Best of our wild blogs: 13 Oct 17

BES Drongos is 3!
BES Drongos

Good Conversation #5: Kathy Xu (The Dorsal Effect)
The Dorsal Effect

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Students petition curry puff makers to use sustainable palm oil

TOH EE MING Today Online 12 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE — A petition by two teenage environmental advocates to get local curry puff makers Old Chang Kee and Polar Puffs & Cakes to use sustainable palm oil has garnered more than 3,300 signatures.

Launched on Monday (Oct 9), the petition “Tell Old Chang Kee & Polar Puffs to stop frying our rainforests” is gunning for 5,000 signatures.

It was started by 19-year-old university student Regina Vanda and 15-year-old United World College student Gauri Shukla, who are part of a group called Students of Singapore (SOS) Against Haze. The duo said their petition singled out the two companies because curry puffs are an iconic local snack that involve a significant amount of oil to prepare.

But they want other homegrown companies to also adopt sustainable practices, joining foreign firms that have already done so. Swedish furniture giant IKEA, for instance, uses certified-sustainable palm oil for candle-making, food production and food preparation.

The students said they have reached out to more than 20 other local firms including BreadTalk and Ya Kun Kaya Toast.

Ms Vanda, a first-year Yale-NUS College student, said they are not calling for a boycott of the companies’ products as “it would not be meaningful”. Instead, they want to raise awareness among companies that palm oil from unsustainable sources can contribute to deforestation and haze in the region, which reached record levels in 2015.

The pair have emailed and called the two companies and paid a visit to Old Chang Kee’s headquarters.

Old Chang Kee’s marketing communications manager Ng Bee Lin told TODAY the company uses oil that has been endorsed as a healthier option by the Health Promotion Board, and is looking into sourcing oil that is Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)-certified. “Despite the many challenges and limitations, our promise to consumers is that we will continue to source for healthier and socially responsible cooking oil, without compromising on the food quality and taste,” she said.

A Polar Puffs spokesperson said vegetable oil accounts for less than 0.6 per cent of its ingredients because its products are butter-baked and not oil-fried. The use of vegetable oil is “incidental”, while the butter it uses is from New Zealand. “We also wish to assure our customers that our vegetable oils currently used are from sustainable sources,” the spokesperson said.

Non-governmental group, the People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze), is supportive of the duo’s cause. PM.Haze runs its own #GoHazeFree campaign and co-founder Tan Yi Han said it has reached out to eateries to get them to use certified-sustainable palm oil. Burger joint VeganBurg has come on board.

Local supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice announced last year that its FairPrice Premium Cooking Oil and FairPrice Vegetable Oil is from RSPO-certified sources.

Meanwhile, Ms Vanda and Gauri, a student at the United World College of Southeast Asia’s Dover campus, are also promoting environmental consciousness in other ways. Ms Vanda runs a blog while Gauri visited the forests of Sumatra in 2015 after winning an environmental competition.

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Tapping automation to make aquaculture more productive

Audrey Tan Straits Times 13 Oct 17;

Local fish farm Barramundi Asia looks nothing like the traditional kelongs that dot Singapore's northern coast.

Here, farming is not done in nets supported by a wooden structure in the middle of the sea. Instead, the white-fleshed fish are reared in more than 30 floating sea pens at a location south of Singapore, near Pulau Semakau.

The farm - reminiscent of large salmon farms in Norway, which has a developed aquaculture industry - does not just look different. As one of the few fish farms in Singapore that is embracing technology, Barramundi Asia operates differently too.

There are 125 fish farms in Singapore, but a few players produce the bulk that is sold here. Last year, for example, five fish farms contributed about 30 per cent of Singapore's local fish supply.

They were: Barramundi Asia, Marine Life Aquaculture, Metropolitan Fishery Group, Rong Yao Fishery and Singapore Aquaculture Technologies. All of them have adopted various technologies to make fish farming more productive.

Barramundi Asia, for example, has automated many parts of its operations, from feeding to net cleaning, which makes operations easier and more efficient, as The Straits Times recently experienced during a day at the farm.

The 18 workers at the farm do not need to get their hands dirty when it is their turn to feed the fish. Instead, a device sprays fish feed into each pen at a rate of about 50kg per minute, distributing it evenly across the pen, which can stretch up to 26m in diameter.


Climate change can cause elevated water temperatures and increased ocean acidification, which decreases water quality and causes stress on our fish. This, in turn, leaves them susceptible to diseases.

The farm is considering automating this process further, by investing in a system of sensors, cameras and control panels that would allow a person sitting in a control room to monitor how much feed is being dispensed, and whether the fish are eating it.

Farm manager Emmanuel de Braux, 32, says technology can help the farm overcome two main challenges faced by fish farms in Singapore: ensuring water quality and the health of the fish. "Climate change can cause elevated water temperatures and increased ocean acidification, which decreases water quality and causes stress on our fish. This, in turn, leaves them susceptible to diseases," he said.

The farm vaccinates its fish, rather than feed them with antibiotics to knock out pathogens. This has the added benefit of ensuring that people eating the fish do not also end up absorbing the antibiotics.

The farm now produces about 600 tonnes of fish every year. More than half of this haul goes to feed the Singapore market, while the rest goes to places such as Hong Kong, Australia and the United States. But with the use of more technology, the farm hopes to increase its output by 10 times within the next five years.

Technology in farming: Difficult for all to apply
Advanced systems may be too costly for small operators, even with govt subsidies
Audrey Tan Straits Times 12 Oct 17;

The recent spate of natural disasters around the world is symptomatic of climate change.

Singapore may not be directly hit by the likes of tropical cyclones that have raked other parts of the world, but scientists worry that the country could be affected in other ways.

Of primary concern to land-scarce Singapore is food.

As climate scientist Benjamin Grandey from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology notes: "Agriculture is sensitive to weather conditions. Climate change may impact food supplies... Due to trade, we live in a very connected world."

Now, the authorities here are looking at how local farms can adopt technology to deal with climate change, and boost productivity. For instance, bids for new farmland in a tender released in August will be evaluated, among other things, on a farmer's ability to harness innovation to improve and sustain production.

But not all farms - especially those with niche markets - will find it easy to adopt technology.

Technology in Singapore farms

At Singapore's only American bullfrog farm, in Lim Chu Kang, water constantly spurts out of pipes into dozens of concrete tanks on the 1.2ha farm. This constant circulation of water, which comes from a well and reservoir on the farm's premises, keeps the water fresh.

But Jurong Frog Farm's lease ends in 2021, and there is no guarantee that any future site - if the farm is successful in its bid for new land-would have such a water source.

Farm director Chelsea Wan, 33, says technology in the form of a recirculating aquaculture system - a system used in many fish farms which involves one stock of water that is continuously treated and re-used - could help.

But this system requires further customisation for a frog farm, and could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Initial sums show the investment would be far too costly for a farm with a niche market like hers, said Ms Wan.

"Even with government subsidies at implementation, the running cost of such a system might force us to eventually pass on costs to customers, who may simply turn to other farms in the region, which have plenty of land and water."

Ms Wan is now looking into alternative solutions, such as establishing contracts with farms in countries that have more abundant natural resources for a supply of baby frogs, and collaborating with researchers to see if more value can be harnessed from other parts of the frog, such as its fats.

The farm supplies live frogs and frog meat to restaurants, supermarkets and wet markets, as well as hashima - a delicacy made from the oviducts of a frog.

Besides economic considerations such as those faced by Jurong Frog Farm, the move to go high-tech will have its own teething problems.

While local production of fish has been growing steadily from 2012 to 2015, output fell from 5,272 tonnes in 2015 to 4,851 tonnes last year. "This may be due to temporary production disruptions as some of our larger coastal fish farmers were changing their production management systems or re-constructing net cages to improve overall production in the longer term," said a spokesman for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority.

The hope, as she noted, is that new technology, such as the use of sensors and robotics to automate tasks like net cleaning, can increase the productivity of fish farming systems by three times or more.

Fish and vegetable farming are developed industries worldwide. Local farms have started adopting best practices from other agricultural nations, such as Norway.

Fish farms here are starting to move towards closed containment systems to keep algae blooms from killing fish. Some vegetable farms have also moved indoors to better control the effects of weather.

Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for National Development, who is in charge of farming issues, said in a Facebook post last month: "We cannot control the weather. But we can control how we want to manage the risks. I urge all our farmers to work together with government agencies to transform our farming sector into a more resilient and productive one. Your long-term viability and our food security are intertwined."

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ExxonMobil opens new plant in Singapore to boost Jurong refinery energy efficiency

Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 12 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE: US oil giant ExxonMobil officially opened its third cogeneration plant in Singapore on Thursday (Oct 12), to help increase energy efficiency at its Jurong refinery.

The 84-megawatt plant uses natural gas and waste heat from the refinery to generate both electricity and steam in order to power plant operations, replacing two older and less efficient boilers.

It will produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of more than 150,000 four-room Housing and Development Board flats, said ExxonMobil, and will improve energy efficiency by up to 5 per cent.

This will result in a cut in carbon dioxide emissions by more than 265 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide - equivalent to removing more than 90,000 cars from Singapore's roads, according to ExxonMobil.

"Cogeneration technology is an energy-efficient solution for facilities that require both thermal energy and electricity," said the National Environment Agency's CEO Ronnie Tay. "ExxonMobil's investment in such technology will bring about both cost savings and carbon emissions reduction."

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said the facility contributes towards Singapore’s pledge under the Paris climate change agreement to significantly reduce its emissions intensity by 2030.

To this end, Singapore must keep pace with the transforming global economy which emphasises sustainable development, said Mr Masagos.

He also cited China as a country that is paving the way in this area.

Touching on the fact that the world has reaped an "energy productivity bonus" of US$2.2 trillion due to improved energy efficiency in 2016, Mr Masagos pointed out that China had accounted for half of this sum.

China also invested more than US$100 billion in renewables in 2015, compared to just US$3 billion 10 years ago, Mr Masagos said, adding that it is also set to implement a national greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme later this year.

Mr Masagos' speech comes ahead of a carbon tax which will kick in in 2019. Revenue from the carbon tax will go towards helping industries implement emissions-cutting initiatives.

“We are aware of industry concerns over the impact of the carbon tax on competitiveness, given that Singapore is an export-oriented economy,” said Mr Masagos, noting that it is because of this that companies must stay ahead to be competitive.

“The measures we are putting in place will facilitate Singapore’s transition to energy-efficient and low-carbon growth," he added.

ExxonMobil is one of Singapore's largest foreign manufacturing investors with more than S$20 billion in fixed asset investments. Its Singapore affiliate ExxonMobil Asia Pacific has manufacturing facilities including refinery operations and a petrochemical plant on Jurong Island.

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Another body of missing crew from tanker and boat collision found near Raffles Lighthouse

Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 12 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE: The body of one of the crew members reported as missing after a tanker and boat collided last month has been found near Raffles Lighthouse on Pulau Satumu in the Singapore Strait.

Channel NewsAsia understands that the body has been identified by family members, and confirmed to be that of a Chinese national seaman from Dominican-registered dredger JBB De Rong 19.

A total of 12 crew ─ 11 Chinese nationals and one Malaysian ─ were on board the dredger when it collided with Indonesian-registered tanker Kartika Segara on Sep 13 about 1.7 nautical miles south-west of Sisters' Islands.

Seven of the Chinese nationals were rescued, while five were reported as missing. None of the tanker's 26 crew members was hurt.

The bodies of two of the five missing were subsequently recovered later that day.

Channel NewsAsia understands that another body has also since been found in Indonesian waters, but that the body has yet to be identified.

Authorities are still looking for all the missing crew members, and are also trying to salvage the capsized dredger after it was partially submerged near Pulau Senang following the collision.
Source: CNA/nc

1 crew member still missing after tanker and boat collision off Singapore last month
Channel NewsAsia 23 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE: One crew member remains missing after the collision between a tanker and boat last month which left five crew members missing, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said on Monday (Oct 23).

The authority confirmed in a press release that two bodies found last month have been identified to be those of missing crew members from the Dominican-registered dredger JBB De Rong 19.

The first body was found south of Raffles Lighthouse in Singapore waters on Sep 16, and family members of the crew member have since claimed the body, said MPA. Channel NewsAsia understands that the body is confirmed to be that of a Chinese national seaman.

A second body was found 1.9 nautical miles northwest of Tanjung Sengkuang in Indonesian waters, off Batam, on Sep 17 and is in the process of being claimed by family members, said MPA.

A total of 12 crew ─ 11 Chinese nationals and one Malaysian ─ were on board Dominican-registered dredger JBB De Rong 19 when it collided with Indonesian-registered tanker Kartika Segara on Sep 13 about 1.7 nautical miles south-west of Sisters' Islands.

Seven of the Chinese nationals were rescued, while five were reported as missing. None of the tanker's 26 crew members was hurt. The bodies of two of the five missing were subsequently recovered later that day.

MPA said that following the recovery and identification of the two new bodies, one last crew member remains missing.

"The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore will continue to issue safety broadcasts to ships in the area to keep a lookout for the last crew member," said MPA.

2 more bodies from fatal dredger collision with tanker in S’pore waters found
LOUISA TANG Today Online 23 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE — The bodies of two more crew members who went missing after a collision in Singapore waters six weeks ago have been found, leaving one remaining missing, the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said in an update on Monday (Oct 23).

They were among 12 crew members of the JBB De Rong 19, a Dominican-registered dredger, that collided with Indonesian tanker Kartika Segara on Sept 13, about 3.15km south-west of Sisters’ Island. Five of JBB De Rong 19’s crew went missing after the collision capsized their vessel. Two of the bodies were found hours later. All 26 members of the tanker were unharmed.

The MPA said two more bodies were found three and four days after the accident.

The first was found south of Raffles Lighthouse in Singapore waters on Sept 16. His family members have claimed the body.

The second body was found 1.9 nautical miles northwest of Tanjung Sengkuang in Indonesian waters, off Batam, the following day. Family members are in the process of claiming the body. TODAY understands the body was identified last Friday (Oct 20).

The MPA said it will continue to issue safety broadcasts to ships in the area to keep a lookout for the last missing crew member from JBB De Rong 19.

The collision happened after one on Aug 21, when United States warship USS John S McCain collided with a merchant vessel in Singapore territorial waters near Pedra Branca, killing 10 US Navy servicemen.

The warship was on its way to Singapore for a routine visit when it collided with the Alnic MC, a chemical and oil tanker about three times the size of the guided-missile destroyer.

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Malaysia’s largest marine park holds first island-based Marine Turtle Festival

Borneo Post 12 Oct 17;

KUDAT: The first island-based Marine Turtle Festival within largest marine park in Malaysia, Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) was recently organised by Tigabu Youth Club (Kelab Belia Tigabu – KBT) and WWF-Malaysia.

TMP is located within Kudat, Pitas and Kota Marudu districts in northern Sabah.

TMP is a global symbol of how we can collectively commit to serving nature and humanity, benefiting both the environment and local communities. The area has rich marine biodiversity and is home to elusive dugongs and endangered marine turtles as well as other regular visitors such as migratory whales.

Diverse habitats ranging from mangroves, seagrass beds to coral reefs contribute to the rich marine biodiversity. This in turn provides food security for not only 85,000 inhabitants dependent upon it, but also the more than 120 million people in the Coral Triangle region.

Tigabu Island hosted the festival this month to highlight turtle conservation work being done in the Tigabu-Tambulian-Kukuban Island complex.

The first island-based turtle hatchery was launched on Tigabu in TMP to raise awareness on turtle conservation and threats such as fish bombing and use of poisons like cyanide.

Officiating at the launch, Banggi Island assemblyman Datuk Mijul Unaini praised KBT and youths for taking the initiative to conserve marine turtles.

Meanwhile, KBT member Absan Saman said he wanted one of the world’s most endangered creatures to continue to thrive around Tigabu and TMP.

Agreeing with this, KBT chairman Sulaiman Amir invited the community of Tigabu to work together to protect marine turtles for future generations. The Tigabu-Tambulian-Kukuban Island complex includes the three named islands and Mantabuan Island.

KBT identified these areas as turtle nesting sites back in April 2017, and supported recommendations for the TMP Management Plan. KBT works with Sabah Parks for the protection of these turtle nesting islands and their surroundings, and work to combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, including bomb fishing.

KBT takes on the role of collaborative manager to protect habitats in TMP under the WWF-Malaysia Marine Programme.

WWF-Malaysia Kudat team leader Joannie Jomitol said support from Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Sabah Parks together with WWF-Malaysia’s continuous engagement with the Tigabu community enable KBT members trained as Honorary Wildlife Wardens and Park Rangers to start land-based turtle conservation activities.

“They patrol and monitor turtle nesting beaches at Tigabu-Tambulian-Kukuban Islands complex and set up a turtle hatchery on Tigabu Island.”

From April to September 2017, some 15 turtle nests have been relocated from the islands to the hatchery; 14 of the nests have hatched and hatchlings were released. The two types of turtles nesting there are Green turtles (770 eggs) and Hawksbill turtles (315 eggs).

Melvin Richard from SWD and park manager from Sabah Parks, Fazrullah Rizally Abdul Razak were touched to see the Tigabu community come together to protect and conserve turtles.

Their effort was supported by the Village Development and Security Committee chairman Jasni Matoha who wanted to see marine turtles protected in the area. The TMP is a vast area, and community assistance for enforcement agencies is needed to sustain the biodiversity and marine resources at the park.

It is hoped that this festival and turtle conservation activities will spark awareness among the communities of TMP of the importance of taking care of the marine environment and natural resources around them.

Turtle fest offers fun learning experience
The Star 14 Oct 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Learning about environmental conservation can be exciting if it is presented creatively.

To get people, especially the youth, to learn more about marine and environmental conservation, a turtle festival was held for the first time on an island within Tun Mustapha Park (TMP), Malaysia’s largest marine sanctuary.

The festival on Tigabu Island organised by the Tigabu Youth Club (KBT) together with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia involved the TMP within Sabah’s northern Kudat, Pitas and Kota Marudu districts.

This festival followed recent cases of turtle slaughters in Semporna.

“The area boasts a rich marine biodiversity and is home to elusive dugongs and endangered marine turtles as well as other regular visitors such as the migratory whales,” she said.

She added that diverse habitats ranging from mangroves to seagrass beds and coral reefs contributed to the rich marine biodiversity, which in turn, provided food security for not only 85,000 inhabitants, but also more than 120 million people in the Coral Triangle region.

Chung said Tigabu Island hosted the festival to highlight turtle conservation operations in the Tigabu-Tambulian-Kukuban Island Complex.

Pulau Banggi assemblyman Datuk Mijul Unaini, who launched the event, praised the youth club and youths for taking the initiative to learn about conserving turtles.

KBT invited the community of Tigabu to work together to protect marine turtles for future generations.

Club member Absan Saman said his main motivation in taking part in the programme was to defend one of the world’s most endangered animals from extinction and to conserve the species so that they continued to thrive in Tigabu and TMP.

The Tigabu-Tambulian-Kukuban Island Complex includes the three named islands as well as Mantabuan Island.

In April, KBT identified these areas as turtle nesting sites and supported recommendations for the TMP Management Plan.

These volunteers work with Sabah Parks to protect these turtle nesting islands and their surroundings, as well as combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, including bomb fishing.

Chung said active community participation in assisting enforcement agencies was needed to sustain the rich biodiversity and marine resources of a vast area such as the TMP.

“It is hoped that this festival and turtle conservation activities will spark a sense of awareness and pride among the communities of TMP in taking care of their marine environment and natural resources,” she said.

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Malaysia: Experts worry over fate of world's 2nd smallest fish

ROSLI ZAKARIA New Straits Times 12 Oct 17;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The world’s second smallest fish, Paedocypris micromegethes, found only in highly acidic black water peat swamps in Terengganu, Johor, Perak and Sarawak, is under threat of extinction following the draining of these areas for oil palm plantation.

Ichthyologists are concerned that the fish sensitive to changes in its water parameters, may not survive the destruction of its habitat, which is also home for some aquatic species unique to peat swamp already under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of endangered species.

Measuring just 11 millimetres, Paedocypris micromegethes, is also being collected for the aquarium trade and despite its status as a rare and endangered species, it is sold for as cheap as RM3.30 per fish.

Ichthyologist Dr Zahar Azuar Zakaria who found the latest specimen of Paedocypris micromegethes in a peat swamp area in Sibu recently voiced his concern that the development of oil palm plantations in the area may soon wipe out the species.

“I have seen another Paedocypris species, the P. carbunculus traded as ruby rasbora in Singapore. I believe two other species like the P. micromegentes (Malaysia) and P. progenitica (Indonesia) are also being sold in the aquarium trade.

“These are delicate species and are being threatened by habitat loss. We may just read about this species in journals in the near future,” said Dr Zahar Azuar, who is on a mission to record all freshwater fish in Malaysia.

He said the fish was first discovered by Dr Amiruddin Ahmad of University Malaysia Terengganu at the Bukit Bauk peat swamp forest during a scientific expedition in 2007.

“This fish is sensitive to environmental changes and fragile. There have been attempts to breed it in captivity but unfortunately the results had been negative. The only way to preserve its population in the wild is to protect the swamp forest,” he added.

Dr Zahar Azuar said during a repeat expedition at a location in Kemaman, he failed to find a single P. micromegentes as the highly acidic water parameters had changed due to water run-off from nearby oil palm plantation.

“We may never see the fish again in Kemaman. Hopefully, the population in Bukit Bauk forest reserve in Dungun is not disturbed,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr Amiruddin said the government should consider protect peat swamp areas as such location harbours many rare aquatic species as well as undescribed species previously unknown to the scientific world.

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Food Security in the Coral Triangle of the Pacific Countries: Prospects of Fisheries Development Strategies

ReliefWeb 12 Oct 17;

REPORTfrom Asian Development Bank Published on 12 Oct 2017 —View Original
Download PDF (1.66 MB)

Rural communities in the Pacific that rely on fishing for subsistence and income face serious risks due to the degradation of coastal ecosystems, overharvesting, and climate change.

The ongoing degradation of coastal ecosystems, overharvesting of valuable species, and climate change (including more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, increasing sea surface temperatures, and ocean acidification) are lowering the production of fish, which is the Pacific region’s primary source of protein.

An ADB technical assistance project sought to assist Pacific countries in addressing the urgent threats facing these resources and, at the same time, improve food security, in line with the objectives of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security. This brief presents the findings of a research study on Climate Change and Development Strategies for the Coastal Communities of the Pacific Coral Triangle Countries conducted in four countries - Fiji, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu—under this technical assistance.

Key Points

Fisheries in the Coral Triangle of the Pacific countries are facing changing climatic conditions and ongoing environmental degradation, which threaten food security and livelihoods.

The study identified the impacts of climate change on the fisheries sectors of Fiji, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu, and evaluated the potential of three fisheries development strategies to improve food security.

Modeling results indicated substantial economic gains and improved food security with the adoption of these strategies: aquaculture expansion, low-cost inshore fish-aggregating device utilization, and improved natural resources management (including marine-protected areas).

The research findings can inform fisheries and conservation policy development that is tailored to each country’s needs.

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Supermarkets must stop using plastic packaging, says former Asda boss

Exclusive: Consumers do not want plastic-polluted oceans so supermarkets and packaging industry have to work together, says Andy Clarke
Sandra Laville The Guardian 12 Oct 17;

The former boss of Asda is calling for supermarkets to stop using plastic packaging saying billions of pounds of investment in recycling has failed to resolve the world’s plastic proliferation crisis.

Andy Clarke, CEO of one of Britain’s biggest supermarket chains for six years, said the only solution was for retailers to reject plastic entirely in favour of more sustainable alternatives like paper, steel, glass and aluminium.

“Go into any supermarket in the country and you will be met by a wall of technicolour plastic,” Clarke said. “Be it fruit and veg or meat and dairy, plastic encases virtually everything we buy.

“Regardless of how much is invested in Britain’s recycling infrastructure, virtually all plastic packaging will reach landfill or the bottom of the ocean sooner or later. Once there, it will remain on the earth for centuries.

“It is vital that the UK packaging industry and supermarkets work together to turn off the tap.”

Efforts to recycle more plastic and “a neverending stream of initiatives” – many of which Clarke oversaw while at Asda – has failed to stem the plastic flow and it is clear a more radical approach is needed, said Clarke, who stood down as Asda CEO last year.

“We want a future for our grandchildren which is as far as possible plastic-free,” he said. “We also know that consumers want the same thing and with heightened public awareness of the dire consequences of unfettered plastic pollution, they are fully in support of the industry’s efforts to make a meaningful change.”

Clarke said supermarkets should create plastic-free aisles to cater for their customers’ demands and to showcase the wealth of alternatives to plastic including innovations like grass paper. He also backed the campaign A plastic planet as a measure to spread the use of alternative packaging.

The world’s plastic binge shows no signs of halting. A Guardian investigation this year established that consumers around the world buy a million plastic bottles a minute and plastic production is set to double in the next 20 years and quadruple by 2050.

In the UK less than a third (29%) of the 5m tonnes of plastic used each year is recovered and recycled. Across the world more than 8m tonnes of plastic leaks into the oceans and a recent study found that billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic.

Clarke said he has witnessed how much supermarkets have done to try to promote recycling, investing billions to try to increase the amount of recycled plastic they use, but still these measures have failed to reduce the scale of plastic pollution.

Attempts to use thinner plastic milk bottles containing more recycled material at Asda, he said, led to bottles bursting and creating more food waste. In the end the supermarket went back to the original bottles.

“Unlike materials like aluminium and glass, plastic packaging cannot be recycled ad infinitum. Most items of plastic packaging can only be recycled twice before they become unusable,” he said.

Clarke highlighted a Populus poll earlier this year which showed four out of five people questioned were concerned about the amount of plastic packaging thrown away in the UK and 91% wanted plastic-free aisles in supermarkets.

He called for Asda and other supermarkets to use the host of new products coming on the market to cut plastic pollution. “Despite more than a decade of concerted supermarket action on this issue, globally we are still dumping in excess of 8m tonnes of plastic in the ocean each year,” said Clarke.

“We have been able to recycle plastic for decades yet it remains a scourge on the planet. Recycling will never offer a durable solution to the plastic crisis – we simply have to use less plastic in the first place.”

Greenpeace Oceans campaigner Tisha Brown said: “With ocean plastic pollution ending up in everything from sea salt to sea gulls to our seafood, and many shoppers frustrated with the amount of unnecessary plastic packaging they encounter at their local supermarket, now would be a very good time for Asda, or any supermarket, to give shoppers the option of opting out.

“The great thing about a plastic-free isle is that it could encourage innovation in packaging many different products, and save environmentally minded consumers the hassle of hunting for environmentally friendly choices across the store.”

Between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic leaks into the world’s oceans each year to be ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms, and by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year. Last August, the results of a study by Plymouth University reported plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish.

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Ozone layer recovery could be delayed by 30 years

Matt McGrath BBC 12 Oct 17;

Rising global emissions of some chlorine-containing chemicals could slow the progress made in healing the ozone layer.

A study found the substances, widely used for paint stripping and in the manufacture of PVC, are increasing much faster than previously thought.

Mainly produced in China, these compounds are not currently regulated.

Experts say their continued use could set back the closing of the ozone hole by up to 30 years.

Scientists reported last year that they had detected the first clear evidence that the thinning of the protective ozone layer was diminishing.

The Montreal Protocol, which was signed 30 years ago, was the key to this progress. It has progressively helped governments phase out the chlorofluorocarbons and the hydrochlorofluorocarbons that were causing the problem.

However, concern has been growing over the past few years about a number of chemicals, dubbed "very short-lived substances".

Dichloromethane is one of these chemicals, and is used as an industrial solvent and a paint remover. Levels in the atmosphere have increased by 60% over the past decade.

Another compound highlighted in this new report is dichloroethane. It's used in the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride or PVC, a light plastic widely used in construction, agriculture and elsewhere.

For a long time, scientists believed that both these compounds would decay before getting up as far as the ozone layer.

However, air samples analysed in this new study suggest this view may be mistaken and these destructive elements are getting there quicker and doing more damage than thought.

The authors found that cold wind blows these chemicals from factories in China to the eastern Pacific. This is one of the main locations where air gets uplifted into the stratosphere.

"Our aircraft samples show the path from emissions in China, through the tropics in Malaysia and up to about 12km in the atmosphere," said lead author Dr David Oram from the University of East Anglia.

"This implies a route whereby these short-lived compounds can get into the atmosphere much quicker than if they had been released in North America or Manchester."

What is surprising for the scientists is that both these compounds are valuable and also toxic to workers, so there is every incentive for producers to ensure there is no leakage.

However, the new study suggests that leaks and fugitive emissions are occurring and at rates which could have serious implications for the ozone layer.

"We believe that if we carry on with these emissions we'll delay the recovery of the layer," said Dr Oram.

"At the moment an average date for ozone recovery could be about 2050 but there are studies that say this could be delayed by 20-30 years depending on future emissions of things like dichloromethane."

The researchers say that a building boom in India is a concern as that will likely see a rise in the amounts of PVC being used with a knock-on effect on levels of dichloroethane in the air.

Other scientists in this field are also concerned about the rise of these unregulated substances.

"Short lived chlorocarbons have been generally overlooked in terms of ozone loss in recent years," said Dr David Rowley from University College London, who wasn't involved in the study.

"This was wrong as they affect lower atmospheric ozone (and therefore oxidising capacity, the ability of the air to remove pollutants), but they can also be transported to the stratosphere through deep convective events, where they can destroy ozone really effectively."

However, some researchers are not convinced that the new study shows the compounds getting into the exact part of the atmosphere where damage to the ozone layer can be done.

"The measurements report dichloromethane at an altitude of 10-12km - this is still the troposphere," said Dr Susan Strahan from Nasa.

"To demonstrate that it is a threat to ozone requires measurements of dichloromethane in the tropical lower stratosphere.

"In the additional weeks required to travel to the lower stratosphere, which is above 16km, even more of the compound will be destroyed."

Despite these reservations, the authors of the new study are calling for policy makers to extend the remit of the Montreal Protocol to cover these very short-lived substances.

The new paper has been published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

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