Best of our wild blogs: 13 Jan 17

Berlayar Creek with abandoned net
wild shores of singapore

Net removed from Berlayar Creek (12 Jan 2017)
Project Driftnet

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Indonesia: President highlights four actions for peat land restoration

Antara 12 Jan 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has highlighted four actions to restore the peat land in the regions outlined as cultivation areas in forests, one of the action being providing education and dissemination of information.

"The indicative map clearly shows that peat land restoration should be carried out in cultivation areas, including production forests that are managed under license or non-license," the president said here, Wednesday.

The second action is to convince the private sectors and state-owned companies who manage land concessionaires to engage in peat land restoration program in the cultivation areas.

The third action is evaluating the concession licenses that have been issued for land-burning or the land conversion perpetrators that have been designated as protected areas of peat land.

In 2017, the government expects to restore 400 thousand hectares of peat lands in seven provinces, namely Riau, Jambi, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan, South Kalimantan, and Papua.

The government is still maintaining a balance between nature conservation and local economic activities.

"The fourth action is ensuring all policies and permissions issued by the ministries, especially the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Ministry of Agriculture regarding the utilization of areas in peat land ecosystems areas is followed and rigorously maintaining the hydrological functions of peat land, while considering the welfare of people who live in the vicinity areas," the President said.

The President has specifically asked for maximum protection of the 6.1 million hectares of peat land that is still intact.

The government will not issue new licenses for the use of peat land.

As for the existing land concession permits, the government requires the lands to be a corporate protected area. (*)

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Sisters' Islands Marine Park has more to offer than just dive trails

The reefs at Sisters' Islands Marine Park, which were bleached due to rising sea temperatures last year, have since recovered
Lea Wee Straits Times 13 Jan 17;

The beautiful corals at Sisters' Islands Marine Park are back in business.

Last year, they had lost their bright colours due to warming seas, and their habitats had to be closed to divers while they recuperated.

This was a shame as the corals were a key attraction at the 40ha marine park, which comprises the Big Sister's Island and the Small Sister's Island and their surrounding reefs, as well as the western reefs of nearby St John's Island and Pulau Tekukor.

The two dive trails - imagine a nature trail not in a forest but underwater, with stations and signposts - had to be closed in June last year to lessen the corals' stress.

The good news is: in the six months since, the bleached corals have recovered and the trails have been reopened at the end of last month.

They have recovered "most of their colours", says Dr Karenne Tun, director of Coastal and Marine at the National Biodiversity Centre at National Parks Board (NParks).

Last year, abnormally high sea temperatures - exceeding the bleaching threshold of 31.14 deg C - caused the corals to expel the symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae living in them, turning them white.

But water temperatures have returned to below 30 deg C since mid-October and the zooxanthellae have since returned to their homes and restored the bright hues.

Sisters' Islands Marine Park is Singapore's first designated marine park.

The 3ha Small Sister's Island is dedicated to research and conservation and Singapore's first turtle hatchery will be built there by the end of this year. Other facilities such as forest trails and intertidal pools are also expected to be built at Big Sister's Island by the end of next year.

Most people access the park through Big Sister's Island by taking a 45-minute boat ride from Marina South Pier. The boat can take 12 people and a return trip costs $350 for the entire boat.

At the 4.9ha Big Sister's Island, visitors can picnic and take part in intertidal guided walks.

Overnight stays are not allowed as the island is open to the public only from 7am to 7pm daily.

• For more information, go to


Recreational diver David Chua, 42, was surprised by the diversity of the corals around Big Sister's Island.

Calling the sight a "coral garden", the chief executive officer at the National Youth Council says: "They came in different shapes and sizes. Some were shaped like a whip, others like a fan."

He was following a dive trail, which is a nature trail not in a forest but underwater, with various stations and informative signboards.

Open to the public in October 2015, the trails are set at different depths to allow divers to enjoy the unique biodiversity of each one.

The Shallow Dive Trail, which is about 4 to 6m deep, features hard corals, some of which were salvaged from reefs in Singapore that were threatened or designated for reclamation.

The Deep Dive Trail, about 10 to 15m deep, showcases more colourful creatures such as seafans, seawhips and sponges which require less light to survive.

Each trail, which goes in a circular loop, is about 100m long and has 10 stations. These are marked by signs with information about the marine life in the waters.

Some stations engage divers in simple biodiversity or water visibility surveys for instance, by getting them to count the number of fish between two markers or filling in water visibility estimates.

The visibility underwater is estimated to be between 1 and 5m, depending on weather conditions.

Six dive operators have been approved by the National Parks Board to conduct the dives and they must adhere to a code of conduct. For example, they must ensure that their divers do not take, intentionally disturb or touch marine life.

The dive trips take place about two to three times every month. Only eight divers are allowed on each trail at any one time to ensure minimal damage and avoid overcrowding.

The divers get to dive at the shallow trail and at the deep trail, with a break in between.

To go on the dive trip, divers are required to have logged at least 20 dives with one local dive within the past two years and to have a certification beyond entry level from a reputable international training organisation.

Each dive trip, which takes about five to six hours, costs between $130 and $170, usually excluding equipment.

The next dive trips are conducted by Opcon and Sea Hounds on Jan 20 from 9am to 3pm and Jan 21 from 10am to 3pm.

• To sign up, e-mail or


Marketing manager Amelia Tang, 35, is looking forward to getting a photo every six months from the charity she has donated to.

The pictures are not of a goat in Wales or a school-going child in Kathmandu - but of a little coral she has "adopted" for $200 at Sisters Islands Marine Park.

Having always loved the sea, she decided to sponsor a coral when she learnt about the Plant-A-Coral, Seed-A-Reef programme by the park. In 2015, The Deep exhibition of deep-sea animals at ArtScience Museum also made her realise the endangered status of corals from activities such as commercial fishing.

The sponsorship progamme was launched by National Parks Board (NParks) in May last year to encourage people to play a more active role in enhancing the habitat at the marine park.

An individual or organisation can sponsor a coral with a minimum donation of $200.

For every $200 donation, NParks will plant a coral nubbin, a small coral fragment, in nurseries and grow it to a suitable size before transplanting it onto a "Reef Enhancement Unit" in the marine park. The unit is an artificial structure placed within suitable reef zones for marine organisms to grow and for reef fish to seek refuge.

Donors will get a photo update every six months for the next three years on the progress of the reef on the Garden City Fund website. They can also take part in a free intertidal guided walk at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park.

As of Dec 31 last year, more than 50 individuals and corporations have donated more than $190,000, with the highest amount being $1,200 contributed by an individual.

For larger donations of $20,000, NParks will put in place a Reef Enhancement Unit.

So far, nine reef enhancement units have been identified for sponsorship and the HSBC has sponsored all of them, contributing a total of $180,000.

• To donate, go to


Whenever her work schedule allows, Ms Mona Tan would hop onto a ferry to Big Sister's Island and join her fellow guides to lead a public walk at the intertidal zone.

A volunteer guide with the Sisters' Island Marine Park for the last 11/2 years, she leads a walk there about once a month.

Ms Tan, 53, a trainer of preschool teachers, looks forward to every trip. She says: "It's a way of catching up with nature. I also enjoy spreading the message of conservation."

The park has about 60 volunteers who help to lead intertidal walks twice a month. Some also help with underwater surveys.

To qualify as a volunteer guide, one has to be at least 18 years old. To learn about the history of the island and its marine life, he needs to undergo a training workshop conducted by NParks. There is also a field trip to gain practical experience.

The training is free, but volunteers have to commit to guide at least three times in the next 12 months.

For secondary school biology teacher Kelly Tan, 24, fulfilling the three-tours-a-year quota was not difficult.

Having studied environmental biology at the National University of Singapore, she wanted to continue her passion for wildlife conservation after she graduated in 2015.

So when she learnt that the marine park was recruiting volunteer guides in March last year for its intertidal walks, she signed up. She has since led about six or seven walks there.

She says: "It has become a very familiar place to me. I know exactly where to find certain animals and even their shells. For instance, I know that the ornate green leaf slug likes to hide among the seaweeds.

"There is also an area we call the 'graveyard' because a shell, about the size of a laptop, is embedded in the sand. The shell used to house a giant clam."

• To volunteer, go to


From afar, the intertidal area at the Big Sister's Island at the Sisters' Islands Marine Park looks like a boring expanse of mud and sand.

But step closer and one will see something different.

Camouflaged in the sand are brown sea stars making burrows while the pools of water contain wildlife such as black sea cucumbers.

Meanwhile, darting in and about sea anemones are tiny colourful clown fish.

These creatures have adapted to living in the intertidal zone - one of the harshest habitats, says Dr Karenne Tun from National Parks Board.

"At high tide, the sea creatures get submerged in water while at low tide, they are exposed to the scorching sun."

Sea anemones can curl up to retain moisture when exposed to the air during low tide. Some sea snails have an operculum, a tiny lid which closes the shell and prevents them from drying up.

The marine park has been conducting free guided walks for the public to the intertidal area about twice a month since August 2014.

Visitors enter by walking for about 10 minutes towards the left side of the island after disembarking at the jetty.

To sign up for a visit, go to the Sisters' Islands Marine Park website. Each session, which can take about 45 participants, starts at Marina South Pier on the mainland.

There, participants will be met by at least three guides. Visitors do not have to pay for the ferry tickets.

Upon reaching the island, a few of the guides will go first to look for animals at the big and small lagoons. They will then put little flags to mark out where the animals are, or place them in little containers.

Participants, who spend about 11/2 hours on the island, get to see corals, sponges, snails and slugs at the big lagoon.

At the small lagoon, they can also see seagrasses, the only marine flowering plant, which provides a nursery ground for baby fish.

While people can visit the intertidal area on their own, Dr Tun says that it is better to follow a guide.

"If you go on your own, you may not be able to spot the creatures, some of which can be elusive.

"You may also accidentally step on the wildlife and hurt or kill them."

There are also certain hazards in the intertidal area, such as the stone fish, which is often mistaken for a stone. Being stung by one can be very painful.

Ms Grace Chai, 39, a distributor of health products, decided to go on a guided walk to the intertidal area with her husband and two children, aged seven and nine, last December.

She saw sea stars and a black sea cucumber, measuring about 30cm long.

She says: "I didn't know that such marine life exists in Singapore."

• To sign up for a walk, visit the Sisters' Islands Marine Park website at and look under "Things to do".

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Indonesia: Wildlife Crimes Pose Serious Risk to Conservation Efforts

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 12 Jan 17;

Jakarta. Indonesia still experiences an unacceptably high number of wildlife crimes, considered the fourth-most prevalent type of criminal offense in the world.

The directorate general of law enforcement at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry reported 59 incidences of wildlife crimes, including illegal hunting and the ownership, trade and distribution of protected species, in 2016.

The authorities confiscated 6,247 animals in these cases, with most of them being reptiles, followed by birds, primates and mammals.

The ministry warned that these numbers must be drastically reduced to prevent irreparable damage to Indonesia's endemic wildlife.

"We used to have Balinese and Javanese tigers and it is such a shame that we cannot save something we're proud of," Istanto, director for forest security and prevention, said on Wednesday (11/01), while speaking about the Sumatran tiger's race to extinction.

He called for a shift in perception so that tiger skins should no longer be considered luxury items, as Sumatran tigers could be extinct in less than 10 years.

"If you love it, it does not mean you have to own it," Istanto said.

This sentiment was shared by the Wildlife Conservation Society-Indonesia Program (WCS-IP) and the National Police's Criminal Investigation Unit (Bareskrim) during a discussion about wildlife crimes in Indonesia, which highlighted the troubling issue of people keeping protected animals as pets, or collecting them as a hobby.

According to WCS-IP's Wildlife Crimes Unit, many perpetrators of this type of crime usually pay their dues when caught and then return to their vices once they are released from prison.

"An estimated 20 percent of offenders go back to the same crime after their release, which means that there is still not enough of a deterrent effect," Wildlife Crimes Unit program manager Dwi N. Adhiasto said.

He believes the punishment is also not heavy enough, because courts tend to disregard the financial losses the country suffers because of wildlife crimes.

The ministry estimates that Indonesia lost up to Rp 3 trillion ($225 million) in environmental value in 2013, which impacted the larger ecosystem.

"It's not about [losing] one orangutan, or one tiger – it's about destroying the entire ecosystem, the effects of which are too large to ignore," WCS-IP country director Noviar Andayani said.

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Sumatran tiger mauls Indonesian man to death

Channel NewsAsia 12 Jan 17;

JAKARTA: A Sumatran tiger has mauled an Indonesian man to death in a national park, in a brutal attack that left the victim with bite marks all over his body, officials said Thursday (Jan 12).

The man, named only as Sudir, was with four friends on Tuesday collecting palm leaves - which are used to make roofs for traditional village houses - when the attack happened, said park official Afan Absori.

They were leaving the Sembilang National Park on Sumatra island after night fell when the 25-year-old victim suddenly let out a scream as the tiger pounced.

"The group saw a tiger approaching Sudir and the other four immediately ran away to seek help from people who live nearby," Absori told AFP.

"But when they came back, the tiger had gone and had already mauled Sudir," he said.

There have been several cases in recent years of tigers killing people in Indonesia, where logging of rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations is destroying animals' habitat and bringing them into closer contact with humans.

Local police spokesman Cahyo Budi Siswanto confirmed the death and said Sudir was left with bite marks on his neck, leg and buttocks.

He was pronounced dead at the scene, said the park official, adding the men should not have been in the area of the park where the attack happened as it is a restricted area.

Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered by protection group the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with 400 to 500 remaining in the wild.

Sembilang National Park stretches down Sumatra's east coast and is home to an exotic array of animals, including elephants, gibbons and clouded leopards.

- AFP/ly

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China’s ban on domestic ivory trade is huge, but the battle isn’t won

African elephants are being slaughtered for their tusks at an alarming rate. Mortality rates of around 8 per cent exceed birth rates, constituting a serious threat to elephant survival. To satisfy demand in East Asia, organised crime syndicates have moved to try and control the entire value chain.
Ross Harvey Channel NewsAsia 12 Jan 17;

BEIJING: China has published a notice that the processing and sale of ivory and ivory products “will be stopped by Dec 31, 2017”. China’s credible commitment to this end follows a decision taken at the latest Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conference to end all domestic trade in ivory.

China has made announcements of intent before, in May and September 2015. Concrete action was missing in terms of the duration of the ban and a timetable for implementation. Now, both are effectively in place.

By March this year, a portion of registered ivory sale and processing sites will stop operating. Sale activities on ivory and its products will cease. The remainder will stop by the end of the year.

The announcement does not specify how long the ban will be in place, but the wording implies that the trade will not resume.

This is good news for elephant conservation in Africa.

Wildlife experts estimate that 50 to 70 per cent of poached ivory ends up in China. A recent report estimated that 200 metric tonnes (MT) a year of illegal ivory entered China-Hong Kong between 2010 and 2014. Only 6-8 MT of that annually was estimated to have been sold illegally.

This suggests that a massive volume of ivory is being illegally stockpiled for speculative purposes. So it is crucial to understand the impact that the ban will have on speculator behaviour.


African elephants are being slaughtered for their tusks at an alarming rate, according to the Great Elephant Census. Mortality rates of around 8 per cent exceed birth rates, constituting a serious threat to elephant survival. To satisfy demand in East Asia, organised crime syndicates have moved to try and control the entire value chain by vertically integrating each facet of the trade.

On the supply side, this has meant the use of sophisticated weaponry and the infiltration of anti-poaching agencies. It has also meant that there is corruption throughout the distribution route - from state officials to the police, customs, port and tax authorities.

At the retail end of the supply chain, anecdotal evidence suggests that some syndicates have sought to open their own illicit outlets in addition to stockpiling ivory.

For as long as domestic trade remained legal in China, it was easy to launder illicit ivory into officially recognised legal outlets. This prompted the international community - at the last CITES conference - to vote overwhelmingly in favour of putting an end to commercial domestic trade in ivory.


In a paper published in September 2016, we examined how speculators may respond to a domestic trade ban in China. Given the evidence that a significant volume of ivory is being stockpiled, we sought to understand the incentive structures that may be driving speculator activity.

We distinguished between wholesale and private speculators.

Private speculators probably account for only a small proportion of total ivory consumption. They may be individuals purchasing ivory either as a collector’s item or as an “inflation-proof” investment vehicle. In this category, the market structure would likely be quite competitive.

Not so for wholesale speculators. These are likely to be large syndicates that are either oligopolistic or monopolistic in structure. They appear to have an incentive to drive elephants to the brink of extinction. Syndicates would not want potential competitors to access living elephant stock. If elephants were to become exceedingly scarce, the value of their ivory would skyrocket. Trade in the products of extinct species is difficult to regulate, and exceeds the CITES mandate.

Speculators would have had every incentive to stockpile ivory in anticipation of earning future monopoly rents prior to the announcement of a domestic trade ban in China. This explains the discrepancy between the volume of ivory entering China (as extrapolated from seizure date) and the volume being sold (even illegally).


Our paper argued that the Chinese domestic ban should be imposed as soon as possible, and for an indefinite duration. Chinese authorities have now, with minor (reasonable) exceptions, committed to doing so. That is good news - the quicker the better.

The longer the ban takes to be implemented, the longer speculators have to sell ivory off. In that scenario, the ivory price is only likely to decline slowly, if at all. The sooner the ban is implemented, the more ivory speculators will have to offload in a short space of time, driving prices down. Lower prices will disincentivise poaching.

Opponents of the ban typically argue that prices will rise in anticipation of future scarcity. But this depends both on who is buying and how long speculators believe the ban will be in place.

Ivory prices declined by half in the 18-month period from June 2014 to December 2015. This suggests that anticipation of future scarcity was not driving prices up as expected.

If speculators believed that the domestic trade would be banned, they may have gotten rid of their ivory more quickly. Demand may also have been declining as a result of lower income levels and the efficacy of demand reduction campaigns.

But if wholesale speculators believe that the ban will only be temporary, they would have an incentive to maintain their stockpiles until legal sales resumed. In the meanwhile, they would continue to poach to maintain or build a monopoly on the available ivory stock.

So, it is good news that the official wording of the ban does not suggest the possibility of future trade. It may have been preferable to state this explicitly. But that may have been too politically prickly.

A domestic trade ban in China may spur what economists call a “fire sale”, where stockholders offload large volumes of stock at the same time. This drives prices exponentially downwards. It remains to be seen whether this will happen. Recent reports suggest that ivory processing and sales are increasingly moving into Vietnam, simply moving the problem to a different geographic location with little effect on prices.

How prices respond to the news will provide some indication of whether the speculation in our paper was correct. Either way, the hope is that prices will be driven downwards, disincentivising poaching and protecting elephants.


A domestic trade ban is only one spanner in a complex toolkit to achieve sustainable elephant populations. It is nonetheless a crucial one - a strong signal of change from a country that recently marketed the ivory trade as a heritage industry.

There are, however, other threats such as habitat fragmentation and encroachment. Add to this increasing human and elephant conflict, and a thriving bush-meat trade, and it is clear that long-term elephant survival is at risk.

Another complexity is the availability of mammoth, or fossil ivory, which can be traded legally.

Some argue that its availability substitutes for elephant ivory and therefore slows the rate of elephant killing. Others worry that it simply provides another laundering mechanism because it is plausible that elephant ivory will be passed off as mammoth ivory.

Ultimately, elephants need to be valued as being worth more alive than dead by two crucial constituents.

Consumers need to make the cultural shift to seeing ivory as belonging to elephants alone. Community members on the front line of conservation and human-elephant conflict need to receive significant benefits from keeping elephants alive and their habitats intact. Only then will the battle be won.

This article first appeared in The Conversation. The author, Ross Harvey, is a senior researcher in natural resource governance (Africa) at the South African Institute of International Affairs. Read the original report here.

- CNA/nc

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