Best of our wild blogs: 11 Feb 17

Changi Creek one month after oil spill, with otter!
wild shores of singapore

Changi Creek mangroves one month after the oil spill
wild shores of singapore

Changi Beach one month after the oil spill
wild shores of singapore

Bleaching at Changi seagrass meadows one month after the oil spill
wild shores of singapore

Singapore Bird Report-January 2017
Singapore Bird Group

"Unseen Undergrowth: MacRitchie Rainforest Singapore" at Earthfest 2017
Cicada Tree Eco-Place

Read more!

Don't give rocky shores a wide berth

Audrey Tan Straits Times 10 Feb 17;

Singapore may wear a concrete crown but it has a necklace of greens and blues along its coast.

Some of the natural habitats, like coral reefs and sandy beaches, are generally well studied.

But the same cannot be said for rocky shores, which can be found in places such as the Labrador Nature Reserve and Pulau Ubin.

But last month, Professor Stephen Hawkins, an expert on rocky shores from the University of Southampton in Britain, was in Singapore to speak about these habitats, in hopes of spurring greater scientific interest in them.

Formed when waves erode rocks along the shore, rocky shores are a landscape of bedrock platforms and large boulders dotted with nooks and crannies where critters such as crabs like to hide.

The rocks also provide a good substrate for barnacles and mussels to latch on to.

Such habitats make up between 60 and 70 per cent of the world's coastal areas, said Prof Hawkins, who was in town under the National University of Singapore (NUS) Society Professorship programme.

However, though rocky shores are widely studied in temperate regions, there is scant data on them and how they function in the tropics, he added.

This is not surprising, considering the multitude of other marine habitats in this part of the world, said Prof Hawkins.

The great diversity and "nice and warm" waters here make the study of other habitats such as coral reefs and mangroves attractive options, he said.

But up north, where waters are cold, researchers like Prof Hawkins prefer to stay on land instead.

For him, rocky shore habitats were a good compromise between land and sea.

"I love them, they are so beautiful and diverse, with plenty of seaweeds, barnacles and mussels," said Prof Hawkins, who was the former director of the Plymouth Laboratory of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.

But other than being treasure troves of marine biodiversity, rocky shore habitats can also be useful indicators of climate change - increasingly erratic weather caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted by human activity.

Prof Hawkins' work in Plymouth in south-western England has already demonstrated this.

Using seawater temperature data that goes back to the 1870s, he found that as sea surface temperature fluctuates, so does the composition of barnacle species on the rocky shores. The shores have been studied since the 1950s.

Britain undergoes cycles of warmer and cooler weather.

In the 1950s, for example, Britain experienced warming sea-surface temperatures, which corresponded with increasing numbers of the Chthamalus species - barnacles that thrive in warm water.

There was a cooler period between the 1960s and the 1980s, when there was a resurgence of another barnacle species, Semibalanus, also called the northern species of barnacles.

These cyclical patterns appear throughout the 60-year data set.

However, Prof Hawkins noted that warming from 1988 till 2014 has increased at a rate much faster than before, leading to a proliferation of the warm-water Chthamalus.

"My initial thought was that it was a typical fluctuation of the cycle, but then the rate of warming was much faster, and sea-surface temperatures are also warmer than before," he said.

Sea-surface temperatures had fluctuated between 12.5 deg C and about 13 deg C since the 1870s.

However, they hit a high of 13.7 deg C around 2010, Prof Hawkins noted.

If the trend continues, this may eventually result in dwindling numbers of the more productive northern species of barnacles.

These barnacles grow densely and as a consequence they form a good place for the early stages of seaweeds to grow.

These species of seaweeds are also northern and thrive in cold water, and will do less well in a warmer world.

Seaweeds are primary producers and form the base of the food chain in rocky shore habitats.

Tropical rocky shores can be a useful indicator of climate change, he said.

But, first, long-term data on the habitat is needed.

The good news is that researchers under Associate Professor Peter Todd, from the NUS Science Faculty's Biological Sciences Department, are embarking on projects to learn more about these habitats.

One research project involves the monitoring of a few rocky shore sites on Singapore's southern islands to look for the effects of climate change.

Researchers have created a list of about 50 easily identifiable species to track over time .

Examples include certain species of top shells, barnacles and brown algae known as sargassum.

"Using well-known species and keeping the methodology relatively simple will help ensure the long-term success of sustained observation as it is expected that different people will conduct the work over the years," said Prof Todd.

The methodology would most likely include processes such as quadrat sampling, which will see scientists searching for the organisms within a fixed area, as well as taking high-quality photographs and notes on the features of the site.

NUS Professor Leo Tan noted that Singapore has few rocky shores to begin with.

As these were ideal for industrialisation and shore reclamation works, they disappeared relatively quickly before detailed studies could be carried out, he said.

He spent 40 years fighting for the preservation of Labrador Park, which has rocky shore habitats, and succeeded in 2002, when it was gazetted a nature reserve.

Prof Todd said: "If we are to learn how to better manage these ecosystems, we first need to know what is there."

Read more!

Malaysia: Elephants lost 70pc of territory to human encroachment – study

A. Azim Idris Asian Correspondent 10 Feb 17;

ELEPHANTS in Malaysia have lost nearly 70 percent of their roaming territory in human-dominated landscapes in the country over the past 35 years, according to a study on the “alarming rate” of encroachment into wildlife territory.

Caroline Christine Russell, council member of the the Sime Darby Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of the Malaysia-based multinational conglomerate Sime Darby Berhad, said the research carried out by the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants (MEME) project also recorded significant findings on the behaviour and ecology of the Asian elephant in forested areas of Malaysia, as well as their interactions with people.

“Unfortunately, we still do not know well their distribution in non-human dominated landscapes, such as forest reserves and protected areas,” she said during the MEME funding extension announcement earlier this week.

“We need urgent solutions and initiatives to stop the decrease of wildlife populations in Malaysia, including elephants, before it is too late. We also need better baseline data to monitor the status of their population in the long term,” she said.

She said alarmingly, conservationists started the new year with jarring news of the poaching of two Pygmy Elephants roaming protected areas in the eastern state of Sabah.

Last month, she pointed out, Indonesian authorities seized ivory worth RM30,000 (US$6,700) in North Kalimantan, believed to be from Malaysia.

“Poaching appears to be an emerging threat to the Asian elephant population in Malaysia, a grave concern for all,” she said.

She added that there is a vital need for increased patrolling and law enforcement to curb the poaching threat.

“We all have to work together to achieve this objective, which is to save our elephants,” she said.

In an effort to save the gentle giants, the foundation is extending support for the MEME project with a RM1.9 million commitment for another three years from January this year until December 2019.

The foundation said this is the sixth year of support for the MEME project to preserve Asian elephants in Malaysia. YSD first sponsored the MEME project in January 2012, committing RM3.36 million until December 2016.

The project is headed by University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) School of Environmental and Geographical Sciences Associate Professor Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz with assistance from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Peninsular Malaysia (Perhilitan).

Dr Campos-Arceiz said the extended sponsorship will assist MEME to fund their research team, field equipment as well as field operations.

“Since 2011, MEME is generating a large amount of novel information on the ecology and conservation of elephants in Peninsular Malaysia, including information on the distribution of elephants in human-dominated landscapes, elephant diet and movements in fragmented landscapes, their ecological importance for the maintenance of forest ecosystems, and the effectiveness of different strategies for the mitigation of human-elephant conflicts.

“This extended sponsorship is very important for MEME because it will allow us to complete our ongoing research as well as use this newly generated information to advise policy-makers and create public awareness for the conservation of these magnificent animals in Malaysia,” he said.

Professor Claire O’Malley, UNMC’s Vice-Provost for Research, said: “The University of Nottingham is proud of MEME, one of our most visible and potentially impactful research projects.”

SEE ALSO: When old isn’t gold: Unready Malaysia to struggle as population ages

One of MEME’s objectives is capacity building and training the next generation of elephant researchers and conservationists in Malaysia, which has been made possible through YSD’s funding.

UNMC student Dr Ee Phin Wong recently obtained her PhD for the non-invasive study of stress in wild elephant. Dr Wong is now Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.

Two other students – Hii Ning and Ange Tan – have received their Masters in Research for the study of elephant social behaviour and distribution, respectively. By the end of 2019, it is expected that MEME will have trained five PhD and three post graduates by Research Malaysian students.

The team has also played an important role in the drafting of the Malaysian National Conservation and Action Plan (NECAP), which was launched in 2013, and is one of the key members of MyGajah, the steering committee that oversees NECAP’s implementation.

Under its environment pillar, to date, the foundation has committed RM130 million towards the protection of high conservation value ecosystems, vulnerable and endangered species as well as initiatives promoting the preservation of the environment and biodiversity.

Read more!

Indonesia: Sumbawa declares state of emergency, as floods affect 20,000

Panca Nugraha The Jakarta Post 11 Feb 17;

Floods and strong winds in several districts in Sumbawa regency, West Nusa Tenggara, have affected more than 6,000 families, prompting the administration to call for emergency measures.

West Nusa Tenggara Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), Muhammad Rum, said Friday flooding occurred following heavy rain and strong winds from Tuesday to Thursday.

“Sumbawa regency has been hit by floods again. Not only floods but also strong winds and landslides in several parts of the regency. The administration has declared a state of emergency,” he said.

There had been no fatalities reported but 6,253 families or 21,243 people were affected by the floods, which reach 50 to 100 centimeters.

Strong winds hit a village in Batulanteh district, damaging several houses.

Rum said several locations along the road from Setonggo to Batu Dulang experienced landslides. (evi)

Read more!

Australia battles 50 fires in heat wave, sparking warning, blackout fears

Channel NewsAsia 11 Feb 17;

SYDNEY: Australian emergency services were bracing against "potentially catastrophic" fire conditions on Saturday, as firefighters battled nearly 50 blazes in the state of New South Wales, sweltering in a heat wave sweeping the country's east coast.

Weather officials fear temperatures could hit 48 degrees C (118.4 F) in some areas, setting a record for the state's hottest February day ever. People have been banned from setting fires, and some major sports events have been cancelled.

"It's not just another summer's day. This is as bad as it gets," Shane Fitzimmons, rural fire chief in the state, which was already battling 49 bush or grass fires by midafternoon, told reporters.

"The catastrophic ratings are what we could describe as beyond the conventional scale."

Thousands of people flocked to Sydney’s beaches to cool off, prompting warnings from lifeguards to stay close to shore and take precautions against the sun.

"We want people to be aware of signs of heat stress," a spokesman for the state's lifeguard service told Reuters. "The number one message for people is to stay hydrated, it’s crucial on a day like today."

The extreme heat roiling out of Australia’s desert interior will also push temperatures in the northeastern state of Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), home to the capital, Canberra, to uncomfortable levels on the weekend.

Temperatures hit 47 C (117 F) in parts of New South Wales and ACT on Friday, putting pressure on the electricity grid and prompting plans by authorities to suspend supply in some areas.

Late on Friday, the Australian Energy Market Operator said the prospect of blackouts had been averted as the state cut back consumption.

But with similar gruelling weather expected over the weekend, residents cannot relax vigilance on power use, a spokeswoman for the body said on Saturday.

Businesses that halted operations to conserve energy included a paper mill, water treatment operations and Australia's largest aluminum smelter, Tomago. Many industrial users have contracts requiring them to take such action.

Racing officials in Sydney, Australia's largest city, postponed the Royal Randwick Race Meeting over fears for the animals' wellbeing in the heat.

New South Wales sports officials cancelled some Rugby League junior representative matches and all grades of cricket matches.

A weather change on Sunday may offer a breather, said Peter Zmijewski, a senior forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology.

"For quite a few weeks, nights have been coming warmer and we haven’t had any changes to blow the heat away," Zmijewski told Reuters. "We may break this pattern tomorrow and Monday.”

(Reporting by Harry Pearl; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

- Reuters

Australia heat wave causes firms to power down but blackouts avoided
Channel NewsAsia 10 Feb 17;

SYDNEY/MELBOURNE: Major energy users in Australia shut down on Friday, and the public were asked not to go home and cook or watch television, averting big blackouts amid strained supplies as an extreme heat wave moved from the desert interior to the east coast.

The temperature climbed to 47 Celsius (117 Fahrenheit) in parts of New South Wales (NSW) state and the Australian Capital Territory on Friday, while Saturday is expected to see a record for the hottest February day on record.

The extreme heat caused power prices to soar to an unprecedented AUS$14,000 (£8,558) per megawatt-hour (MWh) as power stations struggle to meet skyrocketing demand for cooling.

Authorities had been preparing to temporarily suspend power to selected areas of New South Wales late on Friday to prevent overload just days after 40,000 homes and businesses lost electricity in the state of South Australia.

But the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said late on Friday tight power supply conditions had subsided for the day, without power cuts to residents.

"AEMO can confirm that residential load shedding was not required at any point throughout the day ... predominantly due to reduced electricity consumption across the state," it said in a statement.

Earlier, NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin urged households and businesses to save electricity.

"Rather than going straight home and turning on the television and cooking, (you might) want to consider going to a movie, going out to a shopping centre, keeping the load low, every bit like that helps," Harwin told reporters in Sydney.

A paper mill, water treatment operations and Australia's largest aluminium smelter, Tomago, were among businesses that halted operations to conserve energy, with many industrial users required to do so under their contracts.

The Tomago smelter, which exports to Southeast Asia, Japan and China, is the single largest consumer of electricity in NSW and is jointly owned by Anglo-Australian group Rio Tinto and Oslo-based Norsk Hydro.


Weather forecaster Olenka Duma said a build-up of heat in the vast interior outback was being pushed east across NSW, the country's most populous state.

"It was like the windows and doors were closed for a long time, and now a weather front has dragged the hot air here," Duma, an official of the Bureau of Meteorology, told Reuters.

It was even too hot for ice cream.

"I'm not doing any business today, I'm just sitting in the air-conditioning at home," said Ned Qutami, owner of six mobile ice cream bars in Sydney.

"People at the beach are either in the water or heading home. No one is hanging around to eat ice cream," said Qutami, who runs Sydney Ice Cream & Coffee in beachside suburbs.

The intense heat and power outages have sparked debate over energy security, after the market operator told power companies in South Australia state on Wednesday to switch off some customers' power supply for a short spell to manage demand.

South Australia depends on wind for more than a third of its power supply, and the wind died down at the same time as people started cranking up air-conditioners.

That was the latest in a string of power disruptions and electricity price spikes to hit the southern state, including a state-wide blackout that forced copper mines, smelters and a steel plant to shut for up to two weeks last September.

The problems have sparked a review of the national electricity market and energy policy on how to cope with rapid growth of wind and solar power and the closure of coal-fired power plants that have been essential for steady supply.

(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Sonali Paul. Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne.; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

- Reuters

Australia warns of 'catastrophic' fire conditions amid heatwave
Channel NewsAsia 12 Feb 17;

SYDNEY: Australian authorities ordered the evacuation of some sparsely populated rural areas of New South Wales on Sunday (Feb 12) as bushfires, fanned by extreme heat and strong winds, raged across the state, threatening homes and closing roads.

A heat wave on Australia's east coast saw temperatures hit records in some parts of the state, creating conditions that officials said were worse than those preceding Victoria's 2009 "Black Saturday" fires, Australia's worst bush fire event that killed 173 people.

"This is the worst day we have seen in the history of New South Wales when it comes to fire danger ratings and fire conditions," Shane Fitzsimmons, the state's rural fire chief, told reporters.

"They are catastrophic, they are labelled catastrophic for a reason, they are rare, they are infrequent, and to put it simply, they are off the old conventional scale.

"It's not another summer's day. It's not another bad fire weather day. This is as bad as it gets in these circumstances."

The areas hit by fires are hundreds of kilometres from Sydney, the state capital.

Fitzsimmons said there were unconfirmed reports of homes, farm sheds and machinery being destroyed by fast-moving fires breaking containment lines.

There were no reports of injuries, but some firefighters were suffering from heat-related issues.

By Sunday afternoon, emergency warnings were issued for five rural areas. People were told to evacuate if they could, or seek shelter and avoid bush or grassland where it was too late to leave.

More than 2,000 firefighters, many of them volunteers, were battling 86 fires across New South Wales on Sunday afternoon, with 38 of them not under control.

A 13-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man were charged on Sunday for allegedly starting fires.

Temperatures climbed above 45 degrees Celsius in some parts. Dry and hot northwesterly winds coming from Australia's desert centre, some up to 75 kilometres an hour, were fanning the bushfires.

A southerly wind change associated with a cold front was forecast to arrive by early evening, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Fitzsimmons said the front would eventually offer relief, but would create volatile conditions as it met the northwesterly flow.

Since Friday, heat wave conditions caused cancellation of major sporting events and put pressure on the electricity grid.

A paper mill, water treatment operations and Australia's largest aluminium smelter, Tomago, were among businesses halting operations to conserve energy on Friday.

While bushfires are common in Australia's arid summer, climate change has pushed up land and sea temperatures and led to more extremely hot days and severe fire seasons.

Australia has warmed by approximately 1.0 C since 1910, according to the biannual State of the Climate report from the Bureau of Meteorology and national science body CSIRO released in October.

The number of days each year that post temperatures of more than 35C was increasing in recent decades except in northern Australia, the report said.

Meanwhile, rainfall has reduced by 19 percent between May to July in southwestern Australia since 1970.

- Agencies/dt

Read more!