Best of our wild blogs: 15 Dec 16

How are the corals at St John's Island?
wild shores of singapore

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Cambodia: Minister to be grilled on discrepancy in sand exports to Singapore

Meas Sokchea Phnom Penh Post 14 Dec 16;

Minister for Mines and Energy Suy Sem will appear at the National Assembly on Thursday to answer questions about a more than $700 million discrepancy in data on sand exports to Singapore, according to a letter signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In the letter, sent to National Assembly President Heng Samrin on Monday, the premier requests that Sem field questions from the assembly’s anti-corruption commission, led by CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann.

Pressure has been building on the ministry to respond after UN data showed $752 million in imports of sand from Cambodia to Singapore since 2007, a figure that dwarfed the $5 million reported by the Cambodian government.

Speaking yesterday, Vann said he would grill the minister over the apparent lost revenue and about how many companies were currently operating in the Kingdom’s lucrative sand-dredging sector.

“If there has not been a loss [of revenue], I hope he provides proof to confirm this for us,” Vann said. The premier also requested the Health Minister Mam Bun Heng appear for questioning at the assembly over allegations of graft, incompetence and poor service within his portfolio, though no specific date was set.

The Health Ministry has come under repeated fire, particularly its National Malaria Centre, which was the subject of a massive corruption scandal relating to Global Fund contracts. A more recent Post investigation found evidence of graft in its use of travel funds supplied by donors.

PM Agrees to Questioning of Ministers of Health, Mines
KHUON NARIM Cambodia Daily 14 Dec 16;

Prime Minister Hun Sen has agreed to the opposition CNRP’s request to let the National Assembly interrogate two ministers under fire for presiding over alleged corruption, officials confirmed on Tuesday.

In a letter signed on Monday, the prime minister said he would accept a request by the Assembly’s anti-corruption commission to have Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem answer for “irregularities in the export of sand to Singapore.”

Singapore recorded importing more than 73.6 million tons of sand from Cambodia between 2007 and last year, compared to the less than 2.8 million tons Cambodia said it sent there, according to figures both countries have provided to the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics Database (Comtrade).

Parliamentarians will question Health Minister Mam Bunheng in a separate session, according to Assembly spokesman Leng Penglong.

In a letter last week, sent at the opposition’s request, lawmakers said they wanted Mr. Bunheng to explain “irregularities” at the ministry, including the sale of state facilities, poor training and oversight of doctors, and a $450,000 bribery case involving the procurement of mosquito nets raised by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2013.

“We will contact Minister Mam Bunheng to organize a suitable time to answer questions at parliament,” Mr. Penglong said. Mr. Sem, he added, would appear at the Assembly on Thursday morning.

Ou Chanrath, a CNRP lawmaker and member of the Assembly’s anti-corruption commission, promised “a lot of questions” for Mr. Sem and his staff over the sand export allegations.

“Are they [at] their job and sitting there watching it happen?” he asked. “Because it’s [gone on for] too many years.”

Cambodia is Singapore’s top sand supplier, even as other countries have banned exports because of sand mining’s destructive ecological effects.

“I think there will be questions from the CPP too,” Mr. Chanrath added.

Ministry of Mines and Energy spokesman Dith Dina hung up on a reporter when contacted on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)

Sand Export Figure Doubts Persist
Khmer Times 16 Dec 16;

The chairman of the National Assembly’s corruption commission says a technical explanation from the Mines and Energy Minister over alleged irregularities in sand exported to Singapore is not clear enough.

The controversy over the sand exports emerged after about 50 NGOs asked the Ministry of Mines and Energy to provide figures of exported sand between the two counties from 2007 to 2015.

On the UN Commodity Trade (UN Comtrade) statistics database, Cambodia reported exporting $5.5 million worth of sand, about 2.8 million tons, to Singapore between 2007 and 2015.

However, the database shows for that same period, Singapore imported $752 million worth of sand from the Kingdom, amounting to 72.7 million tons. This suggested a difference of about $747 million.

The issue was raised last month and explained in a technical way in a meeting between ministry officials and some NGOs.

Since the doubt was not cleared, opposition Assembly members decided to summon the minister over the discrepancies.

After nearly three hours of questioning, Minister Suy Sem declined to comment to reporters outside the Assembly room, saying there would be a press conference at noon.

Ho Vann, chairman of the Assembly 10th commission, said Mr. Sem’s explanation was still vague.

He said the ministries of mines and commerce had the same figures for the amount of sand.

But he added: “Another source from Singapore suggested different amounts, which leads to different budget amounts opposite the report recorded in Cambodia.

“We have asked the Minister to find a way to narrow the gap. The gap is too big. We could not accept it and require more hard work.”

However, Mr. Vann is not sure whether the issue arises out of corruption. He only pledged to summon the minister later if needed.

In a press conference at the Mines and Energy Ministry yesterday afternoon, secretary of state and spokesman for the ministry Dith Tina said sand exports have to be recorded separately and with different procedures.

Different institutions were involved which means that the Ministry of Mines and Energy is not solely responsible for exporting sand.

Mr. Tina said: “I hope people will stop saying that Cambodia has lost $700 million of the national budget in sand because this is the figure that we got from the UN Comtrade.

“People should not take the difference in trade volume as the loss from one country to another. Neither the government nor the ministry sell sand, businessmen do. What is sold here has a different value than what is sold in the buying country.

“What the state gets in terms of revenue is royalty, tax, license fee as public service, land rental and related aspects. The companies sell sand, so the trade value in Cambodia is different from the sand trade value in Singapore.”

Mr. Tina added that the whole issue revolves around quantity. “The chairman of the 10th commission has also agreed that the trade volume does not matter anymore and that only the quantity mattered.”

The Ministry of Mines and Energy said that the gap in the figures happens in every country and for every item. UN Comtrade had recognized the reason for the gap and its own disclaimer required people to be careful using this figure.

San Chey, the executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability-Cambodia who has met officials of the Mines and Energy Ministry on this issue, said the controversy requires cooperation between Cambodia and Singapore to resolve the doubts.

Mr. Tina stressed: “If we have to investigate every time there is a difference in the UN Comtrade data and a country’s data, then every country, every product, will have to be investigated to try and verify it’s accuracy.

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Malaysia: 49 baby green turtles released

SHARON LING The Star 15 Dec 16;

KUCHING: A total of 49 green turtle hatchlings have been released into the sea from the beach at Similajau National Park in Bintulu this month.

The Sarawak Forestry Corpo­ration (SFC) said 45 hatchlings made their way to the sea on Tuesday after four were released on Dec 5.

It said the baby turtles hatched from two clutches of 134 eggs incubated at a turtle hatchery set up in the joint biodiversity, environment and conservation (Beacon) project between SFC and Petronas MLNG.

According to SFC, the return of turtles to the beaches of Similajau National Park after a lapse of five years was one of the main successes of the Beacon project.

“The last time turtles nested at Similajau beaches was in July 2010.

“Last year, 525 green turtle eggs were collected, producing 277 hatchlings which were eventually released into the sea,” SFC said.

It added that six green turtle nests were recorded at Similajau’s beaches this year, yielding a total of 490 eggs that were all transplanted to the hatchery.

Since 2013, the Beacon project has planted 1,500 reefballs off the coast of Similajau to serve as passive protection and impede trawling activities detrimental to the turtle population.

The presence of the reefballs in the waters off Similajau has greatly reduced trawling activities close to the shore and encouraged the return of turtles to the beaches, SFC said.

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Malaysia: Washing machines fished out of reefs

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 15 Dec 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Divers and volunteers fished out two washing machines and filled up over 250 bags of rubbish at Pulau Mabul, a popular diving haven off the coast of Semporna.

The mainly plastic rubbish was collected from the island from around the shoreline, under stilt houses and in the water as part of an effort to protect the fragile and unique coral reefs at Pulau Mabul.

The one-day clean-up on Sunday was sponsored by the Tourism and Culture Ministry as part of their One Malaysia Green, 1 Malaysia Clean programme, carried out by Scuba Junkies Marine Week, a conservation event run by the dive operator and joined in by local volunteer group Green Semporna and Kolej Komuniti Semporna.

Scuba Junkie environmental officer David McCann said that rubbish, especially plastic waste, was a major problem worldwide and it was always frustrating to find so much plastic waste in clean-ups.

“We are fortunate in Mabul to have a dedicated group of individuals willing to do something to make a difference and we have the government support to do so,” he said, adding that many schoolchildren also volunteered.

Coral reefs are under threat worldwide. Reefs in the Semporna region, around Mabul as well as in Sipadan are known to be some of the most beautiful and diverse in the world, with many unique and rare species of coral found here.

Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy the splendour of the reefs.

It is estimated that the beautiful coral reefs of Malaysia are worth an estimated RM145bil per year, through tourism, coastal protection and as fishing resources for those living near these reefs, said McCann.

He said the cleaning up of beaches and reefs would help prevent deterioration of the reefs and would go a long way towards providing a fighting chance against our planet’s rising temperatures and the coral bleaching associated with it.

It will help to safeguard future tourism revenue as well as a healthy supply of food for coastal communities, he added.

Saving marine life by collecting debris
Daily Express 15 Dec 16;

Semporna: Over 150 bags of plastic rubbish were collected from Mabul Island on Thursday – around the shoreline, under houses and in the water, in a bid to prevent them ending up in the ocean and damaging the fragile and unique coral reefs of Pulau Mabul.

The island-wide clean up sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (Motac) as part of their 'One Malaysia Green, 1Malaysia Clean' programme, was one of the highlights of Scuba Junkie's Marine Week, a conservation event run by the island's dive operator in collaboration with local volunteer group Green Semporna and Kolej Komuniti.

Director of Kolej Komuniti Semporna Norasmah Jafar said the college was honoured to be able to bring the One Malaysia Green, 1Malaysia Clean volunteerism programme to Mabul Island in conjunction with Scuba Junkie's Marine Week and the Gotong Royong Perdana event, with additional sponsorship from Seahorse Sipadan Scuba.

"It was truly amazing to see so many people working together, all dedicated to making their immediate environment a cleaner place. Visitors to the island, tourists on the island, dive operator staff and locals alike, of all ages all got involved into the clean-up, with amazing results," she said.

A volunteer for Green Semporna and an ex-student of Kolej Komuniti, Juliah, said the activity was very challenging, as the area was very wide and the rubbish was mainly trapped under the houses on the shoreline.

"But it was awesome to be part of such a large team and make this contribution for my hometown.

But the biggest contribution would be to not throw rubbish in the sea – prevention is better than cure," she said.

Clean-ups were a key feature of the Scuba Junkie Marine Week – with the theme of 'Corals In Crisis' to highlight the threats to coral reefs worldwide, all activities during the week were designed to raise awareness of these threats and to alleviate stresses placed on the reef, such as rubbish and pollution.

"Reefs in the Semporna region, and around Mabul and Sipadan, are known to be some of the most beautiful and diverse in the world, with many unique and rare species of coral found here. Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy of the reefs here.

"It is estimated that the beautiful coral reefs of Malaysia are worth an estimated RM145 billion per year, through tourism, coastal protection and as food sources for those living on or near these reefs," said Environmental Officer for Scuba Junkie David McCann.

He added that any action taken to prevent deterioration of these reefs such as reef and beach clean-ups, allows them to play their part in helping to give these reefs a fighting chance against the planet's rising temperatures and associated coral bleaching.

"Rubbish, especially plastic waste, is a major problem worldwide, and as frustrating as it was to see so much plastic here, it is even more frustrating knowing that it is not confined to Mabul.

"However, we were fortunate on Mabul to have a dedicated group of individuals willing to do something to make a difference and we had government support to do so. It was especially good to see so many school children and students getting involved in the activities," he said.

During the rest of the Marine Week, an estimated 50 bags of rubbish were collected on reef clean ups, including two washing machines, and a further 200 plastic bags were also collected from beach clean ups carried out during the week.

Outreach programmes with local schoolchildren, focusing on the roles of healthy reefs and the problems caused by plastic, were carried out by Green Semporna volunteers.

"Engaging the next generation is vital to getting the conservation message across which is why our activities during the day are for schoolchildren. We want them to know the wonders of the underwater world and how lucky we are to live somewhere as special as this.

"We also want to instil a sense of responsibility for their environment…a seed that will grow through to adulthood.

But we also want them to have fun," said Green Semporna Chairwoman Rhena Ismail.

In the evenings, presentations from Reef Check Malaysia, WWF Malaysia, Scubazoo and Green Semporna were popular with the guests at the Scuba Junkie Mabul Beach Resort, many of whom swapped 'fun' dives to get involved in reef cleans, and turned out in force for beach clean ups.

The Animal Welfare Unit, Kota Kinabalu, were also on the island during the Marine Week to provide a free clinic for the cats on the island, neutering 45 cats in their Trap Neuter Release scheme.

"It was a great week that brought lots of different groups together.

Green Semporna especially are an amazing group of young conservationists whose dedication and passion for the environment inspires many around them.

We look forward to working with them again in the near future," said Scuba Junkie Director Ric Owen.

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Indonesia: $3.3m in new grants to protect Kalimantan forests

The Jakarta Post 14 Dec 16;

The Tropical Forest Conservation Act Kalimantan (TFCA Kalimantan), a partnership program among the US government, the Indonesian government, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia, has approved 14 new grants worth $3.3 million for local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Indonesia.

The US Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement on Wednesday that the NGOs would work with forest-dependent communities to conserve tropical forests, protect natural resources and wildlife and improve livelihoods.

“This is the third cycle of the $28.5 million planned investment in forest conservation efforts in Kalimantan under the TFCA. This debt-for-nature swap agreement, signed in 2011, promotes sustainable forest resource management, biodiversity conservation and community development,” it said.

Fourteen projects the NGOs will implement are located in regencies and cities across Central, East and West Kalimantan. They are Bengkayang, Berau, Damai, Kapuas Hulu, Kayong Utara, Ketapang, Kubu Raya, Lamandau, Landak, Malawi, Melawi, Mempawah, Pontianak, Sambas, Sanggau, Sekadau, Singkawang, Sintang and West Kutai.

“The US is proud to work with Indonesia and our partners to conserve some of the world’s most diverse tropical rainforest through a debt-for-nature swap. Protecting the forest helps conserve the world’s rich biodiversity and preserves the ability of forests to sustain livelihoods for local residents,” Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Mark Clark said.

The newly-approved projects will provide incentives for forest-dependent communities to conserve tropical forests by improving local livelihoods, focusing in areas such as community development, conflict resolution in forest management and ecotourism.

“Some of the projects will also support conservation efforts of near-extinct animals in Kalimantan, including rhinoceroses, Irrawaddy dolphins and orangutans,” the embassy said. (ebf)

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