Best of our wild blogs: 14 Apr 17

Registration for Organisers opens for the 26th International Coastal Cleanup Singapore!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Wed 19 April 2017: 6:30 pm @ NLB – Peter Borschberg on “What could we learn from the 1603 sea battle off Changi?”
Otterman speaks

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Malaysia: Fresh logging at Ulu Muda water catchment area

The Star 14 Apr 17;

SUNGAI PETANI: Almost a year after rampant logging near the Ulu Muda reserve that affected the water catchment area and dam there was exposed, a new trail for timber lorries has been found.

The new trail at the catchment area in the forest reserve near Sik, is believed to have been used by loggers since early this year.

The 5m wide trail is more than 15km long and it runs uphill along the Ulu Muda lake.

A check by The Star on Wednesday revealed hundreds of logs stacked at the base site. There was also heavy machinery parked there.

A signboard at the base site showed that a permit has been issued by the Kedah Tengah District forestry officer in Sungai Petani to a licence holder to carry out logging at secondary roads 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 118 and 177.

The name of the contractor is also stated in the board. The permit is valid until May 1. It came into effect on Nov 2 last year.

There is another signboard which states that the licence holder is Perbadanan Menteri Besar Kedah. The area is listed as 200ha with the permit valid from July 3 to Oct 4, last year.

The Ulu Muda forest reserve stretches from the Malaysian border with Thailand at Yala to Baling in the north of Perak and is about twice the size of Singapore. It is said to be a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers.

Although logging there seems to be legal, the question really is: Why is logging allowed at the crucial water catchment area?

Universiti Sains Malaysia water resources, hydrology and flood hazard management and climatology expert Prof Dr Chan Ngai Weng said the Kedah government should gazette the place as a water catchment area.

“Once that is done, there can be no logging there. We are very concerned about the impact of logging at the catchment area.

“Rain water does not go into the ground. The water runs off into the river and then, into the sea.”

“Logging will expose the land. Rain splash erosion and surface erosion will wash sediments into the rivers, causing water pollution and the shallowing of river beds.

“Consequently, rivers’ drainage capacities will be significantly reduced," Chan said, adding that the quality of the water supplied to the people in surrounding areas would also be affected.

He called on the state and Federal governments to take measures at the Ulu Muda reserve forests so that soil erosion, soil sediments and silt are stopped from getting into the water and river systems.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Nature Society Penang branch adviser D. Kanda Kumar said Kedah had been logging the forest for a long time.

He said water from the Sungai Muda river was used for agriculture and as supply for Kedah and Penang. “Water from the Muda Dam is pumped to the Pedu Dam and it is primarily used for the Muda irrigation scheme of about 97,000ha of padi.

“Intense logging there will determine how much top soil on the hills is washed into the river,” he said.

Last May, a check by The Star showed that at least five logging depots, with thousands of high-quality logs such as Meranti, Cengal and Merbau, were waiting to be transported out to their processing destinations.

The logging depots were about the size of 30 football fields and it is believed that there were more such depots deeper inside the forest.

Days of crystal clear water over for villagers
The Star 14 Apr 17;

SUNGAI PETANI: Crystal clear and chlorine-free spring water used to gush out of the taps in many homes of hinterland villages of Kedah. Not any more.

The villagers, who used to enjoy this simply by piping hilltop springs and streams directly to their homes, now get water that is stained yellow.

They believe deforestation upstream is what spoiled their once prized water. They have voiced their grievances to the village heads but nothing has been done.

Haniza Ya, 45, a housewife from Kampung Bukit Berangan, said the water gets especially “dirty” after a downpour.

“This has been the scenario since 2013. We do not get water from the Syarikat Air Darul Aman Sdn Bhd (Sada), so our main source is the hill’s springs and we channel the water into a small reservoir,” she said.

“During the rainy season, we even get sand with the water. So, we store water for drinking and cooking when it is not raining and boil it properly,” said the mother of four.

Others said the affected villages were Kampung Belantik, Kampung Surau, Kampung Charok Keladi, Kampung Kota Aur, Kampung Bukit Berangan, Kampung Bukit Batu, Kampung Kuala Betong, Kampung Kubang, Kampung Lentang and Kampung Pinang. There is an estimated 8,000 villagers there.

A fisherman, who only wanted to be known as Pak Abu from Kampung Belantik, was certain that intense logging deep in the hills polluted their rivers.

“It has also reduced the number of fish in the river. I travel upstream and feel angry when I see murky waters deep in the forest,” he said.

Another villager wanting to be known only as Ahmad said the once clean Sungai Sok was now dirty.

“So much dirtier now but what can we do? These companies have the licence to log here,” he complained.

The 2014 Auditor-Generals report said the state approved 6,252ha of forest for logging and 4,612ha in 2013.

Kedah received RM30.1mil in forestry premiums in 2014 and RM10.8mil in 2013.

Previous Auditor-General’s reports showed that in 2012, the state government approved 8,542ha for logging and received RM32.93mil in premiums, while 12,909ha were approved in 2011 with a premium of RM74.92mil.

In 2010, 7,856.11ha yielded RM48.54mil while in 2009, 6093.68ha were approved for RM33.05mil.

Stop issuing new logging licences, says exco man
The Star 14 Apr 17;

ALOR SETAR: The state government should stop issuing new logging licences immediately, says Kedah Environment Committee chairman Datuk Dr Leong Yong Kong.

Dr Leong said enough clearing had been done and any more of such activities would harm the environment.

“My duty is to protect the environment. Enough of what has been cleared. We have huge backlog of approved licences and we can’t go on approving more.

“The state will have to pay a hefty price in the future for this,” he said yesterday.

Dr Leong added that it was a reality that the state was facing water scarcity and logging activities near the water catchment areas should be stopped.

He added that if there was a real need, the whole Ulu Muda forest reserve would be gazetted as a water catchment area to ensure that there would be no more encroachment.

“Water resources will be destroyed. Dirty water becomes the norm, be it for domestic use or irrigation. We must put a stop to it,” he said, adding that a meeting would be held soon with the respective agencies, including the Kedah Forestry Department.

Meanwhile, Muda Agricultural Development Authority (Mada) general manager Datuk Fouzi Ali said that areas near the important Muda and Pedu dams should not be touched with no logging activity carried out there.

“It is important for water catchment areas to be protected. As for irrigation, the water capacity in Pedu dam is insufficient.

“This situation worsens during a drought. We normally rely on the dam’s water for the first season of padi cultivation and for the second season, we rely on rainfall.

“However, early this year the dam’s water was insufficient and we almost resorted to dry seeding. But we were lucky enough to get enough rain,” he added.

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Malaysia: Study reveals Kinabalu Park fast losing its buffer zone

The Star 14 Apr 17;

PETALING JAYA: Kinabalu Park, one of Malaysia’s two World Heritage Sites, has lost large proportions of forests in its buffer zones.

It has been named as one of the worst affected Natural World Heritage Sites, seeing 15,000ha of its forests (about the size of 30,000 football fields) cleared between 2000 and 2012.

This was stated in an international study led by University of Queensland.

“Some notable Natural World Heritage Sites which lost large proportions of forest in their buffer zones are the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites, the Discovery Coast Atlantic Forests in Brazil and Kinabalu Park in Malaysia,” the study published in the Biological Conservation journal in February noted.

The 75,370ha Kinabalu Park is one of two Unesco Natural World Heritage Sites in Malaysia. The other is Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak.

The study revealed that the 203 Natural World Heritage Sites were some of Earth’s most valuable natural assets but many were deteriorating due to urbanisation, agriculture and logging.

“Our findings clearly show that Natural World Heritage Sites are becoming increasingly isolated, which is a concern since their ecological integrity depend on links with the broader landscape,” the study said.

It added that past studies found that environmental degradation around a protected area could lead to similar degradation within its borders.

The Kinabalu Park, which was designated as a Unesco Natural World Heritage Site in 2000, is an epicentre of biodiversity.

Unesco said it was home to at least half of all Borneo’s plant species, birds, mammals, amphibian species and two-thirds of Borneo reptiles unique to the island.

Among the rare species that can only be found in the Kinabalu Park are the Rothschild Slipper orchid and the Rajah Brooke’s Pitcher plant.

Known as the gold of Kinabalu, the Rothschild Slipper orchid takes 15 years to grow. It is one of the world’s most expensive orchids in the black market.

The Rajah Brooke’s Pitcher plant is the world’s largest pitcher plant that can grow up to 41cm.

Sabah Parks director Dr Jamili Nais maintained that the Kinabalu Park and its biodiversity remained intact despite fears over a substantial reduction of its buffer areas.

There was no land clearing or forest damage within the park, which is about three times the size of Penang island, he said.

“The integrity of the park is constantly safeguarded,” he said.

Jamili said there was no designated buffer zone around the world renowned park.

“What happens outside of the park boundaries is beyond the scope of the World Heritage Site.

“Having said that, we should bear in mind that the land surrounding the park is occupied by the native Kadazandusun who have been cultivating crops there for generations,” he said.

Jamili said these people initially practised shifting cultivation but had since switched to permanent farming methods.

Sabah Parks, Jamili said, had initiated a community-based forest conservation known as tagal hutan with villages around the park.

He said Sabah Park was also working towards getting the area to be declared as a Geopark, another Unesco initiative.

Geoparks are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.

Sabah naturalist Datuk C.L. Chan said a reduction in the buffer area surrounding the Kinabalu Park had not affected the biodiversity within the World Heritage Site.

However, he said Unesco’s concern over the reduction of buffer areas around the park should not be taken lightly.

He said Kinabalu Park could end up as an island within a sea of agriculture and human settlements if the forested areas outside the boundaries continued to be cleared.

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Malaysia: Fish bombers chased out of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

The Star 13 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Marine police seized some 200kg of fish that were believed to have been caught using explosives in waters within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.

Kota Kinabalu maritime director First Admiral Adam Aziz said the fish were seized from two pump boats that were abandoned by their skippers following a chase near Pulau Gaya at about 12.40am yesterday.

“Our men were doing the usual patrols when they saw the pump boats,” he said

“When they headed towards the boats, the skippers sped off and jumped into the sea before escaping into some mangrove areas and disappeared,” he said in a statement.

A check on the two pump boats led to the discovery of the various types of fish and items believed to be used for fish bombing.

Fish bombing, First Admiral Adam said, would not only endanger the lives of the fishermen and those nearby but also destroy the environment and marine ecosystem.

He warned fishermen not to resort to such tactics in their bid for an easy catch.

The Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park was gazetted in 1974 to protect its unique flora, fauna and marine eco-system. It covers an area of about 50sq km.

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Arabian Gulf: Dugong habitats shrink by a quarter

Daniel Bardsley The Nation 13 Apr 17;

Scientists warn that their numbers could fall further unless Gulf countries adopt a coordinated plan to safeguard dugongs and their feeding grounds after research shows only the UAE has legal protection plan in place.

Researchers have called for stronger international efforts to protect the Arabian Gulf’s dugongs after their work revealed that the areas where the creatures are found has shrunk by a quarter.

The scientists have highlighted that the UAE is the only Gulf nation to properly protect the seagrass-eating mammals, numbers of which they warned could fall further.

"It is crucial for countries in the Gulf to work together to implement a comprehensive transboundary plan," said Dalal Al Abdulrazzak, the study’s lead author.

Such a plan would include habitat protection, population monitoring and efforts to reduce inadvertent catching by fishing vessels, known as bycatch.

"At present there are no regional management plan to conserve dugong populations in the Gulf. Only the UAE has protection measures in place," said MsAl Abdulrazzak.

In the journal Zoology in the Middle East, Ms Al Abdulrazzak and Prof Daniel Pauly, both based at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia, said that their analysis of records of dugong distribution showed that dugongs were once found more widely in the Gulf than thought.

The scientists, who looked at papers dating back to the 1800s, found that dugongs once inhabited the seas off Kuwait and Iran. Dugongs recorded off Iran now are considered "vagrant".

By reconstructing past distributions, the researchers have calculated that the dugong range in the Gulf has shrunk by about 26 per cent, falling from a high of 41,236 square kilometres to 30,606 square kilometres.

This indicates that the Gulf population has shrunk more than thought.

Although the Gulf dugong population is the world’s second largest, estimated at about 7,300 individuals, the researchers said the density is much lower than for dugongs in some other areas.

The study highlights threats from dredging, trawling and land reclamation, all of which damage seagrass habitats, and bycatch and oil spills.

"As we gain a better understanding of the historical trajectories for dugongs in the Gulf, the need for improved management becomes clearer," said the authors.

The researchers stated that "dugongs in the Gulf are only offered protection in the waters of the United Arab Emirates", this coming from a federal law and an Emiri decree.

Lance Morgan, president and chief executive of the US-based Marine Conservation Institute, agreed that Gulf countries should work together to protect the mammal.

"For dugong populations to recover, it is crucially important that governments cooperate on regional plans for their conservation and management and to protect seagrass beds," he said.

A memorandum of understanding on the conservation and management of dugongs and their habitats was launched in Abu Dhabi in 2007 and is managed by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) office in Abu Dhabi.

Among states bordering the Gulf, only the UAE and Saudi Arabia are signatories.

"It is very likely that the Gulf states share the same population of dugongs, so it is critical that all the Gulf range states (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE) cooperate to protect dugongs and their seagrass meadows. The CMS dugong memorandum can help this cooperation," said Donna Kwan, CMS programme officer for dugongs.

She said one of the biggest challenges was not to enforce legal protection of dugongs but to identify why they are still at risk and find ways to reduce threats.

"We would absolutely encourage Gulf states to join the memorandum and commit to cooperate closely to protect dugongs and provide the necessary resources to make that work a success," said Matthew Collis, acting director for international environmental agreements at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

For the dugong study, the researchers found 155 records, many in libraries overseas, although records also came from the UAE, including data collected by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classes dugongs as "vulnerable" and estimates that, over the past 60 years, their numbers have fallen globally by 30 per cent.

Last month, 23 of the 40 countries with dugongs met in Abu Dhabi to discuss ways to protect them. Abu Dhabi also hosts the headquarters are for the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation project, an international effort to preserve dugongs and their habitats linked to the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

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