Otters spotted in Bukit Panjang's newly revitalised Pang Sua pond

Lydia Lam Straits Times 15 sep 17;

SINGAPORE - Otters have been spotted in Bukit Panjang, with the OtterWatch Facebook page requesting for information from the public to help in its study of the mammals.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday (Sept 15) shared a video on Facebook of the creatures frolicking in Bukit Panjang's Pang Sua pond, which was revitalised as a wetland park in March this year.

The clip he shared shows two otters feasting on orange fish - which they are often photographed making a meal of.

The OtterWatch page said little is known about the newly sighted family.

It called for residents and visitors to share photos and videos of the otters if they are spotted.

Otter watcher Jeffery Teo told The Straits Times that the otters were likely from the Kranji area.

He added that otters have been previously spotted in Bukit Panjang, and a carcass was discovered there last year.

"They are always exploring," he said. "Last year, one or two otters were killed at Junction 10 shopping centre nearby. They got lost and tried to cross roads."

Mr Teo is also a member of the Otter Working Group, which is a volunteer group set up with several government agencies including the National Parks Board, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and PUB last year.

He said the group is aware of otter activities in Bukit Panjang but it receives "very few reports of them".

Otters can be found in several areas in Singapore, with the Bishan family the most well-known. There are also otters sighted in the Marina Bay area, Changi, Kallang and Pasir Ris.

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Malaysia: Penang crippled by floods, described as 'worst in years'

Tens of thousands of Penangites woke up to massive flash floods, triggered by overnight downpour, which crippled many parts of Penang today.
AUDREY DERMAWAN and MOHAMED BASYIR New Straits Times 15 Sep 17;

GEORGE TOWN: Tens of thousands of Penangites woke up to massive flash floods, triggered by overnight downpour, which crippled many parts of Penang today.

Traffic on most of the main roads were paralysed when vehicles were submerged in floodwaters between 0.3m and 0.6m in depth. More than 20 vehicles were trapped in the floods.

Houses in over 100 locations throughout the state were inundated in floodwaters, with some rising chest-high. Rescuers evacuated 17 people, including eight children who were trapped in their houses as a result of the floods as a downpour continued to pummel the state.

Schools, markets and an old folks home were also not spared. Thirteen senior citizens, four of whom bedridden, were carried by volunteers to the Caunter Hall Tua Peh Kong temple.

A funeral wake at a house in Taman Lumba Kuda, Batu Gantung, was complicated by floodwaters, which almost came up to the casket.

According to a villager, known only as Tan, in his 60s, this was the worst flood to hit the state since 1995.

"Everything happened so fast. The skies were clear when I woke up at 6am today. In less than an hour, the floodwater had risen up to hip-level.

"There was not much we could do," he told the New Straits Times.

Among the worst hit areas on the island were Jalan Kebun Lama, Jalan Masjid Negeri, Parit Lumba Kuda, Jalan Langkawi, Jalan P. Ramlee, Kampung Masjid, Kampung Makam, Jalan Kampung Jawa, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Kampung Paya, Kampung Nelayan, Kampung Sulup, Persiaran Relau, Taman Iping, Jalan Tengah Pondok Upeh and Taman Seri Indah.

Areas affected on the mainland included Mak Mandin, Jalan Bagan Jermal, Jalan Permatang Pauh, Taman Cantek, Jalan Bukit Tengah, Jalan Jelawat, Taman Senangin, Bertam Indah, Jalan Ong Yi How, Taman Bunga Raya , Kampung Bagan Jaya, Kampung Simpah , Lorong Perusahaan, Jalan Thamby Kechik, Bagan dalam and Kampung Sethu.

Power was also cut in Bandar Baru Air Itam after a substation was seen up in smoke.

Nearby the Taman Thean Teik substation, a couple was spotted perched on a rooftop when their house was almost completely submerged in water.

Forty people from 19 families in Teluk Kumbar, and a senior citizen from Mak Mandin were evacuated to a temporary shelter. They have since returned home.

Penang Civil Defence Department director Pang Ah Leh said they placed members on alert and several vehicles, including lorries and boats, were deployed to affected areas.

Trees were also uprooted while four landslips were reported on the island. At the Kayangan Puri Mutiara Apartment parking lot in Medan Fettes here, six cars were buried in an avalanche of mud.

Several flights to and from the Penang International Airport here were also reportedly delayed.

A Rapid Penang bus was also caught in the floodwaters, with most of its commuters soaked.

As of press time, a 29-year-old woman was reported missing after she was swept away by strong currents.

A Paya Terubong Fire and Rescue Department spokesman said the victim is believed to have fallen off her motorcycle into a 1m-deep drain.

"A search operation has been activated to look for the victim. We believe she may have been swept into the nearby river," he added.

State Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow blamed the flash floods on the inter-monsoon phenomenon experienced by the northern states.

Penang recorded the highest amount of rainfall ever in the state's history, which contributed to the floods in several areas.

State Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the highest amount of rain was 270mm, measured earlier today at the Air Itam dam.

"A month’s worth of came down within four hours, resulting in the flood we saw today.

“The dam was also filled up to 91.1 per cent by 12.15pm today compared to 74.6 per cent yesterday.

"The Teluk Bahang dam received 180mm of rainfall today, which is really high," he told a press conference.

Citizens Awareness Chant Group (Chant) adviser Yan Lee urged the Penang Island City Council's hillslope special team to inspect and hold a public consultation to inform the people that all development projects approved by the council are safe.

Meanwhile, numerous photos and video footages of the devastation caused by the flash floods spread throughout social media. Netizens also shared images of ‘teh tarik’-coloured water which inundated various parts of the island.

Amid the flash floods, netizens also took to social media to vent their frustration at the Penang government. They also poked fun at Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng's now-famous saying "Tak hujan tak banjir" (No rain, no floods).

Heavy rains trigger massive floods in Penang
lo tern chern The Star 15 Sep 17;

BUTTERWORTH: Heavy rains lashed Penang, resulting in flash floods on Friday.

State Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said as of 7.30am, floods were reported in Mak Mandin and Taman Cantik on the mainland.

In his Facebook post, he said areas in the island that were affected were Ayer Itam, Jalan P. Ramlee, Jalan Datuk Keramat, Jalan Thean Teik, Relau, Jalan Masjid Negeri, Jalan Lumba Kuda, Kampung Kubur, Teluk Bahang, Jalan Perak and Bayan Baru.

A minor landslide was also reported in Tanjung Bungah. Several cars were damaged, but no casualties were reported.

The sea tide is expected to continue rising due to the heavy rains.

Over 100 homes flooded, cars seen floating in Penang
lo tern chern, arnold loh, and crystal chiam The Star 15 Sep 17;

BUTTERWORTH: More than 100 homes in Penang were flooded after Friday's downpour.

According to the Fire and Rescue Department, the affected areas were 60 houses in Kampung Malaysia and Mak Mandin, Taman Cantek (12), Kampung Sethu (20) and Kampung Permatang Rawa (20).

Floods were also reported in 32 locations which include Jalan Bagan Jermal, Jalan Ong Yi How, Jalan Thamby Kechik, Tingkap Siakap 11, Taman Senangin, Kampung Bagan Jaya, Kampung Simpah, Kampung Perlis, Taman Segemal and the Jalan Nangka flat.

Department spokesman Mohd Azman Hussin said so far, no evacuations were necessary, but firemen were on standby.

The highway exit road from the North-South Expressway leading into Jalan Permatang Pauh in Seberang Jaya have also been closed due to floods.

The morning rush hour has been brought to a standstill by massive floods after a downpour that lasted all night.

All main routes to Penang's central business district are cut off by knee-deep to chest-high flood waters from 6am Friday.

In George Town, cars were seen floating at Bandar Baru Air Itam and Paya Terubong.

Firemen were spotted trying to secure several floating cars in Lebuhraya Thean Teik as thousands of residents dare not leave their high-rise homes for work.

A video of pupils at a private school sitting in a classroom with knee-deep muddy water has also begun circulating on social media.

In Tanjung Bungah, six cars were damaged in a landslide at the Kayangan Puri Mutiara Apartment in Medan Fettes.

Mohd Azman said firemen arrived at the scene at 7.30am.

"We conducted checks on the vehicles and removed fallen trees. No one was trapped," he said.

The work of removing the vehicles is being carried out by the Public Works Department and Penang Island City Council workers.

Flood warning sounds in Batu Ferringhi
arnold loh The Star 15 Sep 17;

GEORGE TOWN: A flood warning siren has been heard in Batu Ferringhi, cautioning residents that Sungai Satu's water level is rising again.

Batu Ferringhi Village Security and Development Committee secretary A. Sugumaran said the siren went off at about 7.30pm on Friday.

He said that this was a flood warning and not for an impending storm.

He added that the high tide in Batu Ferringhi is expected at around 10.30pm and could cause the river to swell again.

A flood warning was sounded earlier at 3pm as well. However, no alert was sounded for Friday morning's flood as waters began to rise at 5am when no one was manning the system.

Sugumaran said that the river broke its banks at 7am and flooded Kampung Kubur in 1.5m of swift-moving water.

"It was the first time in the living memory of Batu Ferringhi folk that floodwaters were almost at neck level," he said, adding that the committee had distributed 120 packs of meals as flood relief for the villagers.

Many parts of Penang island were struck by massive flash floods following heavy rain on Friday morning.

About 20 flights delayed in Penang due to bad weather
cavina lim The Star 15 Sep 17;

GEORGE TOWN: Almost 20 flights were delayed at the Penang International Airport here due to bad weather conditions.

The airport's senior manager Ramzi Ahmad said there were a total of eight delayed arrivals and 10 delayed departures Friday, comprising both domestic and international flights.

"This was due to bad weather conditions and not caused by the airport facilities," he said.

Ramzi said the longest estimated delayed time was not more than an hour for each flight.

"The delay is for the passengers' safety and it is always good to take precautions," he said.

Ramzi added that he had not received any reports from airlines regarding passenger complaints over the delayed flights.

104 Penang folks remain at flood relief centres
AUDREY DERMAWAN Straits Times 17 Sep 17;

GEORGE TOWN: Some 104 people affected by Friday's massive flash floods are still staying in four flood relief centres currently operating the state.

According to the Fire and Rescue Department, 31 people are being housed in the southwest district, Seberang Prai Utara (17 people) and Seberang Prai Tengah (56 people) as of 11pm yesterday.

The flood relief centres in the northeast district and Seberang Prai Selatan have since closed.

Earlier yesterday, the department said there were 559 people placed in seven flood relief centres in all five districts in the state

Tens of thousands of people woke up to a wet Friday which crippled many parts of Penang.

The flash floods also claimed the life of 30-year-old factory worker Noor Afidah Yahunas, who was reported missing after she fell from her motorcycle into a culvert in Paya Terubong, while on her way back from work.

Intense heavy downfall has contributed to the flash floods according the state government.

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Malaysia: Langkawi pounded by heavy rain, strong winds; tourism activities called off

Bernama New Straits Times 15 Sep 17;

LANGKAWI: A powerful storm is wreaking havoc in Langkawi, with continuous heavy rain and strong winds hampering activity on the island and causing widespread damage.

More than 10 vehicles were damaged after being hit by uprooted trees along Jalan Pantai Kok here, while the roofs of several houses were torn off by strong winds at several locations.

In spite of numerous pictures of damage and destruction making their rounds on social media, Langkawi OCPD Supt Dr Che Ghazali Che Awang said no one has yet come forward to report losses.

“They are probably still assessing the damage, but we have deployed our personnel to the ground to check the situation and to offer assistance where required,” he said.

Langkawi Disaster Management Committee Chairman Isahak Murat said three families at Kampung Belak at Mukim Kedawang were evacuated after water levels reached the floor of their homes.

“They are currently being sheltered at the Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Kedawang while waiting for the weather situation to improve,” said Isahak, who is also the Langkawi District Officer.

Earlier, he said that tour operators on the island have been advised to cease their seaside activities for the time being as a precautionary measure.

He also advised the fishing community to continue monitoring weather reports and to seek advice from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) before deciding to go out to sea.

“The committee’s operation room has been activated at the Langkawi District Office to enable the public to channel or obtain any information regarding flooding or storm disasters that have occurred in their areas,” he added.

The operation room can be contacted at 04-9666963. -- BERNAMA

Storm wreaks havoc in Langkawi, triggers flash floods in Sg Petani, Yan
ADIE SURI ZULKEFLI New Straits Times 15 Sep 17;

ALOR STAR: One hundred people in Kedah had been evacuated to relief centres after their homes were flooded following a continuous rainfall since yesterday evening.

Langkawi was the worst affected area with 59 people from 18 families forced to seek temporary shelter at the SMK Kedawang, while another 41 people from 10 families in Kampung Dakwah, Kuala Muda had to be relocated to Surau Kampung Tengah.

A powerful southwest wind pressure triggered the storm which wreaked havoc in Langkawi, damaging at least 10 vehicles after they were hit by uprooted trees along Jalan Pantai Kok.

Roofs of several houses in the area were also blown off.

The storm also forced the authorities to order tour operators on the island to temporarily cease their seaside activities as a precautionary measure.

Kedah Natural Disaster Management Secretariat coordinator Captain (Civil Defence Force) Saifuddin Abdullah as at 6pm today, the number of floods evacuees remained at 100 people.

He said the several hours of heavy rainfall also led to a landslide incident at Taman Permai Utama in Gurun but there was no report of injury.

Kedah Fire and Rescue Department public relations officer Mohamad Mustakim Mukhtar said eight families in Taman Permai Utama had been ordered to evacuate their homes following the landslide incident.

He said the order was issued after firefighters from Guar Cempedak station, who rushed to the scene upon receiving a distress call at about 3pm, inspected the area.

"Upon inspection, it was confirmed that there was a landslide involving a 30m slope behind the terrace houses.

"The eight families have been ordered to evacuate their houses for safety reasons," he said.

It was learnt that the heavy rainfall which lasted for several hours also triggered flash floods in Sungai Petani and Yan, affecting nearly 500 people.

Flood evacuees in Kedah rise to over 415
ADIE SURI ZULKEFLI New Straits Times 16 Sep 17;

ALOR STAR: The number of floods evacuees in Kedah jumped from 100 to 415 people as of 10pm Friday, with Bandar Baharu in Kulim being the latest area hit following continuous rainfall since Thursday evening.

In the Kuala Muda district, 214 people from 47 families have been evacuated to flood relief centres. They were forced to seek temporary shelter at the Kampung Tengah public hall and surau after their homes were inundated by waist-level floodwaters.

Langkawi was another badly-affected area, with 117 people from 18 families now being temporarily housed at the SMK Kedawang and Kampung Raja public halls.

A powerful southwest wind pressure triggered the storm which wreaked havoc in Langkawi, damaging at least 10 vehicles after they were hit by uprooted trees along Jalan Pantai Kok.

The roofs of several houses in the area were also blown off.

The storm also forced the authorities to order the island’s tour operators to temporarily cease all seaside activities as a precautionary measure.

Kedah Natural Disaster Management Secretariat coordinator Captain (Civil Defence Force) Saifuddin Abdullah said as at 10pm, 84 people from 25 families in Bandar Baharu, Kulim are seeking shelter at the relief centres in SK Bandar Baharu and Dewan Kampung Majidee.

It was reported that the continuous heavy rainfall also led to a landslide at Taman Permai Utama in Gurun but there was no report of injury.

Kedah Fire and Rescue Department public relations officer Mohamad Mustakim Mukhtar said eight families in Taman Permai Utama had been ordered to evacuate their homes following the landslide incident.

He said the order was issued after firefighters from the Guar Cempedak station, who rushed to the scene upon receiving a distress call about 3pm, inspected the area.

"Upon inspection, it was confirmed that there was a landslide involving a 30m slope behind the terrace houses.

"The eight families were ordered to evacuate their houses for safety reasons," he said.

It was learnt that the heavy rain, which lasted several hours, also triggered flash floods in Sungai Petani and Yan, affecting nearly 500 people.

Langkawi still floundering in flood waters; 285 residents evacuated
Bernama 17 Sep 17;

LANGKAWI: Flood waters in Langkawi have yet to recede, with the level at Sungai Kuala Melaka still at danger point.

According to the Langkawi District Disaster Management Operations Room, the river’s latest recorded level reading is 3.58 metres – above the danger level of 3.40 metres.

Continuous rain yesterday resulted in many residential areas and roads on the island to be inundated with water of up to 1.5 metres.

Meanwhile, 112 more flood victims have registered at two evacuation centres here, bringing the total number of evacuees to 285.

Of these, 175 have been placed at the evacuation centre in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Kedawang, while 110 have taken shelter at the Kampung Raja community hall in Padang Matsirat.

Besides the Welfare Department, various other organisations and private companies here have sent donations in the form of food and essential items to the evacuation centres. -- BERNAMA

Octogenarian among those relocated due to floods in Langkawi
Hamzah Osman New Straits Times 16 Sep 17;

LANGKAWI: An 87-year-old woman was among the flood victims seeking refuge at flood relief centre at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Kedawang here.

Siti Awan Ahmad and her five family members from Kampung Bohor Masjid were temporarily relocated at the centre at 5pm yesterday.

The victim, who is also a popular yeast trader said her house was inundated by knee-deep water due to continuous heavy downpour since 8am.

"I am old and weak. Thanks to the Malaysia Civil Defence Force personnel who helped carry me out of the house before they transported me here," she said.

Kuah state assemblyman Nor Saidi Nanyan and Langkawi district officer Isahak Murat went to visit the 87 victims from 25 families who were relocated at the centre while waiting for flood waters to recede.

The evacuees, aged between seven and 87 are from Kampung Gelam, Belak, Bohor Masjid, Padang Wahid, Tanjung and Bohor Tempoyak.

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Malaysia: Army clips bird smugglers' wings

geryl ogilvy The Star 15 Sep 17;

KUCHING: The Malaysian army foiled an attempt by four Indonesian nationals to smuggle 672 live magpies into West Kalimantan, Indonesia, at the border near Tebedu.

During the 4.40am incident on Friday, a border patrol stopped four men, aged between 29 and 32, who were carrying 56 enclosures and cages filled with the birds along a jungle track near the Immigration, Customs, Quarantine and Security complex at Tebedu, some 100km from here.

"Initial investigations reveal that the suspects were paid RM50 each to smuggle the birds out of the country.

"They used a jungle track in the wee hours of the morning in an attempt to avoid detection," a spokesman from the First Malaysian Infantry Division said in a statement.

The four suspects were reported to have entered Sarawak illegally.

Earlier at around 2am, the army detained two other Indonesians attempting to smuggle poisons across the Malaysian border.

The army has since lodged a report at the Tebedu police station and surrendered the six individuals to the Immigration detention depot at Simunjan, Serian.

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Malaysia: Join forces to stop fish bombing – Pang

Borneo Post 16 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Assistant Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Pang Yuk Ming has called on the relevant enforcement agencies to share their intelligence on fish bombing and join forces with his ministry to eradicate the illegal fishing activity.

Pang, who is chairman of the Anti-Fish Bombing Committee, said the professional non-governmental organization (NGO) Reef Check has conducted a long-term investigation and study on fish bombing activities in Sabah waters.

In the Reef Check’s report which was presented during the second Maritime Environmental Security Workshop 2017 recently, Pang said the NGO had identified at least three foreign vessels that have been resorting to large-scale fish bombing activities in Sabah waters.

He said the bombed fish was later processed into products such as salted fish.

“Any enforcement agencies who wish to have a copy of the detailed report can approach the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment.

“We are happy to share the information on fish bombing in order to curb this illegal activity,” he said yesterday.

Under Sabah’s Blue Ocean Strategy, Pang said the State was aiming to comply with the United Nation’s recommendation of having at least 10 per cent of its sea as protected area.

“I believe Sabah will be the first state that achieves this goal in the region.”

He went on to say that tourist arrivals from China, Taiwan and Korea were expected to increase significantly from 600,000 visitors last year to 750,000 this year.

“Next year, the tourist arrivals from China, Taiwan and Korea are expected to exceed 1 million visitors.”

He said these tourists loved the seafood in Sabah.

“Therefore, we must strive to protect our marine resources to ensure sufficient supply to cater for the demand.”

He said illegal fishing methods would continue to spread if Sabah did not have proper and systematic maritime environmental protection measures.

“Ultimately, Sabah will run out of seafood as we are only left with smaller fish.”

Pang said the government took the issue of fish bombing seriously and his ministry has implemented various measures to eradicate this activity.

At the moment, he said the government should focus on stopping fish bombing activities carried out by foreign vessels in the deep sea.

Pang said the government was also guiding small fishermen living along the coastline and those involved in fish bombing to earn a better living through fish farming and tourism instead.

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Indonesia: 25 leopards estimated to be living in Gunung Gede Pangrango

Antara 15 Sep 17;

Cianjur, W Java (ANTARA News) - The Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park (TNGGP) in West Java has recorded 25 leopards that are believed to be still living in the region, roaming around the Cianjur, Sukabumi and Bogor areas.

Park official Aden Mahyar told newsmen here, Friday, the record was the latest data that was collected in 2016.

The forest ecosystem control service in Cianjur had conducted a routine inspection of camera traps at leopard monitoring site in Pasir Tengah Block and had detected three leopards passing through Geger Bentang Block in Cianjur National Park, he said.

"Leopards have existed before the national park was established. They were not brought to the park by TNGGP. We set up the cameras five years ago, and finally, our team discovered the existence of the indigenous animal of Gede-Pangrango Mountain," he revealed.

The three leopards that were first captured by the cameras were two adult males and one cub, while the latest to be captured on camera were a male, a female and a cub.

"The data on the 25 leopards were the latest that we have received in 2016. After being rechecked, only a couple were seen at Geger Bentang Block in the Cianjur district part of the park," he remarked.

To ensure their preservation and multiplication, the park has set up many cameras along the paths often used by the animals.

"So long as their habitat is preserved, they will not stay away when they see human beings. But if their habitat is disrupted, they will attack. So far, no report of visitors to the park being attacked by the animal has been heard," he highlighted.(*)

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Indonesia: The eco-warrior taking a chainsaw to illegal palm oil plantations

Biologist Rudi Putra is leading a movement to restore the region’s tropical rainforests, which are home to many endangered species
Laura Villadiego The Guardian 15 Sep 17;

Armed with a chainsaw and a copy of Indonesia’s environmental laws, biologist Rudi Putra and his team of eco-warriors have been identifying and cutting down illegal palm oil plantations and recovering the lost forests of the Leuser ecosystem.

For decades, the exuberance of the largest rainforest in Indonesia’s north Sumatra region, has succumbed to the rapid expansion of illegal palm oil plantations, threatening the habitats and endangering the lives of orangutans, rhinos, tigers and elephants.

Putra is trying to reverse the trend and, since 2007, has been identifying plantations encroaching into the Gunung Leuser National Park, an area marked out by the Indonesian government as a conservation forest, protected by law from land conversion, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“This work is dangerous but we have a strategy”, says Putra. His team first identifies the owner of the illegal plantation and asks them to return the land to the authorities. “We inform them: ‘your plantation is illegal and the police can arrest you’”. Most of them release the land to avoid legal consequences, he says.

Once the land is secured, the team have to cut down each tree with a chainsaw. It is an arduous and slow process. Once the plantation has been cut down, Putra’s team lets nature take its course. “We have evidence that in five years forests can start recovering”, he says. During this time they monitor the area to protect young plants from dangers, including elephants and further encroachments.

So far they have restored 2,000 hectares in the Aceh Tamiang district, in the province of Aceh, according to Putra, and have started the reforestation of 2,000 more hectares.

In Indonesia, the world’s top palm oil producer, plantations are an old enemy of the rainforests. At least 56% of the palm oil plantations established in the country between 1990 and 2005 were opened at the expense of tropical forest, according to research by the ETH Zurich.

The Gunung Leuser National Park itself was put on UNESCO’s danger list in 2011 due to the “threats posed by poaching, illegal logging, agricultural encroachment, and plans to build roads through the site”.

Government actions also threaten the area. The Aceh government’s new Spatial Plan, a set of land laws governing development, includes further concessions in the region. Citizens in the province initiated a class action lawsuit last year challenging the legality of the government’s plans.

Activists point to the palm oil sector as a main culprit in the degradation of the protected areas. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) has released a series of reports, the most recent in July 2017, accusing palm oil companies of having links to deforestation in the Leuser Ecosystem.

Oil palms cover almost 11m hectares in Indonesia, while new plantations have been increasing at a rate of between 300,000-500,000 hectares per year for the past 10 years.

Putra, who was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2014, first picked up his chainsaw after his hometown in the district of Aceh Tamiang was razed by the floods in December 2006. A World Bank report linked the floods to the deforestation in the area and estimated the total losses at $210m.

The biologist is not the only one working to recover the lush Sumatran rainforests. The Orangutan Information Center (OIC), an NGO working on the preservation of the habitat of these big mammals, has also claimed and restored 1,500 hectares inside the Gunung Leuser National Park, while the Aceh government and park’s officials at the Gunung Leuser have also claimed illegal plantations and recovered them.

“Forest is [a] life support system and [to] protect the forests means [to] protect the future of any form of life, including human population”, says Panut Hadisiswoyo, founder of the OIC.

Once the land is cleared from oil palms, the reforestation starts. “We make a (seedling) nursery, find the most suitable seeds and plant them. When seeds are germinated, we replant them in the ground”, says Rio Ardi, restoration coordinator at the OIC.

Replanting is difficult work. “The new sprouts can easily be burnt by the intense sunlight or be destroyed by elephants or other animals,” says Ardi. “Moreover, the success of the reforestation will ultimately depend on how we secure the land from encroachment and wildfires.”

Re-establishment of forest to its original levels typically requires 20–200 years, according to research published in Nature. Moreover, according to the study, recovery in Asia is slower than in other regions, such as Central America and Africa.

Despite the efforts, threats remain, says Putra, in a world where the demand for palm oil increases every year. Indonesia aims to raise production to 40m tons by 2020, up from almost 35m tons last year.

“People have to understand when they eat more from the palm oil product, that means we will be cutting down the remaining forests”, says Putra.

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Vietnam: Typhoon Doksuri batters central Vietnam, killing 4

Associated Press Yahoo News 15 Sep 17;

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Typhoon Doksuri slammed into central Vietnam on Friday, killing four people and injuring 10 others as heavy rains and strong winds ripped off roofs and knocked over many electricity poles.

Blackouts were widespread and technicians tried to restore power. Flooding was reported in some villages.

Packing maximum sustained winds of 135 kilometers (84 miles) per hour, the typhoon made landfall in Ha Tinh province, pounding six coastal districts and destroying the roofs of 62,500 houses, disaster official Ngo Duc Hoi said.

In the neighboring province of Quang Binh, farther south, a man fell to his death when he tried to reinforce his house and an elderly man fell to the ground in his yard and died of head injuries, said disaster official Nguyen Duc Toan. 10 other people were injured by falling trees or debris, he added. Another 50,000 homes were damaged.

Disaster official Tran Xuan Binh in Nghe An province, north of Ha Tinh, said an 83-year-old woman died after being hit by falling debris, while in Thua Thien Hue province, south of Quang Binh, a man was swept away and died in a swollen river.

The typhoon had gusts of up to 185 kph (115 mph).

Doksuri swept through the Philippines on Tuesday as a less powerful tropical depression, killing at least four people and leaving another six missing.

The Vietnam Disaster Management Authority said as of early Friday, 79,000 villagers in high risk areas in five central provinces had been evacuated and another 210,000 were to be moved to safety ahead of the typhoon.

Forecasters also warned of flash floods and landslides in some parts of the country's northern and central regions. The typhoon was expected to weaken before dissipating in northern Laos early Saturday.

Vietnam, a country of 93 million people, is prone to floods and storms that kill hundreds of people each year.

Typhoon tears across Vietnam, skirting key coffee region
Kham Nguyen and Minh Nguyen Reuters Yahoo News 15 Sep 17;

HA TINH, Vietnam (Reuters) - A typhoon tore a destructive path across central Vietnam on Friday, flooding hundreds of thousands of homes, whipping off roofs and knocking out power in the country's most powerful storm in years.

Four people were killed, more than 5,000 houses were submerged, 19 collapsed and nearly 24,000 houses in Ha Tinh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien-Hue provinces were damaged, the disaster agency said in a report.

Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces bore the brunt of Typhoon Doksuri and power cuts were widespread after winds brought down or damaged thousands of electricity poles, trees and billboards. A television tower in Ha Tinh province collapsed.

"There has never been a storm of level nine or 11 that lasted for eight hours straight like this one, causing quite large damage," agriculture minister Nguyen Xuan Cuong told state-run Vietnam Television.

More than 116,000 people had been evacuated from Vietnam's densely populated coastal strip in preparation for Doksuri. Winds exceeded 130 km (80 miles) per hour and were expected to weaken as the storm heads to Laos.

"It looks terrible, worse than war time," said Tran Thi Hong, principal of the Ky Xuan kindergarten in Ha Tinh province, which lost its entire roof. "I could just cry, it took us so long to build this school," she said.

Four fishing boats sank in Quang Ngai province, the disaster committee report said. Many fishermen had dragged their small wooden boats into the streets of coastal towns to try to stop them from being carried away.

Around 40 flights were canceled between the capital, Hanoi, in northern Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City, the commercial hub in the south.

The eye of the storm skirted Vietnam's most important coffee growing areas and the rains it brought were largely seen as beneficial to the trees, coffee traders said. Rice farmers had rushed to gather in what they could before Doksuri struck.

Vietnam often suffers from destructive storms. Floods in northern Vietnam killed at least 26 people and washed away hundreds of homes in August. Last year, more than 200 people were killed in storms.

(Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen and Mi Nguyen; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Florida’s best defense against natural disasters is nature

Amelia Urry Grist 15 Sep 17;

The highest point in all of Florida is a hill that tops out at 345 feet above sea level, just south of the Alabama border. Much of the rest of the state lies far, far below that — like, 340 feet below — a peninsula jutting into the Caribbean around the same height as the Caribbean. It’s the last place you’d pick to ride out a hurricane, given the choice.

But that’s the choice Florida’s 20 million residents had to reckon with last week, as Hurricane Irma barrelled toward the state, breaking records and flattening towns across the Caribbean. Many expected it to be the costliest disaster in U.S. history — not just because of the Irma’s towering strength.

Florida is seemingly made for disaster. Its sprawling cities have been built up quickly and extensively, at the expense of the ecosystems that act as a natural defense against the worst of a hurricane’s blow. There’s nothing to stop a hurricane like Irma from wreaking havoc wherever it goes, but dunes, wetlands, mangroves, and coral reefs can all play an important role in absorbing some of the destructive energy of a storm. Unfortunately, over the past century, the Sunshine State has lost the majority of all these natural shock absorbers, trading them for arable land and new developments.

As Florida and Texas start to rebuild from the blows dealt by Irma and Harvey, many are weighing how best to fortify vulnerable coastal cities, even as rising sea level brings the threat of flooding closer and closer.

“If you live near the water, the difference between a crashing wave and a slowly moving chop against the walls of your home can be everything,” says Rob Nowicki, a post-doctoral researcher at Florida’s Mote Marine Lab.

Houston’s mayor made a plea for funding to construct a massive sea wall, or “coastal spine,” to protect the region from dangerous storm surges in the future. “We cannot talk about rebuilding” he said, “if we do not build the coastal spine.”

This bunker-building approach to natural disaster — which Nathanael Johnson wrote about in Houston’s struggle to control floodwater — is prone to occasional, catastrophic failure, especially as climate change continues to shift the baseline on our expectations of what a storm can do. The problem is, for Florida, these kinds of concrete-heavy projects aren’t really an option.

“What distinguishes all of South Florida is that it’s got this porous limestone base,” says Ashley Dawson, author of Extreme Cities. No matter what barriers you put between yourself and the sea, water will be able to seep around it. In Miami Beach, king tides regularly flood up through the city’s storm drains, hurricane or no. At the most dire moments before Irma made landfall, Miami — with an average elevation of 6 feet above sea level — was predicted to see as much as 10 feet of storm surge.

When Irma made a last minute swerve inland, pushing the storm surge away from populated coastal cities, much of the predicted damage was avoided. Still, Miami and Jacksonville saw several feet of flooding, power outages, and overwhelmed infrastructure.

Other cities, like Tampa and Sarasota, remain especially vulnerable because they sit on the on the edge of very shallow seas, Dawson says. That means when storms sweep in from deeper ocean they pile up some extremely high, extremely powerful waves ahead of them. Although Tampa only ended up with a couple of feet of storm surge from Irma, initial forecasts were chilling; if the storm had veered a different way, nine to 15 feet of surge might have slammed into the city.

Shoreline habitats like dunes and wetlands can block storm surge, usually the deadliest part of a major hurricane, because they slow down dangerous waves and prevent water from moving as far inland as it would without them.

A recent study in Nature’s online journal calculated that wetlands saved New York $625 million in flooding damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, by absorbing both storm surge and rain.

“As a rule of thumb, you can expect larger and more prominent ecosystems to provide more protection,” says Nowicki.

The same swamps and mangroves that would help protect Florida from storms are also what helped keep people and development out of the sparsely populated state until the 20th century.

To make South Florida habitable, the Army Corps of Engineers dug 2,000 miles of canals and levees starting in the 1930s. Beaches were bulwarked, channels were dredged, subdivisions snaked their way into former marshland, and Disney World appeared in a puff of pink smoke (I assume). Along the way, Florida’s natural wetlands receded and its once-stunning coral reefs all but disappeared. Florida is now the third most populous state, behind California and Texas.

In the last few years, Florida Governor Rick Scott has overseen large budget cuts to the department in charge of researching and preserving these ecosystems, enabling the kind of risky coastal development that puts people too close to dangerous storms. And President Donald Trump recently reversed an Obama-era mandate that federally funded construction projects abide by a higher flooding standard to take sea level rise into consideration. All of this leaves Florida in a poor position to weather future storms.

Then there’s the question of Florida’s coral reefs. Offshore reefs can’t stop surge from coming inland the way dunes and wetlands can, but they sap energy from the waves washing over them. Coral cover in the Caribbean, including in Florida, has decreased by 80 percent, leaving low-lying shorelines less protected than ever.

Mote Marine Laboratory, where Robert Nowicki works, is focused on research into how to restore Florida’s degraded reefs by growing and planting new coral colonies onto former reef sites.

“While much of our living coral is gone, the skeletons remain,” Nowicki explains. The structure of a reef, even a dead one, will continue to act as a brake on waves for a while, but over time the skeletons break down and, without live coral to rebuild them, turn into rubble.

This kind of outplanting project is based on the way foresters restore damaged forests by raising trees in nurseries and then distributing them into the wild. It’s labor-intensive and slow, yet Nowicki says it’s the best bet for rebuilding these damaged reefs, and their storm-buffering services, before they’re gone for good.

“Getting living coral back on the old skeletons,” he says, “is a kind of race against time.”

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The Florida Keys are the canaries in the climate-change coalmine

These complex, beautiful, fragile islands are a delicately balanced paradise. But their tipping point may have arrived
Joanna Guthrie The Guardian 15 Sep 17;

The Florida Keys are still closed until further notice. On the far side of the blockade that inhabitants of the lower Keys negotiate to return to their homes, the US One highway, a tarmac spine over the limestone vertebrae of the islands, makes its way 127 miles down to Key West, battered and torn. Key West, final south-easterly outpost of mainland North America and the self-styled “last resort”, is, still, four days after Hurricane Irma hit, almost completely out of contact with the outside world.

Images have been surfacing all week. In Marathon, the sea draining away from an entire bay like dishwater off a dirty plate, leaving the ocean floor exposed to the daylight, while a woman films it from her balcony and screams: “My God! My God! The sea is gone!” In Key Largo, a stretch limousine banked crosswise across the highway. Big fridges stranded on plinths of trashed seagrass and mangrove leaves, their doors open, still full of food. Cars blown the short distance from road to shoreline, sideways in the shallows in a rusty puddle of their own fluids. Boats that have cracked the road with the force with which they’ve landed; in Islamorada, someone’s house being thrown along a lagoon and landing crooked in a new spot.

I know and love these islands well. I’m wondering what they did with the dolphins in the sea aquarium; how the evacuation of the mental health facilities went; whether the drive-through bank where I used to cash my pay cheque got wrecked; what it’s like in the Winn-Dixie supermarket right now, and in the Kmart, in the dark.

As the search-and-rescue operation moves further into the devastated Keys, I’m watching from England to see how this first-world humanitarian disaster unfolds. It’s an extraordinary corner of America: sub-tropical, subaqueous, and not especially suited for habitation. I’m wondering if its 70,000 inhabitants may be the canaries in the coalmine for the realities of climate change as it hits the developed world.

The Keys are extreme. Curving away from the bottom tip of Florida, they nose out to sea in dribs and drabs towards the Caribbean. They’ve been fully inhabited for only 150 years. Drinking water has to be piped in from the mainland; the inhabitants used rainwater until 1940. The first Coca-Cola bottling plant arrived here in 1908 and they made the Coke with rainwater. Limestone, Miami oolite and white coral form what land there is; much of the territory consists of tracts of rich, eggy sea grass and webs of island-building mangrove. The boundaries between land and sea are porous: they call this terrain “the heavy dew”.

Hurricane season lasts from May to November, during which time everyone is on evacuation alert. Inhabitants are below or only just above sea level. It’s scorching nearly all the time. Humidity is high. Reliance on air-conditioning is total. Machines roam the streets misting inhabited areas with mosquito repellent. The sewage infrastructure is questionable.

These islands are a complex and fragile ecosystem. They are surrounded by the only living barrier reef in the continental United States, which forms a natural surf-break: their rigid structures absorb the shock of the impact of waves and wind and are essential in restraining high tides and hurricanes. Coral is a delicate creature; the reefs have, in recent years, been showing signs of stress.

It is heartbreakingly beautiful. Jewel-blue sea stretches away to all horizons, replacing landscape. Everything oozes salt: the ground, the air, the leaves. At the edges, boardwalks lead through sparse, creaking pockets of resolutely inhospitable wilderness. On higher ground lie incredibly species-rich hammocks: homes for gumbo limbo trees, the giant Florida tree snail, and hundreds of other site-specific creatures. This is prime real estate, too: building continues apace on these swampy blobs of land.

Key West is a kind of ocean frontier town, with an eye-poppingly eccentric history. The major industry now is tourism. It brands itself relentlessly: it is the Conch Republic, Home of the Sunset, Margaritaville, and – because Route 1 runs out there – The End of the Rainbow. It’s also Paradise, trademarked: its police cars have “Protecting Paradise” stencilled on them. The official town motto is One Human Family. Paradise? It sometimes feels like it. Protected? I’m not so sure.

Spending time there was, for me, both joyous and uneasy. I was preoccupied by how frightening it must be in hurricanes, finding yourself where you actually are: on a pitch-dark, stiflingly humid island; a tropical coral-drift that beneath its veneer is entirely wild.

Living there is a kind of conjuring trick, a process of mind over matter. It demands a hefty measure of denial in your margarita – eyes half-shut as another perfect sunset commences and the steel band strikes up beside the cruise liner.

Denial is also there in the recent news that the US Department of Agriculture is censoring the term “climate change”. Call the weather what you want, the past few days have shown that the Americans in these outposts may find themselves living in a whole new kind of frontier: involuntary pioneers in the face of these new “weather extremes” and their unprecedented storms.

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After Irma, dead seagrass ‘as far as the eye can see’ in Florida Bay

JENNY STALETOVICH Miami Herald 15 Sep 17;

Hurricane Irma left a massive footprint across the Florida Everglades.

From Florida Bay to Shark River, signs of the Category 4 hurricane could be seen in vast mats of floating dead seagrass, mangroves stripped of their leaves, and rafts of seaweed pushed far ashore. Along the northwest side of Cape Sable, where the powerful hurricane’s storm surge hit hardest, a newly widened beach stretches toward the wetlands.

In the Dry Tortugas, the storm knocked down a 60-foot stretch of the moat wall at Fort Jefferson. The visitor center at Flamingo, hammered by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and in the midst of restoration, got pounded again.

It will be a while before Irma’s full toll on the Everglades becomes clear, but a flyover this week by Everglades Foundation wetland ecologist Stephen Davis and early surveys by park staff provided a glimpse of the storm’s vast reach.

“As far as the eye could see to the south were floating mats of uprooted seagrass,” Davis said of the bay. “For me that was the most dramatic, and I don’t want to say most concerning because of the human impacts around this storm. But we’ve been keeping an eye on Florida Bay for a couple of years since that [seagrass] die-off.”

In 2015, a massive die-off triggered by a drought killed more than 60 square miles of seagrass in the bay that turned water a sulfuric yellow and threatened to trigger a massive algae bloom. So far, the blooms have not been widespread, but more dead plants could fuel a bigger bloom.

At Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, superintendent Pedro Ramos said park workers spent the week checking buildings and facilities, including Everglades City and Fort Jefferson, where Irma likely hit hardest. A 60-foot stretch of the outer moat wall collapsed at the fort, he said, and the first floor of the visitor center in Everglades City was destroyed. The Flamingo Visitor Center, which got pummeled by Wilma 12 years ago, was damaged, along with staff housing.

Once buildings are cleared and power restored, staff will return, possibly next week, to begin assessing ecological damage, Ramos said.

“Clearly [there was] a lot of vegetation down throughout the park, in the front country and the back country,” he said. “A survey of Florida Bay has not been complete.”

It’s not clear when the park will reopen to visitors, although Florida Bay remains open to boaters and commercial fishing guides. Ramos said airboat operators along the Tamiami Trail have been given the all-clear to resume business once they’re ready. Damaged structures, including the moat wall, will be rebuilt, he said.

“That entire scarp has been there from the time the fort was constructed. Both it and the fort clearly have gone through worse,” he said.

Biscayne National Park suffered minor damage to the visitor headquarters and park offices, but with 95 percent of the park located in the bay, damage was minimal, said Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst.

Davis started his aerial tour at the Tamiami Executive Airport Wednesday about two hours before sunset. Flying due south, he passed over the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center at Everglades National Park toward Florida Bay, crossed around Rankin Bite and Whipray Basin, where the seagrass die-off hit hardest, then headed up the northwest side of Cape Sable.

“The further west and up the coast we got, the more rain we saw. It’s incredibly wet out there. That’s no big surprise,” he said.

At the southwest tip of the peninsula, Davis said he saw what appeared to be evidence of a three- to five-foot storm surge pushing into freshwater marshes.

“We certainly saw areas where it looked like vegetation was sort of distributed in racks or mats,” he said.

At the mouth of the Shark River, where towering stands of mangroves hug the riverbanks, trees were stripped of their leaves, but few were toppled. Those that were down looked like they have been felled earlier, or were diseased trees, he said.

“You could see all the way down to the soil surface in a lot of those forests that are usually under a closed canopy,” he said.

For now, the chief concern appears to be Florida Bay, Davis said.

“Knowing this area has been hit pretty hard for the past two years, that’s something we’re going to have to keep an eye on,” he said. “That’s the epicenter of Florida Keys fishing, and knowing it’s a cornerstone of the economy, making those connections is important.”

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