Best of our wild blogs: 16 Aug 17

Pulau Ubin Nocturnal Bird Survey Report
Singapore Bird Group

From tarsiers to cloud rats, scientist strives to save Philippine species

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Singapore buildings ‘can withstand tremors from strongest quake’

They will remain structurally safe due to good construction, support from lift shafts: Experts
Jose Hong Straits Times 16 Aug 17;

When an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 hit Sumatra at the weekend, Singaporeans living in residential areas such as Sengkang and Tanjong Rhu felt the earth move.

As objects in their homes shook and rattled, the thought in many residents' minds was: Can my Housing Board block withstand the tremors?

"Yes" was the response of experts interviewed by The Straits Times.

"The quake would have to be three to four times stronger to cause some light damage in Singapore," said Associate Professor Li Bing of Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Even tremors from the strongest quake possible at the nearest fault zone to Singapore would not topple tall buildings here, like a 25-storey HDB block, the experts added.

Most likely, the building will experience low-level damage, but it would be structurally safe, said Assistant Professor David Lallemant of NTU's Earth Observatory of Singapore.

One reason is the lift shafts inside tall structures, he added. These shafts are built to support and prevent the buildings from swaying too much.

Prof Lallemant likened it to a shelf from furniture retailer Ikea: "The back part of the shelf - the metal 'x' - is what keeps it from swaying."

Another reason is that Singapore's buildings are well constructed, Prof Li said, adding: "Just as healthy people are less likely to get diseases."

In June 2000, Singapore was also shaken by tremors from an earthquake in Sumatra that measured 6.5 on the Richter scale.

They happened at around midnight and hundreds of residents from East Coast to Yio Chu Kang fled their homes as the series of strong tremors shook their beds and caused things to fall out of their cupboards.

Then Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng emphasised that such natural occurrences were normal. Singaporeans should not be too worried or concerned, he said, adding: "If the earthquake is very severe, then Singaporeans will of course feel it in their homes".

Since then, the Government has also adopted a set of building codes that includes guidelines on making new buildings more resistant to earthquakes.

It was introduced in 2013 by regulator Building and Construction Authority (BCA). Older buildings that undergo major renovations will be brought up to the new standards.

Around the same time, a study concluded that it is unlikely for a quake to occur near and powerful enough to damage buildings in Singapore.

It was done by Professor Pan Tso-Chien of NTU's Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management.

The fault zone nearest to Singapore is the Sumatra fault and the strongest recorded earthquake it generated was of magnitude 7.7 in 1892.

In 1943, an earthquake struck at the point of the Sumatra fault that is closest to Singapore, around 400km away. The most powerful tremor it caused was of magnitude 7.6.

A BCA spokesman told The Straits Times that seismic waves from earthquakes along this fault zone closest to Singapore would arrive here at levels not significant enough to cause structural damage to buildings.

However, senior research fellow Aron Meltzner of NTU's Earth Observatory of Singapore urged caution. Although no similarly powerful tremors have occurred along the Sumatra fault since World War II, this does not mean it will not happen in the future, he said.

"Magnitude-7.7 earthquakes have happened in our historical past. We should plan for the likelihood of that within our lifetime," he added.

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Malaysia: It’s not supposed to rain but weather experts know why

The Star 16 Aug 17;

PETALING JAYA: The heavy bouts of rain these few days are raising many an eyebrow because this time of the year is when Malaysia is, by norm, hot and dry.

But weather experts aren’t surprised.

“The downpour in many areas in Peninsular Malaysia is caused by the north-westerly winds coming from the Indian Ocean, transmitting high humidity to Malaysia.

“The rains in Sabah and Sarawak are caused by high moisture levels in the air and active oscillation, resulting in thunderstorms,” said Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment director-general Alui Bahari.

He said the rains would subside on Friday.

Fire and Rescue Department director-general Datuk Wira Wan Mohd Nor Ibrahim said firemen were busy responding to weather-related disasters. And so is the Malaysian Civil Defence Force (APM).

A spokesman told The Star that APM officers and assets were already deployed to flood hotspots.

“Our role is to carry out rescue operations and transport victims to the relief centres,” he said. “We also clean and inspect the victims’ homes for any venomous creatures.”

APM also provides training, especially to those living in flood-prone areas, on what needs to be done should a disaster occur.

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Malaysia: Higher cost of environs-friendly containers cause for concern

YEE XIANG YUN The Star 15 Aug 17;

JOHOR BARU: Many food operators are still hesitant about making the switch from polystyrene containers to environmentally-friendly food packaging due to the higher cost involved.

Federation of Hawkers and Petty Traders Association Malaysia president Yow Boon Choon said the difference in cost was about 1:3 in ratio and some of them were not keen to pay more for the environmentally-friendly food packaging such as biodegradable plastic containers.

He said such food packaging costs about 20 sen each compared to the few sen for each conventional polystyrene container.

Yow, also Johor South Petty and Mobile Traders Association chairman, said the traders did realise that it was a healthier choice and better for the environ­ment to make the switch but that the cost is still a main concern for them.

“At least 30% of the food operators in Johor have already made the switch from polystyrene ahead of the state government’s move to make Johor plastic and polystyrene-free starting from January 1 next year.

“The remaining operators have expressed their fear that the new packaging would increase their operational costs.

“But I am sure that once more people start to use and get used to the environmentally-friendly containers, the price will become cheaper,” he said.

He said most food operators absorb the cost of takeaway con­tainers and only a small number impose such charges on customers, which varies from 30 sen to 50 sen.

Yow said the federation had advised food and beverage operators, especially in Johor, to make the switch soon as it benefits the consumers and gives them peace of mind when taking away their food in environmentally-friendly packaging.

He said he hopes that they would gradually start making the switch so that there would not be a rush to buy the new containers when the time draws near for the ruling to be implemented.

“I also hope the state government will be strict and firm in the implementation of the no-polystyrene ruling come next year.

“This is to prevent the traders from suffering losses once they stock up on the new takeaway containers and also inconsistency,” he added.

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Cambodia: Rare crocodile eggs hatched at conservation center

SOPHENG CHEANG Associated Press Yahoo News 15 Aug 17;

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Nine eggs of an endangered crocodile species found in the wild in June and taken to a conservation center in southern Cambodia have hatched, conservationists announced Tuesday.

The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and Cambodia's Fisheries Administration said the eggs of nine Siamese crocodiles have hatched at the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Center after being retrieved from the wild to protect them from poachers and predators.

The WCS says the crocodile, with an estimated global population of around 410, is found only in Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, with the greatest number in Cambodia. The species is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because its numbers are rapidly shrinking.

The June discovery of 19 eggs was the first Siamese crocodile nest recorded in six years of research and protection in Koh Kong's Sre Ambel area.

The conservation center was established by the two organizations to safeguard endangered reptiles such as Siamese crocodiles and Royal turtles.

"We will take care of these hatchlings until they are able to survive in nature on their own," the groups' joint announcement quoted Som Sitha, WCS's technical adviser for the Sre Ambel Conservation Project, as saying. "We will then release some to the wild, and others will be kept for breeding."

His colleague Tun Sarorn, caretaker of Royal turtles and Siamese crocodiles at the center, expressed her excitement over the hatchlings.

"I am so excited to see these hatchlings. It is the first time I have taken care of them since arriving at the center," she was quoted as saying. "Before seeing them, I was surprised to hear their voices from inside the eggs. It was amazing, and I felt so happy because I realized they are coming out. I will feed them all in the next few days with small fish and frogs."

A different conservation group, WWF-Cambodia, separately announced encouraging news about another endangered species, the Irrawaddy, or Mekong, dolphin, which has a worldwide population of about 7,000, 90 percent of that in Bangladesh. In Cambodia, and Laos, there are an estimated 80 adults in the Mekong River. WWF-Cambodia announced Tuesday that from January through this week, they recorded two dolphin deaths and eight births, an improvement over the same period last year when there were four deaths and four births.

"More than ever, there is hope to believe it is possible to reverse the trend of the Mekong Dolphin decline," the group said in a statement.

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Can We Feed The World With Farmed Fish?


For years, scientists and activists have sounded the alarm that humans' appetite for seafood is outpacing what fishermen can sustainably catch.

But new research suggests there is space on the open ocean for farming essentially all the seafood humans can eat. A team of scientists led by Rebecca Gentry, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that widescale aquaculture utilizing much of the ocean's coastal waters could outproduce the global demand for seafood by a staggering 100 times.

Their paper, published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, could have significant implications for a planet whose human population is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050. Nearly every coastal country has the potential to meet its own domestic demand for seafood, "typically using only a minute fraction of its ocean territory," write the authors.

In their research, the scientists analyzed the potential of virtually every square mile of the ocean's surface for producing 120 different species of fish and 60 species of bivalves – that is, mussels, clams, oysters and scallops. They immediately eliminated ocean waters deeper than about 650 feet, since ocean aquaculture generally requires anchoring floating pens and cages to the seafloor. They sought out areas rich in dissolved oxygen and phytoplankton – essential for bivalves, which filter microscopic food from the water.

The researchers also excluded marine protected areas and regions where floating pens and cages might block shipping lanes and port entries or interfere with oil extraction.

They calculated that marine aquaculture could produce 16.5 billion tons of fish per year, or about 4,000 pounds per person.

"And we were being very, very conservative in our calculations," says co-author Halley Froehlich, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Barbara.

Froehlich says it's not likely that aquaculture will be practiced in every feasible location. "And we certainly would never need so much production," she says. "That number was really an overestimate to show what the potential is."

Still, even with a downsized calculation using a much more realistic fraction of the ocean's surface, the numbers are impressive: The scientists' math shows that an area of water about the size of Lake Michigan – roughly 1/67th of a percent of the ocean's surface – could produce about 110 million tons of fish and shellfish per year. That's about the amount of seafood caught annually by commercial fishermen, and about five times the globe's current aquaculture production, Froehlich says.

While the production potential of aquaculture is clearly massive, such volumes of fish and shellfish could not be grown without costs. Aquaculture can offer environmental benefits – but only under certain circumstances, and there are many ways in which aquaculture can go wrong.

Salmon farming in British Columbia has been associated with declines in certain streams' runs of wild salmon, since a parasite called the sea louse that sometimes thrives amid densely raised farmed fish can attack wild fish. (The issue is a contentious one, and scientists, activists and fish farming lobbyists still disagree over how directly salmon farms have impacted wild salmon.)

Many aquaculture operations also rely on wild-caught fish as feed. This has driven overfishing in some places, like Peru, whose anchovy population has been. Shrimp farming operations in Southeast Asia have become notorious for destroying mangrove thickets and pouring harmful effluent into estuaries.

"So, we know and we've seen how aquaculture can be done incorrectly, and we're looking at the potential for improvements," Froehlich says.

Max Troell, a scientist at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, co-authored an essay published in the same issue of Nature Ecology & Evolution that analyzes Gentry's and Froehlich's findings.

"The work of Gentry and colleagues shows that space is currently not a limiting factor for the expansion of oceanic aquaculture," Troell writes.

But there are other constraints. Growing fish means feeding them, and this, Troell tells The Salt in an email, requires either catching wild fish or growing high-protein vegetable crops on land. Since these are products already consumed by people, Troell notes in his commentary piece, "reducing competition with human food resources will be key for sustainability."

In a 2014 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Troell and several co-authors assessed aquaculture's potential to improve the resilience of the planet's food systems. In that paper they asked, "[D]oes continued growth in aquaculture enhance or undermine the potential of the global food system" to feed humanity?

The jury remains out on that question.

In an email interview, Troell tells The Salt that, if aquaculture production of fish is scaled up dramatically, "[t]he link to terrestrial feed sources will increase," and so will environmental impacts.

"For filter feeders like mussels, the story is different," he says.

Unlike fish, they don't need to be fed, since they filter naturally occurring nutrients and organic matter from the water.

This, says Troell, makes them "very beneficial species to scale up" in aquaculture.

Growing them could even be good for the environment. Froehlich tells The Salt that dense flotillas of shellfish pens could actually mitigate some types of pollution. For instance, such pens could be useful at river mouths, where nutrients from inland farmlands can cause algae blooms that, in turn, deplete the water's oxygen and create so-called "dead zones" – like the massive one that develops every summer in the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to polluted Mississippi River discharge.

Froehlich is continuing to study aquaculture's potential to sustainably feed the world, with some focus on different types of feed and how efficiently farmland can be used to help produce fish and shellfish. She notes that "fish are extremely efficient at converting feed material into body mass," and that some species can turn food into fat, bone, muscle and other tissue at a conversion ratio of nearly one to one. "That's a pound of feed in, and a pound of fish out," she notes.

Froehlich believes seafood consumption will eventually replace a considerable amount of land-based meat production, and she hopes to quantify the extent to which this could alleviate agricultural pressures on land and water resources.

"There's a discussion and a movement of people switching to pescatarian diets," she says. "So, we want to know, what will that translate into?"

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