan Solo, the threat of flooding also came from the Pepe, Kali Anyar, Jenes and Premulung rivers, he said.

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Indonesia: Land in Jambi in critical condition

The Jakarta Post 10 Oct 16;

The condition of an estimated 500,000 hectares of land in Jambi, both forested and non-forested, has been described as “critical” by the Jambi provincial administration.

The administration pledges to take action to conserve the land to prevent the damage spreading further.

Jambi governor Zumi Zola said the actions was necessary to protect the local environment.

The governor said the damage to the land could trigger natural disasters such as floods, landslides and drought. Therefore, he said, anticipatory measures were urgently needed.

“Although the size of forested land in Jambi is still huge, it is believed that the size keeps declining year by year,” he said on Saturday.

Currently, there are more than 2,000 million hectares of forest land in Jambi, 40 percent of Jambi’s total land area.

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Indonesia: Lack of rain paralyzes Koto Panjang hydro power plant

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 10 Oct 16;

The scarcity of rain upstream of the Kampar River has caused a drop in the volume of water coming into the Koto Panjang hydro power plant in Kampar regency in Riau to below the minimum required, paralyzing the generator's turbines.

Muhammad Nasir, the head of the Logistics and Emergency Department in Kampar’s Disaster Management Agency (BPBD), said Monday the water volumes had been decreasing for weeks and there had been no signs of improvement. “In the last three days, the spillway gate at the Koto Panjang dam has been completely dry,” he said.

He said the decreasing volumes had affected the output of water flowing into the Kampar River downstream, making the lower part of the river more shallow.

Dwi Suryo Abdullah, a manager at state utility company PLN for Riau and Riau Islands region, said Monday the only hydro power plant in Riau had been paralyzed for three days. “Three turbines that have a capacity of 114 megawatts cannot be operated,” he said.

“I have to emphasize, it was caused by nature, not technical problems,” he said.

“We have tried to turn on one turbine to get 20 MW for 24 hours but the result was a decrease of water height by 5 centimeters. It means the water needed to generate power is more than the water that can get into the dam. Not efficient at all,” he said.

The paralyzed power plant has caused Riau to lose 70 MW of power. To balance the deficit, Riau had to import power from Sumatra’s central and southern parts. (evi)

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The Rising Environmental Toll Of China’s Offshore Island Grab

To stake its claim in the strategic South China Sea, China is building airstrips, ports, and other facilities on disputed islands and reefs. Scientists say the activities are destroying key coral reef ecosystems and will heighten the risks of a fisheries collapse in the region.
Mike Ives environment360 10 Oct 16;

In the late 1980s, marine biologist John McManus and his colleagues made a surprising discovery while studying near-shore Philippine reefs in the South China Sea: Some fish species seemed to disappear, only to reappear a year or two later. “We figured they weren’t coming from other parts of the coast because the entire South China Sea, with the exception of Brunei, is equally overfished,” says McManus, a professor of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami.

The researchers’ hunch, which proved to be correct, was that larvae were floating to the near-shore reefs from the Spratlys — an offshore archipelago that lies between Vietnam and the Philippines and is a key spawning ground for one of the world’s most productive fisheries. Scientists later reported that the South China Sea, which is the size of India and has hundreds of islands and islets, has some of the highest marine biodiversity on earth, with 571 known species of reef corals alone.

But the South China Sea’s rich natural heritage, long threatened by overfishing, now faces a new ecological danger: A campaign by China to build artificial islands on disputed reefs in the Spratlys and elsewhere in the sea. China’s island-building initiative signals an aggressive stance intended to secure dominance in the South China Sea, a strategic area that contains some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and is a potential source of oil deposits.

Over the past several years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered engineers to pile sand onto some of the sea’s disputed offshore reefs, mostly in the Spratlys, with the apparent goal of building military bases there. Satellite imagery shows that China has so far constructed seven artificial islands in the Spratlys, and added ports, radar equipment, and airstrips. Three of the seven islands were designed as military bases, U.S. military officials say, and one has an anchorage larger than Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor. Marine scientists worry that the next target for dredging and construction will be Scarborough Shoal off the Philippine coast — which, like the Spratlys, is also known for its rich biodiversity.

Based on satellite information, computer-modeling data, and previous studies of human impacts on coral reefs, scientists are concerned that China’s campaign may be causing irreparable damage. Coral reefs in the Spratlys and other offshore regions, including the Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal, supply larvae for fisheries that feed hundreds of millions of people. They also are a living seed bank that could help the region’s marine communities deal with the long-term impacts of climate change.

The scientists’ concerns stem partly from the island-construction process. Ships more than 300 feet long have been dredging deep-water channels and harbors, while smaller boats have dredged in shallower waters around reef flats and lagoons by digging up corals with their propellers, according to a forthcoming study by McManus. Both activities produce plumes of sand and silt that coat living reefs and block their access to sunlight. Deep-water dredging can also lower the existing seafloor by up to 30 feet, the study said, changing wave patterns and inhibiting the growth of the red algae that are essential to reef calcification and sedimentation.

Additional local and regional damage to reefs and fish stocks will occur, scientists say, if China turns some of the new artificial islands on the Spratlys into harbors for the country’s commercial fishing fleet.

“What you’re essentially talking about is destroying the equivalent of seven worldwide natural heritage areas,” says Kent Carpenter, a professor at Old Dominion University in Virginia who has studied coral reefs in the Philippines for four decades.

The long-term environmental impacts of China’s activities on the seven Spratly reefs it occupies may never be known unless the Chinese military allows independent experts to conduct research there, scientists say. But nearly six square miles of artificial islands have been built recently on disputed reefs in the sea, primarily in the greater Spratly Islands, according to the McManus study. Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines accounted for just a tiny percentage of that construction, the study said, while China’s activities were responsible for 99 percent of the resulting damage to offshore coral reefs.

Although six square miles may seem like a small area, the McManus study indicates that the total damage from island building and dredging has already affected more than 10 percent of the Spratlys’ total shallow reef area.

China has long claimed offshore territories in as much as 90 percent of the South China Sea. Its claims overlap with competing ones by Vietnam, the Philippines, and other nations. Tensions over the claims have simmered for decades, and some countries have conducted limited land reclamation work on disputed islands and atolls.

In July, the Philippines won a landmark case at a United Nations tribunal, successfully challenging China’s territorial claims in the sea. (Both McManus and Carpenter worked as paid science advisors to the Philippines on the case.) But President Xi has vowed to ignore the tribunal’s ruling, and some analysts think that China’s island-building efforts could raise geopolitical tensions and eventually lead to military conflict with rival claimants or the United States.

At the center of this drama lie the 12 main islets and more than 100 coral reefs of the Spratlys. Scientists describe the Spratlys as biological “stepping stones” for successive generations of corals and fish, meaning that larvae float hundreds of miles toward the Spratlys on ocean currents and stop in eddies near their corals to breed. Successive generations then travel further to create or repopulate marine communities elsewhere in the South China Sea, the Gulf of Thailand, or the Coral Triangle between Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands.

In addition to producing larvae, the Spratly reefs also function as biological “roadside cafes” for migratory fish, including tuna, that travel through the South China Sea on their way to the Indian Ocean and stop at the Spratlys to feed, he adds. “So any damage to them [the reefs] will have long-term repercussions,” says Wilkinson.

The South China Sea is chronically understudied, in large part because so many of its offshore rocks, reef, and atolls are military-patrolled zones that scientists cannot access. Chou Loke Ming, a coral reef expert at the National University of Singapore, says that nearly all on-the-ground scientific research on the South China Sea has so far been confined to near-shore areas where territorial ownership is not as murky as it is in the Spratlys.

But the existing science already paints a portrait of abundant biodiversity. For example, a 2015 computer-modeling study found that larvae from the coral species Acropora millepora, whose intricate branches help to shelter other organisms, float from the Spratlys across large swathes of the South China Sea and the Coral Triangle, “further highlighting the importance of the Spratly Islands to the greater region.” And a 2015 species survey said previous estimates of the South China Sea’s reef biodiversity have been “exceedingly low,” largely because of a lack of data for the Spratlys and some reefs off the Philippine island of Luzon.

Scientists think the Spratly reefs’ genetic diversity could help them weather the impacts of storms, ocean acidification, and other impacts linked to global warming. Larvae from the reefs could help repopulate distant marine communities that are less biologically resilient. If patches of biodiversity “blink out” occasionally across the South China Sea, “the idea is that if you have a lot of exchange, they’ll be reseeded in the near future,” says Eric Treml, a marine biologist at the University of Melbourne who has created computer models of regional fish-larvae movement.

Scientists say China’s island building may imperil that system of genetic diversity and biological connectivity. But how great is the cumulative threat from reef building and fishing? McManus estimates that China has already caused 55 square miles of “decadal-scale” damage through giant-clam harvesting and seafloor dredging near its new islands. That is worrying because seafloor dredging can kill corals by blocking their access to sunlight as has happened near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where sediment plumes extended for up to 28 miles from a seafloor dredging site.

By contrast, only 6.5 square miles of South China Sea reefs have been damaged by China’s island building and dredging for channel and harbor projects, according to McManus’ forthcoming study. Yet he describes that damage as “essentially permanent.”

“You cannot grow a coral on an airstrip because they don’t grow on airstrips; they grow underwater,” says Edgardo D. Gomez, a marine biologist and a professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines. And because the Spratly reefs have such a high degree of species endemism, Gomez adds, “We may have lost a number of species that we never discovered.”

Scientists also worry that China’s island-building campaign could exacerbate the risk of a fisheries collapse in the South China Sea. Decades of commercial trawl fishing in the sea’s coastal areas have already led to declining catches in most of its fisheries, and many Chinese and Southeast Asian fishing fleets — some with support from government programs — have begun to target deep-water habitats, according to the Fisheries Center at the University of British Columbia.

The Spratlys and other offshore reefs have long been somewhat protected from these pressures because fishermen saw them as difficult and dangerous to access, scientists say. But China’s new islands could change the equation by providing offshore harbors for Chinese fishing fleets. Wilkinson says that once ports are established on the new islands, “fishing boats will use the area more and more until eventually they deplete populations.”

In June, China’s State Oceanic Administration said in a statement that environmental protection measures, including advanced dredging techniques, had been implemented during planning and construction of its artificial islands, and that the islands would eventually have facilities that deal with environmental protection. "Impact on coral reef ecology is localized, temporary, controllable, and restorable," the agency added. Two coral reef experts from China — at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the government’s South China Sea Institute of Oceanology — did not respond to interview requests for this article.

Carpenter says the South China Sea is so politically sensitive that marine biologists from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China typically do not feel comfortable discussing the ecological impacts of the island-building campaign in public. But in private, he adds, “they’ll tell you they’re incensed, just like we are.”

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Australia: Northern prawn fleet seek answer on unexplained mass mangrove dieback in Gulf of Carpentaria

Charlie McKillop ABC News 10 Oct 16;

One of Australia's largest trawler operators is questioning why more is not being done to explain a mass mangrove dieback event in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Austral Fisheries chief executive officer David Carter has welcomed a Senate inquiry into the impact of climate change on Australia's fisheries and marine biodiversity.

But Mr Carter, whose company owns 10 of the 52 boats in the $100 million northern prawn fishery, said there was mounting concern about the apparent lack of urgency being directed at the problem.

"I've been disturbed by the lack of interest in the impact of those mangrove deaths," he said.

"We've had nobody on the ground to look at what the possible cause was. We can speculate about climate change but it might be a disease event or a contamination or something, but we just don't know.

"These are really questions for the various governments to be thinking about, certainly for the industry to be watching."

International mangrove expert Dr Norm Duke — who described the scene as the most "dramatic, pronounced extreme level of dieback" he'd ever seen — admitted a lack of funding had prevented him from returning to the site since he surveyed more than 7,500 hectares of dead mangroves in June.

Preliminary findings indicated the most likely cause was a combination of low moisture due to extended lack of rainfall, rising ocean temperatures, and a drop in sea level but researchers had "reached a limit" with what could be achieved using available climate records and satellite imagery to measure impacts.

Dr Duke said mangrove dieback was a natural phenomena but had not occurred anywhere in the world on the scale or as rapidly as witnessed in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

"Imagine if that happened on the east coast of Australia, the distance from Melbourne to Sydney or Sydney to Brisbane, if we lost 10 to 25 per cent of mangroves along that coast in one month. What would be the reaction?"

"Is remote Australia somehow not as important?" Dr Duke said.

The James Cook University-based scientist was hoping a scientific paper he had written would soon be published to further amplify the case for urgent action.

"We'd like to be able to survey the entire shoreline and we'd like to look at the water quality in the estuaries to ascertain as to why there were differences in different river catchments," he said.

"What we discovered in the mapping was a considerable variation in the degree of, or severity of, the dieback in some rivers but not others across that 1,000 kilometres.

"It would make sense to look at why, of if there was any correlation with that pattern of dieback."

Senate inquiry to examine impact of climate change on fisheries

Mr Carter said the Senate inquiry initiated by the Greens into the impact of climate change on Australia's marine biodiversity would help the government to focus on what was at stake for the industry.

"The fishing industry, and I think agribusiness generally, is really at the forefront of those changes and really needing to adapt, one way or the other," Mr Carter said.

"You marry our mangrove dieback experience with the coral bleaching events, disappearance of kelp beds along hundreds of kilometres of the West Australian coastline, migration of warmer water species down the east coast further south in response to warming temperatures and you've got quite a lot of changes that are going on that are indicators really of climate change in action."

But Dr Duke said the issues were "bigger than fisheries" and it was disappointing the intense media attention sparked by initial reporting of the mangrove dieback had not translated to specific funding commitments.

"I mean where else has this sort of dieback happened?" he said.

"If it wasn't for people like fishermen on the ground who had reported it to us, then we probably still wouldn't know.

"That's not really the way to be doing shoreline monitoring if you're talking about these things."

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Call for action to protect seagrasses - 'the lungs of the sea'

Helen Briggs BBC News 10 Oct 16;

More than 100 scientists from 28 countries have called for global action to protect seagrass meadows.

Seagrasses are flowering plants that form dense underwater beds in shallow water.

Distinct from seaweed, the plants provide shelter and food for a large range of animals, including fish, marine mammals and birds.

Many seagrass meadows have been lost because of human activities, say researchers.

In a statement, the scientists said: "Seagrass meadows are important fish nurseries and key fishing grounds around the world.

"The loss of seagrass puts the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people at risk and exposes many people to increasing levels of poverty.

"Seagrass loss also places the viability of our remaining populations of green turtle, dugong and species of seahorse at risk.

"Seagrass loss should not be an option."

The call for action is being led by Dr Richard Unsworth of Swansea University.

There is no international legislation for seagrasses, therefore protection typically happens at a local or regional level.

'Lungs of the sea'

The World Seagrass Association statement has been released ahead of an international meeting on seagrass protection in North Wales this month.

Call for more protection for seagrass

Seagrass meadows in 'perilous state'

Seagrass, which is found in shallow waters of coastal regions on every continent except Antarctica, is declining globally at a rate of about 2% a year.

In January, a study of seagrass meadows around the coast of the British Isles found evidence of damage from pollution and human disturbances.

Surveys of 11 sites in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland found high nitrogen levels in water were affecting the health of seagrass meadows at all but two areas.

Seagrass is known as the "lungs of the sea" because of its ability to generate oxygen through photosynthesis.

Seagrass is a marine powerhouse, so why isn’t it on the world’s conservation agenda?
The Conversation 11 Oct 16;

Richard K.F. Unsworth
Research Officer (Marine Ecology), Swansea University

Jessie Jarvis
Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina Wilmington

Len McKenzie
Principal Researcher, James Cook University

Mike van Keulen
Senior Lecturer in Plant Sciences and Marine Biology, Murdoch University

Seagrass has been around since dinosaurs roamed the earth, it is responsible for keeping the world’s coastlines clean and healthy, and supports many different species of animal, including humans. And yet, it is often overlooked, regarded as merely an innocuous feature of the ocean.

But the fact is that this plant is vital – and it is for that reason that the World Seagrass Association has issued a consensus statement, signed by 115 scientists from 25 countries, stating that these important ecosystems can no longer be ignored on the conservation agenda. Seagrass is part of a marginalised ecosystem that must be increasingly managed, protected and monitored – and needs urgent attention now.

Seagrass meadows are of fundamental importance to human life. They exist on the coastal fringes of almost every continent on earth, where seagrass and its associated biodiversity supports fisheries’ productivity. These flowering plants are the powerhouses of the sea, creating life in otherwise unproductive muddy environments. The meadows they form stabilise sediments, filter vast quantities of nutrients and provide one of the planet’s most efficient oceanic stores of carbon.

But the habitat seagrasses create is suffering due to the impact of humans: poor water quality, coastal development, boating and destructive fishing are all resulting in seagrass loss and degradation. This leads in turn to the loss of most of the fish and invertebrate populations that the meadows support. The green turtle, dugong and species of seahorse, for example, all rely on seagrass for food and shelter, and loss endangers their viability. The plants are important fish nurseries and key fishing grounds. Losing them puts the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people at risk too, and exposes them to increasing levels of poverty.

Rapid loss

There is clear, extensive evidence of the rapid loss of seagrass. Growing historic, recent and current records show degradation and fragmentation of the plant around the world. In Biscayne Bay, Florida, for example, 2.6km² of seagrass disappeared between 1938 and 2009. Up to 38% of the seagrass in a lagoon in the south of France may have been lost since the 1920s. The nearshore waters of Singapore has lost some 45% over the past 50 years. Similar examples have been reported in Canada, the British Isles and the Caribbean too.

Even the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has suffered periods of widespread decline and loss of seagrass over the past decade, particularly along its central and southern developed coasts; a consequence of multiple years of above average rainfall, poor water quality, and climate-related impacts followed by extreme weather events. The most recent published monitoring surveys show that the majority of inshore seagrass meadows across the reef – which cover some 3,063 km² – remain in a vulnerable state, with weak resistance, low abundance and a low capacity to recover.

Human impact

As the human population grows and the world economy expands, there will be increasing pressure on our coastal zone. And it must be ensured that this doesn’t negatively influence seagrass meadows. It is already recognised that poor water quality, specifically elevated nutrients, is the biggest threat to seagrasses; these problems are particularly acute in many developing nations with rapidly growing economies, such as Indonesia, where municipal infrastructure is often limited and environmental legislation is largely weak.

Coastal development is a competition for finite space: boating, tourism, aquaculture, ports, energy projects and housing are all placing pressures on seagrass survival. These threats exist with a backdrop of the impacts of environmental change and sea level rise too. Humans must reduce their local-scale impact on seagrass so that it can remain resilient to longer term environmental stressors.

There can be a bright future for this oceanic plant, however. Across the world, communities, NGOs and governments are beginning to embrace the monitoring of meadows. As knowledge of the plants’ ecology improves, conservationists are learning more about how to successfully restore seagrass meadows: Tampa Bay in Florida and Virginia’s bays, for example, have seen genuine large scale recovery. We also now have greater appreciation for the value of seagrass in the global carbon cycle, and governments are more willing to include its conservation in ways to mitigate carbon emissions. Though commendable, these are just the first steps on a course of targeted strategic action.

As the WSA statement calls, seagrass meadows must be put at the forefront of marine conservation today. We need to increase its resilience by improving coastal water quality, prevent damage from destructive fishing practices and boating, include seagrasses in Marine Protected Areas and ensure that fisheries aren’t over exploited. Seagrasses also need to be managed effectively during coastal developments, and steps taken to ensure recovery and restoration in areas where losses have occurred.

The scientific community must be more united, not only in its work, but in engaging more actively with the general public, coastal managers and conservation agencies too. Seagrass ecosystems must fully pervade policy around the globe too, as well as the consciousness of our global coastal communities. For the sake of future generations we need to work together to ensure the survival of the world’s seagrass meadows now.

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