Best of our wild blogs: 17 Mar 17

Bloom of jellyfish at Pasir Ris mangroves!
wild shores of singapore

Living With Tortoiseshell Beetles (16 Mar 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

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Malaysia: Johor moves to clean up 28 polluted rivers

The Star 17 Mar 17;

KLUANG: The State Economic Planning Unit (Upen) has been tasked with coming out with a plan to clean and rehabilitate polluted rivers in Johor.

State Health, Environment, Educational and Information committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the directive was made at the state executive council meeting on Thursday.

Upen was told to coordinate with the relevant agencies when implementing its plan.

“We are focusing on rivers which are the main source of raw water supply to treatment plants,” said Ayub.

He said that among the 28 rivers categorised as polluted were Sungai Jibong, Sungai Singgol, Sungai Semenchu, Sungai Simpang Kanan, Sungai Sembrong and Sungai Kim.

Among the measures to be taken were relocating squatter settlements now at the river banks and shutting down illegal businesses operating near the rivers, he said.

He was speaking after attending the World Kidney Day 2017 state-level celebration at Hospital Enche Besar Hajjah Khalsom yesterday.

Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar had directed the state government and local authorities to come down hard on those polluting rivers.

The directive came after the Sultan made a spot check by boat along Sungai Tebrau with his son Tunku Panglima Johor Tunku Abdul Rahman on Wednesday.

The Ruler expressed his regret over the irresponsible dumping of rubbish into the river, saying that this was one of the main causes of floods in Johor Baru.

Ayub also said state authorities were closely monitoring the H1N1 avian flu outbreak in Kelantan although there were no cases reported in Johor.

Ayub said chickens and ducks here were safe for consumption and that the authorities were prepared, should there be an outbreak in the state.

Stern warning to river polluters
KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 17 Mar 17;

JOHOR BARU: Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar has ordered the state government and local authorities to come down hard on those responsible for polluting Sungai Tebrau.

Sultan Ibrahim, accompanied by his son Tunku Panglima Johor Tunku Abdul Rahman, made a surprise visit by boat to check on the polluted river on March 14.

In a statement posted on his official Facebook page, the ruler expressed regret over the irresponsible dumping of rubbish into the river.

Sultan Ibrahim cited this as one of the main causes of flash floods here.

The post, which had garnered more than 5,000 likes, was attached with a video showing the ruler manning an airboat while his son travelled beside him on another airboat.

Environmentalist Vincent Chow called on the state government to take action against those responsible for river pollution in Johor.

The Malaysia Nature Society (MNS) chairman said that Sungai Tebrau once had a lot of shellfish but their population has declined over the years and currently only South American and African catfish inhabit the river.

“Our local marine species cannot survive in the water there which has very low oxygen levels.

“The river has been contaminated by factory effluents and solid waste from upstream where residential and industrial areas are located,” he said when contacted here.

Chow noted that river pollution has not been addressed effectively so far and it was high time the authorities do something about it before it is too late.

Chow said although there are sufficient policies and laws to protect rivers in the state, enforcement was lacking.

“If the pollution is not addressed soon, the state government will likely have to fork out a lot more to clean the river in the future.

“The government should enforce the law and educate the people on the consequences of dirty rivers,” he said in calling on the authorities to meet with related non-government organisations on the matter.

Citing Sungai Johor as another example, Chow said that the upper part of the river had been polluted due to sand mining, which has been going on for more than 15 years.

“The muddy discharge streams down the river.

“The pollution has affected marine life as the population of fish and udang galah (giant fresh water prawns) has dwindled by some 60% to 70%,” he added.

Johor EPU to plan clean-up of polluted rivers
ZAZALI MUSA The Star 16 Mar 17;

KLUANG: Johor has directed the state Economic Planning Unit to come up with a long-term plan to clean up and rehabilitate polluted and dirty rivers in the state.

State Health, Environment, Education and Information committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the state EPU would coordinate with the relevant agencies and departments in implementing the plans.

Ayub said there were six rivers in the state classified as polluted, including Sungai Tebrau, Sungai Skudai, Sungai Segget and Sungai Alor Merah in Pontian.

"The cleaning up and rehabilitation process will focus on rivers which are the main source of water for water treatment plants," he said.

He said the decision was made during the weekly state Cabinet meeting on Wednesday following a directive by Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar to the state government and local authorities.

Sultan Ibrahim made the order after a spot check by boat to observe river pollution along Sungai Tebrau on March 14.

The Ruler was accompanied by his son Tunku Panglima Johor Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Sultan Ibrahim had expressed regret over the irresponsible dumping of thrash into the river.

"Among the measures to be taken by the authorities are to relocate illegal squatter settlements and companies operating along the rivers in Johor," said Ayub.

He said this at a press conference after launching the state-level World Kidney Day 2017 celebration at Hospital Enche' Besar Hajjah Khalsom here on Thursday.

Gov't dept tasked to clean up Sungai Tebrau, run awareness campaigns
Chuah Bee Kim New Straits Times 16 Mar 17;

JOHOR BARU: The state’s Economic Planning Unit and Department of Irrigation and Drainage have been tasked to coordinate the clean-up of Sungai Tebrau, where the quality of the river has been found to be slightly polluted.

The river, which is also inundated with rubbish, will undergo a clean-up programme with the help of representatives from various government departments.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat told a press conference here today that the 32km long river is dotted four illegal squatter areas and 1,166 industrial players.

The river, which starts from the Senai International Airport, runs through Kg Maju Jaya, Kempas, Bandar Dato Onn, Pandan Wholesale Market and Kampung Bakar Batu before flowing into Tebrau Straits.

Of the 1,166 industries, nine did not have proper discharge facilities. The river also has eight tributaries and the cost of maintaining the eight tributaries is RM90,000 per month.

“We are in the midst of relocating the squatters to flats. At the same time, we need to organise awareness programmes as public awareness is not there.

“When the awareness is not there, no matter how many times we make the effort to clean the river, the rubbish woe will re-surface,” he added.

“Cooperation among the different government departments is important in our bid to improve the quality of the river (currently classified under Category Three),” he said.

Besides Sungai Tebrau, another six rivers in the state are also being reviewed under the Water Blueprint. One of the rivers is Sungai Skudai.

Also present at the press conference were Johor Department of Environment director Datuk Dr Mohammad Ezanni Mat Salleh and Johor Baru City Council mayor Datuk A Rahim Nin.

Rahim said Sungai Tebrau has many tributaries, which flows into the Tebrau Straits, and can affect the neighbouring country.

He added that plans are afoot to install trash traps, however, this would add to the local council’s monthly RM90,000 maintenance cost.

The inspection of Sungai Tebrau was made after Sultan of Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar had personally visited the site and called for a clean-up of the river.

In another matter, Mohammad Ezanni said the death of fishes in Danga Bay here recently was not caused by the rubbish pollution but the weather condition.

Johor to raise awareness on keeping rivers clean
KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 18 Mar 17;

JOHOR BARU: The state government will be going all out to raise awareness and educate the public on the importance of river cleanliness.

Johor Health, Environment, Education and Information Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said that awareness in the community was an important factor to ensure the rivers are kept clean.

“I have made a visit along Sungai Tebrau and from my immediate observation, piles of rubbish are more noticeable near squatter settlements by the riverbanks.

“As such, we will put more focus on educating the public on river cleanliness and the effects of dumping rubbish into the river,” he said.

Ayub added that there was no point for the authorities to keep on clearing rubbish from rivers, if the community did not play its part.

“We have also roped in youth councils from each district to be our eyes and ears and monitor activities along the rivers statewide,” he said.

He explained that the cleanliness of river did not fall on the shoulders on a particular department but was the responsibility of a network of agencies.

“The Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) looks into issues by the riverbanks but the water quality is under the prerogative of the Environment Department (DOE) which monitors water quality.

“Moreover, if the source of pollution is from the surrounding industries then DOE is in charge, but if it has to do with animal rearing, then it falls on the shoulders of the Veterinary Department,” he said.

In a Facebook post, Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar had ordered the state government and local authorities to come down hard on those responsible for polluting Sungai Tebrau.

Sultan Ibrahim, accompanied by his son Tunku Panglima Johor Tunku Abdul Rahman, made a surprise visit by boat to check on the polluted Sungai Tebrau on Tuesday.

Expressing his regrets over the irresponsible dumping of rubbish into the river, the ruler cited the pollutants as one of the main causes of flash floods here.

Meanwhile, Johor Baru City Council (MBJB) mayor A Rahim Nin, who was also present at the press conference, said the council would be installing rubbish traps along Sungai Tebrau to deal with the load of trash.

“However, as stressed earlier, education is key to contain rubbish being dumped into the river and keep it under control.

“Currently, MBJB carries out clean-up works on eight tributaries along Sungai Tebrau, at a cost of RM90,000 a month,” he added.

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Malaysia: Measures in place to contain human-wildlife conflict - Wan Junaidi

The Star 17 Mar 17;

THERE are aggressive wild monkeys to be dealt with among 318,816 of the primates nationwide as a result of human-wildlife conflict.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said rapid development and encroachment of natural habitat had led to humans coming into conflict with the animals.

The “conflict monkeys” were among 30,786 cases of wildlife disturbances recorded by Perhilitan (Department of Wildlife and National Parks) between 2012 and 2016.

“Measures such as population culling, trapping, tracking, relocation of monkeys and elephants were carried out to reduce human-animal conflicts,” Dr Wan Junaidi told Datuk Noor Eshauddin Mohd Harun (BN-Kota Tinggi) during question time.

“For example, we launched a RM50,000 pilot project to trap 2,000 monkeys in Petaling and Hulu Langat on a contract basis,” he added.

Dr Wan Junaidi said 1,102 monkey traps costing RM3.8mil were still needed under the community programme to catch the primates.

In addition, Dr Wan Junaidi said some 302km of elephant electrical fencing was erected in Johor, Terengganu, Pahang, Perak and Kelantan between 2009 and 2015.

However, he noted that an additional 220km of electrical fencing costing RM11mil was still needed in Kedah, Pahang, Johor, Perak and Terengganu.

“There is also a need to place satellite collars on 32 herds of elephants to track them as part of an early warning system,” Dr Wan Junaidi said.

He agreed to consider a proposal by Noor Eshauddin to set up a fund to compensate victims of attacks by elephants, which damaged their crops and property.

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Indonesia: Jakarta takes steps toward haze-free Southeast Asia

Indonesia backs NGO and corporate initiative to prevent forest fires
SIMON ROUGHNEEN Nikkei Asian Review 15 Mar 17;

JAKARTA -- Malaysia's environment minister is sure that 2017 will not see a repeat of the choking, eye-watering smog that covered parts of his country, as well as Singapore and areas in Indonesia, for around two months in 2015.

"We are very likely to be haze-free this year. Even if it comes, it will not be as serious as before," said Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, on March 2.

Mostly caused by the burning of peatland and forests to clear land for plantations in Indonesia, Southeast Asia's haze has for three decades been a near-annual blight that makes air in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, two of Asia's most dynamic cities, almost unbreathable and in turn, diminishes economic output.

Prolonged bouts of the haze, such as in 1997 and in 2015, caused diplomatic ructions as Singapore railed against neighboring Indonesia over the impact of the pollution on its citizens and their livelihoods.

But a new Indonesian government-backed alliance of farmers, businesses, environmentalists and concerned citizens aims to prevent more debilitating blazes in southern Kalimantan and western Sumatra, home to much of Indonesia's lucrative palm oil and pulpwood sectors.

"The Indonesian government is very serious on tackling the forest fires," said Prabianto Wibowo, assistant deputy minister for forestry at Indonesia's economic co-ordination ministry, speaking at the Responsible Business Forum in Jakarta on March 15. As well as damaging relations with Singapore, 2015 fires cost Indonesia's economy an estimated $16bn according to the World Bank.

It was announced at the forum that Malaysian plantation operators Sime Darby and IOI Group -- which has been embroiled in a long-running land rights dispute in Sarawak in Malaysia -- will join the year-old Fire Free Alliance, a collaboration that "focuses on fire prevention through community engagement."

The FFA is made up of environmental groups and major forestry and agriculture companies such as pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International, or APRIL, as well as major palm oil players Musim Mas Group and Wilmar International.

The flammable peat soil -- which makes up 11% of Indonesia's land area -- can burn for weeks and its effects can be deadly. Some estimates suggest that 100,000 deaths were related to the last major bout of haze in 2015 -- fires that were exacerbated by hot dry weather caused by El Nino, a recurring climate pattern on the southern Pacific Ocean that sometimes brings dryer, warmer weather than usual to nearby countries.

Governments disputed that death toll, saying it was impossible to attribute mortality in every case to the acrid air caused by the fires. Nonetheless, pollution levels typically jump way above what is deemed safe when Indonesia's forests are burning. In 2015, for example, Malaysia's air pollution in areas affected by the drifting smoke was 10 times the level that the World Health Organization says causes premature deaths.

"It has an impact on people's health, and on the economy and on tourism," said Aurelie Charmeau, director of research at the Singapore-based People's Movement Against Haze. "I avoid going out during this haze, you smell it, you can feel it, it is more difficult to breathe."

But there is a long way to go before Indonesia is likely to be described as fire-free. So far, the FFA takes in just over 200 villages covering roughly 1.5 million hectares of land -- just over a quarter of what the government estimates to be 731 villages in 7 of Indonesia's 34 provinces where burning takes place.

"I do believe if we get more companies involved it will be a success," said Lucita Jasmin, director of sustainability and external affairs at APRIL, referring to the FFA. But she acknowledged that "there is no target date for getting the 700-plus villages involved."

Hard habit to break

Indeed getting everybody on board will be challenging, as setting fires to forests -- a modern version of the ancient practice of slash-and-burn clearances -- is seen as the cheapest way to clear land for new plantations.

"Engaging with communities and changing behavior takes time," said Jasmin. Indonesia is home to thousands of plantations run by smallholders who have meager resources to clear their plot of land to make way for lucrative cash crops.

According to a 2012 report by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, such small landholders account for about 38% of Indonesia's palm oil plantations. "You cannot just say to the communities 'don't do that' without offering an alternative," Jasmin said.

To help address the misuse of the vast archipelago's terrain, Indonesia's government is currently drafting a new land law, according to Agrarian and Spatial Planning Minister Sofyan Djalil.

Speaking at the Responsible Business Forum, Djalil did not address the haze issue, possibly because Indonesia's forests are the domain of a separate ministry, and many of Indonesia's plantations are still considered part of the officially forested area.

"How much forest does this country need?" Djalil asked. "We have to address this issue and promote economic development for smallholders."

Attempting to overturn some of the impact of the now decades-old burning, in 2016 the Indonesian government established the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency, which aims to restore 2 million hectares of degraded peatlands in seven provinces over a five-year period. President Joko Widodo will meet leaders of Indonesia's indigenous forest communities in northern Sumatra on March 17, where those leaders are expected to ask the president to make good on his pledge to return 12.7 million hectares of land to community ownership -- a move campaigners say will help preserve forests and curb pollution.

But demand for palm oil has seen the sector expand dramatically in the last two decades. Growth is likely to continue, putting further pressure on land and forests and adding to the incentive for cash-strapped farmers or landholders to slash and burn and in turn grow oil palm.

A palm oil market analysis published by Zion Market Research last year put the value of the global market at $65.73 billion in 2015, and $92.84 billion by 2021. Once mainly used for cooking, the versatile palm oil is now a vital ingredient in everyday products such as shampoo, lipstick, chocolate and ice-cream. Indonesia and Malaysia are sources of more than 80% of the world's palm oil and the product is Indonesia's third biggest export after coal and gas.

Despite its utility and ubiquity, palm oil has been described as "the world's most hated crop" due to its links to deforestation and pollution. If the FFA can help curb the torching of Indonesia's forests, it will do much to offset this bad publicity and to preserve the archipelago's ecology and biodiversity.

Indonesia's rainforest is the world's third largest after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but forest pyrotechnics have reduced it drastically. A 2014 report by the University of Maryland calculated that Indonesia lost more than 6 million hectares of forest between 2000 and 2012 and has seen its forest loss overtake that of Brazil's Amazon, an area of jungle four times larger.

Such destruction is making life difficult for some of the world's rarest animals as habitats have been destroyed to make way for plantations, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature in mid-2016 classifying Borneo's orangutans as critically endangered.

As well as persuading smallholders to stop slash-and-burn, public pressure on bigger companies could also yield results. The 2015 haze crisis spawned the "We Breathe What We Buy" campaign in Singapore that targeted products linked to Indonesia's forests. The campaign urged customers to buy only palm oil and wood-based products from sustainable sources -- putting the spotlight on FFA members such as APRIL, Wilmar International and Musim Mas, which have headquarters in the city state.

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Indonesia: Peatland decree not pro-people, needs revision -- Academics

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 17 Mar 17;

Academics from several universities across Indonesia have recommended the government revise Government Regulation (PP) No. 57/ 2016 on Peat Ecosystem Protection and Management Regulation, saying that the regulation is not pro-people and its implementation could damage plantation activities in Indonesia.

Indonesia Land Science Association (HITI) chairman Budi Mulianto said the recommendation would be immediately conveyed to the government to show their concerns over the fate of farmers and plantation companies, which might face economic impacts from the implementation of the PP.

Budi, who is also a land expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), said many farmers and plantation companies cultivated oil palms on peatlands. He said he was worried that if PP 57 was not revised, farmers and plantation companies operating on peatlands would have to stop their plantation activities

“To anticipate the matter, we will recommend the government revise PP 57. Within the next two weeks at the latest, the recommendation will have been sent to the government,” Budi told The Jakarta Post after a seminar at the North Sumatra University in Medan on Thursday. (ebf)

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Indonesia: Government allocates Rp320 billion for river basin reforestation

Antara 17 Mar 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government has allocated some Rp320 billion (US$23.9 million) from the disaster management reserve funds for reforestation program along the river basin areas in West Java and West Nusa Tenggara provinces.

Chief of the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) Willem Rampangilei stated that the government would speed up reforestation of river basin areas to avert natural disasters that have increased during 2016.

"The vice president has demanded the implementation of the program immediately, as this is an emergency situation. We have agreed to take some Rp320 billion from disaster management reserve funds ," Willem said after a meeting on river basin reforestation in West Java and West Nusa Tenggara here on Thursday.

Of the total funds, some Rp62.9 billion would be allocated for river basin reforestation in West Nusa Tenggara and the remaining would be used for a similar program in West Java.

The program is scheduled to begin in April, Willem noted.

The program would include changing the cultivation pattern in the slopes area, development of supporting facilities such as water, and land conservation facility.

In 2016, BNPB had recorded 2,384 natural disaster events, an increase from 1,732 events recorded in 2015.

Deteriorating environmental conditions have become a major cause of natural disasters.

"In this case, we are focusing on reforestation of the land in West Java and West Nusa Tenggara, including the river basin areas. The vice president has instructed such program to be implemented throughout the country," Willem remarked.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya asserted that the ministry has entered its final stage of reforestation of Cimanuk and Citarum upper stream river basins, as well as river basins in West Nusa Tenggara.

"We will have conventional planting and seedling, as well as aerial seedling in the forest areas," she said.(*)

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Indonesia: Climate anomaly threatens Indonesia`s biodiversity

Antara 17 Mar 17;

Yogyakarta (ANTARA News) - La Nina, which is a series of El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), could be a threat to the preservation of Indonesias biodiversity, Dean of the Biology Faculty, Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Budi Setiadi Daryono, said.

"ENSO is not only a threat to national food security, but also to the biodiversity in the country," Budi said here on Thursday.

According to him, the loss of biodiversity in the long term will lead to ecosystem degradation and systemic damages.

He said La Nina which brings higher rainfall accompanied by an increase in average temperature and relative humidity will pose a threat to the ecosystem and can cause natural selection.

La Nina will create a bottleneck effect for species that have low tolerance when temperature is rising and submersion occurs due to high rainfall and humidity, like the ones that take place in meadow ecosystems in Nusa Tenggara, part of East Java, and Bali.

Budi explained Indonesias indigenous flora and fauna could be endangered or at least experiencing unfavorable selection pressure.

The sex of green turtle (Chelonia mydas L.) is highly influenced by the temperature conditions during the hatch time. At temperature over 29 degrees Celsius, the turtles are generally female, while at less than 29 degrees Celsius generally they will be male, he said.

"If the ambient temperature is over 33 degrees Celcius, the hatchlings will die," Budi, who is also the Chairman of Indonesian Biology Consortium, said.

He added climate anomalies cloud occur due to human activity. Therefore, it is important to preserve biological resources and environment.

"If biological resources and environment continue to be maintained, it will support national food security," he said.(*)

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