Best of our wild blogs: 12 Jul 17

Surveying East Coast shores after the rain
wild shores of singapore

26–27 Jul 2017 @ NUS LT31 – Aquatic Invasive Alien Species in Southeast Asia Symposium: open to public and free
Otterman speaks

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Malaysia: Seagrass meadows—critical habitats for juvenile fish and dugongs in the Johor islands

Phys.Org 11 Jul 17;

Scientists at University of Malaya, Malaysia, have found that the seagrass meadows in Johor harbor three times more juvenile fish than coral reefs. They also found that the dugong herds there prefer certain types of meadows over others.

Seagrass, the world's oldest living thing, is a marine flowering plant that forms vast underwater meadows throughout all the oceans of the world, except in the Antarctic. These flowering plants first appeared in fossil records 100 million years ago and are the key to the survival of our seas, by providing oxygen, filtering out pollutants and bacteria, and capturing large stores of carbon that would otherwise contribute to climate warming.

Despite these, seagrasses do not enjoy as high a public profile as coral reefs and mangroves. A team of researchers at the University of Malaya is motivated to raise the profile of seagrass by studying how these plants contribute to something that is naturally compelling to most people – as a rich, productive habitat and a source of food.

The researchers began their project by documenting the types and numbers of fish life in the seagrass meadows around the islands of Johor, and did the same in coral reefs as a way of juxtaposing the two ecosystems. The usual way of doing this kind of study is to drag a trawl net to dredge up all the marine life on the sea-bed.

However, the researchers wanted to avoid destructive sampling as they were working in marine parks. As such, GoPro underwater cameras were deployed in a series of 2 x 2 m plots within the seagrass beds and coral reefs to view the types of fishes that visited the ecosystems, and how they utilized the space.

The method was painstaking, because it took roughly one day to collect just three samples in the field, and they needed at least sixty!

After eighteen months of sampling across different seasons and locations, Nina Ho Ann Jin, MSc student of the project, found three times more juvenile fishes than adult fishes in the seagrass video recordings. She also noted that fishes in the seagrass meadows spent most of their time feeding, while those in the adjacent coral reefs were more occupied by defending their territory.

Clearly, the two ecosystems have very different roles from the viewpoint of the average fish: seagrasses are nursery and feeding areas, whereas coral reefs are the home of adult fish. These two ecosystems complement each other in supporting the survival needs of marine organisms at different parts of their life cycle.

Thus, seagrasses are no less important than coral reefs in providing us with marine resources, and deserve much more public attention than they have currently received.

Recently, the researchers turned their attention to studying the feeding ecology of dugongs because they depend almost entirely on seagrass as a food source. These shy 'sea cows' have great popular appeal, and by showing the public how closely linked their fates are with that of their seagrass habitats, the profile for seagrass conservation is also raised.

There is a thriving dugong population in the researchers' long-term study area in the Johor islands.

The researchers tracked the feeding patterns of dugongs by mapping out their feeding trails across different seasons.

Feeding trails are sinuous, bare tracks left behind by dugongs when they graze by ripping the seagrass up from the roots upward.

Using the geographical approach, Harris Heng Wei Khang, MPhil student, was able to identify dugong feeding hotspots within the meadows, where dugongs return to feed on preferentially over and over again.

Harris Heng is now focusing on finding out why these locations are preferred over others, and has a hypothesis that plant nutrient content may be the key factor.

As a result of this work, the researchers' local NGO collaborator has been able to zone the meadows for different levels of protection, based on whether the dugongs use them consistently as feeding grounds or not. This information has also been used to present a persuasive case for establishing a State-sanctioned dugong sanctuary in the area.

Dugong feeding trail in seagrass meadow, Johor islands (October 2017). Credit: Jillian Ooi Lean Sim

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Indonesia gives assurance 2015 haze will not recur this year

Saifulbahri Ismail Channel NewsAsia 11 Jul 17;

JAKARTA: Indonesia has given the assurance that the massive forest fires that caused thick haze to blanket parts of the country and its neighbours in 2015 will not recur this year.

Indonesia has put in place several processes and resources to prevent a similar episode from happening, Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Tuesday (Jul 11) at the end of his visit to Palembang and Jakarta.

On Monday, Mr Masagos met South Sumatra governor Alex Noerdin in Palembang.

The following day in Jakarta, Mr Masagos met Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto and Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

During these meetings, Mr Masagos took the opportunity to revisit the transboundary haze issue. He noted that Indonesia's efforts to tackle forest fires have already seen good results last year.

"There was little haze that came to Singapore and I complimented the efforts by the government. President Jokowi had personally carried out meetings with the various apparatus of the government locally and nationally to ensure the occurrence of haze that happened in 2015 does not happen again," Mr Masagos said to Singapore media.

Mr Masagos added that Singapore stands ready to help Indonesia fight transboundary haze in the region.

"We do stand ready to offer, should it be activated at this point of time, assets like the C130 plane which can be activated to Indonesia to do cloud seeding. We also stand ready to ship our SCDF (officers) and their equipment, as well as to provide accurate satellite maps to know where the hotspots are occurring, wherever these are activated by the Indonesian government," said Mr Masagos.

Among the measures taken by Indonesia to tackle the forest fires: The introduction of a five-year moratorium on the issuance of new permits for palm oil concessions. Several provinces that were prone to forest fires were also quick to declare emergency status upon detecting hotspots; and last year, the Peatland Restoration Agency was set up to restore millions of hectares of degraded peatland.

"The result has been extraordinary. This year, the hotspots that occur - previously there were thousands, but now (there are) only hundreds. It means the government's efforts are also being appreciated by other countries, especially Singapore, which always gets the haze that affects the lives of its people," said Mr Wiranto to reporters, after meeting Mr Masagos at his office.

Mr Masagos also reiterated that the Singapore government will continue supporting efforts to prevent haze from occurring.

"We will use the Transboundary Haze Pollution Act to its full effect, if we can, against directors of companies who let fire continue unabated, causing haze to Singapore. If they are in Singapore, they have to answer for the things that their company has or has not done. If they are guilty, or we find they are chargeable, we will put them to court," said Mr Masagos.

Mr Masagos said that Singapore and Indonesia are also interested in beginning cooperation in the areas of waste management, waste-to-energy management and water management.

Indonesia ready to prevent a repeat of haze crisis: Masagos
Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said he received assurance from regional and national officials in Indonesia that the transboundary haze crisis in 2015 will not happen again.
Francis Chan Straits Times 11 Jul 17;

JAKARTA - Indonesia is ready to prevent a repeat of the transboundary haze crisis, which last occurred two years ago, resulting in record air pollution levels across the region.

Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said he received the assurance from regional and national officials in Indonesia during his two-day visit to Indonesia this week.

"We have already seen good results last year that there was little haze that came to Singapore and I complimented the efforts the government (and) President Jokowi who… personally carried out meetings with the various apparatus of the government, locally and nationally to ensure the recurrence of the haze that happened in 2015 does not happen again," said Mr Masagos, referring to Indonesian President Joko Widodo by his popular nickname.

The minister, who was speaking to reporters in Jakarta on Tuesday (July 11) before he returned to Singapore, had met senior officials from Palembang in South Sumatra province, as well as the capital Jakarta, to reaffirm Singapore's commitment and cooperation with Indonesia in addressing environmental challenges.

In 2015, raging flames from land burning in Kalimantan and Sumatra led to a transboundary haze crisis that was not only the worst on record, but had also pushed Indonesia to the verge of a national emergency.

The choking haze led to widespread efforts by the government to prevent and suppress land and forest fires early and these have kept the number of hot spots in Indonesia low so far, although experts have said favourable weather conditions have also helped.

Mr Masagos noted the assurances from his meetings with South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin and Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto, "that there have been a lot of processes and resources that have been put in place to prevent a recurrence of the haze this year".

He also said Singapore respects Indonesia's wish to tackle the haze issue on its own and recognises that its efforts have seen some good results with little or no haze affecting Singapore last year.

Singapore, however, is ready to offer assistance and, should it be needed, assets such as a C-130 aircraft from the air force can be sent to Indonesia to conduct cloud-seeding to help put out fires, he added.

"We also stand ready to ship our SCDF… as well as to provide accurate satellite maps to know where the hotspots are occurring - wherever these are activated by the Indonesian government, we will stand ready to help," he added.

Mr Masagos' visit comes just two months before Indonesia and Singapore are set to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties and his trip was also meant to underscore the importance of close relations. "President Jokowi will be visiting Singapore in September and all of us want to celebrate this on a positive note," he added.

The minister also met Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan, who offered to cooperate with Singapore in areas of waste-management, waste-to-energy management, and water management with the various ministries under his charge.

Mr Wiranto said during his meeting with Mr Masagos that there is a need to strengthen the relationship between the two countries regardless of political and economic circumstances, "because good relations and political or economic success go hand-in-hand".

He also thanked Singapore for its willingness to assist Indonesia on its fight against forest fires. "Cooperation on this issue is needed now and in the future because the haze brings suffering to people," said Mr Wiranto. "I hope cooperation on this issue can be taken to the next level."

Singapore pledges cooperation with Indonesia to tackle haze
SIAU MING EN Today Online 13 Jul 17;

SINGAPORE — Ahead of the need for continued vigilance in the upcoming dry season, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli has told Indonesian leaders that Singapore is committed to help combat fires should the need arise.

During a two-day visit to Jakarta and Palembang which ended on Tuesday, Mr Masagos reaffirmed the Republic’s commitment to cooperate with Indonesia in addressing environmental challenges, including the haze issue.

He told Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto in Jakarta that Singapore is prepared to provide a C-130 aircraft for cloud seeding operations, a Singapore Civil Defence Force team to provide assessment and planning assistance in fire-fighting efforts, up to two C-130 aircraft to ferry the fire-fighting assistance team, as well as high-resolution satellite pictures of fires and the coordinates of the fire sites.

Mr Masagos also expressed his appreciation for the measures put in place by the Indonesian Government, which contributed to the haze-free skies last year.

Thanking Mr Masagos for conveying the Singapore Government’s support, Coordinating Minister Wiranto also stressed the need for close cooperation in combatting the haze.

Transboundary haze, a long-standing problem in South-east Asia, is largely caused by the drainage of carbon-rich peatland, as well as fires started by farmers and companies to clear land for agriculture and industrial plantations.

Between September and November 2015, Singapore experienced its worst haze, with the Pollutant Standards Index hitting hazardous levels.

In Palembang, Mr Masagos met South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin who shared the province’s efforts to prevent fires during the upcoming dry season and beyond. These include early warning alerts for hotspots, regional deployment of assets for quicker response to fires, and a stronger coordination among all stakeholders.

Singapore also affirmed its willingness to collaborate with South Sumatra on training and sustainable development programmes.

At an earlier panel discussion at the Singapore Dialogue on Sustainable World Resources in April, Mr Noerdin pledged that Singapore and the region will not experience haze arising from forest fires in the Indonesian province this year despite forecasts of a longer and hotter dry season.

During his visit to Indonesia earlier this week, Mr Masagos also met with Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

They discussed collaboration on water and waste management, and waste-to-energy (WTE) systems.

Mr Luhut expressed interest in learning more about WTE processes and technologies, including conducting technical exchanges and capacity building initiatives.

Noting the strengthening bilateral ties, both Mr Masagos and Mr Luhut said there is scope to build on this long-standing relationship for further cooperation. SIAU MING EN

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‘Malaysians increasingly concerned about green issues’

The Star 12 Jul 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sustainable development and environmental conservation are among the top concerns for Malaysians who have given their feedback about charting the nation’s future in the next 30 years.

Chief Secretary to the Govern­ment Tan Sri Ali Hamsa (pic) said other concerns raised during the ongoing dialogues on Transformasi Negara 2050 (TN50) included better infrastructure, education, security and quality of life.

“I think everybody is concerned about the environment, more so in Sabah, which is at the forefront of conservation efforts,” he said following a dialogue with Federal and state civil servants on TN50 at the Univer­siti Malaysia Sabah campus here.

He said the dialogue in Sabah was the first to involve civil servants from different levels.

Ali said a similar session would be held in Kuching on July 21.

He said all heads of department should also consider organising the dialogues to get feedback.

Noting that previous dialogues involving various groups such as youths had received enthusiastic response, Ali said this showed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s initiative of wanting Malaysians to chart their future was paying off.

Earlier during the dialogue, Ali said he was struck by how Malay­sians who participated in the dialogues had voiced the need for the environment to be safeguarded.

“This is the message I want to get across to civil servants, especially those in positions of approving projects,” he said.

“Make sure we preserve our green areas and places that are pristine such as forests.

“We have determined the land use in various places and we should stick to it.”

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Malaysia: Zero-poaching plan in Perak to be made model for others

Nuradzimmah Daim New Straits Times 11 Jul 17;

IPOH: In an effort to achieve zero-poaching on Malayan tigers in the country by 2020, concerted efforts among various agencies are being drawn up with Belum-Temengor Forest Complex being slated to become a model for other states.

To achieve this, several suggestions were put forth in a high-level dialogue held here today, including the setting up of a secretariat to address poaching in Belum-Temengor that would see engagement with various government agencies and non-governmental organisations.

World Worldlife Fund Malaysia chief executive officer and executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma said the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, who attended the dialogue, expressed his interest in the conservation efforts to ensure the engagement with some 5,000 Orang Asli in the area.

Dionysius said the secretariat, led by the state Economic Planning Unit, would include various agencies including the Wildlife and National Parks Department and the Armed Forces, as well as environmental non-governmental organisation.

"We are looking at implementing the efforts on Belum-Temenggor forest that can be used as a model nationwide.

"It will also involve closer cooperation with neighbouring countries as smuggling of endangered species is a transboundary crime.

"In this respect, we are also looking at the tiger conservation plan that is currently being implemented by Nepal which saw success with zero poaching in 2011 and 2014," he said.

The Wildlife and National Parks Department director-general Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim said amendments to Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716) is also in the pipeline to give more bite to enforcement agencies, with maximum penalties for hunting protected wildlife under Section 68 and Section 69 would be amended from RM500,000 and five-year jail to RM1 million, and to also include whipping.

He said a survey on tiger population here, which started early this year is expected to be concluded by end of the year. It was reported that the number of Malayan tigers had dropped to between 250 and 340 from 500 in 2008.

Meanwhile, Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir reiterated the state's commitment in addressing the poaching issue in Belum-Temengor which covers an area of 8,000 sqkm and is one of the largest habitat for the Malayan tiger population in the country.

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Cambodia Bans Exports of Two Types of Sand From Koh Kong

Radio Free Asia 11 Jul 17;

Cambodia’s government has permanently banned exports of sand for construction and sand mud from Koh Kong province amid impact concerns, but an environmental group on Tuesday urged it to end the export of all types of sand and demanded greater transparency for the industry’s practices.

Mines and Energy minister Suy Sem announced the ban on July 10 to replace a temporary one issued last year after a group of watchdog organizations demanded a reexamination of the environmental and social impact assessments of dredging in the province, ministry spokesperson Meng Saktheara told RFA’s Khmer Service on Tuesday.

“Large-scale sand export businesses were previously granted licenses in [Koh Kong province] … so the ministry decided to permanently place a ban on such sand exports to end the practice,” he said.

Meng Saktheara confirmed that the new ban only covers sand for construction and sand mud export businesses in Koh Kong province.

Any company in possession of a business license for exporting the two types of sand must immediately terminate its activities, he added.

Meanwhile, any company licensed to mine silica, used for making glass, may continue to do so, Meng Saktheara said, as this kind of sand “falls under a separate provision from sand for construction and sand mud.”

The Ministry of Mines and Energy banned sand exports in November 2016 amid public outrage over large inconsistencies between Cambodia’s recorded sand exports and Singapore’s recorded sand imports from Cambodia, but had recently said that silica sand was not part of the ban.

Call for total ban

Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, director of the NGO Mother Nature Cambodia, told RFA Tuesday that the livelihoods of residents in Koh Kong will continue to be negatively impacted until all sand—including silica—is included in the export ban and dredging is stopped.

“Sand has been dredged using outdated methods for the past several years [affecting local waterways], and we have seen residents become increasingly destitute,” said the Spanish environmentalist, who was expelled from Cambodia in February 2015 after leading a campaign against a controversial dam and placed on a blacklist that prevents his return to the country.

“[The government] would do better to ban all kinds of sand dredging activities and should stop employing the pretext of dredging to restore water channels for local residents—no one can accept such pretext.”

Additionally, Gonzalez-Davidson said, authorities should make public its data on industry activities to ensure that residents are aware of how much sand has been dredged from the region and how companies have profited.

“The government should be more transparent and accountable to Cambodian citizens in regard to the amount of sand being exported overseas over the past several years, and how much money has been taxed,” he said.

In mid-June, opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker and vice-chairman of parliament’s Economy, Finance, Banking and Audit Commission Son Chhay requested that Mines and Energy minister Suy Sem disclose all information and official documents related to Cambodia’s silica exports, but has yet to receive a response.

Reported by Chandara Yang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Koh Kong sand exports permanently banned after volume discrepancies
Yesenia Amaro and Phak Seangly Phnom Penh Post 12 Jul 17;

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has permanently banned sand exports from Koh Kong province – eight months after it imposed a temporary ban following controversy over large discrepancies found in sand export figures to Singapore.

Mines Minister Suy Sem on Monday signed a prakas and set of guidelines detailing the changes, though activists and locals remained sceptical yesterday that the rules would prevent irregular export of sand overseas.

According to the documents, dated Monday, the ministry has “completely halted the export of all kinds of construction sand and mud sand from Koh Kong province to foreign countries”.

According to Meng Saktheara, secretary of state and spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the previous temporary measure contained a loophole that allowed exporters to continue dredging as long as they maintained they were not exporting. The new permanent measure, he said, closes the loophole by invalidating all current licences for dredging for export in Koh Kong.

“It basically bans all dredging for export purposes, which means that all existing licences will be deemed invalid if they are related to exports,” he said.

Any company wishing to dredge in Koh Kong for domestic purposes will have to submit a new application, and will have to move to certain zones that have been designated by the ministry for small-scale sand-dredging operations only, Saktheara said.

The ministry also has designated several “red zones” where no sand dredging will be allowed, he added.

On Monday, an activist claimed a company had begun dredging in the Tatai River in front of a sand processing facility that is currently under construction. This area would be inside of the “red zone” under the new guidelines.

Two companies, Udom Seima Peanich Industry & Mines Co Ltd and SCTWN Development Co Ltd, were given approval by authorities, including the Ministry of Environment, on January 11 to conduct environmental impact assessments for sand dredging in Trapaing Roung and Tatay Krom communes.

“[Companies] will have to stop all current operations in the area,” Saktheara said.

The sand washing facility, meanwhile, would need to be removed, and because the equipment would be considered “large scale”, it couldn’t be reinstalled in the safe zones for small scale operations, he added.

Sao Sopheap, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, said yesterday morning, before the new ban had been announced, that SCTWN Development Co Ltd had requested permission from the ministry to install the facility.

“We have no objection to establish a sand washing station or facility,” he said, adding that Environment Minister Say Sam Al had requested full environmental impact assessments be conducted. He could not be reached for further comment following the announcement of the ban.

Sopheap said the company had requested permission to dredge for domestic use, but was still waiting for a licence from the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

According to the guidelines, companies will only be allowed to operate small-scale-dredging operations in five zones on the Tatai, Trapaing Roung and Sre Ambel rivers.

These operations would not be able to dredge more than 50 cubic metres of sand per day, and must not transport more than 20 cubic metres at a time.

Saktheara said the permanent ban only applies to Koh Kong, as officials had conducted a reassessment there of environmental and social impacts after concerns were raised by civil society.

“Results of the assessment indicate significant impact on the ecology and local communities if large-scale sand dredging continues operating,” he said. “That’s why we decided to issue this.”

Saktheara explained that the ministry will have to study other areas as well.

“Companies can still apply [for export licences in other rivers], but it doesn’t mean they will get it,” he said.

The ministry will hold a workshop on July 21 to inform local authorities how to implement the new measures, he said.

Meng Heng, an activist with Mother Nature, welcomed the announcement, but remained unconvinced it would work.

He said there have been several directives from the ministry, and yet violations continue to take place by companies either secretly operating, or through alleged government collusion. “In reality, the companies still operate,” he said. “We want the ministry to punish the illegal companies.”

Heng pointed to SCTWN company as a potential example of what companies can still get away with. “We wonder why the ministry issued the announcement, but why the construction of the facility is almost completed?” he asked. He added that he would like to see a nationwide ban that also includes silica sand, which was recently revealed to be exempt from the ban.

Cambodia bans sand exports after environmental group pressure
Today Online 12 Jul 17;

PHNOM PENH — Cambodia has banned all sand exports on environmental grounds, the Ministry of Mines and Energy said on Wednesday (July 12), officially ending the sale of sand to Singapore which has for years used it to reclaim land along its coasts.

The ministry said most of Cambodia’s sand had gone towards the expansion of the island city-state of Singapore, and it would now have to look for other sources.

A ministry spokesman, Meng Saktheara, said the government was responding to the concerns of the campaigners and it also agreed that large-scale sand mining was indeed damaging.

Environmental groups have been pressing the government to stop the trade, saying the digging and dredging of sand has had a serious impact on coastal ecosystems and surrounding land.

“Their worries are right that the risks are massive so the ministry decided to ban sand exports and large-scale sand dredging,” Mr Meng Saktheara told Reuters.

He said Singapore was Cambodia’s top market for sand until last year when the temporary ban came into force.

Singapore’s Ministry of National Development (MND) said in January the Republic stopped importing sand from Cambodia after the ban took effect in November last year.

The MND had stressed that Singapore sets strict criteria for imports of sand, including on environmental protection, but reiterated that sand is imported on a commercial basis and it is the contractors who must meet the criteria. It also said that Singapore has not come across any illegal shipments of sand into the country.

In November, Cambodian authorities temporarily halted sand exports by companies that hold valid permits after local activists found discrepancies in the export and import trade data from the United Nations.

The data showed that Singapore reported 73.6 million tonnes in sand imports from Cambodia since 2007. Yet Mr Meng Saktheara said some 16 million tonnes left for Singapore during the same period.

It was not clear why there was such a big difference between the official government figure for exports to Singapore since 2007 and the UN figure.

The extraction and export of Cambodian sand has been controversial, as firms allegedly extract sand in defiance of quotas, destroying coastal mangrove systems in the process and affecting the livelihoods of local fishing communities.

Aside from Cambodia, Singapore also imports sand from the Philippines and Myanmar, according to media reports.

Some environmental groups remained sceptical about the ban being properly enforced.

“Sand is being dredged ... are we sure that sand is not being exported?” asked Mr Lim Kimsor, an activist with the group Mother Nature. AGENCIES

Cambodia bans sand exports after environmental group pressure
Prak Chan Thul Reuters 12 Jul 17;

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia has banned all sand exports on environmental grounds, the Ministry of Mines and Energy said on Wednesday, officially ending the sale of sand to Singapore which has for years used it to reclaim land along its coasts.

The ministry said most of Cambodia's sand had gone toward the expansion of the island city-state of Singapore, and it would now have to look for other sources.

Environmental groups have been pressing the government to stop the trade, saying the digging and dredging of sand has had a serious impact on coastal ecosystems and surrounding land.

Groups have complained that sand in recent months has been exported illegally following a temporary ban in November 2016.

A ministry spokesman, Meng Saktheara, said the government was responding to the concerns of the campaigners and it also agreed that large-scale sand mining was indeed damaging.

"Their worries are right that the risks are massive so the ministry decided to ban sand exports and large-scale sand dredging," Meng Saktheara told Reuters.

Meng Saktheara said Singapore was Cambodia's top market for sand until last year when the temporary ban came into force, and had it imported some 16 million tonnes of sand since 2007.

U.N. trade data released last year showed that Singapore had imported more than 72 million tonnes of sand, worth more than $740 million, from Cambodia since 2007.

It was not clear why there was such a big difference between the official government figure for exports to Singapore since 2007 and the U.N. figure.

Singapore's embassy in Phnom Penh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some environmental groups remained skeptical about the ban being properly enforced.

"Sand is being dredged ... are we sure that sand is not being exported?" asked Lim Kimsor, an activist with the group Mother Nature.

Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Robert Birsel

Cambodia bans sand exports permanently
BBC 13 Jul 17;

Cambodia has permanently banned sand exports, officially ending sales to Singapore which has used it for years as part of its land reclamation.

Environmental groups said digging and dredging has had a serious impact on coastal ecosystems.

A temporary ban was imposed late last year, but campaigners allege dredging has continued.

Singapore has imported more than 72 million tonnes of sand from Cambodia since 2007, according to UN figures.

That figure conflicts with the Cambodian government's numbers, which say Singapore imported just 16 million tonnes in the period.

Essential for reclamation

Singapore has expanded its landmass by more than 20% since its independence in 1965, and considers reclamation a key strategy for accommodating a growing population.

Sand is essential to reclamation, but on recent projects Singapore has begun experimenting with techniques that would require less sand.

The country's reclamation projects are built by private contractors, who must adhere to sand import rules that include environmental protection measures.

'Massive risks'

A spokesman for Cambodia's Ministry of Mines and Energy, Meng Saktheara, said the new, permanent ban was in response to environmental concerns.

"Their worries are right that the risks are massive, so the ministry decided to ban sand exports and large-scale sand dredging," he said.

Other countries have previously imposed various types of sand export bans.

Malaysia imposed a ban on exports in 1997, while Indonesia announced a ban on exporting land sand to Singapore in 2007.

'Make a difference'

Environment groups are hopeful that the ban will put a stop to the trade, which they say has been causing environmental damage for years.

"I think it will make a difference. It will not be easy for the sand mining companies to continue exporting," said Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, an activist with the group Mother Nature.

Media and activist attention on the trade would now make it difficult for companies to flout the rules, he added.

Cambodia bans exports of coastal sand, mainly to Singapore
AFP AsiaOne 14 Jul 17;

Phnom Penh - Cambodia has outlawed sand exports from a coastal region where it has been primarily funnelled in huge quantities to Singapore, a move met with scepticism from activists who said previous bans on the destructive industry had failed to take root.

Environmental groups have long accused Cambodia of running damaging and corrupt sand dredging operations along the southwest coast and the Mekong river.

Most of the sand has been shipped to Singapore to fuel the wealthy city-state's rapid expansion - a resource plunder that activists say has devastated local Cambodian communities and ecosystems.


The new decree, issued on July 10, bars all exports of "construction sand and mud sand" from Koh Kong province to overseas but stops short of outlawing domestic sales.

It was issued in response to environmental concerns, said Meng Saktheara, a spokesman for Cambodia's mining and energy ministry.

"If we continue to allow large-scale sand dredging (in Koh Kong) for exports, it would hugely affect the natural environment and local communities," he said.

Environmental activists welcomed the move but expressed doubt it would fully halt a trade that has survived previous bans.

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Vietnam: Sand exploiters to be prosecuted to deter others

In his document, Vietnamese Prime Minister ordered to have strict penalty on illicit sand exploiters.
VietnamNet 11 Jul 17;

Relevant agencies will prosecute some cases as examples to deter others from illegal exploitation. Local authorities will be authorized to grant sand exploitation certificates and they will be in charge of supervising and impose penalties on violators.

In addition, the PM asked to strengthen researches and manufacturing alternative materials for local demands.

When it comes to the erosion in coastal embankment in the Mekong delta province of Ca Mau, the PM said that in many years, erosion has happened seriously in many localities nationwide, especially in the Mekong delta region. By statistics, around 1,794 eroded places are reported in 59/63 cities and provinces with the length of 2,300km while it is 700km eroded places along river dykes in Mekong delta.

The Mekong Delta mangrove forests declining at alarming rate and averagely, over 500 hectare of forest in the region has been destroyed annually.

The government has sent its directive to remedy the circumstance. From 2011 till now, a large amount taken from the state budget has been spent to fix 37km eroded beach. Apart from which, VND652 billion is spent to repair 23.8km eroded places in Ca Mau.

Basically, constructions of embankments in the coastal area really worked. Nevertheless, because of asynchronous investment, several constructions were degraded; accordingly, erosion still takes place affecting people’s lives and threatening the coastal embankment system and infrastructure.

It requires huge spending for erosion, salinity intrusion and mangrove forests declining in the Mekong delta according to the Prime Minister. It is an urgent mission; yet, it needs overall solution.

At first, the government directed to monitor and evacuate people to safer shelters. At the same, local administrations should not allow construction of houses in erosion-prone areas as well as tighten control over sand exploitation.

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Thailand struggles to address ongoing plastic pollution on its beaches

Erica Cirino, Oceans Deeply UPI 11 Jul 17;

PHUKET, Thailand, July 11 (UPI) -- It's a hot, sunny Saturday morning and I'm at Nai Harn Beach in the Rawai region of Phuket, Thailand. I'm watching about 50 people of a wide variety of ages, ethnicities and fitness levels crawl on their knees and elbows through a lagoon. They're participating in a free workout and beach cleanup session called Clean the Beach Boot Camp that is run by Krix Luther, a Muay Thai fighter and fitness instructor from the United Kingdom. After they finish their exercises and cap off the session with some yoga, Luther asks the participants to each put on one rubber glove, grab some black trash bags and start picking up plastic trash that litters the beach.

Plastic is everywhere in Thailand. And as more people in Thailand and other rapidly modernizing Asian nations adopt the Western convenience culture, the region's plastic pollution problem has only worsened, according to researchers. A recent report by the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy found that Thailand is one of the world's top-five plastic polluters, a group that includes China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Together those countries are responsible for more than half of the 8 million metric tons of plastic trash that washes into the ocean annually. But cleaning up plastic pollution in Thailand is a challenge due to cultural, infrastructure and environmental obstacles, according to locals and expats working to address the issue.

"Today there are few systematic efforts to clean up plastic from the beaches and streets of Thailand," said Emanuele Mario Montalde, an 18-year-old Thai man who recently graduated high school and plans on pursuing a career in environmental conservation. "That's because past generations didn't need to clean it up - they didn't use plastic like we do now, so there isn't a system in place to deal with it, and people don't think to clean it up."

Every other weekend, Luther and a group of certified fitness instructors hold the beach boot camp. He says he got the idea in 2012 after finding his favorite Phuket beach, Nai Harn, covered with trash while holding a fitness session for expats there.

"One day we were training on Nai Harn and saw the worst amount of trash I have ever seen," said Luther, who moved to Thailand nine years ago. "In fact, I was afraid someone was going to get hurt. So I stopped the workout 45 minutes in and asked everyone to clean for 20 minutes. They all had huge smiles on their face afterwards, from the adrenaline of the workout and satisfaction of cleaning."

Luther said more than 4,149 people have participated in his two-hour weekend boot camp cleanups since May 2013. He noted that most people who attend are expats and their families, as well as teachers and their students. After an hour of cleaning the beach at a recent session, Luther and his group had installed two bamboo garbage receptacles and collected at least 660lb (300kg) of trash - everything from nylon fishing nets and ropes to plastic water bottles, bags and drinking straws.

At the boot camp cleanup at Nai Harn, a Thai woman named Nangy Phanchana said that as recently as 15 years ago much of the trash on local beaches was banana leaves. Phanchana, who works in communications, said Thais had traditionally used banana leaves to hold food because they could be tossed on the ground after the meal was eaten.

In fact, many longtime residents and visitors connect the replacement of banana leaves with plastic to a huge accumulation of plastic trash on roadsides, fields and beaches. They complained that despite the amounts of trash piling up, the government was not taking meaningful action to address the plastic pollution problem. That has led Thai activists to take matters into their own hands, coordinating online petitions, such as one that pushes local convenience stores to charge a fee for plastic bags and straws. It's also inspired people like Luther to organize cleanups, although they say doing so is not always easy.

"Many people in Thailand tell me they wish Clean the Beach Boot Camp could do more cleanups all over Thailand," said Luther. "Yet while local Thai people are recognizing the problem, it's not always easy to get them to participate."

For one thing, people tend to focus on cleaning just their own patch of property. One afternoon I saw this in action at a lunch meeting with another beach cleanup organizer, Richard Cramp, a high-school history teacher originally from the U.K. Cramp volunteers with Trash Hero Phuket, a branch of beach cleanup organization Trash Hero, which was founded in Thailand in 2013 and today has 30 chapters worldwide. As we sat at a restaurant on Nai Yang beach, we watched a supervisor instruct uniformed young men to sweep the sand around the eatery's perimeter. Using straw brooms, they piled the trash into small heaps, which they buried in the sand.

Like Luther, Cramp said it can be difficult for his organization to get Thais to participate in beach cleanups due to the lower-class cultural connotations associated with cleaning trash.

"Of course we like clean roads and beaches," said Tidarat Pimvoramatakul, a Thai woman who attended Luther's Clean the Beach Boot Camp, "but we are not accustomed to cleaning up trash outside our homes. But times are changing now and more people are paying attention to the need to keep the environment clean, because that is really our home, too."

Despite such cultural obstacles, Cramp and Luther said they've been able to recruit more locals as attitudes toward trash cleaning begin to shift.

Inadequate waste management systems pose another challenge in Thailand and other rapidly modernizing Asian nations.

"These countries have all succeeded at achieving significant growth in recent years, and they are at a stage of economic growth in which consumer demand for safe and disposable products is growing much more rapidly than local waste-management infrastructure," states the Ocean Conservancy report. "Of the leakage that comes from land-based sources, we found that 75 percent comes from uncollected waste, while the remaining 25 percent leaks from within the waste-management system itself."

Cramp said his volunteers had recently found old refrigerators washed up on the beach that had apparently been dumped into the sea.

Seasonality is another factor affecting the volume and type of plastic that ends up on Thailand's beaches. Luther and Cramp reported an increase in the amount of single-use plastic items - bottles, bags and packaging - on beaches during the November to February tourist season. Large amounts of trash also wash up during seasonal high tides. And in Thailand's rainy season greater volumes of plastic trash wash into the sea from land and freshwater sources.

"Plastic pollution in Thailand, and worldwide, harms wildlife, human health and our overall quality of life," said Luther. "We need to acknowledge the problem and work together if we want to reduce our negative impact on the earth and live healthier, happier lives. Cleaning beaches is one small thing we can all do to help."

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Thai seafood giant commits to major fishing reforms

The Star 11 Jul 17;

Bangkok (AFP) - Thai Union, one of the world's largest seafood conglomerates, said Tuesday it will overhaul its fishing practices to protect against labour abuses and unsustainable trawling, a move hailed by Greenpeace as "huge progress".

The Thai food giant -- which owns major global brands such as Chicken of the Sea, John West and Petit Navire -- has long been a bete noire to those campaigning against overfishing and abusive working conditions on boats.

But on Tuesday it released a joint statement with Greenpeace announcing a series of reforms that both said should encourage other seafood behemoths to follow suit.

"This marks huge progress for our oceans and marine life and for the rights of people working in the seafood industry," Greenpeace International Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid said in the statement.

"Now is the time for other companies to step up, and show similar leadership."

Among the commitments Thai Union has made is to cut the number of fish aggregating devices (FADs) it uses by 50 percent by 2020 and reduce longline fishing.

FADs, which float on the surface to attract fish, and longlines are effective ways of catching large hauls of lucrative fish like tuna.

But they often result in reams of other animals being caught, including endangered sharks and turtles.

The reforms will also target working conditions on board Thai Union boats and those of its suppliers including an extended moratorium on "transshipping".

Transshipping is a method many fishing giants use to keep trawlers at sea as long as possible, often for years at a time.

Catches are transferred to refrigerated transport vessels at sea, saving the time and fuel costs of returning to port.

While economically efficient, environmental groups have long warned that transshipping allows trawlers to hide illegal catches and often leads to slavery-like conditions for many of the low-paid fishermen who spend years onboard their boats.

Thai Union have also agreed to allow independent observers or digital tracking devices onto all their longline boats and will meet with Greenpeace every six months to assess implementation.

In the joint statement, CEO Thiraphong Chansiri said his company "has fully embraced its role as a leader for positive change as one of the largest seafood companies in the world."

Thai Union posted worldwide sales of $3.8 billion in 2016 and is targeting $8 billion revenue by 2020.

Thailand is the world's third largest seafood exporter but the industry has been dogged by allegations of rights abuses and cheap labour in its fishing fleets and many food processing factories.

The sector is mainly staffed by poor migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

The European Union has threatened to ban all its seafood products unless the military government tackles rampant illegal fishing among its fleets.

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'Make new rules' to save the oceans

Roger Harrabin BBC 12 Jul 17;

New rules are urgently needed to protect the open seas, scientists have warned.

A report to a UN ocean conference in New York points out that more than 60% of the ocean has no rules because it’s outside national jurisdiction.

It says the open ocean is at risk from climate change, over-fishing, deep sea mining, farm pollution and plastics.

The authors say one area – the Bay of Bengal - is at a tipping point which could impact on global fish stocks.

The report was commissioned to inform delegates preparing a UN resolution on governance of the open ocean.

Representatives in New York are preparing a text that could cover everything from establishing marine protected areas to distributing the benefits of valuable biotech products generated from the seas.

One of the report’s authors, Prof Alex Rogers from Oxford University, told BBC News: “This is very, very important. A lot of states are looking towards developing industrial activities in the ocean – fishing, deep-sea mining, renewable energy… even aquaculture offshore.

“It’s really vital that we come to some international agreement on how to protect or manage biodiversity on high seas in the face of all these pressures.”

The UN is focusing discussion on three areas:
Setting up a legal framework for marine conservation areas on the high seas - or other spatial measures like banning destructive fishing gear in vulnerable places;
A more rigorous environmental impact before industrial activities are undertaken;
Developing rules around marine genetic resources so all nations get a share of the wealth of the seas.

Together they are categorised under a new UN acronym – BBNJ. That’s Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction.

Prof Rogers’ report is a review of new science over the past five years. He says he realises how little is known about some essential ocean processes, and mentions the Bay of Bengal issue as a source of great concern.

The issue there is nitrogen, which performs an positive role in fertilising algae at the bottom of the food chain, but can also have negative effects if there’s too much of it in the water.

At the moment, nitrogen fertilisers in the Bay of Bengal are running off farmland and over-fertilising algae. This in turn encourages bacteria, which capture oxygen. Slowly marine life in the area disappears.

But the Bay of Bengal is now on the verge of going one destructive stage more.

The report says if oxygen levels decrease further as a result of run-off or increasing water temperatures, then the entire ocean basin may flip to a no-oxygen status.

In one of Nature’s paradoxes, this would then lead to different bacteria actually removing nitrogen from the water.

Prof Rogers said the de-nitrified water would then be carried away by ocean currents, and greatly reduce ocean productivity elsewhere.

Dr Greg Cowie from Edinburgh University told BBC News that the growing dead zone in the Bay of Bengal would have enormous local consequences.

“You have to remember there are 400 million people living round the rim of the bay. There are half a million fishers. If the situation gets much worse we are going to get a huge human problem,” he said.

Christiana Figueres, a former chief climate negotiator, is joining a push at the UN for a formal treaty process to safeguard the high seas.

She says a healthy ocean can buffer the planet against changing climate by continuing to soak up CO2 emissions from the air.

She told BBC News: “As with the atmosphere, the high seas belong to everyone. But they have also been damaged by all. What could be seen by some as the tragedy of the commons can also be recognized now as an opportunity for a radical recovery of the commons.”

Disease link

The deep sea is the biggest store of CO2 emissions from humanity, as ocean circulation pulls in carbon from the atmosphere and tiny marine plants called phytoplankton soak it up.

These are then eaten by creatures called zooplankton and their bodies sink to the ocean floor.

The Oxford scientists say as the seas warm, the abundance of phytoplankton may fall. This will impact the whole food web, including fish stocks and the rate at which CO2 is locked up on the sea bed.

They also say raised sea temperatures have resulted in the rise of Vibriobacteria, which live in warm seas and have been associated with a global increase in illnesses like cholera, gastroenteritis, wound infections and septicaemia.

They echo the many recent warnings about increasing quantities of plastics large and small, although they say the effects are as yet poorly understood.

Their report says the effects of ocean mining must be carefully monitored, too.

Meanwhile, a third UK pub group has announced it will stop using plastic straws is a small contribution to reducing ocean plastic waste. The Liberation Group, based in the West Country and the Channel Islands, is supporting Jersey’s Straws Suck campaign.

It follows a BBC News story highlighting a plea for plastic straws to be taxed because so many of them get blown into water courses.

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