Best of our wild blogs: 18 Jul 17

Singapore Raptor Report – Late Spring Migration, April-June 2017
Singapore Bird Group

Busting Shark’s Fin Sustainability Myths

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Philippines: Illegally mined minerals smuggled to Singapore

BusinessMirror 17 Jul 17;

THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has alerted the Singapore gov­ernment regarding the transport of illegally mined minerals from unauthorized dredging operations being conducted in Ma­colcol River in San Felipe, Zambales, that are reportedly being smuggled to Singapore.

Lawyer Eric Nuque, chief of the NBI-Environment Crime Division, said those involved in these illegal activities must be stopped and immediately arrested, which is why they have alerted the Singapore gov­ernment about the smuggling activities.

The NBI is conducting its own investiga­tion to find out who are the people behind the illegal dredging operations of black sand, white sand and lahar in Zambales, which are being smuggled to Singapore.

Earlier, the NBI arrested 10 foreign na­tionals allegedly involved in the illegal dredg­ing operations in Zambales.

Charges for the violation of Section 103 (Theft of Minerals) of Republic Act 7942— otherwise known as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995—were filed before the Office of the Provincial Prosecutor in Iba, Zambales, against Zhining Tang, Liao Nantu, Yichang Lin, Zhibin Xu, Jinewei Chen, Hongming Zhou, Wen Haihu, Yong Wang, Tang Peilong (all Chi­nese nationals) and Afrizon Hary (Indonesian).

The NBI said it had received information regarding the illegal extraction of lahar sand from the mouth of Macolcol River in San Felipe, Zambales, being undertaken by foreign dredging vessels commissioned by domestic firms that have no government permit.

After conducting a series of surveillance operations, the NBI arrested the foreigners.

“The 10 arrested foreign nationals, most of whom are Chinese, were caught operating the dredging vessel SL-D1 siphoning sand which is suspected to be black sand from the dead river and transporting its cargo to the mother vessel. Five vessels along the mouth of the Macolcol River were likewise seized. The confiscated vessels consist of one dredger vessel, one tugboat and three dumb barge,” NBI Director Dante Gierran said.

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Malaysia: Protecting our drinking water

Dr Zaki Zainudin New Straits Times 17 Jul 17;

This landfill in Kluang, Johor is believed to be the source of the leachate taht contaminated Sungai benut last month. Pix by Adnan Ibrahim

THE recent ammonia contamination at the Simpang Renggam Water Treatment Plant has many people up in arms, yet again. The ammoniacal nitrogen (NH3-N) level at the Sungai Benut intake was 13mg/L and levels were purported to be higher upstream.

The primary source appeared to be leachate, which originated from a landfill. Leachate from landfills are well documented to contain high levels of organics, ammonia and heavy metals.

Ammoniacal nitrogen in leachate is known to hover between 1,000 and 3,000mg/L. Legally, prior to discharging effluent into a river, the ammoniacal nitrogen has to be treated to reduce it to around 5mg/L as per the Environmental Quality (Control of Pollution from Solid Waste Transfer Station and Landfill) Regulations 2009.

Think about that. To lower the level from 1,000mg/L to 5mg/L, the wastewater treatment plant has to achieve at least a 200-fold reduction. This is possible from an engineering point of view, but the consequences of failure are gruesome.

And, in the case of structural failure (the bund is said to have “broken”, compounding the leachate contamination at Simpang Renggam) the effects can be most disconcerting.

Water contaminated with large amounts of ammonia not only emits a pungent odour, but can also react with chlorine (used as a disinfectant at the drinking water treatment plant) to produce chloramines. This reaction reduces the “potency” of disinfection to ward off bacteria (eg. E. coli) in water supplied to our homes.

Besides ammonia, leachate also has high levels of organics which can react with chlorine to produce trihalomethanes such as chloroform. In themselves, these substances are also harmful if ingested. Leachate also contains heavy metals such as lead (Pb), arsenic (As) and mercury (Hg).

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a wastewater treatment failure has occurred. There have been many incidences where drinking water treatment plants had to be shut down temporarily due to the failure of wastewater treatment plants located upstream.

The fact of the matter is there is no guarantee a wastewater treatment facility will function as intended — meeting limits as per the regulations, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Perhaps it is time we planned ahead for such failures and other unforeseen circumstances.

There are several ways to do this. The first option is to prevent the discharge of effluent, including treated effluent, into stretches of river that are upstream of water intake points.

While upstream development cannot be avoided in certain cases, the discharge can be channelled downstream, hence bypassing water intake points. Effluent-specific drains, pipes and outfalls can be constructed to channel treated or untreated effluent downstream or away from water intake points. To ensure that downstream river stretches are protected, the effluent load must be kept under control.

The second option is to have a buffer prior to release into rivers. The current practice is to release effluent directly into a river or drain after it has undergone treatment. Perhaps its time to rethink this practice.

Prior to discharge, it may be desirable to release the effluent into a holding pond that can act as a final buffer before it enters waterways. This holding pond not only functions as a buffer, but also provides an added layer of treatment.

Certain vegetation, which absorb pollutants (including ammonia, nitrate, phosphorous and heavy metals), can be grown in the pond to clean the water further. This technique is known as phytoremediation.

At larger scales, the effluent can be discharged into a constructed wetland, which works in a similar way.

Sometimes, the quality of water that has been put through phytoremediation is so good it can be recycled and reused for other, purposes; reducing or even avoiding the need for discharge altogether.

If the water treatment system fails, a holding pond or constructed wetland can provide added response time for corrective measures to be taken. In other words, the contamination would occur in the holding pond or constructed wetland before it goes into the river. This would give wastewater treatment plant operators time to seal off the discharge and stop untreated effluent from entering the river. However, not all failures can be remedied through these methods.

Sometimes, as in the case of Sungai Benut, where the bund broke and leachate entered the river, those measures would not work because the problem was due to structural failure.

Under such circumstances, a final resort would be to install online systems that monitor the water quality of the river in real-time. This data is relayed to plant managers and authorities.

The online stations have to be installed at locations that allow sufficient response time for treatment plants to shutdown if contamination is detected.

To avoid supply disruption, treatment plants need to ensure that there are sufficient water reserves throughout the shutdown period. This can be achieved via other strategies such as off-site storage.

In short, we need to expect the unexpected and prepare how to deal with them. Public health and safety are at stake.

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Malaysia: Viet man nabbed at KLIA for ivory smuggling

The Star 17 Jul 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian authorities have arrested a Vietnamese man and seized a stash of elephant ivory worth almost RM300,000 (US$70,000), an official said Monday.

The man was detained Friday at Kuala Lumpur International Airport after flying into the country from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, said KLIA Customs chief Hamzah Sundang.

Officials stopped the suspected smuggler -- whose identity was not revealed -- in the airport terminal as he was acting suspiciously.

When they checked his luggage, they found 10 packages containing elephant ivory weighing 36kg that had been cut into small pieces. Activists said the consignment was likely going to be fashioned into jewellery.

Authorities said the haul was worth about RM300,000.

The man had been due to travel on to Vietnam, where there is high demand for ivory which is prized locally for decorative purposes and in traditional medicine.

The latest seizure underlines Malaysia’s role as a transit point in the global wildlife smuggling trade.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong customs officials discovered 7.2 tonnes of ivory tusks in a shipment from Malaysia.

The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

Anyone found guilty of importing rare animals or their parts into Malaysia can be jailed for up to three years and fined.

Kanitha Krishnasamy, acting regional director for wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, hailed the latest discovery by Malaysian authorities, which follows recent seizures of rhino horns and pangolins.

She said the operations were “crippling illegal traders from profiting from this business”. - AFP

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Vietnam: Stop building, demolish buildings on Son Tra Nature Reserve -- experts

VietNamNet Bridge 17 Jul 17;

Nearly 200 scientists, biologists and conservationists, unanimously have agreed that the construction of all buildings on the Son Tra Nature Reserve should be stopped immediately.

The consensus was reached at a scientific conference on the conservation and sustainable development of ecological systems on the Son Tra Peninsula, held in Da Nang on Saturday.

The conference saw 11 reports and research papers submitted on biodiversity in the reserve as well as ideas and proposals for its sustainable development.

The scientists also agreed to petition the PM for stopping construction of new buildings on and reviewing tourism plans for the reserve.

The conference followed up on concerns voiced by the public as well as scientists when the Viet Nam National Tourism Administration announced a plan to “develop” the reserve.

The reserve, which shrank from 4,400ha to 2,500ha to accommodate resorts and hotels between 1977 and 2014, would have to give up another 1,056ha more for the new plan, that plans 1,600 luxury hotel rooms by 2030.

Of 25 hotels and resorts on the Son Tra Mountain that have been approved by the city, 18 are operating or under construction.

“The development of resorts and hotels as well as traffic routes, has interrupted the movement of wild species including the endangered Red-shanked douc langurs (Pygathrix nemaeus) living in the reserve,” said Dr Ha Thang Long, head of the representative office of the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) in Viet Nam.

He said construction of the InterContinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula Resort had separated the west and east sides of the reserve, interrupting the movement of wildlife animals including the Red-shanked douc langurs.

Director of the Southern Institute of Ecology, Luu Hong Truong, said the Son Tra Nature Reserve, 10km away from Da Nang, was really unique in Viet Nam and the world, with its biodiversity ranging from primary forests to ocean with more than 1,000 plants and 370 animal species.

Dr Nguyen Xuan Hoa of the Nha Trang Oceanography Institute said 42 per cent of coral reefs in the reserve had disappeared in the past decade (from 80.9ha in 2006 to 46.9ha in 2016) in sea area off Da Nang due to construction projects, pollution and over-fishing.

Hoa said coral reefs in the north of Son Tra peninsula (near InterContinental Da Nang had been almost entirely destroyed and 9ha of seabed badly damaged.

According to the latest report from the centre for biodiversity research and conservation (GreenViet), more than 237 herds of red-shanked douc langurs, comprising over 1,300 individuals, are living in the Son Tra Nature Reserve.

It said the development of buildings and poor control of tourism in the reserve would damage the ecological system which is an oxygen supplier for 4.3 million people each day.

Special regime

Chairman of the Da Nang City Tourism Association, Huynh Tan Vinh, who has sent a petition to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc asking for changes to the Son Tra Master Plan, said the Son Tra Nature Reserve was precious not only for Da Nang, but the whole of Viet Nam.

He said it must be strictly protected with a special regime involving responsible agencies and managers.

“We should protect the reserve before targeting tourism. The city can maintain the reserve as a site for tourists interested in exploring primary nature,” Vinh said.

“The city can build hotels and resorts in the downtown and coastal areas, but not in the reserve, please,” he pleaded.

Vinh said Da Nang could allow the operation of already hotels and resorts already built, but a moratorium was needed on new projects in the reserve.

Dr Nguyen Manh Ha with Viet Nam National Committee for Man and Biosphere (MAB), said part of the Son Tra Nature (2,591ha) can combine with 2,269ha of the Nam Hai Van protective forest to form a biosphere reserve.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Chi Thanh, vice chairman of Viet Nam Wetlands Association, said the current management overlap regarding control of Son Tra Nature Reserve must be removed.

Nguyen Duc Tu of IUCN Viet Nam said the organisation had sent a letter to Prime Minister regarding its concerns about the tourism plans for the Son Tra Reserve.

A National Assembly Deputy, Truong Trong Nghia, also said that all illegal constructions in the reserve should be demolished.

Last week, soil erosion caused by an illegally constructed villa polluted the Tien Sa beach, and observers said a larger of the Da Nang beach is likely to suffer similar pollution.

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Maize, rice, wheat: alarm at rising climate risk to vital crops

Simultaneous harvest failures in key regions would bring global famine, says the Met Office
Robin McKie The Guardian 15 Jul 17;

Governments may be seriously underestimating the risks of crop disasters occurring in major farming regions around the world, a study by British researchers has found.

The newly published research, by Met Office scientists, used advanced climate modelling to show that extreme weather events could devastate food production if they occurred in several key areas at the same time. Such an outcome could trigger widespread famine.

The scientists, led by Chris Kent, of the Met Office, focused their initial efforts on how extreme weather would affect maize, one of the world’s most widely grown crops. Heat and drought were the prime risks, although flooding was also included in the analysis.

The group found there is a 6% chance every decade that a simultaneous failure in maize production could occur in China and the US – the world’s main growers – which would result in widespread misery, particularly in Africa and south Asia, where maize is consumed directly as food.

“The impact would be felt at a global scale,” Kent told the Observer. “This is the first time we have been able to quantify the risk. It hasn’t been observed in the last 30 years, but the indications are that it is possible in the current climate.”

An example of the kind of disaster that could occur is provided by the maize harvests that failed last year in Africa. Communities in Zambia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Madagascar were affected and six million people were left on the brink of starvation. A joint failure of China and America’s maize harvest would have a far greater impact.

Having studied the risks facing maize production, the group is now following up this work by studying climate impacts on the world’s other staple crops – in particular rice, wheat and soya beans – in order to assess how weather extremes could affect their production.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, maize, rice and wheat together make up 51% of the world’s calorie intake. Billions of people rely on these crops for survival. Any disruption to their production would have calamitous consequences.

The trouble is that crop-growing methods and locations have changed considerably over time, as has the climate and the probability of extreme events, Kent told the Observer. “This means the number of relevant observations to the present-day growing of stable crops has been reduced, and that limits our ability to have useful estimates of the risks to the growing of these crops.”

To get round this problem, the team ran 1,400 climate model simulations on the Met Office’s new supercomputer to understand how climate might vary in the next few years and found that the probability of severe drought was higher than if estimated solely from past observations. The scientists concluded that current agricultural policies could considerably underestimate the true risk of climate-related shocks to maize growing and food supply.

The particular risk outlined by the study envisaged simultaneous catastrophic disruptions in China and the US. In 2014 total world production of maize was around 1 billion tonnes, with the US producing 360 million tonnes and China growing 215 million. If production in these two countries were hit by simultaneous extreme weather events, most likely droughts, more than 60% of global maize production would be hit.

A double whammy like this has never happened in the past, but the work by the Met Office indicates that there is now a real risk. In addition, there may be risks of similar events affecting rice, wheat or soya harvests. These are now being studied by the Met Office, which is also working with researchers in China in a bid to understand climate risks that might affect agricultural production.

“We have found that we are not as resilient as we thought when it comes to crop growing,” said Kirsty Lewis, science manager for the Met Office’s climate security team. “We have to understand the risks we face or there is a real danger we could get caught out. For now we don’t have the means to quantity the risks. We have to put that right.”

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