Best of our wild blogs: 31 Aug 17

The Singapore Eco Film Festival is Back! Aug 31 to Sept 3

Fun Rocks @ LKCNHM
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

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NParks disputes arborists’ diagnosis on tembusu tree in fatal incident

NParks disputes arborists’ diagnosis on tembusu tree in fatal incident
NG SIQI KELLY Today Online 31 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE — The Botanic Gardens tembusu tree that toppled and killed a woman in February was found to have a 1.5m long “cavity” during an inspection last September, but this was deemed a misdiagnosis, said a National Parks Board representative Wednesday (Aug 30).

At the Coroner’s Inquiry into Radhika Angara’s death, NParks deputy director Elango Velautham said a cavity in the tree trunk could suggest decay, which would mean an “intrusion into (the) structural integrity” of the tree. But on this count, the inspection report had “wrongly perceived” a natural protrusion called a flute to be a cavity, he said.

Marking a twist in the inquest, Mr Velautham’s testimony contrasted with what two independent arborists had testified last month.

According to him, the tree’s roots showed it was in good health. Its root collar was well-formed and expanded outwards to form buttress roots. There was nothing to suggest any weakness, said Mr Velautham, who specialises in arboriculture and conservation.

The independent arborists had said the tree, which was more than 270 years old, had decaying roots but no visible signs that warranted more intensive checks. They said the weather conditions before, and on the day of the incident, could also have contributed to the 40m tree toppling.

In the hearing in July, arborist Derek Yap had testified that about 70 per cent of the tree trunk at its 2m point (measured from ground level) was decayed. This could have affected the tree’s structural integrity, said the private consultant with environmental impact assessment firm Camphora.

After the “cavity” — which was 1.5m long, 0.2m deep and 0.3m wide — was identified, Mr Velautham said further checks determined it to be a “flute”, a natural protrusion and a form of protection for some trees. The inspection last September was the most recent before the fatal accident, and a report in September 2015 had not identified any defect, he said.

“A cavity of that length, depth and height could not have happened over a year,” he said.

Angara’s father, Mr Krishna Angara, was in court and questioned why the initial red flag had not warranted more sophisticated investigation using diagnostic tools, instead of “(getting) another certified arborist to say it is not a cavity”.

Lawyer Chelva Rajah, who is acting for the family, questioned the absence of documentary proof showing how the misdiagnosis was determined. The initial report had identified what appeared to be a serious defect in the tree, he noted.

In response, Mr Velautham said NParks arborists had written an “internal statement” after following up on the September 2016 report. They noted the flute was “wrongly perceived” as a cavity. But the document was not produced in court Wednesday.

The court also heard that “trees of interest” such as the tembusu tree are inspected twice a year, double what international standards require. Such trees include large trees, trees in carparks and by the road, and those in areas “highly frequented” by people.

Angara, a regional digital marketing head for Asia-Pacific at MasterCard, was at an outdoor concert near the gardens’ Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage on Feb 11 when the tree toppled. The 38-year-old Indian national died from traumatic asphyxia with broken ribs at 5.17pm that day, about an hour after the tree fell on her. Her French husband Jerome Rouch-Sirech and their one-year-old twins were also injured.

Mr Rouch-Sirech and Angara’s parents and sister were in court Wednesday. The inquiry will continue on Sept 21.

Tembusu tree accident: Botanic Gardens official says there was 'no decay, no cavity'
Vanessa Paige Chelvan Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE: The Tembusu tree that uprooted in February, killing one, had passed its last inspection in September 2016, though an arborist had raised concerns the 40m tall, 270-year-old tree might have a cavity.

But a second inspection by the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ deputy director Elango Velautham and his team of arborists assessed the suspected cavity to be a flute, an inquiry into the death of 38-year-old Radhika Angara was told. Ms Angara was pinned under the heritage tree when it toppled on Feb 11.

She was with her French husband and their one-year-old twins at the gardens near the Shaw Foundation Symphony stage to attend an outdoor concert when the accident happened. Ms Angara was killed when the tree fell on her, while four others, including her husband and children, were injured.

There was “no decay, no cavity”, Mr Velautham said on Wednesday (Aug 30). An inspection after the Tembusu had fallen confirmed that the suspected cavity was, in fact, a flute 1.5m in length, 0.2m deep and with a width of 0.3m, the inquiry heard.

He described a flute to be a “protruding structure” on a tree’s trunk formed in response to “environmental exertions” to the tree.

However, two independent arborists who testified before the inquiry last month agreed that the tree’s roots were in decay, though there were no visible signs that warranted more intensive checks. They also said weather conditions in the days before could have contributed to the toppling of the tree.

The Tembusu is “a very slow growing tree”, Mr Velautham said, and any decay would “take a very long time to … destabilise a tree”. Tembusu wood is tough and durable, and this tree in particular had outlasted two World Wars. The structural integrity of the tree could not have been compromised in the short time since its last inspection, Mr Velautham said.

The Tembusu tree in question was inspected twice a year, as are other large heritage trees, trees in carparks, and trees in areas where “the occupancy rate is high”, he said. The fact that the tree was over 200 years old did not make it “high risk” or affect the inspection schedule, the inquiry heard.

Inspections are “age independent”, and carried out “based on the assumption that all trees, big and small, pose risk”, he added.

The inquiry will resume at a later date, giving Mr Velautham time to produce certain inspection records at the request of Mr Chelva Retnam Rajah, who is representing Ms Angara’s family.
Source: CNA/jp

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Malaysia’s Forest City and the Damage Done

Sylvain Ourbis and Albert Shaw The Diplomat 30 Aug 17;

It’s a Sunday in Johor, the southernmost state of peninsular Malaysia, and crowds of locals and foreigners are out for a good time in the sun. On the beach among the lounge chairs, young couples walk hand in hand, smartphone at the ready to immortalize the day with countless selfies.

Around the manicured lawns, oversized statues of crabs and sea lions are a hit with the kids; parents and grandparents are all here to witness such precious moments. In the distance, just across the narrow Tebrau Strait is Singapore.

This could be just like any other Sunday on one of the many beaches Johor is blessed with, save for two things: this long, landscaped stretch of sand didn’t exist a year ago, and it is part of the controversial, China-funded real estate project of Forest City.

Launched in 2014, the US$100 billion development is conducted by Country Garden Pacific View Sdn Bhd (BGPV), a joint venture between Guangdong-based, Hong Kong-listed Country Garden Group and local partner Esplanade Danga 88 Sdn Bhd, a company partially owned by Sultan Ibrahim Ismail of Johor. It is one of many other projects underway in the Iskandar economic region, but by far the most ambitious.

Forest City is still at an early stage of development and reclamation work is currently ongoing. Four artificial islands will soon rise up from the waters of the Tebrau Strait, covering a total surface of 14 square kilometers and bringing Malaysia’s shoreline ever closer to Singapore.

On those islands one of the first so-called “eco-smart cities of the future” is expected to sprout, with an ambitious projection of 700,000 residents expected by 2050. A massive, futuristic sales complex was swiftly built to welcome potential investors and guide them around a scale model draped in green plastic and dotted with fancy mock-up apartments.

At the start of this year, a five-star hotel, Phoenix — part of a Country Garden-owned chain — opened its doors to accommodate overnight visitors who would want to prolong their stay on what is still, technically, a construction site, with as many as 20 cranes looming nearby.

Talking with some of the locals on the beach, we sense a deep feeling of excitement and no small amount of pride. “It is good for Johor,” Liza, 21, tells us. She and her family have come all the way from Johor Bahru, Johor’s main city, 35 km away. “The project looks so amazing. I hope it brings many jobs and many foreigners here.” Her parents and siblings smile and nod all together.

Forest City has been advertised as Johor’s bright new star, the ultimate environment-friendly escape just minutes away from Singapore. The way to go for the much-publicized Iskandar economic region to claim its rightful place among the world’s most avant garde metropolises.

However, the project has also garnered a lot of media attention of late due to its seemingly heavy reliance on mainland Chinese buyers to acquire its myriad apartments. Stricter rules on individual foreign exchange and currency use instituted by Beijing earlier this year could deter investors from getting ahold of property in Forest City. The starting price for a smallish, two-room apartment is set at around US$170,000, a price most Malaysians are unable to afford.

Beyond the economic conundrum that lies ahead, it is worth pondering what impact on the local environment this megaproject will have, and already has. Twenty square kilometers in its ongoing first phase – most of it reclaimed, like the aforementioned four man-made islands – another 10 sq km in its second phase, 700,000 people by 2050: it all seems surreal, especially for a place where the most common sight today, and for the past few centuries, is of quaint fishermen’s enclaves and small jetties secluded among the mangroves. Once Forest City will have sprouted up and Iskandar reached its maturity, where will all this have gone to?

Academic observers and local environmentalists have expressed concerns about the way things are run in Forest City. According to some, the frantic pace of construction maintained so far by CGPV and its contractors could have dire consequences on the local ecosystems if left unsupervised.

“We have a potential time bomb on our hands,” warns one close observer who declined to be named. “There are ways to mitigate what has already been done and to reduce the impact of what is still to come, but you need people with credible expertise at the helm.”

It is public knowledge that earthworks for Forest City’s four artificial islands got underway in 2014 without a legally required Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA). Though a small number of the local community members were approached to fill in questionnaires at the time, many were mostly left in the dark about the start of reclamation work.

So was Singapore. It was only when the city-state voiced its concerns to the Malaysian government about the potential effects of the reclamation works that action was taken: CGPV had to temporarily backtrack and provide a DEIA, more or less in order.

Directly affected by the ongoing reclamation works is the Tanjung Kupang intertidal seagrass meadow, the largest of its kind in Malaysia. Lying just two hundred meters away from Forest City’s landscaped beach, it covers a total area of 36 square kilometers and now has to accommodate an increasingly invasive neighbor.

Experts agree that seagrass meadows are essential indicators of a shoreline’s health. When protected, they can contain some of the most diverse marine wildlife, but they are also extremely fragile ecosystems put through tremendous pressure by waterfront developments such as Forest City.

For its reclamation works, CGPV has extended a long causeway into the sea; that reclaimed causeway is now cutting across the seagrass meadow, potentially altering currents and threatening the ecosystem’s rich biodiversity.

Changes have already been felt by the local fishing community. Among those affected are Aminah and her fellow gleaners from Kampung Tanjung Kupang. Every morning at low tide, they can be seen prodding the seagrass as they tread across the shoals. They are usually able to pick up all sorts of seashells, crabs and other small molluscs that will complement their families’ meager meals. “But we find less seafood now than before,” Aminah tells us. “I used to be able to fill my bucket with conch shells and crabs, but with the causeway, I have to settle for less before the tide comes up.”

Other fishermen have complained of reduced catches and growing petrol costs due to the extra mileage incurred by the causeway and more distant fishing grounds. Following these complaints and short-lived reports from independent local media, CGPV admitted — during a community stakeholder meeting — having no knowledge of the local biodiversity when reclamation kicked off. CGPV has since revised the mapping of its reclaimed islands.

To a certain extent, the company also tries to engage with grassroots organizations, distributing compensation money to affected families and pledging its attachment to the local environment. Some reliable sources have noted, however, that compensations rarely reach those directly affected, and they fear CGPV’s damage-control actions are just a smokescreen preventing any future communication mishaps about Forest City.

To an outsider, it would seem clear that a certain atmosphere of omerta surrounds the whole Forest City project. As it is financially backed by the Sultan Ibrahim Ismail of Johor – a well-respected, charismatic figure protected by strict laws on lèse-majesté – some villagers facing resettlement and a loss of their livelihood feel ill-at-ease in expressing their discontent. Others try to take advantage of the reclamation works by selling off sand from their own village to unscrupulous contractors, disfiguring local landscapes in the process.

“The fact that the sultan is involved financially in Forest City through a number of businesses, including sand extraction in the bay of Tanjung Ramunia, is widely known among villagers. Some of them might feel like, if the sultan is allowed to make money out of all this, then why shouldn’t they be allowed to do it too?” says a source close to the local communities.

As advertised by CGPV, it was the sultan himself who envisioned the megaproject as part of “a balanced development where the people of Johor will benefit.” The positive trickle-down effect the monarch is expecting could effectively happen, though it would take decades and the price to pay in the meantime seems like a hefty one for the local ecosystems and population.

Adjacent to Forest City – and deeply affected by its second phase extension announced in June this year – lies the Pulai River Mangrove Forest Reserve, the largest riverine mangrove system in Johor. In 2003 some 9,126 hectares of the Pulai River mangroves were designated as a Ramsar site. The Ramsar Convention, which Malaysia joined in 1995, exhorts its contracting parties to protect their wetlands deemed of international importance. However, it holds no coercive or punitive power over adherents contravening their engagements.

The Pulai River mangroves are especially important to Johor and, by extension, to Malaysia. Besides bringing socioeconomic balance to nearby fishing communities, they also fulfill essential ecosystem functions such as shoreline protection and flood prevention. However, as one academic observer points out, “the mangroves in Iskandar are now fast becoming part of the urban space. As the urbanization extends, even Ramsar sites like the Pulai River Reserve have become trapped in some sort of shifting jurisdictional limbo.”

Declassification of gazetted land for private purposes is becoming common news among the affected village communities in the area. Just north of the port of Tanjung Pelepas – Malaysia’s biggest port, which has been testing the resilience of the mangroves since its inception 20 years ago – an international building system (IBS) facility for the Forest City project, covering about 160 hectares and churning out prefabricated panels for its expanding building site, was raised directly on now former Ramsar wetlands.

Of the three upcoming golf courses promised to Forest City investors, the ground-breaking ceremony of the one designed by ex-pro Jack Nicklaus was held late June right at the heart of the Ramsar reserve, near Kampung Simpang Arang. A long two-lane access track has already been built, ripping through wide expanses of mangrove and leading to a vast no-man’s-land filled with pile drivers. The golf course is expected to be completed in late 2018.

Kampung Simpang Arang, a settlement of once-nomadic, indigenous Orang Seletar, looks bound to be relocated in the years to come, along with other nearby villages. Much less likely to find new locations are the artisanal charcoal kilns which provide villagers with a small but much-needed income. “I’ve been cutting and burning wood my whole life,” says Ibrahim, a seasoned artisan at one of the last standing charcoal factories.

“Our village is now surrounded by building projects. I don’t see the factories last much longer, especially now that they are pulling down the mangroves. Where will we get our wood from?” Standing in front of his traditional earth kilns, Ibrahim already looks like he belongs to another era, one that is bound to be buried under layers of concrete.

Also likely to be deeply affected are a number of plant and animal species, some of them already threatened, which call the mangroves home. When reached, the Ramsar Secretariat, based in Gland, Switzerland, declared it had been “informed of encroachments on Johor’s protected wetlands” and was “already working with the involved parties in order to minimize any further impact” suffered by these areas.

Like Beijing’s recent regulations on capital outflows, all this looks to be just another small pebble in CGPV’s shoe. Positive thinking remains the order of the day in Forest City and, as the well-rehearsed sales pitch goes, “The Sultan of Johor is a shareholder in this project, and you can rest assured: when the Sultan wants something done, he gets it done.”

“Projects such as Forest City are an aberration in light of the Paris agreement on climate change,” says one expert and close observer who declined to be named. “CGPV says they have it all covered: the rise of water levels, the increased emissions of carbon dioxide due to the increase in traffic, etc. But how do you counter all those effects once you have destroyed huge swaths of the one ecosystem that can help you mitigate them, and displaced its original people? Trees on balconies won’t help with shoreline erosion. Migratory birds won’t stop on your golf courses.”

For villagers like Aminah who live in fear of losing their livelihood and being forced to leave their ancestral homes, it all seems too tough a battle to wage. Realizing that change has become unavoidable, however, some proactive members of the community are now stepping up and taking initiatives in order to develop alternative sources of income. Simple aquaculture endeavors and a nascent ecotourism industry will help alleviate their burden if not in the long run, at least temporarily. Not unlike the fireflies flickering in the mangrove, hope might sometimes seem elusive – but it is there, glowing in the dark.

The authors of this piece are publishing under pseudonyms due to the sensitivities surrounding this topic.

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Malaysia: Dead green turtle found covered in oil slick in Pulau Tioman

MEI MEI CHU and ANDREW SIA The Star 30 Aug 17;

PETALING JAYA: A dead juvenile turtle was found in Pulau Tioman covered in oil suspected to be from the collision between a U.S. warship and a merchant vessel in the waters off Johor.

Reef Check Malaysia Programme manager Alvin Chelliah said the green turtle that washed ashore on Tuesday at Kampung Air Batang was completely covered in oil and is believed to have suffocated.

"It had been floating dead in the open sea in the oil slick," said Alvin, adding that the oil slicks were washed ashore as the island has been experiencing strong winds from the south west.

He said this was the third oil spill affecting Pulau Tioman this year.

Large patches of black oil were seen on the beach and tar balls - semi-solid clumps of oil - were seen drifting towards the island.

"We suspect the tar balls came from the ships," Alvin said.

Reef Check is currently with officials from the Department of Environment, Pahang Marine Park Department, Tioman Development Authority and the insurance companies representing the sunken ships collecting samples of the oil for verification.

In April, a group of divers on an excursion were covered in oil as they came in contact with tar balls while surfacing from a dive.

"We need to do something quickly to solve this recurring issue, especially the tar balls as they are found every year," Alvin said, adding that it was pertinent to identify the source of the oil.

Oil slicks had also affected other islands in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, posing a danger to corals and other marine life.

In May, it was reported that oil dumped off the waters of Pulau Redang covered some 300 meters of shoreline with a layer of thick, black oil.

Sea turtle dies in oil slick believed to be from ship collision
The Star 31 Aug 17;

KUANTAN: A sea turtle has died after being enveloped by an oil spill off Pulau Tioman, said Reef Check Malaysia programme manager Alvin Chelliah.

He said he was sent a photograph of the dead turtle covered in oil and was told that residents in the affected area have buried the carcass.

The spill was spotted near Pulau Tulai and Kampung Air Batang on Tuesday, he said.

“I suspect it is from the collision between an oil tanker and a US Navy destroyer off Johor recently.

“Strong winds and currents may have pushed the slick towards Pulau Tioman. We have informed the authorities and they will make a verification,” Alvin said.

The incident comes after the appearance of tar balls near the popular dive spot early last month.

“The tar balls were semi-solid and we could pick them up easily,” he said, adding that the oil slick posed a bigger problem.

State Environment Department director Rosli Zul has sent officers to investigate the incident while Pahang Fisheries Department director Datuk Adnan Hussain said it was gathering more information on the death of the turtle.

“Based on our records, there has not been any turtle deaths due to an oil spill since 2010,” said Adnan.

He said the turtle in the photograph appears to be about seven or eight years old but could not identify its species.

About 98% of those in Pahang waters are green sea turtles while the rest are the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles, he added.

On Aug 21, the USS John S. McCain collided with Liberian-registered Alnic MC; 10 US sailors were killed in the incident.

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Thailand: Dugong carcass sent for autopsy to know cause of death

Achara Wisetsri The Nation 30 Aug 17;

The carcass of a female dugong that weighed 200 kilograms has been sent for autopsy to determine the cause of its death, Eastern Gulf Fisheries Research and Development Centre (Rayong) veterinarian Weerapong Laowetprasit said on Wednesday.

The carcass was found floating in the sea near Koh Samet, about five nautical miles off the Muang Rayong coast, on Tuesday afternoon. The three-metre-long dugong had a wound in the abdomen area and was suspected to have died less than seven days before the discovery of the carcass.

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Floods paralyse Mumbai as India and region are hit by heaviest rains in years

More than 1,200 people have been killed in India, Nepal and Bangladesh and millions forced from their homes
Haroon Siddique and agencies The Guardian 30 Aug 17;

Heavy monsoon rains have brought Mumbai to a halt for a second day as the worst floods to strike south Asia in years continued to exact a deadly toll.

More than 1,200 people have died across India, Bangladesh and Nepal as a result of flooding. At least six people, including two toddlers, were among the victims in and around India’s financial capital.

On Wednesday, police said a 45-year-old woman and a one-year-old child, members of the same family, had died after their home in the north-eastern suburb of Vikhroli crumbled late on Tuesday, and a two-year-old girl had died in a wall collapse.

They said another three people had died after being swept away in the neighbouring city of Thane.

The rains have led to flooding in a broad arc stretching across the Himalayan foothills in Bangladesh, Nepal and India, causing landslides, damaging roads and electric towers and washing away tens of thousands of homes and vast swaths of farmland.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) says the fourth significant floods this year have affected more than 7.4 million people in Bangladesh, damaging or destroying more than 697,000 houses.

They have killed 514 in India’s eastern state of Bihar, where 17.1 million have been affected, disaster management officials have been quoted as saying. In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, about 2.5 million have been affected and the death toll stood at 109 on Tuesday, according to the Straits Times. The IFRC said landslides in Nepal had killed more than 100 people.

The IFRC – working with the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and the Nepal Red Cross – has launched appeals to support almost 200,000 vulnerable people with immediate relief and long-term help with water and sanitation, health and shelter.

Streets in Mumbai have turned into rivers and people waded through waist-deep waters. On Tuesday, the city received about 12.7cm (5ins) of rain, paralysing public transport and leaving thousands of commuters stranded in their offices overnight.

Poor visibility and flooding also forced airport authorities to divert some flights while most were delayed by up to an hour.

The National Disaster Response Force has launched a rescue mission with police to evacuate people from low-lying areas but operations were thwarted by the continuous rain.

“The heavy rains, flooding, are delaying our rescue work. Even we are stranded,” said Amitesh Kumar, the joint police commissioner in Mumbai.

Images and video posted on social media showed the extent of the flooding.

Rainwater swamped the King Edward Memorial hospital in central Mumbai, forcing doctors to vacate the paediatric ward.

“We are worried about infections … the rain water is circulating rubbish that is now entering parts of the emergency ward,” said Ashutosh Desai, a doctor in the 1,800-bed hospital.

Although Mumbai is trying to build itself into a global financial hub, parts of the city struggle to cope during annual monsoon rains.

Floods in 2005 killed more than 500 people in the city. The majority of deaths occurred in shanty town slums, home to more than half of Mumbai’s population.

The meteorological department warned that the rains would continue for the next 24 hours.

Unabated construction on flood plains and coastal areas, as well as storm-water drains and waterways clogged by plastic garbage, have made the city increasingly vulnerable to storms.

Snehal Tagade, a senior official in Mumbai’s disaster management unit, said 150 teams were being deployed to help the population in low-lying residential areas.

Low-lying parts of the city with a population of more than 20 million people experience flooding almost every year but large-scale flooding of this magnitude has not been seen in recent years.

“We are mapping all the flooding zones to launch a project to build emergency shelters to make evacuation easy,” said Tagade.

Many businesses asked employees to leave early in expectation of worsening traffic jams. Rains and a high tide in the western coastal city threaten to overload an ageing drainage system.

Several companies have arranged for food and resting facilities for employees stuck in offices. Temples and other Ganesh pandals have been offering food and water to people stranded on streets.

People on social media have been offering help to strangers who have been stuck at various locations.

The education minister has asked all schools and colleges in the city to remain shut on Wednesday.

The flooding led to some power outages in parts of the city and the municipal corporation warned of more such cuts if water levels continued to rise.

A spokeswoman for Mumbai international airport said flights in and out of the airport, India’s second busiest, were delayed while some had had to be diverted.

Severe Flooding in South Asia Has Caused More Than 1,200 Deaths This Summer
Kevin Lui Time 30 Aug 17;

Severe flooding across South Asia has caused at least 1,200 deaths this summer, aid workers say, with huge swaths of the region still inundated as monsoon rains continue.

The death toll continues to rise amid concerns that disease and food insecurity could claim even more lives, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Most recorded deaths were in India, but many also died in neighboring Bangladesh and Nepal.

A spokesperson for the IFRC tells TIME that nearly a million houses have been damaged or destroyed in the three most affected countries. The U.N. estimates that more than 41 million people have been affected by the downpour. The monsoon season typically lasts from June to September.

Poor areas of Nepal have been particularly hard-hit; more than 210,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed by floods or landslides, and 143 people have died. In Bangladesh, roughly 8.6 million were affected, 142 died and enormous areas of farmland suffered damage, the IFRC said.

About a third of the country has been submerged by this year’s rains, according to the New York Times.

In India, the flooding has affected more than 30 million people, while the financial capital Mumbai is reportedly paralyzed by the waters. The Times reports that schools were shut Tuesday and transportation ground to a near standstill.

IFRC spokesperson Antony Balmain tells TIME that the flooding has heightened the risk of diarrhea, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and other diseases.

Monsoon season regularly ravishes the Indian subcontinent. In 2014, hundreds died when the coastal Indian city of Chennai saw its heaviest rains in a century. This summer has brought more rain to Mumbai than any other year since 2005, the Times reports, when it was devastated by downpour that killed more than 1,000 people across the state of Maharashtra.

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Satellite photos reveal how Mumbai killed its rivers and mangrove forests to risk epic floods

Devjyot Ghoshal Quartz India 30 Aug 17;

It’s almost a ritual: At least on one day every year, the heavens above Mumbai open up, and the metropolis of some 20 million below is inundated.

The resultant outrage, inconvenience, and suffering are something of a tradition, with successive governments getting pilloried for their lack of preparedness despite the regularity with which the monsoon paralyses India’s financial capital. Some things never change.

The latest act was on Aug. 29, when Mumbai ground to a near-complete halt once again after parts of the city received 298 mm of rain within a nine-hour period. Five people have died so far, and more rain is expected.

The city’s inability to weather such downpours is a result of a combination of the failure to improve its drainage system and the unbridled development that has stymied the region’s natural capacity to absorb heavy rainfall.

The latter, in particular, has mostly been overlooked. As journalist Darryl D’Monte noted in
Mumbai’s major nullahs form a vein-like network that can extend for an astounding 300 km. These could have functioned effectively to drain water out of the city. But this is a natural legacy that the city authorities have abused, with the reckless sanctioning of building after building, in brazen collusion with builders and venal bureaucrats. By indiscriminately dumping waste in open drains, citizens have also contributed to choking them.

To better understand the impact of the decades of haphazard development, Quartz pulled out some satellite maps of Mumbai from 1988 and 2017:

Mumbai is essentially a peninsula jutting into the Arabian Sea. Since the 1980s, when a little over eight million called it home, the city’s population has more than doubled. That’s led to rapid urbanisation of the surrounding areas, as well as encroachment of the mangroves on the city’s edges.

A close examination of mangroves around the Thane (the finger of water on the right) and Malad creeks (the green patch on the left) reveal how the city has expanded. Mangrove forests, found at the intersection of land and sea, are natural and vital flood barriers, especially as storms become more erratic and severe due to climate change.

More proof of their destruction is available further north of Mumbai, where the area around the Manori creek (on the left) has been massively encroached upon. Mangroves at the mouth of the Desai Khadi river (bottom, right), too, have met with a similar fate, with areas being extensively built upon in the last 30 years.

Then, there’s the Mithi river, the thread of blue at the centre of the image, right under the X-shaped runways of the Mumbai airport. It originates in the hills around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and travels nearly 18 kilometres to drain into the sea. Mithi is Mumbai’s natural storm drain, particularly during heavy rains. Over the years, though, it has become a veritable sewer, choked with domestic and industrial waste. The wetlands along the river (immediately south of the airport), too, have disappeared since the late 1980s.

It’s a story of maximum destruction in the Maximum City.

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Jackie Chan joins fight to save endangered pangolin

BBC 30 Aug 17;

Martial arts superstar Jackie Chan is taking part in a campaign against consuming endangered pangolins, as Malaysia takes steps to ban the hunting of the animal.

The Rush Hour star appears in a video where he trains a trio of pangolins to use kung fu to defend themselves, while urging viewers against eating pangolin meat or using their scales for traditional medicine, Taiwan News reports.

The "Kung Fu Pangolin" campaign, headed by the WildAid organisation, will also appear on billboards in China and Vietnam, the two largest pangolin consuming nations in the Asia region.

Pointing out how previous campaigns against shark fins and rhino horn have been successful, WildAid chief Peter Knights had high hopes for the pangolin campaign. "Jackie reaches a vast audience across Asia and there are clear signs these campaigns have had an impact and attitudes are changing," he said.

Crackdown on poaching

The new campaign arrives as one Malaysian state takes urgent moves to outlaw the hunting of the animal.
The government of Sabah, on the northern part of Borneo, is to rush through moves to make pangolins a "totally protected" species, The Malay Mail newspaper says.

Once approved by the state's Cabinet, hunting the animal will carry a mandatory prison sentence of up to five years. Last month, officials seized eight tonnes of pangolin scales at a port in Sabah.

The move comes after warnings that continued poaching poses an existential threat not only to pangolins, but to the biodiversity of the region, the Clean Malaysia environmental news website says.

"If these illegal hunting activities are not checked, the population of the protected and endangered wildlife species in the state will shrink in no time," Rahimatsah Amat of the Sabah Environmental Trust said.

Pangolins are the most trafficked mammals in the world, and over a million have been poached from the wild in the last ten years, WildAid says. The meat is considered a delicacy, while the scales are thought to have properties in traditional Chinese medicine.

When attacked, the animals roll into a ball and use their scales for defence. While this might be fine against natural predators, it makes it easy for poachers to catch these shy, nocturnal animals.

Reporting by Alistair Coleman

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Murky data on water pollution puts health at risk in Asia - researchers

Thin Lei Win Reuters 30 Aug 17;

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In Mongolia, herders living outside the capital Ulaanbaatar, near the Tuul River, fear deteriorating water quality is making their livestock sick.

In Indonesia, shrimp farmers in Serang who rely on the Ciujung River have seen their catches fall, and some have developed skin problems.

In south-central Thailand, villagers near the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate, home to petrochemical plants, oil refineries and coal-fired power stations, worry that their water is heavily polluted.

Concerned about their health, these communities sought clarification and information from their governments about pollutants being released into the environment, overall water quality, the risks of using such water, and information on the companies thought to be responsible.

In each case, they were thwarted, despite their countries having extensive legislation on citizens’ right to information, including environmental data, said a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a U.S.-based think tank.

Villagers faced obstacles - from having to pay to access documents, to lacking an internet connection for online information, and needing to understand and use freedom of information laws, the report said.

Sometimes, the data was unavailable publicly or presented in a language communities could not understand.

When information was released, it was often poor, technical and did not meet local people’s demands, said the report issued on Wednesday.

“Access to information is really the foundation for any kind of meaningful public participation or accountability in environmental decision-making,” Elizabeth Moses, the report’s co-author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Thailand and Mongolia, people who request information are asked to come to the environment ministry to pick it up, even though some live hours away and do not have the money or time to travel, added the WRI specialist in water governance.

Thai agencies may also refuse to release environmental information that is classified as secret.

As a result, millions of people in Indonesia, Mongolia and Thailand could be drinking unsafe water with long-term repercussions for their health and livelihoods, Moses said.

These problems reflect the struggles experienced by rural communities across the developing world who want information regarding clean water, she added.


Globally, over 80 percent of all wastewater is discharged without treatment and contaminated water is a root cause of death, disease and disability, particularly in developing countries, according to the United Nations.

“For the world’s poorest people, access to clean water means fewer outbreaks of deadly diseases, less time spent away from the classroom by children collecting water, and greater economic opportunities for women,” said the WRI report.

Pollution also hampers economic progress. Inaction to tackle air and water pollution costs some countries the equivalent of 4 percent of GDP or more a year, the World Bank has said.

While all three countries the WRI report focuses on have comprehensive laws to disclose information, many do not indicate how information is to be made available or comprehensible to affected communities, the report said.

The Indonesian and Thai environment ministries did not respond to Thomson Reuters Foundation requests for comment.

Erdenebulgan Luvsandorj, director of the water resources division at Mongolia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, said anyone who wished to obtain water pollution data from the ministry or its laboratory was free to do so.

The ministry will soon seek parliamentary approval for amendments to tighten up implementation of a 2012 law on fees for water pollution, he added. Local media say regulation has been too vague to effectively punish polluters.

The WRI report urged the three governments to set up national systems to collect and publish environmental information.

“Until local communities have the ability and the means to access the information they need, then these lofty goals around transparency are really not being fulfilled,” said Moses.

There have been some improvements, she noted.

For example, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry adopted a regulation in 2015 to expand the number of environmental documents it would proactively disclose, but it has yet to be fully implemented, she said.

Reporting by Thin Lei Win, Editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit

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Best of our wild blogs: 30 Aug 17

Abandoned nets at Pulau Ubin (26 Aug 2017)
Project Driftnet

RUMbles in July and August
Restore Ubin Mangroves (R.U.M.) Initiative

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LTA, URA release land previously safeguarded for underground road system

Channel NewsAsia 29 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE: Land which was previously safeguarded for the Singapore Underground Road System (SURS) has been released as there is no more need for the arterial road, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) on Tuesday (Aug 29).

Enhancements to Singapore's public transport network and changes in land use policies have removed the need for the SURS, the 15km-long underground arterial ring road system around the fringe of the city that was to cater to traffic growth into and out of the city centre, the agencies said in a joint press release.

The SURS was conceptualised in the 1980s and the land along the SURS alignment was safeguarded in 1993.

LTA and URA said the city centre is already well-served by a comprehensive public transport system.

With the Downtown Line fully opening on Oct 21, the agencies said this will "further improve public transport connectivity", especially for commuters from the north-western and eastern regions of the island travelling to the Central Business District (CBD) and Marina Bay areas.

The completion of the Thomson-East Coast Line in 2024 "will also connect commuters from the northern and eastern parts of Singapore to the central areas, while Circle Line Stage 6 will close the Circle Line loop by around 2025".

By 2030, Singapore's rail network will be 360km long with 90 per cent of CBD developments within a five-minute walk to an MRT station, the agencies said.

With the release of the safeguarded SURS land, previously affected land owners will now have greater flexibility in their development plans, they added.

Scrapping of underground road network to give more urban planning options: Experts
WONG PEI TING Today Online 30 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE — Scrapping plans to build a 30km underground road network will not only give urban planners and landowners more flexibility to build “higher or lower”. It will also reduce the inconvenience and costs for developers since they will no longer have to take the network alignment into consideration in their planning, property and transport experts said on Tuesday (Aug 29).

Still, the impact of the Government’s decision to “de-safeguard” land preserved for the 30km-Singapore Underground Road System (SURS) will not be felt immediately, they told TODAY.

Noting that the announcement on the SURS’ fate is “no windfall for anybody”, Mr Colin Tan, director of research and consultancy at Suntec Real Estate Consultants, said that the lifting of restrictions means that urban planners can designate areas to have a “higher plot ratio”, which refers to the density of a building on any piece of land.

“There are more options to relocate or locate some amenities and developments. If you want to intensify or build higher, then this will allow the planners to lift the plot ratio,” he added.

In the long term, Mr Tan felt the move opens up the potential to develop the northern side of the SURS’ loop — namely the parts running across Balestier Road and Kallang — the only areas left that are not as densely built up as the city centre, or running along the existing arterial road network.

International Property Advisor chief executive officer Ku Swee Yong said the restrictions under the SURS affected a very niche group of landowners, who might be thinking of creating a subterranean structure or high-rise condominiums which might require more piling work for foundation.

He added that if the Government had gone ahead with the S$5 billion SURS plan, “about 30 to 40 per cent of the built-up areas, such as Havelock, Maxwell and Orchard” will have to put up with the inconveniences arising from the construction.

“There is no financial impact, except that we save some trouble for ourselves,” Mr Ku added.

Mr Nicholas Mak, executive director of real estate firm ZACD Group, said significant stretches of alignment run beneath lands with no development potential, such as the Central Expressway or the Marina Coastal Expressway or the Gardens by the Bay. Hence, there is limited impact on property developers.

He added that it is “incrementally more expensive to build deeper down”, with the price for going two to three levels underground costing about three times more.

“You will need more foundation work, more robust engineering work to keep the walls from collapsing on the sides as there is more pressure there,” Mr Mak added.

Transport experts felt that it was a wise move to scrap the underground road network as it was an obsolete idea conceived in the 1980s, at a time when plans for the country’s MRT network was still at its infancy.

The provisions made for the underground roads were also “too extensive” to be adapted for alternative uses, such as building pedestrian walkways or underground shopping malls to further support the car-lite vision, they noted.

"For me, de-safeguarding could have happened earlier. The moment they have planned for more MRT lines, then it becomes quite clear that we do not need to have those car roads tunneling through underground,” said Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) urban transport planner Park Byung Joon.

When asked whether the planned underground network could be adapted to fit the car-lite vision — for example, using it for cycling paths — Dr Park said that standards are vastly different when it comes to planning for different types of amenities. For example, the total walking distance for an underground pedestrian walk could only go no more than 2km — “this is what driving can cover in one to two minutes”.

While recognising the importance of “unlocking the value of the land along the corridor if the Government does not intend to use it”, SUSS economist Dr Walter Theseira felt that the authorities could have taken a more phased approach in “de-safeguarding” the land meant for SURS.

Pointing to the vision of having more autonomous vehicles on the roads in the future, Dr Theseira said the “heavy adoption” of this might increase road-usage in the prime areas as it could make this form of commuting “more convenient than taking mass public transport”.

Since the short-term impact of “de-safeguarding” is limited, the move could result in “us restricting ourselves unnecessarily”, Dr Theseira said.

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NUS launches event to promote environmental sustainability

Jose Hong Straits Times 29 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE - The National University of Singapore (NUS) took new steps in the name of being green on Tuesday (Aug 29).

It organised the first sustainABLE NUS Showcase, a two-day exhibition and carnival at NUS University Town.

With its 28 booths, the event aims to present the university's initiatives to transform itself into a greener campus - achieving sustainability in its operations, its research and education, its community engagement and through partnerships with outside organisations.

The event also tries to showcase how NUS' research and teaching tackle the sustainability challenges of today and the future.

For example, a booth showed off technology that would make solar power measurements at least 50 per cent more precise than what is currently available on the market.

Presented by Dr Martin Reed from the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris), it uses drones to scan buildings in Singapore and then recreates three-dimensional models of them. The technology then uses local weather data to calculate how much sunshine - and hence solar power - each specific surface of the building would get.

Dr Reed said that this would allow building owners to accurately know where to place what type of solar panels to maximise the solar power generated and the energy saved.

His team is already looking for clients to sell this service to. "I'm excited about the use of this technology as it is scalable to solve solar power problems at the national level, and I enjoy working hands on in the development and implementation of such solutions that will benefit Singapore," he said.

Another booth at the event showcased a NUS Environmental Research Institute team is presenting an approach to turn food waste into soil called NUSoil.

Visiting the Seris exhibitions was first-year mechanical engineering student Lee Dongyu. He said he came down because he was interested in the clean energy sector.

"I want to find out about the depth of research they're doing here in the field of solar energy research," said Mr Lee, 21.

He said he found the exhibits he visited quite good and interactive, and he appreciated the opportunities to find out more about the areas he is interested in outside of his curriculum.

NUS president, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, said in his opening address that the sustainABLE NUS Showcase was one of the ways the institution could show support for the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, which outlines the Republic's plans to become more liveable and sustainable.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli was the guest of honour at the event.

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Malaysia: Sabah on fast-track to make pangolin a totally protected species

RUBEN SARIO The Star 29 Aug 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is speeding up the process of making pangolins a totally protected species amid the increasing number of cases of trafficking and hunting.

“There is a real urgency to give it full protection,” state Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said after unveiling the Negaraku Livery on a MASwings ATR 72-500 aircraft here on Tuesday.

He said the Wildlife Department was preparing the necessary documents to upgrade the protection status of pangolins to be submitted to the Sabah Cabinet.

Sunda pangolins are the only species found in Sabah and are protected under Part 1 Schedule 2 of the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment, allowing for them to be hunted with permits.

The upgrade would see pangolins being listed under Schedule 1 of the Enactment that would ban their hunting altogether.

In the International Union Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species, Sunda pangolins are on the critically endangered list.

Masidi said that upgrading the protection status of pangolins would send a strong message to poachers and wildlife traffickers that Sabah was not making light of the animal being hunted illegally or its parts being traded.

Last month, Sabah Customs Department officers seized eight tonnes of pangolin scales at the Sepanggar port here.

The pangolin scales were believed to have been bound for China, although their origin has yet to be determined.

Sabah looking at making pangolins a completely protected species
KRISTY INUS New Straits Times 28 AUg 17;

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Wildlife Department is looking at upgrading the status of Pangolin to a completely protected species.

The department is in the midst of preparing a paper on the matter to upgrade the status of the mammalian from Schedule 2 to Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said he had ordered the department which falls under his ministry, to undertake the matter as soon as possible.

“They have always been planning to do this but now enough is enough. While it is impossible for a complete stop of pangolin or wildlife trade, but what is important is that we sends a strong message to all citizens on the need for all of us to work together in protecting them,” he said.

Masidi said this when asked about the recent case of an attempt to smuggle in RM103 million worth of pangolin scales weighing 8,000 kilogrammes via Sepanggar Port here.

In Sabah, Schedule 2 of the Enactment permits the hunting of the listed animals with a permit.

Masidi hoped that the stronger legislation via the status upgrading will help cut off illegal wildlife trade.

On the scales confiscated on July 29, Sabah Customs Department believes the scales were sourced from some 16,000 pangolins.

Asked whether the state government is pursuing to verify where they came from, Masidi said it is up to the Wildlife Department but there is obviously ‘a need to do so’.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment deputy ministerDatuk Pang Yuk Ming had previously stated that Sabah was likely to be a transshipment point in this case, as there was ‘no way a pangolin population of that size can come from Sabah’.

Customs director-general Datuk T. Subromaniam at a function here yesterday, said investigations involving the 43-year-old suspect in the pangolin scales case are almost complete and he is expected to be charged in court soon.

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Malaysia not the only transit point for wildlife smuggling

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 28 Aug 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia is not the only transit point in South-East Asia being used by international syndicates to smuggle wildlife, says Customs Department director-general Datuk Seri Subromaniam Tholasy (pix).

He said the perception that Malaysian ports were key transit points for wildlife smuggling was not true, but rather, this indicated Customs' many successes against smugglers here.

"We know that smugglers are using other ports in neighbouring countries. I do not want to name but they are not taking the action that we are taking," he told reporters after witnessing the handing over of duties from retiring Sabah Customs director Datuk Janathan Kondok to his successor Datuk Hamzah Sundang, the current Kuala Lumpur International Airport director.

Subromaniam was referring to the successes by Customs in Sabah, which seized some 8,000 tonnes of pangolin scales on transit at the Sepangar port here and also the seizure of ivory through KLIA in July.

He stressed that the smugglers were not only using Malaysian ports, but also those in neighbouring countries, which go undetected.

On the seizure of RM100mil worth of pangolin scales, he confirmed that the scales were on transit to China but declined to reveal the country of origin.

"We are still investigating. I can't reveal much," he said, adding that they expect to charge a 43-year-old local suspect for smuggling banned goods.

However, he said that the Sabah Wildlife Department was also free to take action against the suspect under the state's wildlife conservation laws.

"We will act under Customs laws. The Wildlife Department can also act against him using protection laws. These are two separate offences so we have no problem with them taking action against the suspect," he added.

The Customs' seizures of elephant tusks and pangolin scales had raised concerns that Malaysia had become a transit point for wildlife parts that fetch high value in China and Indo-China countries.

Tusks and other body parts of elephants are prized for decoration as talismans and for use in traditional medicine, while pangolin scales were considered aphrodisiacs.

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Sea Shepherd says it will abandon pursuit of Japanese whalers

Captain Paul Watson accuses ‘hostile governments’ in the US, Australia and New Zealand of being in league with Tokyo
Ben Doherty The Guardian 29 Aug 17;

The anti-whaling organisation Sea Shepherd will not contest the Southern Ocean against Japanese whalers this season, Captain Paul Watson has announced, accusing “hostile governments” in the US, Australia and New Zealand of acting “in league with Japan” against the protest vessel.

Sea Shepherd has been obstructing Japanese whaling vessels in the Southern Ocean each year since 2005, but Watson said the cost of sending vessels south, Japan’s increased use of military technology to track them, and new anti-terrorism laws passed specifically to thwart Sea Shepherd’s activities made physically tracking the ships impossible.

Australia took Japan to the international court of justice over its Southern Ocean whaling program in 2014, winning a judgment that condemned Japan’s whaling programs as being in breach of the International Whaling Commission’s ban on commercial whaling. The court rejected Japan’s argument that its whaling was for “scientific” purposes.

Watson said his volunteer organisation could not compete with Japanese military satellite technology, which tracked Sea Shepherd in the ocean. Japan has also passed anti-terrorism laws that make protest ships’ presence near whalers a terrorist offence.

“We’re just a group of volunteers trying to do the impossible, trying to do the job Australia and New Zealand and the United States and all these others countries should be doing but they’re too busy appeasing Japan.”

In a statement on Monday, Watson said the Japanese whaling companies “not only have all the resources and subsidies their government can provide, they also have the powerful political backing of a major economic superpower. Sea Shepherd however is limited in resources and we have hostile governments against us in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.”

Speaking on radio in Australia, Watson accused the Australian government of acting in league with Japan, indirectly supporting whaling by obstructing Sea Shepherd’s activities.

“Australia is definitely in league with Japan,” he said. “When our ships come in we’re harassed, we’re investigated, we’re searched, when our crew come in from other countries they have problems getting visas. We’ve been applying for charity status for 10 years – they won’t give it to us. This has been extremely hostile.

“Really what it’s all about is appeasing Japan. Trade deals take priority over conservation law.”

He said countries opposed to Japan’s whaling should have ships in the southern waters to monitor and deter whaling. “[They should] uphold their own laws, under US laws it’s illegal. Australia and New Zealand should be down there protecting their waters from poachers.”

Japan’s whaling in the Southern Ocean is illegal under international law. The US, Australia and New Zealand have all publicly, diplomatically and legally challenged Japan’s whaling program.

Aside from the ICJ challenge, Australia also pursued Japan in the Australian federal court in 2015, which fined the Japanese whaling company Kyodo $1m – a penalty that has not yet been paid.

Last month the New Zealand foreign affairs minister, Gerry Brownlee, said he was “extremely disappointed” Japan had passed new legislation to subsidise its whaling fleet and said he was concerned about Japan’s continued efforts to overturn the longstanding global moratorium on commercial whaling.

The US, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands were signatories to a joint statement in 2016, which accused the Japanese governments of flouting the ICJ order, and said: “Our governments remain resolutely opposed to commercial whaling.”

But that statement also warned anti-whaling activists against “dangerous, reckless or unlawful behaviour”.

The Sea Shepherd’s pursuit of whaling vessels has also attracted criticism. The Japanese government has described Sea Shepherd as “eco-terrorists” and sought to have Watson placed on an Interpol watch-list.

Security experts have criticised Sea Shepherd’s tactics at sea, saying they endanger lives.

And Sea Shepherd was fined for contempt of a US court for breaching an injunction not to physically attack or harass Japanese whalers.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Watson said Sea Shepherd’s 12 years of action against Japan’s whalers had been successful, having seen 6,500 whales saved, not a single humpback killed, and only 10 endangered fin whales killed.

Japan’s whaling quota has been reduced from more than 1,000 whales a season to 333 a year.

Watson said Sea Shepherd would “never abandon the whales” but would formulate a new plan for contesting Japan’s whaling.

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Hurricane Harvey: The link to climate change

Matt McGrath BBC 30 Aug 17;

When it comes to the causes of Hurricane Harvey, climate change is not a smoking gun.

However, there are a few spent cartridge cases marked global warming in the immediate vicinity.

Hurricanes are complex, naturally occurring beasts - extremely difficult to predict, with or without the backdrop of rising global temperatures.

The scientific reality of attributing a role to climate change in worsening the impact of hurricanes is also hard to tease out simply because these are fairly rare events and there is not a huge amount of historical data.

But there are some things that we can say with a good deal of certainty.

There's a well-established physical law, the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, that says that a hotter atmosphere holds more moisture.

For every extra degree Celsius in warming, the atmosphere can hold 7% more water. This tends to make rainfall events even more extreme when they occur.

Another element that we can mention with some confidence is the temperature of the seas.

"The waters of the Gulf of Mexico are about 1.5 degrees warmer above what they were from 1980-2010," Sir Brian Hoskins from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"That is very significant because it means the potential for a stronger storm is there, and the contribution of global warming to the warmer waters in the Gulf, it's almost inevitable that there was a contribution to that."

Researchers are also quite confident in linking the intensity of the rainfall that is still falling in the Houston area to climate change.

"This is the type of event, in terms of the extreme rainfall, that we would expect to see more of in a warming climate," Dr Friederike Otto from the University of Oxford told BBC News.

Environmental lawyers are questioning whether events like Harvey should still be referred to as "Acts of God" or "Natural Disasters" as they are made worse by emissions from fossil fuels.

In a comment paper in the journal Nature Geoscience, they say legal action may be taken against countries that don't contribute to the global effort to cut emissions.

Lawsuits seeking to apportion responsibility for climatic events have generally failed in the past.

But lawyers from the firms Client Earth in London and Earth and Water Law in Washington say that's likely to change.

They believe a new branch of knowledge called attribution science will allow the courts to decide with reasonable confidence that individual events have been exacerbated by manmade climate change.

They believe in future governments and firms risk being successfully sued if they don't cut their emissions.
"For the intensity of the rainfall (over Houston), it is very reasonable to assume there is a signal from climate change in that intensity."

One big question, though, is the persistence of the storm over the Texas area. This has been key to the scale of the downpour and the amount of flooding that has been seen so far.

Some researchers believe that climate is playing a role here too.

Prof Stefan Rahmstorf from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says that a general slowdown in atmospheric circulation in mid-latitudes is a possible follow-on from a changing climate elsewhere in the world.
"This is a consequence of the disproportionally strong warming in the Arctic; it can make weather systems move less and stay longer in a given location - which can significantly enhance the impacts of rainfall extremes, just like we're sadly witnessing in Houston."

However, slow-moving storms over Texas have appeared before. Tropical storms Claudette in 1979 and Allison in 2001 had huge rainfall impacts as they settled in place over the state for long periods. Other scientists think that attributing the slowly meandering nature of this storm to climate change is a step too far.

"I don't think we should speculate on these more difficult and complex links like melting in the Arctic without looking into these effects in a dedicated study," said Dr Otto.

Experts say that in looking at a storm like Harvey, the impact of climate change is not simply about higher temperatures in the atmosphere and in the seas - it is also linked to changes in atmospheric circulation patterns.

Sometimes, the temperature and circulation changes brought about by warming can cancel each other out. Other times they can make the impacts worse. Understanding the full picture will be difficult and expensive.

"For hurricanes, we would ask the question as to what are the possible hurricane developments in the world we live in and compare that to the possible hurricane developments in a world without climate change," said Dr Otto.

"These high-resolution models are very expensive to run over and over again so that you can simulate possible weather rather than tracks of hurricanes."

Other researchers say that we are looking at the issue entirely the wrong way.

Regardless of the human impact on climate change, indirectly making Harvey worse - they believe the real human contribution to the catastrophe is far more simple and straightforward.

"The hurricane is just a storm, it is not the disaster," said Dr Ilan Kelman, at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction and Institute for Global Health at University College London.

"The disaster is the fact that Houston population has increased by 40% since 1990. The disaster is the fact that many people were too poor to afford insurance or evacuate.

"Climate change did not make people build along a vulnerable coastline so the disaster itself is our choice and is not linked to climate change."

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Best of our wild blogs: 29 Aug 17

How reconnecting with nature can help us cope with floods

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5-year-old boy dies after tree falls on him at Upper Bukit Timah Road

Channel NewsAsia 28 Aug 17;

SINGAPORE: A five-year-old boy succumbed to his injuries and died after he was hit by a falling tree in Bukit Timah.

The incident took place on Aug 17 at the intersection of Upper Bukit Timah Road and Old Jurong Road. The tree also fell on a car, but no one in the vehicle was injured, police said.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it was informed of the accident at approximately 3pm and sent an ambulance to the scene.

However, the injured boy had already been taken to the hospital prior to SCDF's arrival.

Channel NewsAsia understands that the boy was taken to National University Hospital but died of his injuries a week later, on Aug 24.

Source: CNA/ad

Spanish boy, 5, dies after tree falls on him in Bukit Timah
AsiaOne 28 Aug 17;

A five-year-old Spanish boy died in hospital last Friday (Aug 25) after getting struck by a fallen tree in Bukit Timah.

The incident happened on Aug 17 at around 4pm, reports Shin Min Daily News via Lianhe Zaobao.

The boy was seriously injured and rushed to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for treatment.

A Facebook post by a church friend asked for the victim's friends and their family members to pray for his recovery.

It also revealed that the doctors could not operate on him, as his conditions were unstable.

It is understood that the boy's father is in Singapore for work and had brought his whole family over.

After receiving news that the boy had passed away, a 73-year-old witness to the incident said: "Such a young life, gone just like that. This is truly a tragedy."

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Malaysia: Environmental based NGOs strongly against reclamation project off the southwestern coast of Penang

MOHAMED BASYIR New Straits Times 28 Aug 17;

GEORGE TOWN: Environmental-based non-governmental organisations (NGO) are adamant that the proposed Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project should not be implemented in the state.

They claimed the reclamation project would indeed have negative effect on the environment, and also affect the livelihood of the fishing communities near the project site.

As such, they lauded Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's assurance that the project would not be approved if it was not environmentally friendly and if it had negative impact on the people.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) said it was never in favour of the proposed 1,821ha reclamation project near Permatang Damar Laut.

Its president S.M. Mohamed Idris stressed that the project would indeed have negative effect on the environment and also the fishing communities near the project site.

Referring to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report, Idris said it concurred that there would be an impact on the ocean food chain and the fishing industry due to total loss of mudflats.

"Loss of coastal habitat due to this proposed reclamation project is a major environmental blow," he told the New Straits Times today.

His statement came in the wake of Najib's announcement on the matter during a visit to Balik Pulau on Saturday.

Najib had also said that the reclamation project should be environmentally friendly and other alternatives which could save the people's money should be considered first.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Nature Society Penang branch advisor D. Kanda Kumar, who echoed the same sentiment, stressed that there was no need for the reclamation to fund the state government's highly-ambitious multi-billion Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

Kanda said that the Penang government should look into cheaper alternatives for the proposed railway system for the PTMP.

He said that many developed countries were moving to on-ground railway systems as it was cheaper in terms of construction and maintenance, hence the state government should follow suit as well.

"The state government had proposed for an elevated railway, for a major part of the rail system. This itself is expensive as they need to build special terminals.

"In comparison, they should go with on-ground railway system. Russia, for example, is implementing this too. Easily accessible for the people and also as fast as the elevated ones," he told the NST when contacted.

Kanda stressed that the requirements laid-out by Najib were not a straight 'no' to the reclamation as the state government could go ahead with the project if it fulfilled the requirements.

The RM46 billion PTMP project was proposed to reduce traffic congestion. It included light rail transit (LRT), mass rapid transit (MRT) and several highways.

The overall project would take 50 years to be completeed.

Kanda said that the PTMP could be irrelevant at that time, considering the current advancement of transportation technologies.

"We are seeing automated cars...there might be far better transport system by the time the whole PTMP is implemented," he said.

Penang’s reclamation project still awaiting federal nod
R. SEKARAN The Star 28 Aug 17;

GEORGE TOWN: Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is questioning why Penang’s reclamation project has not been given the go-ahead yet while approval has been given to other states for their projects.

“Johor, Melaka and Kedah with bigger reclamation projects compared to Penang already have their approval from the Federal Government.”

Expressing his disappointment over Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s statement that he would not support the reclamation plans off the south of Penang island if the local fishermen’s livelihood was affected, Lim said the remark was a political one and not based on sound technical and environmental judgment.

On Saturday, Najib said the project was like putting sand into the rice bowl of the 1,500 fishermen here and if that was the case, the project should not be carried out.

Lim said Penang gave out the most compensation in Malaysia to fishermen affected by reclamation.

“The reclamation will not affect the fishermen greatly.

“They will still have access to sea through the proposed man-made islands,” he told reporters after opening the Japanese Technology Weekend at Tech Dome, Komtar yesterday.

The Penang South Reclamation Scheme is a massive plan to reclaim three islands totalling 1,800ha off the southern coast of Penang.

The success of the Penang Transport Masterplan, which is the state government’s multi-billion ringgit public transport project involving light rail transit, monorail, cable cars and water taxis, depends on funding from property development on the islands.

The environmental impact assessment of SRS was recently completed and is now awaiting federal approval.

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Indonesia: Police Arrest Man Suspected of Killing and Selling Sumatran Tiger

Dames Alexander Sinaga Jakarta Globe 28 Aug 17;

Jakarta. A 58-year-old man identified by police by his initial, I, was arrested by the Environment and Forestry Ministry’s rapid response rangers, called Sporc, and police officers attached to the Mount Leuser National Park in North Sumatra, for reportedly killing a female Sumatran tiger on Sunday (27/08).

"We hope criminals who catch and sell protected wildlife can be severely punished. The government has already categorized environmental crime as part of 'extraordinary crime,' like drug crimes," Halasan Tulus, the law enforcement head at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry's (KLHK) Sumatra office, said in a statement on Monday.

Halasan has urged the public to report anyone selling or keeping parts of protected animals to the KLHK's Balai Gakkum agency.

According to the ministry's statement, the suspected poacher works as a harvester at a local palm oil plantation. He had set up a trap on the edge of Mount Leuser National Park after seeing tiger tracks around the area.

The female tiger was found dead in the trap seven days later. The suspect then contacted a buyer, known only as S, according to police.

The suspect was arrested in Sei Serdang, a village in the district of Langkat, where the two were supposed to meet.

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The Philippines: Catching tuna the sustainable way

Jonathan L. Mayuga Business Mirror 27 Aug 17

Meet Francis Silosia. At 36, he is already the captain of Ryan 628, a medium-scale commercial fishing vessel based in General Santos City, considered as the “tuna capital” of the Philippines.

This reporter met him on August 16 on board Ryan 628, which is one of seven commercial fishing vessels owned by a local businessman he works for.

Silosia, sitting on top of a blue container drum, flashed a smile as we shook hands when we were introduced to each other by Jimely Flores, a marine biologist at Oceana Philippines.

Silosia and some of the crewmembers were busy preparing for their next fishing expedition. One of them was overhauling a small engine while another was painting a smaller boat atop the katig, or outrigger to stabilize the boat.

Vessel monitoring

Oceana is pushing for the implementation of Republic Act (RA) 10654, or the Amended Fisheries Code, which requires commercial fishing vessels to install a vessel-monitoring device for proper monitoring and tracking.

An international ocean-conservation advocacy group, Oceana, said commercial fishing vessels often encroach the country’s 15-kilometer exclusive fishing ground for municipal fishers, and sometimes, even raid “no-take” marine reserves declared as protected areas under National Integrated Protected Areas System Act.

Municipal fishing grounds are supposed to be for the exclusive use of municipal fishers.

The Philippines has a total of 240 protected areas, including national 70 marine-protected areas (MPAs), 30 of which are predominantly marine areas.

There are also over 1,500 locally managed MPAs all over the country, where fishing is regulated, if not totally banned, to protect the breeding grounds of fish and other marine wildlife.

Oceana is eyeing to sponsor the subscription of 100 small-scale commercial fishing vessels for one year using the Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprise Inc. (FAME) technology to boost its advocacy.

According to Oceana, two-thirds of the country’s fishing grounds are already overfished.

Recently, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Oceana Philippines have launched a project, dubbed as “Sagip Sardines”, to conserve and protect the fish species which is now being threatened by overfishing.

The project aims to create a National Management Framework Plan for sardines—the first of its kind in the Philippines—to address excessive sardines fishing and ensure the sustainability of the industry.

Commercial fishing is seen as the culprit behind overfishing. Besides excessively fishing, commercial fishing often use destructive or unsustainable fishing methods.

Unlike handline fishing, large-scale commercial fishing vessels use active gear, and are also known to use fish-aggregating device, or locally known as payao.

Trawling is the most destructive among commercial-fishing methods. It drags the net at the bottom of the ocean, often destroying corals.

The use of payao aggravates commercial fishing, as it attracts all sorts of fish—big or small—resulting in accidental by catch of nontargeted fish that are not commercially viable.

Pilot testing

Flores, along with Roger Guzman, Oceana’s legal policy officer; Aga Khan M. Salong, a member of the Quick Response Team of BFAR-Soccsksargen; and Ronaldo Aguila, the chief technology officer of FAME, just finished installing the FAME transponder which will track and monitor Ryan 628 as it sails to catch those commercially viable tuna.

The pilot-testing of the FAME transponder is in preparation for the nationwide implementation of RA 10654.

FAME is charging a monthly subscription of P800. The transponder and its installation is free of charge for a minimum subscription of three months, said Arcelio J. Fetizanan Jr., FAME CEO.

Section 2 of RA 10654 states that no commercial fishing vessel can fish without putting in place vessel-monitoring measures, which is basically a telecom or radio frequency-based monitoring system.

Large commercial fishing vessels, which usually fish beyond Philippine waters—whether in high seas or in exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other countries—are mandated to install satellite-based vessel monitoring system so they could be tracked anywhere, anytime while on a fishing expedition.

Handline fishing

On board the Ryan 628 are more than 20 of drums which contain either diesel, gasoline or the crew’s fresh-water supply.

The diesel is for the engine of Ryan 628, while the gasoline is for the smaller skiff boats called pakura.

Water is important while on a fishing expedition. Ryan 628 will be out fishing in the waters of Surigao for at least three weeks, which requires the crew to cook their food, and consume water for drinking and bathing.

Ryan 628 makes use of the handline fishing, which is considered as the most environment-friendly and sustainable fishing method. It basically makes use of hook, line and sinker to catch one fish at a time, in Ryan 628’s case, the commercially viable tuna.

Silosia has a total of 23 crewmembers. “We are just preparing things” for a fishing expedition in a few days, he said.

From General Santos City in Soccsksargen, it takes at least three days to reach Mangagoy or Bislig, which is part of the country’s EEZ off the waters of Caraga region’s Surigao del Sur—one of the country’s tuna-fishing grounds.

There, Silosia and his crew, using the smaller skiff boats, will catch tuna using squids as bait attached to the hook, and apple-sized rocks as sinker.

“It’s seasonal. If we are lucky, we get to go back after 15 days. Sometimes, we had to stay for a month just to catch enough tuna to cover for the cost of our operation,” he said in mixed Tagalog and Visayan languages.

He added to cover for the cost of gasoline and food of the crew, they have to catch at least 100 tuna with an average weight of 40 kilos.

Learned skill

Like most fisherman, Solisia said he started fishing at the young age of16. Because he learned how to trouble shoot and fix the boat’s engine, he became a second engineer in 2010.

It was only recently that he finally got the chance to run his own fishing vessel as captain.

He said Ryan 628 will not go beyond the Philippines’s EEZ, although sometimes, he admits some commercial fishing vessels go as far as Indonesia or China to catch fish.

Silosia is not much into high-tech gadgetry but he knows what transponders do.

“I was told by my operator that they [BFAR and Oceana people] will install the vessel-monitoring device today,” he said.

Flores said the boat, which is made of wood, has a gross tonnage of 26.6 tons and is, hence, classified as a medium-scale commercial fishing vessel under RA 8550 as amended by the amended Fisheries Code.

The gross tonnage (GT) of the vessels classify commercial fishing whether it is small scale (3.1 GT to 20 GT), medium scale (20.1 GT to 150 GT) or large scale (150 GT and above).

Lucrative trade

General Santos City hosts the biggest tuna landing area in the city’s fish port. In fact, a separate market is dedicated for big tuna alone.

The industry employs thousands of tuna catchers. There are around 3,000 commercial fishing vessels based in General Santos City. A small-scale fishing vessel hires an average of 20 tuna-catchers and crew.

Richard Intia, or Teteng to his fellow catcher, said while the job is difficult, it pays to be a tuna catcher, who earns a commission for every tuna he catches.

One time, he said he earned P15,000 for the 15 tuna caught during that fishing expedition.

“I was happy to bring home that amount of money. Everyone was happy. We had a little celebration,” he said. The 23-year-old father of two started tuna catching at 14.

The industry provides jobs and livelihood, not only to tuna catchers, but to a lot more whose livelihood directly or indirectly depend on the day-to-day tuna-catching activities—including exporters, food processors, fish dealers, market vendors and ice dealers.

Tuna is sold whole, then chopped and packed. Even internal organs, fins and tails of tuna are sold, processed as fishmeal.

Every day, commercial fishing vessels dock at the fish port to unload their haul. On the average small-scale commercial fishing vessels bring 100 tuna weighing around 40 kilograms (kg) to 50 kg. Some tuna being sold at the fish port weighs up to 100 kilos.

Tuna is sold at P180 to P220 per kg, depending on the quality of the meat. Romeo Ortiz, a tester, checks the quality of tuna meat. He has been working at the fish port since he was a teenager.

Mario Liquit, 74, remains employed as a consultant of Arnold Sison, who is in the buy and sell of prized blue marlin and black marlin.

“If am lucky, in three hours I am done buying tuna. I sell them in Manila, to where I bring them via plane. I can earn as much as P10,000 a day,” Sison said.

His buyer, he added, chops and repacks the tuna for export.


The tuna industry in the Philippines continue to grow as more have expressed interest in catching the fish, an official of the BFAR Soccsksargen Office told the BusinessMirror.

Despite a moratorium in the processing of new applications, new commercial fishing vessels have been sighted in General Santos City, said Ely Borbon, chief of the BFAR Soccsksargen’s Leasing and Licensing Section.

The three-year moratorium, which started in 2014, will end by the end of this year. This means the BFAR will have to accept and process new applications starting next year, Borbon added.

According to the Food and Agriculture Office (FAO) of the United Nations, the value at land of the 2010 catch of the principal species was more than $10 billion.

The species are landed in numerous locations around the world by fishing vessels from more than 85 countries, the FAO reported.

The FAO reported that the main tuna stocks are currently more or less fully exploited, some are overexploited and very few are underexploited.

As such, the FAO said that the future sustainability of tuna fisheries calls for improved and strengthened fisheries management through incentives for international cooperation and for better national monitoring and fishery management; innovative systems for monitoring and management; and capacity development for fisheries research and management, particularly in developing countries.

The Philippines is a signatory to the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The country is also a party to various regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), such as the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and other tuna RFMOs

As such, the Philippines is compelled to implement measures, such as vessel-monitoring systems in accordance with the convention and resolutions of RFMOs.

Unless catching tuna on a massive scale stops to allow the remaining tuna stocks to repopulate, there will less tuna to catch soon, and none of the species left later on.

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Vietnam: More efforts needed to preserve biodiversity on Ly Son Island

VNA 28 Aug 2017;

Hanoi (VNA) – Destructive human activities have put coral reefs, sea grass beds and many other marine species off Ly Son Island at risk in recent years, with local authorities urged to make more efforts to preserve the unique ecosystem.

Ly Son Marine Reserve in central Quang Ngai province, covering Ly Son Island and its surrounding areas, has a water surface of more than 7,100 hectares, including the 620-hectare no-take zone, an area of more than 2,000 hectares for ecology restoration and another for development stretching across 4,470 hectares.

The sea protected area is known for high biodiversity and an ecosystem that houses many rare marine species like black coral, maxima clams and abalone. But these creatures are in danger of extinction due to the activities of local people.

Fishermen have used explosives to kill many fish, seriously harming coral reefs. Meanwhile, hundreds of locals harvest natural brown seaweed, which offers shelter for many sea creatures, every May and June. They can harvest an average of 3-5 tonnes of brown seaweed daily, making it difficult to recover.

In addition, more than 150,000 sq.m of sand from beaches is exploited each year to cultivate garlic, causing coastal erosion and depleting sea grass beds.

To solve the problems, the provincial People’s Committee adopted a project to use advanced technology to restore coral reefs near Ly Son Island in 2015.

Experts have been sent to survey the coral reefs and raise local awareness of the importance of animal and environmental protection. Local authorities and residents have also been provided with training on how to recover coral reefs.

A model for coral recovery piloted across 2 hectares of the marine reserve has developed well, giving hope of bringing back endangered species and increasing local seafood yields.

The province urged Ly Son Island to intensify management of the sea protected area by requesting tour operators strictly comply with the reserve’s regulations and keeping close watch on the density and development of rare sea species.

The island was also urged to get local people involved in protecting natural resources and to guide them to fish sustainably.-VNA

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Vietnam: Biologist warning on building paper mill

VietNamNet Bridge 28 Aug 17;

A planned wood-pulp plant in Binh Son District would destroy 50ha of nipa palm forest, causing pollution, loss of biodiversity, and irrevocable damage to local lifestyles, biologists and residents warn.

Biologist and vice rector of Da Nang’s Teachers’ Training College Vo Van Minh made the case against the plant in a petition to the provincial People’s Committee last week.

As planned, the province will allow the agricultural irrigation development company VNT 19 to build a paper mill in Long Phu Village in the district’s Binh Phuoc Commune. The mill would require the construction of an 85ha lake in the commune, of which 50ha are to be built where a century-old nipa palm forest now stands.

Construction on the plant will likely not begin for two to three years, as ministries and departments conduct assessments on the planned facility.

Local residents say they rely on the forest for survival. Nguyen Ngoc Minh, 70, said he grew up with the nipa palm forest, and it creates a major income for some households living around the forest.

“Local residents still fish in the forest and collect leaves of nipa palm for house building. We could earn VND300,000 (US$13.3) each day from fishing in the area,” Minh said.

“The forest creates a ‘green’ landscape and shelter for aquatic fish, shrimp and oyster. It also protects our farming land from erosion and salinity,” he said, adding that the forest had sheltered the army’s soldiers and guerillas during wars in the 20th century.

Vo Van Minh said that 400 households in the area rely on the forest for income from fishing and leaf collecting.

Nguyen The Nhan, chairman of Binh Phuoc Commune said the province had asked the company to replant an area of forest equivalent to which would be cleared to build the lake. The province proposed a VND25 billion (US$1.1 million) payment from the company for the replanting.

Vo Van Mình said the province should conduct an assessment of the environmental impact on nipa palm forest and coastal mangrove swamps in Binh Son District before approving an industrial project.

Minh, who is head of Environment Biological Resource Teach Research Team (DN-EBR), said the team, in co-operation with the Centre of Biodiversity Conservation, GreenViet, a NGO, had surveyed the biodiversity in the nipa palm forests and mangrove swamps in the district and found them extremely rich.

Local residents go fishing in the nipa palm forest in Binh Phuoc Commune of Binh Son District in Quang Ngai Province. A 50ha portion of the forest is allocated for the development of a paper mill project.

“Seventy five species of flora and fauna were found on total 120ha of nipa palm forest. The 100-year-old forest area is also a safe shelter for 26 migrant bird and waterfowl species. Almost 90 per cent of aquatic animals and fishes in the coastal area are grown in the ecological system of nipa palm forest before moving to the sea,” Minh said.

The controversy over the wood-pulp plant comes as the region struggles to balance conservation with economic development. According to latest report from the provincial agriculture and rural development, the province has 197ha of coastal mangrove forest, nearly 60 per cent decrease from 2002.

In 2015, the province grew 45.7ha coastal mangrove forest in three communes of Binh Phuoc, Binh Dong and Binh Duong in the district under the Climate Change Resilience and coastal mangrove swamp project.

But regrowth projects can’t keep pace with the destruction of forests. Last month in Binh Son District, a microorganism, Sphaeroma terebrans Bate (a mangrove-boring isopod) killed 32.4ha of mangrove.

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