Best of our wild blogs: 15-16 Apr 17

Earth Day coastal cleanup @ Coney Island this Sat 22 Apr 2017 with Adrian, Jen & Beth!
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Butterfly of the Month - April 2017
Butterflies of Singapore

Otterly exciting at Pasir Ris with the Naked Hermit Crabs
wild shores of singapore

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The sound of music in a disused Singapore quarry

Lin Yangchen, The Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Apr 17;

Every weekend, the sweet notes of Chinese flute music rise above the quarry lake in Bukit Batok Nature Park and waft into the listening air.

The player of those dulcet sounds is not exactly what one expects.

Wearing tattered sports attire and a crew cut, 67-year-old retiree Tan Eng Bee played water polo in the 1960s and still swims more than 15km a week.

But almost 60 years of flute practice shows when he whips out the three flutes in his bag and starts playing music at the water's edge.

The primary school dropout taught himself to play as a child, inspired by the music he heard on the radio.

"Exercise has helped me play better... You must be fit and be able to control your breath. Especially when the phrases are long, and when the last note is very long," said Mr Tan.

He is as much a part of Bukit Batok as the quarry itself, having lived in the neighbourhood from the days it was a laid-back kampung and seen the beginnings of the nature park in 1988.

Mr Tan's flute music finds an audience in former fishery wholesaler Michael Ong and his wife Phyllis Peh, who live across the road from the park, and visit the place to walk every morning.

Said Madam Peh, 54, who is a housewife: "Because of the granite, there's this echo. It's very different from listening to a CD at home. Every time he finishes a tune we'll clap and he'll feel very motivated."

Mr Ong, 58, who visited the park for the first time only last year, after being diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, said: "I didn't know there was nature and fresh air so close to home."

Despite undergoing chemotherapy, he is active and in good spirits, helped by the fresh air and long walks.

Mr Ong used to pull 16-hour workdays. Nowadays, he takes time to listen to the bubbly song of the Straw-headed Bulbul, which is found in the park and very few other places in Singapore.

Sometimes they are greeted by raucous troops of white-crested laughing thrushes with their funky white-crested heads and black eye bands.

The granite quarries of Singapore - there are at least 18 dispersed across Bukit Timah and Pulau Ubin - fuelled the country's development from the 19th century.

Along with sand quarries in Bedok and Tampines, they supplied construction material for everything from roads and Housing Board flats to landmarks like Fort Canning and St Andrew's Cathedral, and even the lighthouse on Pedra Branca.

It almost never crosses the mind, but granite is an essential part of everyday life.

It is everywhere - in the walls of homes and offices, in the Pan-Island Expressway that crosses the country.

You could say it is the bedrock of Singapore's bustling economy, and much of it came from the hills in Bukit Timah and Pulau Ubin.

Granite is now imported from other countries. Although only a small fraction - perhaps less than 10 per cent by area - of Singapore's granite had been extracted, the quarried areas were difficult to reclaim for economic use, said Mr Michael Lee, a former geologist with the Public Works Department from 1972 until the last quarry closed in 1999.

The granite workers and their machinery are long gone, but their legacy lives on in the scenic beauty of the cliffs and lakes they left behind.

Mr Wong Tuan Wah, group director of conservation at the National Parks Board (NParks), said quarrying affected Singapore's biodiversity as natural habitats were destroyed or fragmented.

However, the agency has resurrected some quarries as nature parks with shelters and basic amenities and enhanced the habitat, such as by installing floating wetlands.

The agency also manages former quarries on Pulau Ubin for sports like kayaking and mountain biking.

In 2005, Red Bull World Cliff Diving Championship 2002 winner Joey Zuber even dove off a cliff at Kekek Quarry on Pulau Ubin to promote the sport in the region.

Quarry scenes were very different years ago, when mining activities were at their height.

Every piece of granite was born out of a "big bang" as explosives blasted them out of the rock face.

Mr Lee remembers having to deal with incidents of "flying rocks" in the course of his job to ensure that safety regulations were observed in the country's granite quarries.

The danger zone is hard to gauge but it is on the order of a few hundred metres, he said.

But the heavy granite was worth its weight.

Singapore has two slightly different types, called Bukit Timah Granite and Gombak Norite.

The latter is harder and darker, with a higher proportion of minerals containing iron and magnesium, while the former has a higher proportion of silica.

Mr Lee said both are very durable and serve as excellent material for construction, compared with inferior materials like limestone or sandstone.

"Geology has bestowed on Singapore two resources side by side. The granite and sand industry played a significant role in building Singapore," he said.

And as icing on the cake, the quarries can still be enjoyed by thousands today.

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Malaysia: 11 new orchid species found in Sabah

The Star 16 Apr 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s reputation as a biodiversity hotspot is again reaffirmed with the discovery of 11 new orchid species.

Naturalist and Sabah-based publisher Datuk C.L. Chan said the new species were described by Peter O’ Byrne, a world authority on Borneo orchids, during his ongoing research.

“These species were found in various parts of Sabah, including Kinabalu Park,” he said.

The new species, which are from the Dipodium family, were described and reported in the Malesian Orchid Journal published by Chan once every two years.

One of the new species, Dipodium chanii, was named after Chan himself while another, Dipodium lambii, was named after Datuk Anthony Lamb.

Lamb, a British botanist, began working in Sabah 54 years ago and was instrumental in setting up the renowned Tenom Agriculture Centre.

“The continuous discoveries of new species of orchids as well as insects indicate the wealth of our biodiversity and why preserving it should be a priority,” said Chan.

He said it was also recently found that of the 41 species of the Malestoma family found in Sabah – a kind of shrub – 31 were new to science.

“There is so much more yet to be discovered,” he said.

“Imagine if a forest that contains a plant which is unique to that location and with cancer-curing properties is cleared. That would be a loss to humanity,” he added.

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Indonesia: Gunungkidul selected to pilot climate change mitigation efforts

Bambang Muryanto The Jakarta Post 15 Apr 17;

Tens of thousands of tree seedlings of various species have been planted in karst and critical areas, which cover 3,293 hectares of land, in Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta, as part of climate change mitigation efforts.

“We have planted 66,800 tree seedlings. In the 10th year of this program, it is expected that the areas can absorb around 64,797 tons of carbon dioxide,” conservation group Javlec Indonesia Foundation director Rohni Sanyoto told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Javlec Indonesia Foundation has received Rp 3.4 billion (US$255,851.02) from the Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF) to implement a climate impact mitigation program through replanting activities in karst areas, critical land near river basins and conservation areas in 20 villages across Gunungkidul.

Gunungkidul Deputy Regent Imawan Wahyudi officially launched the tree planting and management activities in Watu Payung, a nature tourist destination in Girisuko village, Panggang, Gunungkidul, on April 6. One-meter-high tree seedlings of various species, such as acacia and beech, were planted there.

Rohni said Watu Payung and locations in 19 other villages were selected because their carbon dioxide absorption rate was not ideal, reaching only 31.04 tons per ha per year. Ideally, absorbed carbon dioxide was 35 to 100 tons per ha per year.

“This program aims to help the Indonesian government reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reach a low carbon economy,” said Rohni.

The Environment Ministry estimated in 2009 that Indonesia would produce 1.72 gigatons carbon dioxide in 2000, which would increase to 2.95 gigatons by 2020.

USAID-ICCTF team leader Sudaryanto said the program was a pilot program in climate change mitigation efforts at the national level. (ebf)

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Australia: Erosion threatens weakened mangrove ecosystem in Gulf of Carpentaria

Lucy Murray ABC News 16 Apr 17;

Mangrove ecologists and Indigenous rangers have expressed dire concern a second surge of mangrove dieback could further damage ecosystems in the northern Australia's Gulf of Carpentaria.

There are already more than 7,000 hectares of dead mangroves in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

For locals like ranger Robert Logan, this grey landscape was a shock to the system.

"[I] grew up in this country all my life and it's always been green and in a few months 'bang' it's all gone," Mr Logan said.
As the trees rot, researchers warn of a second surge of dieback.

Norm Duke, the head of James Cook University's Mangrove Hub, said an erosion event was likely to occur.

He said the excess soil released by the dead mangroves would choke some of the surviving trees.

"Based on experience in other places, as the mangroves deteriorate, they are no longer able to hold the soil together," Dr Duke said.

"We expect that those sentiments will pile up somewhere else.

"They will take out plants that are recovering like seedlings and equally, the surviving mature trees are vulnerable to that type of erosion as well."

Mangroves died of thirst

The first wave of dieback occurred in late 2015.

The Gulf Country, like most of Queensland, has been drought declared.

There has been little rainfall and high temperatures over the past few years, so the mangroves were already stressed.

But the final straw was a lack of sea water.

Dr Duke said scientists thought it was due to moisture stress.

"Delivered as low rainfall and high temperatures, and at the corresponding worst possible time, at the end of the dry season, sea levels dropped for a month," he said.

He said it was believed the El-Nino weather event caused tides receded by 20 centimetres for more than a month.

"That is the hypothesis that will be tested and worked on in the years to come," Dr Duke said.

Monitoring mangroves from afar

When the first mass death of mangroves occurred, researchers did not find out about it until five months later.

Because of the remote location, the deaths were not immediately reported.

This meant scientists could not forensically test the soil.

"Without the evidence of what the condition of the site was at the time of the dieback, you miss out on information about the before scenario that changes quickly after the trees die," Dr Duke said.

"There may or may not have been something we could have done."

If there was to be another occurrence of dieback, Dr Duke said he wanted to be on the front foot. He has teamed up with local Indigenous rangers, who act as his eyes on the ground.

Two rangers sit on a boat, one is operating a camera, while the other steers the boat.
PHOTO: When a rangers spots an interesting landmark, they click the GPS tracker. (ABC North West Queensland: Lucy Murray)
The rangers from the Carpentaria Land Council steer a boat close to the shoreline of the Norman River filming the mangroves and marking important landmarks on GPS trackers.

"[On the camera] we're trying to get the water level, the mangroves and a bit of sky," ranger Freddy Pascoe said.

The footage is sent back to the researchers on the east coast, more than 1,000km away.

Mr Logan said the film was then sent to JCU.

"Those guys can analyse them and do what they have to do," Mr Logan said.

"Just looking after the country I guess, best we can."

Unanswered questions remain

The rangers said they were more than happy to help monitor the situation.

Supervising ranger Paul Richardson said the area where the mangroves died was an important ecosystem.

"It's heartbreaking, because mangroves are a habitat for a lot of ocean creatures, fish grabs prawns — it's basically a nursery for them," Mr Richardson said.
"It is important that we do monitoring it now, because where that particular dieback of mangrove is, that sits in our flyway, that is a big concern for us.

"Migratory shore birds use that coastal line for roosting sites, and for feeding sites — mangroves — they act as shade for shells and the things they eat, so if there aren't mangroves they're going to cook."

Both Dr Duke and Mr Richardson want to do more testing to make sure there is not another factor in the widespread deaths.

"We would also like to see by doing the monitoring, will these mangroves grow back, or will another species take over?" Mr Richardson said.

Some of the trees that died were more than 200 years old, so recovery would take some time.

But the rangers said they would be watching and doing what they can.

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EU Parliament votes to ban the use of palm oil in biofuels

MEPs say a ban, which needs approval from the European commission, is needed to avoid renewable targets contributing to deforestation
Arthur Neslen The Guardian 4 Apr 17;

MEPs have voted overwhelmingly to ban biofuels made from vegetable oils including palm oil by 2020, to prevent the EU’s renewable transport targets from inadvertently contributing to deforestation.

A new palm oil regulation, minimum sustainability criteria, customs duty reforms and anti-deforestation articles in future EU trade deals were also approved with a 640-18 majority.

The motion has stirred a diplomatic hornet’s nest, with seven countries – including Indonesia, Malaysia, Costa Rica and Ecuador – warning of a trade dispute if the ban is acted upon.

While the report is not binding, EU lawmakers are now drawing up amendments to EU legislation which would be legally enforceable if approved by the European commission and council.

The proposals could also be included in a palm oil assessment that the commission is expected to publish later this year.

“Today’s vote is just the beginning,” said Kateřina Konečná, the report’s rapporteur. “The European parliament has showed that it will no longer be silent on this issue, and we have asked the commission to act.”

Industry associations representing some biofuels sectors welcomed the parliamentary vote, with some calling for MEPs to go further.

Emmanuel Desplechin, the secretary-general of the European renewable ethanol association, said: “We call on the European parliament to translate its position into binding requirements and limit the contribution of transport fuels from palm oil and its derivatives to the share of renewables in transport in the renewable energy directive until peatland drainage is halted.”

At issue is the role played by the EU’s target of sourcing 10% of transport fuels from renewables by 2020 in driving deforestation. The mandate’s introduction coincided with a five-fold increase in the use of palm oil for biodiesel, according to trade data.

Studies have found (pdf) that overseas demand for palm oil, soy, beef, wood and other agricultural products are key drivers of illegal forest clearances in Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries.

“The European commission must not lose more time in putting forward an EU action plan to make Europe a deforestation-free economy and turn the tide on global forest destruction,” said Greenpeace spokesperson Sebastien Risso.

Tropical forests now account for just 7% of the world’s vegetation but are under threat from a predicted doubling in palm oil demand by mid-century.

Palm plantations are already estimated to cover up to 27m hectares of land globally, a landmass the size of New Zealand, and even this may be an underestimate.

Analysis by the Zoological society of London last month found that nearly a million hectares of undisclosed land owned by the world’s major palm oil companies had gone missing from the inventories.

But trade associations aligned with vegetable oil-based crop holdings say that robust action could threaten the livelihoods of smallholders – 40% of palm oil producers – just as palm oil-producing-countries have begun taking steps to limit the damage done by unsustainable practices.

“Instead of cutting back, the EU should instead go further in its support,” said Anita Neville, a sustainability VP at Golden Agri-Resources, Indonesia’s largest grower of oil palm. “The EU can achieve much more by acting as a powerful incentive for sustainable development than by limiting ties.”

“A ban is not constructive,” agreed Jelmen Haaze, the co-chair of the European sustainable palm oil advocacy group. “It is an illusion to think we can take one commodity out of the economy and solve all our problems.”

Speaking at the Strasbourg plenary yesterday, Karmenu Vella, the EU’s environment commissioner, welcomed the study and pledged to report on the feasibility of new action to halt deforestation by mid-year.

“We also have to look, for example, at our own consumption of agricultural commodities that are often associated with deforestation, such as soy and palm oil, here in the EU,” he said.

Europe’s lobby of biofuels producers is one of the most powerful in Brussels, spending €14m a year and employing 400 lobbyists in total – more than the commission’s entire energy directorate, according to Oxfam.

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