Best of our wild blogs: 14 Mar 17

Changi two months after the oil spill, with baby otters!
wild shores of singapore

Make a difference for the Sisters Islands Marine Park!
wild shores of singapore

Thu 30 Mar 2017: 7.00pm @ Yale-NUS – watch “Sorting It Out,” a recycling documentary and panel discussion
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

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Feeling the heat after drying up of 'water is precious' message

There can be no let-up in long struggle to break out of the water vulnerability S'poreans once bemoaned
Warren Fernandez Straits Times 12 Mar 17;

"Potong, potong, potong."

Led by then Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Umno hotheads chanted this cry to cut, cut, cut water supplies to Singapore at a rally in Johor Baru, right on the Republic's doorstep.

That was in 1998.

Here's how a neutral observer reported the incident in Britain's Independent newspaper on Aug 8 that year: "Gripped by a severe economic recession, mortified by a bungled opening of the new international airport, confronted by mounting anger over water shortages in the capital, and facing deep divisions in the ruling party, Malaysia's prime minister badly needs an issue to unite the nation.

"Fortunately for him, the issue lies close at hand and can always be relied upon to stir passion in Malaysia. That issue is Singapore."

Malaysia's "abrasive leader", the paper continued, had told crowds at the rally that "Malaysia's nature is to be good to all... but don't take for granted our good nature".

Singapore's response? A Ministry of Foreign Affairs official was quoted as saying laconically: "We have lived with this for many years."

Indeed we had. So much so that it began to grate, and many Singaporeans began to yearn for something to be done to break out of the country's heavy reliance on its neighbour for such a critical resource.

At the time, I wrote a column on the issue, which was headlined "Big thirst for water solution", arguing that the day had come for the Government to take the plunge and invest heavily in building desalination plants.

It read: "Cost, it seems, rather than the lack of know-how, is the reason the authorities chose to proceed with caution. Apart from the initial investment, it is estimated that the cost of producing a cubic metre of desalinated water is $3 to $3.50, about seven or eight times the cost of treating freshwater now.

"Assuming that Singapore's water demand stays at the current 270 million gallons per day (mgd) and domestic supply remains at 150 mgd, four of such distillation plants will be needed to make up the remaining 120 mgd. This would cost a total of $4 billion.

"Yet, this is less than the $5 billion being spent to build the North-East MRT line or the planned underground road system, and a quarter of the $20 billion set aside for the Housing Board's Main Upgrading Programme to spruce up older HDB estates.

"Indeed, if Singapore could invest millions to develop and pioneer technology for its Electronic Road Pricing system to ensure that highways in the land-scarce country remain unclogged, why baulk at spending to develop the means to overcome its lack of an even more critical resource - water?"

Many readers seemed to agree, going by the number who wrote in to our Forum pages, some suggesting solutions and others, invoking that famous John F. Kennedy line, insisting that the country stood ready to "pay any price, or bear any burden" to free itself from having to live with the unremitting threats from politicians up north.

Thankfully, Singapore pressed ahead, not only with desalination - the first plant to purify sea water was embarked on soon afterwards and completed in 2005 - but also by harnessing the technology to reclaim used water in 2003.

The latter, dubbed Newater, proved to be a trump card in the Republic's interminable negotiations with Malaysia for new sources of water to meet Singapore's future needs.

Indeed, as my colleague Dominic Nathan wrote in this newspaper in 2003: "Although PUB has never revealed the price of Newater, it has said that it is 50 to 60 per cent cheaper than desalted water. This means that if Malaysia is serious about wanting to return to the negotiating table, it will have to do better than Dr Mahathir's March 4 offer of about RM10 per thousand gallons for treated water, or around $1 per cubic m.

"Singapore's cards are now on the table. And if Malaysian leaders were under the impression that the gamble on Newater was a bluff, they now know that it is the ace in Singapore's royal flush."

In other words, through sheer wit and will, Singapore had not only shaken off its water vulnerability but turned adversity to advantage through the development of its water technology. You can read more on this amazing water journey in our Insight special on water on pages B4 to B6.

So, what happened? How did we go from the high level of public consciousness on the water issue, and a national eagerness to tackle it decisively in the late 1990s, to the present angst and anger over the impending water price hike?

Indeed, it might be asked, why were prices left untouched for 17 years, even as demand for the precious resource continued to shoot up, and with it, the investments needed to prevent the hard- earned sense of water security from drying up.

Why did we let up on efforts to keep drumming home the "water is a precious, strategic resource" message, including through the use of proper pricing to reflect its value?

To be fair, political leaders did touch on this from time to time, posting photos of declining water levels in Johor's Linggui reservoir online and warning about the impact this might have on Singapore. But these efforts, alas, failed to make much of a splash.

Perhaps there were other more pressing challenges - the Sars crisis of 2003, the 2008 financial meltdown, the 2011 General Election setback for the ruling party, the bust-up over immigration in 2013 - which focused minds elsewhere, and made any notion of raising water prices seem foolhardy?

Or, did we grow complacent, falling for the rather over-hyped notion that the existential issue of dependence on Malaysia for water had been "solved" by Singaporean ingenuity.

Hopefully not, for that would have been delusional, as even with Singapore's much trumpeted "four taps" - rain, imported water, desalination and Newater - the Republic remains dependent on Malaysia for the lion's share of our water supply. And that's not even mentioning the likely growth in future water demand or the need to prepare for 2061, when the second water pact with Malaysia runs out.

Indeed, even while water prices were kept constant since 2000, demand continued to surge, from 270 mgd in the late 1990s to 430 mgd today, with this expected to almost double by 2060.

And, as more of our water is likely to come from desalination and recycling, both highly energy-intensive, the overall cost of water will inevitably rise too.

So, most adult Singaporeans know that, like it or not, these costs will have to be borne, one way or the other - through tariffs or taxes - and the only mitigation possible is to ensure that the most well-off pay a bigger share, while those most in need are given the greatest help to cope with the cost.

Yet, who can blame the public for being perturbed by the sudden announcement of a hefty 30 per cent hike after the long hiatus in discussions about water pricing and conservation?

In contrast, recent weeks have seen a deluge of information on the billions that the authorities have been spending to build and maintain Singapore's water infrastructure over the years.

But, alas, coming as it did after public anger had flared up on the issue, has left officials swimming against the tide with what seemed to many like post-facto justifications.

Contrast this with the approach taken by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in signalling that taxes will have to rise as government spending continues to mount, or Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan alluding to how public transport fares will eventually have to go up.

They have sounded the alarm early, promised wide consultation and begun the long process of getting the necessary buy-in from the public for these unpopular but inevitable moves.

There is indeed never a good time to raise the prices of essential services. But experience has shown that the way to minimise the angst is to give people as much information on the need for the increase up front, and where possible, spread out the rise in small doses over the years. Successive Cost Review Committees have said as much.

Beyond this, on an issue as sensitive as water, a constant drip-feed on the relentless struggle required to ensure sufficient supplies, both for today and tomorrow, is needed.

Doing so will help make clear to everyone that cries of "potong" simply cut no ice with Singaporeans - past or present - who remain resolved to do whatever it takes to secure this precious necessity.

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Culling of healthy animals hard to justify: Researchers

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 14 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE — It is very hard to justify the culling of healthy animals from a public health approach that should promote the health of humans, animals and the environment, argue Singapore researchers of a study published recently.

Their findings were derived from surveys and interviews with experts including officials from the Agri-food & Veterinary Authority (AVA), National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Although human health remains the priority, the experts were generally not supportive of culling healthy animal populations in response to emerging infectious diseases — especially of wildlife and companion animals.

Of the 32 experts who took part in the qualitative study — published in late-January in the journal Plos One — five were from the Government while the rest were employed in academia, wildlife conservation and other fields.

They recognised that culling of animals was “highly controversial” and “extremely difficult to implement effectively within an urbanised area”, due to public objection and the logistics of quickly containing and killing large numbers of animals, noted the study.

Culling was recently in the news when public uproar ensued after the AVA put down 24 free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming.

The authority initially said it was due to complaints of noise by residents, but later explained that the noise pointed to the chickens’ relatively high numbers, which in turn raised exposure to bird flu in the area.

Culling is a last resort in managing Singapore’s animal population, Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon said in Parliament last month.

The AVA also culls crows to control their population, and has tried other methods such as oral contraceptives and bird deterrent gels for other birds.

The opinion leaders who took part in the study were not named.

The multidisciplinary public health framework that aims to prevent and control emerging infectious diseases that can spread from animals to humans is called One Health.

Singapore’s One Health platform began in 2012 and involves the MOH, NEA and AVA.

The eight authors of the study — funded by the MOH — included Dr Tamra Lysaght of the National University of Singapore (NUS) Medicine’s Centre for Biomedical Ethics, and Dr Michele Marie Bailey and infectious diseases expert Paul Tambyah of NUS Medicine.

The effectiveness of culling domestic and wild animal populations is increasingly coming under scrutiny, after results of a randomised trial in Britain of badger culling (to reduce tuberculosis in cattle) showed the practice to be ineffective in reducing disease transmission, they wrote.

Culling may actually increase disease risk in humans and animals.

A reduction in natural hosts can force the pathogen to seek another animal host which could be even more hazardous for humans and other animals.

Alternatives such as animal vaccinations should be considered, and Professor Tambyah said surveillance and the development of diagnostics is also important.

An “extreme situation” where culling may have been justified was for pigs on Malaysian farms during the 1999 Nipah virus outbreak — because of the high numbers of infected people who were dying, the lack of a vaccine, and pigs being clearly identified as an “intermediate host” of the virus, catching it from bats, he said.

The One Health approach in Singapore worked well in the Group B Streptococcus outbreak of 2015, Prof Tambyah and Dr Lysaght said.

The agencies conducted joint investigations, issued public advisories, and stepped up measures such as banning the use of freshwater fish in all ready-to-eat raw fish dishes sold by retail food establishments.

Culling may cause more harm than good: Study
Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Mar 17;

Mass culling of animals to prevent the spread of disease is a common practice around the world.

But its effectiveness is debatable, says a group of researchers here.

Disease could spread as animals move away from the areas where culling is taking place, say the scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS), citing scientific studies that demonstrate this.

Instead, public health policies should take into account the health of both human and animal populations, through means like vaccinating the animals instead of culling them, for example.

The recent backlash against the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) move to cull free-ranging chickens here over bird flu concerns has also shown that culling incites an emotional response.

The scientists from NUS pointed out that healthy animals should not be culled as a way of managing zoonotic diseases, or diseases that can be transmitted between humans and animals.

Read Also: Malaysia reports highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu

This strategy does not consider the impact culling has on ecosystems already threatened by urbanisation.

"Current policies to manage diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans have prioritised human health," said Assistant Professor Tamra Lysaght, the study's lead from the NUS Centre for Biomedical Ethics yesterday.

"But measures such as culling healthy animals do not account for other factors that contribute to the emergence and threat of emerging infectious diseases."

As ecosystems lose biodiversity, she explained, the number of natural animal hosts for diseases is reduced.

This can lead to the pathogens looking for other hosts, resulting in the emergence of new zoonotic infectious diseases or more dangerous viruses.

She was speaking about her team's new research paper, which looks at how global public health policies needed to be more aware of both human and animal health.

Published in January in scientific journal Plos One, the paper analysed the responses of 32 panellists from AVA, veterinarians, academics and wildlife conservationists on Singapore's approach to managing zoonotic diseases.

Participants found culling controversial and "extremely difficult to implement effectively within an urbanised area", the study noted.

Alternatives, such as the use of animal vaccines, were discussed, but participants said these can be difficult to administer, depending on the animal, the type of virus and drug availability.

No uniform policy option to deal with emerging infectious diseases was given, and this illustrates the need to explore other approaches such as medication, good surveillance and open communication to tackle the issue, said the scientists.

One of the study's authors, NUS infectious diseases expert Paul Tambyah, said that developing surveillance networks will quickly alert the authorities to infections and prevent the spread of diseases, reducing the need for mass culling.

"In Hong Kong, for example, there is a reward system in place for farmers who alert the authorities to cases of bird flu. That has helped Hong Kong keep the virus under control," he said.

Developing a comprehensive ecological approach to healthcare would result in a win-win approach to dealing with zoonotic diseases which will not unfairly tax healthy animal populations, he added.

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Malaysia: Johor has most number of polluted rivers

Bernama Rakyat Post 14 Mar 17;

A total 22 rivers nationwide are categorised as very polluted or Class IV, according to the Ministry Natural Resources and Environment.

Based on a report of the Department of Environment (DOE), it said 17 of these rivers were in Johor, three in Penang and one each in the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and Kelantan.

“Class IV water is only suitable for irrigation. But no river monitored by DOE has reached Class V,” said the ministry in a written reply to a question from Normala Abdul Samad (BN-Pasir Gudang) in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

According to the ministry, only 5% of the rivers monitored by DOE had reached the Class IV and Class V (almost dead) levels.

The ministry said the “Love Our River’ campaign carried out from 1993 to 2004 had created awareness on the need to look after rivers and boosting river water quality.

It said the effectiveness of the campaign had contributed towards measures by DOE to boost river water quality.
“A total 58 rivers recorded better quality water in 2004 compared to 32 in 1993.”

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Malaysia, Johor: RM15mil elephant sanctuary in Jalan Lombong to be completed in 2020

YEE XIANG YUN The Star 14 Mar 17;

KOTA TINGGI: The construction of a RM15mil elephant sanctuary is set to start this year in Jalan Lombong here.

Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the 100ha project, located not far from the Kota Tinggi waterfall, is expected to help resolve the conflict between the animal and humans in the area.

The project, which has been tendered, is expected to be completed in 2020.

Mohamed Khaled said there were more than 100 wild elephants in the Kota Tinggi area and their presence have frequently caused disturbance to the residents whereby the elephants would enter farms and residential areas in search of food.

Once completed, he said the sanctuary would be able to house and care for up to 150 elephants.

“The sanctuary will be able to boost Kota Tinggi’s eco-tourism and create a variety of opportunities and benefits for the locals.

“This is part of our plans to also develop the district into a history and heritage tourism hub,” he said in a press conference during his working visit to the Tenggara parliamentary constituency on Sunday.

He added that the development of Sungai Johor was also in the works, where RM34mil would be used in the next five years to build facilities including jetties, bridge, floating market and tourism information centres.

Separately, Mohamed Khaled hit out against the Opposition for taking advantage of the situation by politicising the massive land and housing scandal that recently hit the state.

He reiterated that all states have the same policy for handling the changing of status for bumiputra lots to non-bumiputra lots.

He said there was nothing wrong with the policy, where developers are allowed to switch the status of bumiputra lots to non-bumiputra for unsold units for them to avoid financial losses.

“The are no problems with the policy, the policy is very clear.”

He added that the DAP is taking advantage of the situation and politicising the matter.

“Since when is DAP the champion for the bumiputras?,” he asked.

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Indonesia: Weeks of flooding in Riau claims four lives, affects 5,000 families

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 13 Mar 17;

Regencies in Riau have been hit with flooding since mid-February, with at least four lives claimed. Fernando, 20, a resident of Pelalawan regency, died when crossing the overflowing Nilo River on March 2, while Suguh, 11, a resident of Kampar, drowned in the Sebayang River on March 3.

Usman Nasution, 55, a resident of Indragiri Hulu, was found dead with his son Krisjayanto Nasution, 21, on Sunday. The father and son were believed to have drowned after the boat they used to recover their belongings from their home upended.

“After leaving their motorcycle with a security guard in the area, they walked to their residential area. But both did not return until 9 p.m.,” said Indragiri Hulu Police spokesperson First Insp. Yarmen Djambak.

Their bodies were found in their home on Sunday morning.

A local hospital confirmed drowning as the cause of their deaths.

The Riau Disaster Management Agency recorded that 65 villages in five regencies were still flooded as of Monday. More than 5,000 families have been affected by the floods, with Rokan Hulu and Pelalawan regencies being the worst hit. (wit)

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Indonesia: Kendari promoting mangrove ecosystem tourism

Otniel Tamindel Antara 14 Mar 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Kendari city administration in the Indonesian province of Southeast Sulawesi, in coordination with the local communities, is intensively promoting mangrove ecosystem tourism on Bungkutoko Island.

This small island, located just at the mouth of Kendari Bay and off the coast of Kendari city, is surrounded by white sandy beaches and very dense mangrove forests with many different species of birds.

With its beautiful beaches, abundant native wildlife, and pristine waters, Bungkutoko Island has long been a favorite destination for visitors and local residents alike.

On the island of Bungkutoko, there are numerous pristine mangrove forests, where tourists enjoy trekking.

Tourists who come to this island will have the opportunity to explore the mangrove forest ecosystem, to fish, and to enjoy the variety of flora and fauna.

According to Asrun, the mayor of Kendari, the local government is making every effort to preserve mangrove forests as the laboratories of nature.

"Mangrove trees are not foreign to our lives. Mangroves have lot of benefits, as they maintain environmental balance and serve as a natural laboratory. Therefore, let us continue to preserve these mangrove forests," Asrun remarked in Kendari on Saturday.

According to him, mangrove forests are spread in a numerous areas in the city of Kendari, in the villages of Tondonggeu, Sambuli, Purirano, Korumba, Lahundape, Anggoeya, and around the island of Bungkutoko.

Especially in Bungkutoko Island, the mangrove forests are being developed into mangrove trekking area for educational tourism by coordinating with the local communities, Asrun noted.

"We involve local communities in the conservation and management of mangrove forests so that they may also have the sense of responsibility and participate in preserving the area from encroachment by the irresponsible parties," the Kendari mayor remarked.

Asrun remarked that the island of Bungkutoko is one of mangrove ecotourism area that involves local communities in managing the mangrove trekking area.

According to him, people who are involved in the mangrove trekking management of more than 35 hectare will get a big profit from parking revenues from tourists who visited the mangrove forests on the island.

In addition to Bungkutoko Island, he noted that all the mangrove forests along the coast of Kendari will also be preserved, because they have a lot of benefits for humans and the environment.

Meanwhile, Kendari Regional Legislative Assembly (DPRD) member Heny Handayani Lantjita has called on the Kendari city administration to also involve investors, in addition to local communities, in managing the mangrove trekking area.

"By involving investor in managing the Bungkutoko mangrove trekking area, the local revenue earned from the management of the region can be greater," she underlined.

Further, Heny added that by involving professional investors, the mangrove trekking area will become a favorite ecotourism destination on the island.

She highlighted that besides mangrove tourism, underwater tourism is also attracting visitors to the island of Bungkutoko.

"Tourists who come to the island can also go surfing, diving, and snorkeling," she stated.

She noted that underwater ecosystems and mangrove forests around the island can be the mainstay attractions in Kendari, because Bungkutoko island ecosystem is relatively good compared to other small islands there.

Spending just a day or two on the Bungkutoko Island will not be enough for visitors to enjoy the hospitality of the local community and their interesting culture and traditions, and to relish the beauty of nature at sunrise.

In addition to the natural panorama of the coast, the underwater world of Bungkutoko Island, with various types of coral reefs, species of fish and other marine biota, is extremely appealing.

Therefore, the Kendari city government is making every effort to develop the 500-hectare island of Bungkutoko as a tourist attraction by promoting it through a variety of tourism activities aimed at domestic and foreign tourists.

Besides Bungkutoko Island, tourist attractions that can be managed optimally to boost local revenue include Nambo beach and Bokori Island.

Bokori is one of the small islands with its scenic beauty, warm waters, and white sandy beaches. It is an ideal getaway in Southeast Sulawesi Province for tourists and local residents to unwind.

Southeast Sulawesi Tourism and Creative Economy Office Chief Zainal Koedoes remarked in Kendari recently that the government of Southeast Sulawesi Province is committed to promote the marine tourism at Bokori Island and in the province.

"As part of our commitments to develop Bokori Island into a tourist destination in the province, we will soon establish the Technical Implementation Unit Service (UPTD) to manage the tourism sector," Zainal remarked.

He noted that the government had allocated a significant amount of funds through the state and local budgets to develop Bokori Islands tourism sector, so that the UPTD will be established to ensure the proper management of the funds.

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Twenty-three countries unite in Abu Dhabi to conserve the dugong

Naser Al Wasmi The National 13 Mar 17;

An international meeting in Abu Dhabi begins a week-long series of events to help conserve the sea cows around the globe. A new website aims to foster collaboration.

ABU DHABI // What animal do Emirati fishermen, Australian Aboriginals living off the Great Barrier Reef, and cave dwellers in Malaysia from 5,000 years ago have in common?

The answer is the elusive and mostly shy dugong, a sea cow whose existence is now under threat.

On Monday, the descendants of the three groups of people gathered in Abu Dhabi to discuss conserving the species.

Delegates from 23 of the 40 countries that are home to the dugong also came together in the capital to find better ways to protect the animals.

The delegates’ two-day meeting kicked off a week-long series of events in Abu Dhabi to focus global attention on the need to protect the dugongs and their seagrass habitats, and empower governments, researchers and local communities to work on conservation projects.

To that end, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals launched a website that encourages volunteer conservationists around the world to share their findings and gain access to wildlife protection agencies’ databases.

To help countries develop a strong scientific basis for achieving this goal, the two organisations on Monday launched the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project website.

"Community projects are vital to conservation in general because it’s spreading awareness of what exciting wildlife we have in this region that we should be proud of and are vital to the rest of the ecosystem," said Arabella Willing, Park Hyatt’s head of conservation.

The website will provide a platform for communities in the 40 countries that are home to dugongs to work together.

The sharing of information on the website will help scientists and conservation groups to better assess the wellbeing of dugong populations and figure out how best to help them.

"For example, some communities trying to assess dugong populations in a certain area will find out from a different community around the world that they can save a lot of money by opting to ask fishermen instead of renting expensive aerial and drone technology," said Helene Marsh, professor of environmental science at James Cook University in Australia.

Everyone – from community organisers to research universities – can contribute to the website and improve public knowledge of conservation programmes. That means that the public can collaborate with scientists to make more data available.

Dugongs, which are found on the coasts of the Indian Ocean from eastern Africa to northern Australia, are central to the cultural heritage of many coastal communities.

Protection of dugongs, along with the conservation of seagrass meadows which they feed upon, benefits marine biodiversity.

Seagrass meadows are among the richest marine habitats on Earth, home to as many as 600 species of marine life and nursery grounds for fish that people harvest.

Over the past 20 years, the conservation efforts of Abu Dhabi, which is home to the second-largest population of dugongs, have led to the species’ thriving community in the wild today, state news agency Wam reported.

"Our waters are home to more than 3,000 dugongs. Because we recognised early on that any possible threat to seagrass beds poses a threat to dugongs, our country’s dugong population is stable," said Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.

The UAE’s ranking in the Marine Reserves Sub-Index in the Environmental Performance Index, published by Yale University, rose to the top spot in 2014 and last year from 33rd position in 2012.

"If we can also encourage fishing communities to adopt practices that don’t destroy seagrass and accidentally catch dugongs, we will have helped to secure the future of dugongs, the seagrass and those communities," said Razan Al Mubarak, secretary general of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi.

Dr Bradnee Chambers, executive secretary of the convention, said the meeting in the capital was a prime example of the type of ‘dugong diplomacy’ fostered by the convention’s long-standing partnership with the UAE.

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Study: Red tides not random, can be predicted

Allen Cone Yahoo News 13 Mar 17;

March 13 (UPI) -- Researchers have determined that red tides are not random, but instead have patterns that can be predicted in order to alert officials to the dangers.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography and University of California San Diego scientist George Sugihara and his colleagues developed a new technique that explains what causes red tides to form in coastal areas seemingly out of nowhere.

"Even with vast improvements in 'ecosystem forecasting' over the past few decades, it remains a major challenge for scientists," said Alan Tessier, deputy director of the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, said in a release from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "This research shows that the challenge is being overcome using innovative techniques that offer us information such as how to predict red tides. That's important for knowing when to close fisheries and swimming areas, and for the health of residents who live along affected waters."

In Southern California, red tides can produce nighttime light shows with illuminating breaking waves that create eerie blue trails behind surf fish.

But in other areas, including off Florida and in the the Great Lakes, the blooms can be toxic. They cause die-offs, shellfish poisoning, and respiratory problems in humans and marine mammals.

"Red tides were a mystery for so many years because we were looking at the ecosystem as if it was in equilibrium and unchanging and therefore could be studied a piece at a time," said Sugihara, a distinguished professor of natural science at UC San Diego and a senior author on the study. "It was a mystery only because we were looking at it the wrong way. Looking for things that simply 'correlate' with red tides will fail."

A student-led Scripps research team analyzed data from the primary pigment in algae -- chlorophyll-a -- and nutrient concentrations and various physical aspects of the ocean collected off Scripps Pier in La Jolla, Calif. Now in its 100th year, Scripps Pier is one of the oldest continuous monitoring programs of ocean temperature and salinity in the world.

By feeding ecological data into Sugihara's equation-free models, known as empirical dynamic modeling, the researchers identified patterns, as detailed in a study published in the journal Ecology.

The EDM method is studied as a whole system over a 30-year archive rather than as separate pieces.

"The approach allowed us to find factors that come together as a perfect storm to produce a red tide," said Sugihara. "These factors include having a stable water column and low nutrient levels in surface waters."

With model improvements and real-time observations, Sugihara and team believe the blooms could be predicted as part of an early warning system for future red-tide events.

The blooms affect power and desalinization plants, and create oxygen-depleted zones in the waters.

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