Best of our wild blogs: 2 Feb 17

Singapore Green Landscape 2017 Annual update of people working on the environment

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Keeping close watch on free-ranging chickens

Audrey Tan, The New Paper AsiaOne 2 Feb 17;

The authorities are planning to cull chickens that are running wild over Singapore.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said it takes action whenever it receives complaints about noise.

The National Parks Board is also mulling over a similar move, but for a different reason: concerns that the chickens may interbreed with their endangered ascendants, the native red junglefowl.


"Growth in free-ranging chicken populations increases the potential of interbreeding with red junglefowl and will adversely affect the conservation of our native species," Dr Lena Chan, group director of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, told The Straits Times.

Dr Wee Yeow Chin, founding president of the Nature Society (Singapore), said that with rapid interbreeding, the native species will be reduced and be replaced by hybrids.

NParks will be partnering the local conservation community to strengthen the protection of the red junglefowl.

Dr Chan said: "This includes monitoring the overall red junglefowl distribution and population size, studying the extent of interbreeding and managing the population of free-ranging chickens."

Though they may look similar, the red junglefowl has a number of distinct traits that set it apart from chickens.

The purebred red junglefowl have grey legs, whereas chickens mostly have yellow legs. While chickens sport red combs, female junglefowl do not.

Red junglefowl, unlike chickens, can fly and are quieter. Their calls are high-pitched and truncated.

The authorities said purebred red junglefowl are known to occur only on offshore Pulau Ubin and the Western Catchment area.

Ms Jessica Kwok, AVA group director of the animal management group, said the authority has received requests to manage the free-ranging chicken population due to noise pollution.

"To address these, AVA works with NParks to conduct surveillance and control operations to safeguard public health and mitigate nuisance issues," she said.

Last year, AVA received reports from residents of Pasir Ris and Thomson about the noise from free-ranging chickens.

Due to a lack of relocation options in land-scarce Singapore, the chickens will be humanely euthanised, Ms Kwok said.

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Malaysia: Conservationists crying ‘fowl’ over dwindling species

FATIMAH ZAINAL The Star 2 Feb 17;

PETALING JAYA: While the Year of the Rooster has kicked off, the future looks bleak for Malaysia’s very own endangered red junglefowl.

Known for its brilliantly coloured plumage, it used to be found foraging in the wild.

This type of fowl lives in a mix of open ground and dense vegetation such as around villages, plantations and the edges of towns and cities.

These days, it is getting harder to spot these fowls thought to be the wild ancestors of the domestic poultry.

“The red jungle fowl is generally considered as endangered due to encroachment of their habitats,” said Malaysian Nature Society president Henry Goh.

“The biodiversity loss is due to the development of roads, housing projects and agriculture,” he said, adding that other factors included it being hunted and used for cross-breeding.

While there are no available statistics documenting its population in the country, Goh said the numbers were dwindling.

“These jungle fowl can still be spotted in some parks and along some forest fringes here,” he added.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature “Red List”, which tracks threatened species worldwide, also classified the red jungle fowl population as “decreasing”.

Taman Negara in Pahang is also home to the red junglefowl where it is protected.

Under conservation laws, Goh said all wildlife in national parks were protected where hunting was prohibited.

Other than Malaysia, the fowls are also found in India, China and in some South-East Asian countries.

“The wild rooster is said to be more brilliantly coloured than its tame relatives.

“The main distinguishing feature is the red or white ear patches on the sides of the head,” Goh said.

In Malaysia and certain South-East Asian countries, the blood of chickens such as the red jungle fowl are also used for medicinal and black magic purposes.

According to a 1983 study by the Unesco Regional Office for Education in Asia and the Pacific, certain Asian cultures regard chicken blood as a “symbol of purification”.

“There are some studies which showed that hunting of the red junglefowl for bushmeat in plantations was carried out by estate workers,” added Goh.

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Bay of Bengal: depleted fish stocks and huge dead zone signal tipping point

Long treated as a bottomless resource pit, over-exploitation of the ocean, pollution and rising sea levels are having a catastrophic impact on life in the bay
Amitav Ghosh and Aaron Savio Lobo The Guardian 31 Jan 17;

The Bay of Bengal’s basin contains some of the most populous regions of the earth. No less than a quarter of the world’s population is concentrated in the eight countries that border the bay1. Approximately 200 million people live along the Bay of Bengal’s coasts and of these a major proportion are partially or wholly dependent on its fisheries2.

For the majority of those who depend on it, the Bay of Bengal can provide no more than a meagre living: 61% of India’s fisherfolk already live below the poverty line. Yet the numbers dependent on fisheries are only likely to grow in years to come, partly because of climate change. In southern India drought and water scarcity have already induced tens of thousands of farmers to join the fishing fleet3. Rising sea levels are also likely to drive many displaced people into the fishing industry.

But the fisheries of the Bay of Bengal have been under pressure for decades and are now severely depleted4. Many once-abundant species have all but disappeared. Particularly badly affected are the species at the top of the food chain. The bay was once feared by sailors for its man-eating sharks; they are now rare in these waters. Other apex predators like grouper, croaker and rays have also been badly hit. Catches now consist mainly of species like sardines, which are at the bottom of the marine food web5.

Good intentions have played no small part in creating the current situation. In the 1960s, western aid agencies encouraged the growth of trawling in India, so that fishermen could profit from the demand for prawns in foreign markets. This led to a “pink gold rush”, in which prawns were trawled with fine mesh nets that were dragged along the sea floor. But along with hauls of “pink gold” these nets also scooped up whole seafloor ecosystems as well as vulnerable species like turtles, dolphins, sea snakes, rays and sharks. These were once called bycatch, and were largely discarded. Today the collateral damage of the trawling industry is processed and sold to the fast-growing poultry and aquaculture industries of the region6. In effect, the processes that sustain the Bay of Bengal’s fisheries are being destroyed in order to produce dirt-cheap chicken feed and fish feed.

The aid that flowed in after the massive tsunami of 2004 also had certain unintended consequences. It led to the modernisation and expansion of the small-scale fisheries sector, which generated an illusory boom followed by a bust.

In recent decades the governments of the nations that surround the Bay of Bengal have striven to expand and encourage their fisheries. But unfortunately these efforts have often ignored questions of long-term sustainability. Although attempts have been made to regulate fishing in the bay they have been largely ineffective.

In the 1980s and 90s, fisheries expanded into new grounds and began to target new species and for a while there was an increase in catches5. But catch rates began to decline in the late 1990s and trawlers were forced to move farther and farther from their home waters. This in turn has created a little-noticed grid of conflict. In 2015 Sri Lankan authorities claimed to have spotted 40,544 Indian trawlers in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters8. Seventy trawlers were seized and 450 fishermen were arrested. At least 100 deaths have been reported9. Conversely, many Sri Lankan tuna fishermen have also been arrested in India. On the other side of the subcontinent, large numbers of Indian fishermen are frequently arrested in Pakistan: 220 of them were released in December 2016, as a goodwill gesture.

In Myanmar, until a ban was enacted in 2014, the catch collected by foreign fishing boats was 100 times greater than that of local fishermen10. In the troubled Arakan region, where 43% of the population is dependent on fisheries, catches have declined so steeply that many families are mired in debt11. Conflicts over fisheries and other resources are a significant but largely unnoticed aspect of the explosive tensions of the region.

The Mergui archipelago on the Thai-Myanmar border is one of the more secluded parts of the Bay. In the late 19th century an English fisheries officer described this area as being “literally alive with fish”1. Today the archipelago’s sparsely populated islands remain pristinely beautiful while some of its underwater landscapes present scenes of utter devastation. Fish stocks have been decimated by methods that include cyanide poisoning. The region was once famous for its coral reefs; these have been ravaged by dynamite-fishing and climate-change induced bleaching.

Yet the exploitation of these waters continues without check. At night specially equipped, long-armed boats materialise around the islands and shine high-powered green lights into the water to attract plankton and the squid that follow in their wake. After nightfall, a glow that is bright enough to be visible from outer space12 hangs above the archipelago, like a miasmic fog. These squid boats, some of which are probably crewed by men who have been trafficked like slaves13, help to make Thailand the world’s largest exporter of squid – at least for the time being.

At the same time the bay’s ecosystems are also being disrupted by other environmental pressures. Several large rivers empty into the bay, carrying vast tides of untreated sewage, plastic, industrial waste and effluent from the agriculture and aquaculture industries14. The impact of this pollution could be catastrophic. The high load of organic pollutants, coupled with the diminution of the fish that keep them in control, could lead to massive plankton blooms, further reducing the water’s oxygen content.

Last month a multinational team of scientists reported an alarming finding – a very large “dead zone” has appeared in the bay. Apart from sulphur-oxidising bacteria and marine worms, few creatures can live in these oxygen-depleted waters15. This zone already spans some 60,000 sq km and appears to be growing16.

The dead zone of the Bay of Bengal is now at a point where a further reduction in its oxygen content could have the effect of stripping the water of nitrogen, a key nutrient. This transition could be triggered either by accretions of pollution or by changes in the monsoons, a predicted effect of global warming.

What is unfolding in the bay is a catastrophic convergence of flawed policy, economic over-exploitation, unsustainable forms of waste management, and climate change impacts that are intensifying in unpredictable ways. The scientists who identified the bay’s dead zone warn that this stretch of ocean is approaching a tipping point that will have serious consequences for the planet’s oceans and the global nitrogen cycle.

Should the bay’s fisheries collapse there will also be very serious human consequences, including intensified conflict and mass displacement. If millions of people lose their livelihoods then we can be sure that the resultant churning of populations will create huge new streams of migration, across the bay, the Indian Ocean, and indeed, the planet. Recent refugee flows in the region suggest that such a process may have already begun.

For these issues to be addressed there needs to be a sea change in governmental attitudes and policies. For too long the governments of the region, often with international encouragement, have looked upon the sea as a bottomless resource pit to be despoiled at will. They need instead to view it as a wilderness that requires conservation and informed management, in consultation with the communities that are dependent on it. The situation demands carefully crafted solutions since it involves millions of livelihoods that are already imperilled by the dwindling of the bay’s resources.

• Amitav Ghosh is a novelist and non-fiction writer. His most recent book is The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable.

• Aaron Savio Lobo has a PhD in marine conservation from the University of Cambridge. He is currently a technical advisor for the Indo-German Biodiversity program of the GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit ) in India. The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of his organisation.

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Coastal wetlands excel at storing carbon

New analysis supports mangrove forests, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows as effective climate buffers
University of Maryland Science Daily 1 Feb 17;

While coastal wetlands serve as effective 'blue carbon' storage reservoirs for carbon dioxide, other marine ecosystems do not store carbon for long periods of time, a new analysis suggests.

In the global effort to mitigate carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, all options are on the table -- including help from nature. Recent research suggests that healthy, intact coastal wetland ecosystems such as mangrove forests, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows are particularly good at drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it for hundreds to thousands of years.

Policymakers are interested to know whether other marine systems -- such as coral reefs, kelp forests, phytoplankton and fish -- can mitigate climate effects. A new analysis co-authored by a University of Maryland scientist suggests that, while coastal wetlands serve as effective "blue carbon" storage reservoirs for carbon dioxide, other marine ecosystems do not store carbon for long periods of time.

The research paper, published February 1, 2017 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, also notes that coastal wetlands can help protect coastal communities from storm surges and erosion. Coastal wetland areas are easier for governments to manage compared with ecosystems that reside in international waters, further adding to the strategic value of coastal wetlands in the fight against climate change.

"We compared many different coastal ecosystems and have made a clear case for including coastal wetlands in discussions about greenhouse gas mitigation," said Ariana Sutton-Grier, an assistant research scientist at UMD's Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center and a co-lead author of the research paper. "Coastal wetlands store a lot of carbon in their soils and are important long-term natural carbon sinks, while kelp, corals and marine fauna are not."

The research paper integrates previous data on a variety of coastal and marine ecosystems to determine which systems are best suited to mitigate climate effects. To make this assessment, Sutton-Grier and her colleagues evaluated how effectively each ecosystem captures carbon dioxide -- for example, by plants using it to build their branches and leaves -- and how long the carbon is stored, either in plant tissues or in soils.

Coastal wetlands outperformed other marine systems in just about every measure. For example, the researchers estimated that mangrove forests alone capture and store as much as 34 million metric tons of carbon annually, which is roughly equivalent to the carbon emitted by 26 million passenger cars in a year. Estimates for tidal marshes and seagrass meadows vary, because these ecosystems are not as well mapped globally, but the total for each could exceed 80 million metric tons per year.

All told, coastal wetlands may capture and store more than 200 metric tons of carbon per year globally. Importantly, these ecosystems store 50-90 percent of this carbon in soils, where it can stay for thousands of years if left undisturbed.

"When we destroy coastal wetlands, for coastal development or aquaculture, we turn these impressive natural carbon sinks into additional, significant human-caused greenhouse gas sources," said Sutton-Grier, who is also an ecosystem science adviser for the National Ocean Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The researchers' goal is to help inform resource managers and policymakers where to focus their limited resources to have the greatest impact on climate mitigation. The new analysis acknowledges that other ecosystems, such as coral reefs and kelp forests, provide valuable storm and erosion protection, key fish habitat and recreation opportunities, and thus deserve protection. But their capacity to store carbon over the long term is limited.

"A common question I get from coastal managers and other stakeholders is whether oyster reefs, coral and kelp are effective 'blue carbon' habitats," said Stefanie Simpson, a co-author of the paper and manager of the Blue Carbon program at the nonprofit organization Restore America's Estuaries. "This paper highlights the role all of these ecosystems have in the carbon cycle, while calling out our coastal habitats -- marsh, seagrass and mangroves -- for their role as significant and long-term carbon stores."

Researchers have often looked to terrestrial forests as carbon sinks as well. But most forests do not store substantial amounts of carbon in their soils. As such, the researchers believe that coastal "blue carbon" habitats may stand alone as the most efficient biological reservoirs of stored carbon on Earth.

"The concept of 'blue carbon' has focused scientists and stakeholders on the tremendous potential of managing marine ecosystems for climate mitigation," said Patrick Megonigal, associate director for research at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, who reviewed an early draft of the manuscript but was not directly involved in the work. "This analysis takes a big step forward by explaining why coastal wetland ecosystems are particularly attractive for carbon-based management."

Journal Reference:

Jennifer Howard, Ariana Sutton-Grier, Dorothée Herr, Joan Kleypas, Emily Landis, Elizabeth Mcleod, Emily Pidgeon, Stefanie Simpson. Clarifying the role of coastal and marine systems in climate mitigation. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2017; 15 (1): 42 DOI: 10.1002/fee.1451

Wetlands Can Help Fight Climate Change
But if these ecosystems are not protected, they could release huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere
Brittany Patterson, E&E News Scientific American 3 Feb 17;

Coastal wetlands are among the best marine ecosystems to fight climate change, new research confirms.

A study published this week in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment compared the carbon sequestration potential of a handful of marine ecosystems and found that mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows have the greatest impact on climate change. Helping less are coral reefs and kelp beds.

“We're trying to emphasize that coastal ecosystems could be an important component of reducing emissions through conservation and restoration of these systems,” said Jennifer Howard, marine climate change director at Conservation International and co-lead author of the new study. “At a national scale, these three ecosystems could make a huge difference.”

Coastal wetlands take in carbon quickly and hold it for a long time, the literature review found. If they are not protected, the ecosystems could release huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, potentially jeopardizing the ability of some nations to meet their international climate commitments in the Paris Agreement, Howard said.

Indonesia, for example, is home to more than one-fifth of the world's mangroves. In order to meet its emissions goals, establishing national policies to protect them is “absolutely crucial,” Howard said.

One reason coastal wetlands are such a good tool to cut emissions is because they're fairly easy to manage. Simply put, most governments know where their mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows are located.

The research also found that other marine systems, like phytoplankton, are long-term carbon sinks. But the authors said it would be incredibly challenging to create a policy that manages billions of microscopic photosynthesizing creatures found all over the ocean.

Compared with those, it's much easier to oversee coastal wetlands.

Howard pointed to a national commitment by the Dominican Republic in 2015 to bolster and restore its carbon-rich mangroves. The pledge comes in the form of a “nationally appropriate mitigation action,” a tool under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which provides tools and capacity-building to the country to help save its coastal wetlands and reduce emissions.

The study was compiled largely as a tool for scientists who communicate the benefits of coastal ecosystems to climate mitigation and adaptation to high-level policymakers, Howard said.

Yesterday, scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research released a report outlining the importance that local communities have in mangrove use planning.

Typically, federal government agencies manage mangrove forests in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Tanzania. But mangroves do better when local communities maintain the rights to the wetlands and help draft conservation plans, the research shows.

It's a growing model. In Ecuador, local communities have land and management rights to almost 40,000 hectares of mangroves and have documented increased seafood yields and other benefits.

Still, gender equity remains a missing element in mangrove conservation and management, the study found. It notes that women do much of the labor in maintaining mangroves but often have no ownership.

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