Best of our wild blogs: 17 May 17

4 Jun 2017 (Sun): Marine Clean Up and Coral Rescue at Sisters Islands
Sisters' Island Marine Park

Changi five months after the oil spill
wild shores of singapore

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Malaysia: Dugong face risk of food decline

MOHD FARHAAN SHAH The Star 17 May 17;

JOHOR BARU: Johor is in danger of losing its seagrass along the coastline, which will have a negative impact on sea creatures, particularly dugong.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) faculty of geoinformation and real estate researcher Dr Syarifuddin Misbari said Johor was home to at least 12 of the world’s 60 seagrass species.

There is a 20km to 30km stretch in Johor waters where seagrass can be found in abundance, mainly in the eastern and southern parts of the coast.

“Despite the murky waters in the east of Johor, people can still see the seagrass at the Merambong shoal during low tide,” Dr Syarifuddin told The Star.

The Merambong shoal is situated between Johor and Singapore, along the Tebrau Straits near Gelang Patah.

“This area is the biggest seagrass area within Malaysian waters. It is about 2km long with a width of 700m and is home to at least 10 seagrass species,” he said.

He added that various factors, including development, had contributed to the decline in seagrass.

Dr Syarifuddin pointed out that the area is a known hotspot for dugong, a protected animal, as the mammal eats the seagrass there.

“Besides development, other factors include water quality and the presence of boats and heavy vessels along the eastern and southern Johor waters.

“This is also a major factor because the animal is shy and does not like the sound of ships or boats,” he said.

He said a dugong’s diet consists mainly of seagrass and a healthy adult dugong weighing 300kg consumes about 30kg of the plant daily.

“We have been conducting research with a group from Tokyo Metropolitan University in Japan. We have been using satellite images to map dugong sightings in Johor waters for the past four years,” he said.

Dr Syarifuddin added that the state government’s move to establish the Johor Marine Park near Pulau Tinggi and Pulau Sibu off the coast of Mersing was a good one as the water was cleaner, there was no development and heavy vessels did not ply those waters, making it an ideal location for dugong.

“Seagrass is important for our ecology. It is a natural defence to stop erosion around mangroves and is a natural habitat for dugong, sea turtles and other sea creatures.

“We will give our research results to the authorities in the hope of creating awareness of the importance of seagrass conservation.

“It will also help in the conservation of dugong in our waters,” he said.

It was reported that the carcass of an adult dugong was found at Pulau Tinggi near Mersing on April 21.

The state government is in the process of gazetting the area as a dugong sanctuary.

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Malaysia: Population of coral reefs and fishes in marine park increases

The Star 17 May 17;

ISKANDAR PUTERI: The population of coral reefs and fishes in the Sultan Iskandar Marine Park has increased by 30% following the state’s efforts to place artificial reefs in the sea.

Johor Health, Environment, Information and Education Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said the artificial reefs were placed in the sea near the park’s waters as a long-term effort to counter the depleting fish supply there.

The artificial reefs were also an alternative to replace natural coral reefs as a breeding habitat for marine life, he said at the state assembly sitting in Kota Iskandar.

“Our efforts brought an increase in marine life as observed in April,” he said in reply to Abd Razak Minhat (BN-Serom) who wanted to know what the state has done to make the marine park a biodiversity icon in Johor.

Ayub said the state, through natural heritage preservation efforts under its Johor Sustainability Policy, gave priority to looking after the marine park as it is also a tourist attraction.

He said other efforts to care for marine life in Johor included gazetting a dugong sanctuary in the Sibu Islands, and which wasundergoing gazetting and zoning process.

On another matter, Public Works, Rural and Regional Development Committee chairman Datuk Hasni Mohamad said about 150 high-performing bumiputra contractors have been shortlisted to take part in the Gemas-Johor Baru Electrified Double Tracking Project.

He said the list was made by the Johor Centre for Contractor Development (JCCD) after reviewing the eligibility of the contractors according to the Transport Ministry’s criteria.

He said JCCD’s contractor development programme enables Johor contractors to be in the running for this project, which helps to ensure that the bumiputra status quo of the development is met.

“The terms of the double-tracking project states that 50% of the contract value must be subcontracted to local contractors and from the percentage, 30% has to be bumiputra contractors,” he said.

He added that the Federal government awarded the project to China company CRCC CREC CCC Consortium Sdn Bhd (Consortium 3C) in November 2016.

Hasni said Johor had informed the Transport Ministry about the need to form a committee, led by the ministry, to oversee the subcontract acquisition and work conducted.

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Indonesia: Forestry Ministry hopes no forest fire this year

Antara 16 May 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) said it hopes that this year there would be no forest fire in Indonesia.

Forest fires have left a scene of destruction almost every year in a number of Indonesian regions such as Riau, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

Secretary General of KLHK Bambang Hendroyono said the government has issued a regulation PP No 57/2016 revising PP No 71/2014 on protection and Management of Peat Ecosystem after the devastating forest fire in 2015.

"We want to be better than in 2016, when forest and bush fires were reduced up to 20 percent," Bambang said addressing "Global Peatlands Initiative" here on Monday, adding more effective measures have been made to prevent forest fires in 2017.

He said Indonesia, which has around 15 million hectares of peatlands or around 12 percent of its total land territory, could keep around 6 tons of carbon per meter.

Therefore, the government has established the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) in 2016 to be in charge of restoring around 2 million hectares of degraded peat lands in five years.

The ministry has set a target that in 2017 the agency could restore the condition of 400,000 hectares of damaged peatlands or 20 percent of the target for five years.

The Indonesian government already taken steps toward protection, restoration and management of peatlands such as by issuing regulation PP No 57 of 2016 banning the exploitation of peatlands until the ecosystem has been fully resorted, drying and burning peatlands and any activities that would reduce the water surface.

Bambang said there are four methods of restoring damaged peat ecosystem as outlined in PP 57/2016 -- natural successions, rehabilitation or replanting of areas having protective function or cultivation function in line with local wisdom, building water pools to maintain the level of the surface of ground water.

"These methods are important to ensure the restoration of 400,000 hectares peat ecosystem set for this year. One of the targets of BRG is canal blocking , building water pools to keep the humidity in the concession area " Bambang said.(*)

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Indonesia becomes global model for peatland restoration: UNEP

Antara 16 May 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia is the worlds model for restoring peatlands, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Taking into account the importance of tropical peat protection and restoration, the UNEP had launched the Global Peatland Initiatives (GPI) along with member countries that have peatlands, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Peru, and Indonesia.

The GPI was launched at the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Morocco.

"The GPI is a foundation that allows Indonesia to serve as an example in the efforts to restore peatlands and lowland landscapes where peat domes are located," Tim Christophersen, UNEPs Senior Programme Officer, Forests and Climate Change, stated here on Monday (May 15).

Christophersen made the statement at the second meeting of GPI partners that was also attended by the representatives of the three countries, UN agencies, donors, universities, as well as civil societies.

The meeting aimed at updating global peatland-related databases and compiling sustainable peatland management experiences and peat restoration strategies.

Indonesia is considered to be the most compliant country for the Paris COP21, as it has become the first nation to conduct massive peat restoration activities and is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to one giga ton.

On the same occasion, Head of the Peat Restoration Agency Nazir Foead expected that the GPI would open great opportunities for the agency to share its experiences and take a cue from other countries on the protection and recovery of peat ecosystems appropriately, effectively, and efficiently.

"We are the most progressive country in terms of the policies to manage peatland areas. Other countries will be looking at Indonesia on how we are implementing conservation policies and arrangement points under the supervision of the UNEP," he noted.

According to the UNEP, peatland-related issues stem from the limitations and lack of knowledge of the importance of peat ecosystems to protect the global climate.

Consequently, peatlands, which are a vulnerable ecosystem with rich biodiversity, tend to be converted into cultivated concession areas through massive peat drainage.

Such land use policy is certainly inappropriate. Hence, the governments of several countries having large peatlands need to adopt firm measures to protect these areas, as it is also in line with the Paris Agreement.(*)

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Chinese appetite for totoaba fish bladder kills off rare porpoise

Only 30 vaquita are left in Gulf of California as pirate fishermen net them when fishing for highly valued totoaba maws
Damian Carrington The Guardian 16 May 17;

The world’s rarest marine mammal is on the verge of extinction due to the continuing illegal demand in China for a valuable fish organ, an undercover investigation has revealed.

There are no more than 30 vaquita – a five-foot porpoise – left in the northern Gulf of California today and they could be extinct within months, conservationists have warned. The population has been all but eradicated by pirate fishermen catching the large totoaba fish and killing the vaquita in the process.

The totoaba, which is itself highly endangered, is caught for its swim bladders which are smuggled to China for sale on the black market. Undercover investigators found the swim bladders, called maws, for sale in Shantou in Guandong province, at an average price of $20,000 per kilogram. The cost has led to the maws being dubbed “aquatic cocaine”.

“The demand is still strong and stable – it is not going down – and prices are climbing again,” said Andrea Crosta, from the Elephant Action League, an intelligence-led group now targeting all wildlife crime and which conducted the totoaba investigation.

“Because it is very expensive, it remains a product for wealthy people,” he said. “The law enforcement is very weak because it is not top priority and probably because it involves rich and powerful people.”

One trader in the illegal maws told the investigators: “When the government comes to check, they call and inform us earlier and we will hide them when they come.” However, the trade is less open than it once was. Chinese buyers of maws prefer those from domestic waters but these are exceedingly rare now, having been intensively fished for many decades.

The demand for totoaba maws is driven by its use as a business gift, investment or wedding dowry, as well as its supposed medicinal benefits, the investigation found.

The fish are captured in gillnets, which the Mexican government has banned although illegal fishing persists. The ban will expire at the end of May and the conservation group WWF called on Tuesday for Mexico to introduce and enforce a permanent ban on all gillnets.

“Time is rapidly running out for the vaquita – we could tragically lose [it] in a matter of months,” said WWF’s Chris Gee. “The last hope for the species is the Mexican government immediately putting in place and properly enforcing a permanent ban.”

The WWF is also urging the Chinese and US governments to collaborate with Mexico to intercept and halt the illegal transport and sale of totoaba maws, which are thought to be moved via drug-smuggling routes or hidden in legal fish products.

In 2015, Mexico’s federal environment agency Profepa revealed the totoaba maws were more valuable than cocaine in the country, with a kilogram selling for the same as 1.5kg of the drug. The price uncovered by EAL investigators make the swim bladders 10 times more valuable than caviar and 30 times more than elephant ivory.

With the extinction of the vaquita looming, an $4m emergency plan is being put in place to round up a few individuals, with the help of US navy-trained dolphins, and place them in a sanctuary. However, capturing vaquita has not been attempted before, meaning the success of the plan is uncertain.

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38 million pieces of plastic waste found on uninhabited South Pacific island

Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn group, is covered by 18 tonnes of plastic – the highest density of anthropogenic debris recorded anywhere in the world
Elle Hunt The Guardian 16 May 17;

One of the world’s most remote places, an uninhabited coral atoll, is also one of its most polluted.

Henderson Island, a tiny landmass in the eastern South Pacific, has been found by marine scientists to have the highest density of anthropogenic debris recorded anywhere in the world, with 99.8% of the pollution plastic.

The nearly 18 tonnes of plastic piling up on an island that is otherwise mostly untouched by humans have been pointed to as evidence of the catastrophic, “grotesque” extent of marine plastic pollution.

Nearly 38m pieces of plastic were estimated to be on Henderson by researchers from the University of Tasmania and the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, weighing a combined 17.6 tonnes.

The majority of the debris – approximately 68% – was not even visible, with as many as 4,500 items per square metre buried to a depth of 10cm. About 13,000 new items were washing up daily.

Jennifer Lavers, of the University of Tasmania’s institute for marine and antarctic studies, told the Guardian the sheer volume of plastic pollution on Henderson had defied her expectations.

“I’ve travelled to some of the most far-flung islands in the world and regardless of where I’ve gone, in what year, and in what area of the ocean, the story is generally the same: the beaches are littered with evidence of human activity ...

“However, my thought was the remarkable remoteness of Henderson Island would have afforded it some protection. I was totally wrong.

“The quantity left me speechless and that’s why I went to such pains to document it in such detail.”

Lavers found hundreds of crabs living in rubbish such as bottle caps and cosmetics jars, and has been told of one living inside a doll’s head.

“From the looks on people’s faces, it was quite grotesque,” she said. “That was how I felt about all these crabs – we are not providing them a home, this is not a benefit to them.

“This plastic is old, it’s brittle, it’s sharp, it’s toxic. It was really quite tragic seeing these gorgeous crabs scuttling about, living in our waste.”

The largest of the four islands of the Pitcairn Island group, Henderson Island is a Unesco World Heritage Listed site and one of the few atolls in the world whose ecology has been practically untouched by humans.

The island exhibits remarkable biological diversity given it covers only 3,700 hectares, with 10 endemic species of plant and four land bird species. Its isolation had, until recently, afforded it protection from most human activities.

Lavers said her findings had proved to her nowhere was safe from plastic pollution. “All corners of the globe are already being impacted.”

Like seabirds and turtles, remote islands serve as sentinels for the health of the wider marine ecosystem, “acting like a sieve or a trap, filtering out the ocean”, she said.

The state of Henderson – “the most polluted, most remote island in the whole world” – was indicative of the extent of the problem, and the “absolutely mind-boggling” rate at which plastic was being produced globally.

The 17.6 tonnes of plastic on Henderson accounted for only 1.98 seconds’ worth of annual production, found the paper – co-written by Lavers with Alexander Bond – published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

“Across the board, no country got a free pass on this – we found bottles from Germany, containers from Canada, I think it was a fishing crate from New Zealand. What that says is we all have a responsibility in this, and we have to sit up and pay attention to that.”

The threat to biodiversity posed by plastic debris has come under increased scrutiny as findings reveal the extent of the problem, with millions of tonnes ending up in the ocean every year.

In February, scientists reported “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution in the Mariana trench, with plastic waste facilitating the spread of industrial chemicals to one of the most remote and inaccessible places on the planet.

At the world oceans summit in early March, Indonesia pledged to put up to $1bn a year towards reducing plastic and other waste products polluting its waters, setting a goal of a 70% reduction in marine waste within eight years.

Laver said individuals and governments had a part to play in reducing the amount of plastic polluting the world’s oceans, but the key was urgency.

“For me, marine plastic pollution is the new climate change, but I would like for us to not make the same mistakes. We’ve been arguing about climate change, and whether it exists and what is changing, for the better part of 40 years ...

“Let’s not wait for more science. Let’s not debate it. The rate of plastic in our oceans is absolutely phenomenal, and we need to do something now.”

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