Best of our wild blogs: 25 Apr 17

Hilltop Chestnuts & Dairy Fairies
Winging It

Conservation of Giant Clams – Part 4
Neo Mei Lin

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Cheaper, cleaner electricity for households on the cards

TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 25 Apr 17;

SINGAPORE — The largest renewable energy provider here plans to shake things up when the energy market becomes fully liberalised next year, by offering households prices that are 15 to 30 per cent cheaper than current rates.

Consumers can also buy clean energy with a touch of their fingertips using a mobile app, which will allow them to track their carbon footprint.

Sunseap, which has already snagged several big solar-leasing contracts — including with technology giant Apple and the Housing and Development Board (HDB) — is among a growing number of licensed electricity retailers that have entered the fray in recent years, in anticipation of the Government’s move to fully open up the market in the second half of 2018 — which will allow another 1.3 million consumers, mainly households, to have flexibility and choice in their electricity consumption. The market has been gradually liberalised over the years with the contestability threshold lowered in phases, but households have not been brought on board so far.

Sharing its plans with TODAY recently, Sunseap managing director Frank Phuan said the homegrown company will offer a variety of price plans to suit households of varying sizes and energy needs.

“Just like a telco plan with talktime minutes, we will offer ... for instance a two-year plan, with a set amount of energy units according to your needs. If households can’t finish these units, it could be rolled over to the following month,” said Mr Phuan.

Sunseap plans to start marketing its price plans at the end of the year. It is in talks with telecommunication firms and banks on possible tie-ups for consumers to pay for electricity through their telco or credit card bills.

Mr Phuan revealed that households may opt for hybrid plans, which will essentially be a mix of traditional and alternative energy. “They would be able to choose to, for instance, set 20 per cent of their energy needs to be served by alternative energy, with 80 per cent still met by traditional energy,” said Mr Phuan.

Sunseap’s mobile app, when available, will enable consumers to sign up for energy plans, and track their previous month’s usage. Not only will consumers get to see how much they save on their electricity bills as compared to their rival’s prices, they can also find out how much carbon they save by using alternative energy, said Mr Phuan.

Currently, there are 24 licensed electricity retailers — including Sunseap — in Singapore, based on the Energy Market Authority website. The number has jumped by almost double since 2015 when Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S Iswaran announced the timeline of the full liberalisation.

Sunseap, which was founded in 2011, can trace it roots back to the 1970s when Mr Phuan’s father started a solar systems manufacturing business. Six years ago, Mr Phuan and his friend, Mr Lawrence Wu, decided to branch out into solar leasing services.

The company has not looked back since: Sunseap says it has achieved 80 per cent market share of Singapore’s clean energy market. Apart from the Republic, the firm has offices in Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, India, Malaysia and Australia.

In 2015, it landed a contract with Apple to supply clean energy for its operations in South-east Asia, including for its offices and the upcoming Apple Store in Singapore. The company has also been awarded a few tenders by the HDB to install solar panels on the rooftops of housing blocks.

Mr Phuan said Sunseap achieved grid parity at the retail level a few years ago, which means that it can offer alternative energy at a price equal to or cheaper than what is provided by the traditional electricity grid.

He noted that the demand for clean energy has been on the rise: In 2011, the company delivered just two megawatts of power to its customers. Within a year, this rose to 15 megawatts. This increased further to 50 megawatts in 2014, and 80 megawatts last year. An 80-megawatt system can power more than 21,100 four-room HDB flats for a year.

By the end of next year, Sunseap is set to deliver 200 megawatts to its customers, such as government agencies and companies, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

“There is a desire among the SMEs to contribute to reducing Singapore’s carbon footprint ... some companies are actually less driven by the discounts (that they can get by using clean energy) ... but rather, the motivation to do something sustainable,” he said.

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UK: Seagrass meadow research project aided by app launch

BBC 24 Apr 17;

Marine conservationists have launched an app to encourage the public to identify and monitor underwater seagrass meadows.

Research by Project Seagrass, formed by scientists from Cardiff University and Swansea University, has shown the meadows are in a "perilous state".

Seagrasses are plants that form dense underwater beds in shallow water.

It is hoped people will use the app to help scientists with monitoring, conservation and education efforts.

"The app provides ocean enthusiasts around the world with an opportunity to become citizen scientists who contribute to marine conservation with just a few taps of their phone", said Benjamin Jones, project co-founder and research assistant at Cardiff University's Sustainable Places Research Institute.

The team hopes to create a more comprehensive picture of seagrass meadows around the globe.

It hopes it will inspire new scientific research and conservation measures that can help protect ocean habitats.

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Japan: Emergency declaration warns of coral extinction

The Yomiuri Shimbun 25 Apr 17;

NAHA — The Environment Ministry has prepared an emergency declaration over coral deaths caused by rising sea temperatures from global warming.

In an emergency countermeasures meeting of experts held in Okinawa Prefecture on Sunday, the ministry inked out the declaration, which states that coral could die out in the waters around Japan by the 2070s.

The ministry concluded in the declaration that it will mainly promote the development of new technologies to transplant and cultivate coral, and designate coral reef areas to prioritize conservation. It will also promote measures against global warming.

Swift action sought

Experts and people engaged in the tourism and fishery industries expressed a sense of urgency over the bleaching and death of coral, seeking early action to conserve coral reefs, which are facing a mounting risk of extinction.

“At the current pace of global warming, there could be major coral bleaching every year all over the world,” an expert said at the emergency measures meeting in Okinawa Prefecture on Sunday. Another said, “It’s been predicted the coral habitat will disappear in the waters near Japan in the 2070s.”

Reports offering a grim outlook for the future of the coral habitat were presented one after another at the meeting, which was attended by over 50 experts.

According to an Environment Ministry survey, more than 90 percent of the coral in the Sekisei Lagoon in the prefecture, the largest such reef in the nation, has become bleached, and about 70 percent of it died in 2016. Sea temperatures rose last year due to global warming, and few typhoons approached the area, which kept cold and warm sea water separated.

The lagoon experienced mass bleaching in 1998 and 2007. The experts said last year’s bleaching was the worst ever recorded in the lagoon.

“We must take some action as soon as possible,” said meeting chair Makoto Tsuchiya, a professor emeritus at the University of the Ryukyus.

Those in the tourism industry are concerned that the mass bleaching and death of coral could deal a blow to the industry, given coral is an important tourism resource.

“It’s become difficult to find healthy coral in the Sekisei Lagoon,” said Tomoya Takeuchi, 35, secretary general of the Yaeyama Diving Association. The lagoon, where many tropical fish live, has attracted divers from around the world.

A 39-year-old executive of a diving shop on Ishigakijima island said he is concerned that death of coral could also affect other marine life.

Although there has not yet been a conspicuous effect on the local tourist industry due to the death of coral, Takeuchi said, “We should move ahead with activities to conserve coral with various organizations, to provide tourists with an opportunity to enjoy our beautiful sea.”

Yoshimi Higa, 53, who has cultivated coral in the village of Onna in the northern part of Okinawa Island, said he wants to preserve the ecological system.

“Death of coral would make the water look muddy, which will make it difficult to catch fish. We want to advance a plan to cultivate coral more for the preservation of the ecological system,” said Higa, who also is an executive member of the village’s fisheries cooperative association.

Bleaching reports up since ’80s

There have been increasing reports of coral bleaching worldwide since the 1980s, with many cases of serious bleaching being seen in the past few years.

According to the ministry, the worst coral bleaching so far took place from 1997 to 1998. Sea temperatures rose at that time partly due to the El Nino phenomenon, resulting in the loss of 16 percent of the world’s coral. About 40 percent of major coral in the Sekisei Lagoon died.

The same scale of mass coral bleaching hit the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Hawaii, Samoa and other places from 2014 to 2016.

“Coral reefs account for only 0.6 percent of the global sea area, but they are home to 25 percent of all marine life,” said Hajime Kayane, a professor of coral reef studies at the University of Tokyo. “Should coral reefs be lost, fishery resources and the tourism industry will suffer a huge blow.”Speech

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Japan to exceed bluefin tuna quota amid warnings of commercial extinction

Conservationists call on Japan to abide by fishing agreements after reports annual quota will be exceeded two months early
Justin McCurry The Guardian 24 Apr 17;

Conservation groups have called on Japan to abide by international agreements to curb catches of Pacific bluefin tuna after reports said the country was poised to exceed an annual quota two months early – adding to pressure on stocks that have already reached dangerously low levels.

Japan, by far the world’s biggest consumer of Pacific bluefin, has caused “great frustration” with its failure to abide by catch quotas intended to save the species from commercial extinction, said Amanda Nickson, the director of global tuna conservation at Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Just a few years of overfishing will leave Pacific bluefin tuna vulnerable to devastating population reductions,” Nickson said in Tokyo on Monday. “That will threaten not just the fish but also the fishermen who depend on them.”

Decades of overfishing have left the Pacific bluefin population at just 2.6% of its historical high, and campaigners say Japan must take the lead at a summit in South Korea this summer.

In 2015, Japan and other members of the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission agreed to curtail catches of immature bluefin, halving the catch of fish under 30kg from the average caught between 2002 and 2004.

But Japanese media reported last week that the country would reach its catch limit for younger tuna for the year through to June two months early.

Some fisheries workers have ignored the restrictions, aware that they will not be punished and can fetch premium prices for Pacific bluefin in Japan, where it is regarded as an important part of the country’s culinary heritage.

Campaigners support the fisheries commission’s aim of rebuilding stocks to at least 20% of unfished levels by 2034 – a target Nickson said was “realistic and attainable”. She said further inaction could revive calls for a two-year commercial moratorium on catching Pacific bluefin.

“No country in the world cares more about the future of tuna than Japan,” she said. “Japan can take the lead, but it must start by committing itself to the 20% rebuilding plan.”

If that fails, she added, “then a full commercial moratorium could be the only feasible course of action”.

Aiko Yamauchi, the leader of the oceans and seafood group for WWF Japan, said it was time to penalise fishermen who violated catch quotas. “The quotas should be mandatory, not voluntary,” Yamauchi said. “That’s why the current agreement hasn’t worked.”

About 80% of the global bluefin catch is consumed in Japan, where it is served raw as sashimi and sushi. A piece of otoro – a fatty cut from the fish’s underbelly – can cost several thousand yen at high-end restaurants in Tokyo.

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