Malaysia: Dugong found dead on Mersing beach; likely entangled in fishing net

Ahmad Fairuz Othman New Straits Times 8 Sep 17;

The male dugong carcass was found beached at Pulau Sibu, Mersing. Pic courtesy Marine Park Department.

JOHOR BARU: The carcass of a dugong weighing about 100kg was found beached at Pulau Sibu, Mersing last night.

The male dugong was discovered by villagers on the beach of Kampung Lingka, Pulau Sibu at about 9pm.

Bruises on the dugong’s body and mouth indicate that it may have been entangled in a fishing net before its death.

Johor Health, Environment, Education and Information Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said a team from the state Marine Park Department and the MareCet non-profit organisation for marine mammals examined the carcass, and determined that it was a young dugong that had not reached maturity.

"Checks conducted by staff of the Marine Park Department and researchers from MareCet revealed that the dugong could have been caught in a net, based on bruises seen on its body and mouth.

"(It) probably died two to three days ago based on (its) state of decomposition.

"I am very concerned over the death of this dugong, as it is the second such incident this year," said Ayub, who added that the carcass was sent to the Pulau Tinggi Marine Park Centre, where it was later buried.

He said the two incidents will affect efforts to set up the Johor Dugong Sanctuary, which is being planned in an area between three islands off Mersing.

Ayub said there is a need for authorities to expedite the gazetting of the earmarked area, and for stricter enforcement on human activities to avoid similar incidents from recurring.

"The state government has allocated RM1 million for efforts to conserve dugongs in Johor, and this will be done by setting up (the Johor Dugong Sanctuary) that covers a 150,000ha area in waters between Pulau Besar, Pulau Rawa and Pulau Sibu.
"The sanctuary was proposed to protect this species of mammal," he added.

Ayub said there are an estimated 100 dugongs in the planned sanctuary area, which is known for its abundance of sea grass meadows which the sea cow feeds on.

In the earlier incident, a dugong carcass was found floating near a beach at Kampung Tanjung Balang, Pulau Tinggi, Mersing on April 20.

Dugong carcass washed ashore on Sibu Island
KATHLEEN ANN KILI The Star 8 Sep 17;

MERSING: The carcass of a young male dugong (sea cow) was found washed up on Sibu Island after it got stuck in a fishing net.

Johor Health, Environment, Education and Information Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat said that the mammal was discovered by children from a nearby village on Thursday.

He said that checks by the Johor Marine Park Department and MareCet Research Organisation revealed that the dugong had swelling on its body and around its mouth believed to have been caused by the net.

"The carcass of the dugong, which was not fully grown and weighed about 100kg, has been buried at Pulau Tinggi.

"We are truly saddened by this, it was the second case of a dead dugong found this year," he said in a statement here on Friday.

Ayub said that such incidents could affect the state government's plans to set up a dugong sanctuary in Johor.

"I have directed all relevant agencies to speed up the gazetting process and carried out the necessary enforcement to curb the issue.

"We have allocated RM1mil for the preservation of the dugong species in the state," he said adding that the waters off Pulau Besar, Pulau Rawa and Pulau Sibu, covering 150,000ha, have been proposed to be gazetted for the initiative.

He added that the area with ample seagrass - the staple food for dugongs - would become a habitat for at least 100 of the species.

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Malaysia: RM80mil of ivory and pangolin scales seized in Sabah

RUBEN SARIO The Star 8 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU:The Sabah Customs Department has seized RM80.5mil worth of elephant tusks and pangolin scales.

Department director-general Datuk Seri Subromaniam Tholasy said the contraband was seized from two containers at the Sepanggar port here on Aug 29.

He said the tusks and scales were believed to have originated from Nigeria and bound for China.

A 42-year-old local man has been arrested in connection with the seizure.

Customs confiscate illegal wildlife parts worth an astounding RM80.5mil
RUBEN SARIO The Star 9 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: It was declared as a shipment of peanuts but tucked inside the two 20-foot containers was something much more exotic.

Inspections by Customs officers at the Sepanggar Port here unveiled a massive cache of wildlife parts – elephant tusks and pangolin scales – worth a staggering RM80.5mil.

The Aug 29 attempt by an international syndicate using the country’s port as a transit point to smuggle out the cache was thwarted with this latest success.

Last July, the world’s largest seizure of ivory took place in Hong Kong when more than seven tonnes arrived in a shipping container from Malaysia.

The 7,200kg shipment – valued at £7.1mil (RM39.1mil) – was uncovered by the authorities in the former British colony, highlighting the huge demand for the illegal ivory trade.

The pangolin, which resembles an armadillo, is the world’s most hunted animal.

Their scales are sold in the black market in Asia for their supposedly “healing properties”.

Customs director-general Datuk Seri Subro­maniam Tholasy described the latest seizure as “shocking” due to its sheer volume.

“We want to know how 1,148 elephant tusks, weighing more than three tonnes, worth RM9.9mil, and five tonnes of pangolin scales valued at RM70.6mil could slip through a port of a nearby country before arriving in Sabah.

“I am warning all these syndicates not to use Malaysian ports as transhipment points to smuggle illegal wildlife parts.

“We have zero tolerance and will take stern action,” he told a press conference yesterday.

Subromaniam said initial investigations showed the elephant tusks and pangolin scales had originated from Nigeria and were believed to be bound for China.

“We have upgraded our capabilities to scan shipments of containers which is why we managed to detect tonnes of elephant tusks and pangolin scales hidden in between a shipment of peanuts,” Subromaniam said.

He said a 42-year-old Sabahan has been detained in connection with the seizure.

The case is being investigated under Section 135 of the Customs Act 1967 and the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001.

Animal parts and wildlife seized
The Star 8 Sep 17;

CHERAS: Protected animal parts and wildlife worth RM1mil were seized in two raids by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (Perhilitan).

“The seized items include teeth and nails of bears and tigers which have an estimated value of RM1mil,” Perhilitan enforcement division director Salman Saaban told a press conference yesterday.

The first raid conducted by Perhilitan Perak on Aug 26 saw the seizure of 188 bears’ nails, 21 bears’ teeth, 17 tigers’ nails, eight tigers’ teeth and a deer antler among others.

Salman said the items were found in a four-wheel drive vehicle driven by a Vietnamese, in an Orang Asli settlement in Legap, Sungai Siput, Perak.

The Vietnamese man, who has a work permit, was remanded under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716) and charged in court.

“We believe he is not acting alone. There could be a syndicate involving locals. We are investigating previous cases that might be linked to this case,” he added.

The second raid was conducted by Perhilitan Kelantan on Sept 6 at a premises in Kampung Terap Banggu, Kota Baru, after the department received a tip-off.

Salman said 1,433 tortoises of various species, 86 iguanas and 300 snakes were found in 60 boxes but no one was arrested.

He said the department believed the seized items were to be smuggled overseas.

WWF Malaysia: Concerted effort needed against illegal wildlife trade
STEPHANIE LEE The Star 9 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia is urging state and federal agencies and departments to work together to put a halt to the illegal wildlife trade.

Its chief executive officer (CEO) and executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma (pic) said among the ways this could be done was the sharing of resources such as manpower and intelligence.

"We must show to the world that we mean business when it comes to the survival of wildlife," he said in a statement here Saturday.

He said this when congratulating the Customs Department for its recent success in confiscating some RM80.5mil worth of elephant tusks and pangolin scales in Sepanggar port on Aug 29.

"We at WWF-Malaysia remain committed to fighting wildlife crime by providing technical expertise and sharing information with government agencies, such as to the district anti-poaching task forces in Sabah," Dr Dionysius said.

According to news reports, the recent confiscation of the tusks and pangolin scales is believed to have originated from Nigeria and bound for China.

Dr Dionysius said this was a huge crime against wildlife, especially so as elephants and pangolins are also facing habitat loss and low reproduction rates.

He said the adult female for both species can only produce a single offspring at one time, and in the case of elephants, has the longest pregnancy period of all mammals that lasts more than a year and a half.

"The death of even one member of the species has a major impact on the whole population," said Dr Dionysius.

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Vietnam: Quảng Nam launches elephant protection area

Viet Nam News 8 Sep 17;

QUẢNG NAM — A new elephant protection area was launched by the US and the central province of Quảng Nam in mountainous Nông Sơn District on Thursday.

This protected area will conserve 18,977 hectares of critical habitat for one of the last groups of endangered Asian elephants in the province.

The area, part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Green Annamites Project, will be invested with approximately US$24 million in Quảng Nam and Thừa Thiên-Huế provinces in assisting Việt Nam’s transition to climate-smart and low-emission development through improved forest protection, enhanced biodiversity conservation, and increased resilience of communities in 2016-20.

The US Government through USAID is working with Quảng Nam’s leaders to improve livelihoods for locals living in and around the protected area, conduct biodiversity monitoring, and raise conservation awareness among locals.

The initiative is part of the larger USAID Green Annamites project that partners with Quảng Nam and Thừa Thiên-Huế provinces to promote growth while conserving forests and biodiversity.

“Improving the lives of local communities, conserving biodiversity, and supporting provinces to implement sustainable economic growth programmes are an important part of the US commitment to Việt Nam. We are proud to partner with the Quảng Nam provincial leadership to provide a critical habitat for the endangered Asian elephant, while finding ways to improve the incomes of local farmers,” said US ambassador Ted Osius at the launch.

Việt Nam’s forests and biodiversity are not just important to the country’s culture, but also to sustain economic growth, increase agricultural production, and reduce risk from natural disasters.

“I am impressed with Việt Nam’s conservation efforts. The Government of Việt Nam recognises that conservation is just as important to present and future economic growth as investments in infrastructure.

“Việt Nam’s forest cover has been significantly increasing for the last two decades, and the country has established a system of 176 protected areas starting with the first national park, Cúc Phương, established in 1962,” Osius said.

Vice chairman of provincial People’s Committee Lê Trí Thanh said the province has allocated nearly 19,000ha for an elephant conservation centre in two communes – Quế Lâm and Phước Ninh – in the mountainous district.

Last year, a herd of seven elephants was found in the forest in Nông Sơn District.

Head of provincial sub-department of ranger and forest protection Phan Tuấn said the herd could develop as it includes males, females and calves.

He said the project would help local community and rangers protect the endangered elephant herd and rich biodiversity in the region.

The USAID Green Annamites Project, working in tandem with provincial authorities, will engage small-hold farmers and their families to improve livelihoods and increase investment in climate-smart agriculture while conserving natural biodiversity. — VNS

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India: With no government help, Mumbai flood victims are on their own

Vishal MANVE AFP Yahoo News 7 Sep 17;

When Surekha Chiplunkar's home started to flood during recent heavy rains in Mumbai she knew exactly what to do -- she had to; catastrophe comes every year and no one else was going to help.

Her family's tiny ground floor apartment in central Mumbai is one of hundreds of thousands of homes in India's financial capital that regularly flood during the monsoon months of June to September.

"We grab all of our possessions and move to one of our neighbours on a higher floor until the water subsides," explains the 60-year-old.

Last week, as floods wreaked unaccustomed havoc across parts of Texas, global news coverage was dominated by scenes of Americans being winched to safety.

People in Houston, America's fourth biggest city, told reporters of their anguish at being forced from their homes by the unusually fierce Hurricane Harvey, as a sophisticated rescue and recovery operation revved into high gear.

President Donald Trump visited the affected area twice, while his vice president, Mike Pence, also went to assure Texans that the might of the US government was behind them, and would help them pick up the pieces in the wake of a storm that caused tens of billions of dollars' damage and killed around 60 people.

At the same time, half a world away, monsoon rains were dumping millions of gallons of water on India.

Mumbai, a city of around 20 million inhabitants where at least ten people died, was brought to a virtual standstill for two days.

But there were no prime ministerial visits; no pledges of national unity; no promises to help the slum dwellers rebuild their washed-away homes.

India largely shrugged and carried on, almost inured to a near-annual tragedy.

"No one from the government comes to check to see if we have managed to survive the floods or not," said Chiplunker.

"People from top floors provide us with food during flooding as we cannot cook for ourselves."

The help provided by members of the community during a disaster is often referred to, usually by local newspapers and leaders, as the "spirit of Mumbai".

- 'Financial loss' -

Many of the homes that flood in Mumbai are shanties packed tightly into narrow dark alleyways lining the city's sprawling slums.

The slums, where over 50 percent of Mumbai's population live, become covered in a sea of blue tarpaulin every monsoon as residents try to keep out whatever rain they can.

But sturdily-built houses flood as well. Chiplunkar, her three sons, one daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, live in a basic flat built in an old chawl, or tenement, which used to house Mumbai's mill workers.

"We prepare for every monsoon by packing our belongings in plastic covers and keeping buckets ready," Aditya Jadhav, who lives in the one-room apartment opposite, tells AFP.

The speed with which the rain fell -- more than 315 millimetres (12 inches) in just a few hours -- caught both families by surprise this year though.

"We were shocked. A lot of our valuables were damaged this time including a refrigerator and washing machine, causing us a lot of financial loss," says Chiplunkar.

- British-era drains -

Activists claim Mumbai's susceptibility to floods has worsened in recent years due to a rapid construction boom that is trying to keep up with the city's swelling population.

They blame many in power as well as property developers for an insatiable desire to make money from luxury residential tower developments built on reclaimed land.

An estimated 40 percent of Mumbai's mangrove cover, which is extremely effective in helping to drain water, has been destroyed over the past decade to make way for glitzy high-rises.

"Mumbai's estuaries have been tampered with and there is no space for water to flow out," Stalin D, a director of the environmental non-profit organisation Vanashakti, told AFP.

Mumbai's drainage system was built by the British in the 1860s when the population was a tenth of what it is now. Many drains are full of rubbish and desilting operations are often inadequate, activists say.

While Chiplunkar and her neighbours are used to fleeing the floods at short notice, there's one aspect they can never get used to -- cleaning up on their return.

"All of us fall sick as the water is very dirty and sometimes we find dead rats in it. The children are particularly prone to getting diseases," she says.

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Q&A: our plastic addiction is out of control. How can we consume less?

Our air, water and salt are contaminated by plastic and the impact on our health is unknown. While we wait for the findings, here are ways to reduce plastic use
Damian Carrington The Guardian 8 Sep 17;

Tap water around the world is contaminated with tiny plastic fibres, the Guardian revealed this week, and other pilot studies have revealed microplastics in beer, sugar, salt and honey, as well as in seafood, in the air in cities and in homes. The impact on health of this apparently pervasive pollution is unknown, though microplastics do harm some marine life and scientists are calling for urgent research.

Where do the microplastics come from?
The biggest sources are synthetic clothing and dust from tyres and road markings. But all the millions of tonnes of plastic released each year eventually break down in the environment into tiny pieces.

Can I avoid consuming microplastics, say by filtering water?

“We can’t filter ourselves out of this mess,” says Sherri Mason, at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who conducted the tap water analyses. “Our study indicated that even water which undergoes filtration still has plastic. It is a ubiquitous contaminant, so if we really want to solve this problem, we need to start with our daily habits and [reducing] consumption of this material. I know this isn’t the answer people want, but it’s the inconvenient truth.”

How can I reduce my use of plastic?
As huge numbers of plastic fibres are released during every wash of synthetic clothes, choosing sustainable, natural fibre clothing is a good start, says Mason. Using reusable water bottles and avoiding plastic straws are also good steps, says Laura Grant, from the UK’s Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management: “Prevention is the best answer – to not use plastic in the first place.” Plastic bag taxes across the UK have already led to billions of single-use bags not being used and a forthcoming ban on microbeads in personal hygiene products will also help a little.

Can I avoid washing millions of plastic fibres down the drain every week?
Some fabrics are much worse than others, with acrylic the biggest shedder, says Plymouth University’s Imogen Napper, who did the first research on the topic. A standard load of acrylic clothes shed 729,000 fibres, with polyester shedding 496,000 and cotton-polyester mixes shedding 138,000. “There is room for improvement in the filters on washing machines,” she says, though finer filters risk getting clogged more often. But start-up innovators are beginning to tackle the issue, with the Cora Ball claiming to snag the fibres in the drum, while the GuppyFriend washing bag aims to contain them. Handwashing won’t really help, Napper says: “The fibres are still going to be there.”

Could all plastic be done away with?
Not at the moment. Some packaging is needed, especially for food, which would spoil more quickly without it and add to the food waste problem. So there’s a balance, says Linda Crichton at Wrap, but people should complain to retailers about over-packaging and much more plastic needs to be recycled – currently it’s just 15%.

Can all plastics be recycled?
In theory, yes. Most important, says Crichton, is the message about bottles: “If it is plastic and bottle shaped it can be recycled.” That means shampoo and bleach bottles, as well as drinks and milk bottles, she says, with 97% of local authorities accepting them. Tubs, pots and trays are more complicated and Crichton says people in the UK should use the postcode locator on the RecycleNow website to find out about their area. She also says some supermarkets now collect thin plastics, such as bags and wraps, that are otherwise hard to recycle.

What about a deposit return scheme for bottles?
About 400 plastic bottles are sold every second in the UK but only half are recycled. But in Germany, where people get a small refund on returning a bottle, more than 98% are returned. Scotland is now introducing a scheme and there is growing pressure for the whole UK to follow suit. But the widescale return of glass milk bottles could be tricky, says Crichton: “I am one of the few people who still gets their milk in glass bottles but a lot of that infrastructure has disappeared.”

How else can I stop plastic polluting the environment?
Making sure rubbish doesn’t get blown away by the wind is a simple but important step, says Grant, as this causes a surprisingly large amount of plastic litter. That means closing bin lids and tying bags properly. There’s also the big issue of plastic fibres from clothing.

What should I demand of politicians for the future?
Plenty. Household recycling rates in England have flatlined at 44% in recent years, so local authorities need to increase funding and ambition. A lot of research is needed on the impacts of microplastics and governments must then regulate or incentivise so the worst are better managed or replaced with new materials. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have already mandated that short-life plastics must be made from biodegradable materials, meaning even if they end up in the environment, they will eventually disappear.

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