Best of our wild blogs: 20 Jan 18

11 Feb (Sun) - Free guided walk at Chek Jawa Boardwalk
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

2018 Guided Walk Schedule
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

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106 critically endangered hawksbill turtles hatch on Sentosa's Tanjong Beach

Audrey Tan Straits Times 19 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - What's tiny, green, covered in sand and Singapore's latest celebration of wildlife?

Over 100 hawksbill turtles - which emerged out of eggs buried at a Sentosa beach on Friday morning (Jan 19), adding to the population of these critically-endangered reptiles.

The 106 hatchlings made their way into the waters at Sentosa's Tanjong Beach in what is the third time hawksbill turtles have hatched here since August.

Officers from the National Parks Board (NParks) took measurements and carried out checks on the baby turtles before they were released into the sea, said Sentosa Development Corporation, which manages the island.

The turtle nest was first spotted by a beachgoer on Nov 10 last year. There have been two other sightings in Sentosa, in 2010 and 1996.

A barrier was built around the nest to keep the eggs safe from natural predators such as monitor lizards and crabs, and reduce potential disturbance during the incubation period, the Sentosa spokesman told The Straits Times.

"As the hawksbill turtle is a critically endangered species, Sentosa Development Corporation... performed daily checks on the nest after the discovery," he said.

Hawksbill Turtle nest on Sentosa's Tanjong Beach

Hawksbill turtles grow to about 1.1m in terms of shell length and weigh about 68kg. Their name comes from tapering heads ending in a sharp point which resembles a beak.

This is the third batch of turtle hatchlings to emerge from Singapore's beaches since last August. Two other clutches of hawksbill turtle eggs were found in East Coast Park and these hatched in August and November last year.

Said turtle ecologist Rushan Abdul Rahman, 28: "It is not unusual to find turtles nesting on sandy beaches in the tropics, although some people may be surprised to know that this phenomenon takes place in urban Singapore too."

But he added that much of turtle nesting habits in Singapore remained unknown, such as whether hawksbill turtles return to the same exact location every time they return to nest, and how often they make nesting migrations.

Mr Rushan said that other studies have shown that some loggerhead turtle populations are happy to nest within a 100km range, whereas green turtles off Brazil's Ascension Island are much fussier about where they nest.

A Marine Turtle Working Group - comprising staff from NParks, academics from institutions such as the National University of Singapore, and interest groups and individuals - was re-established in 2016 to learn more about Singapore's native turtles.

If a turtle is spotted, people should keep their distance and speak softly, say experts. Touching the creature may scare or provoke it. People should also not handle the eggs as this might damage them.

Members of the public can call the Sentosa hotline on 1800-SENTOSA (7368672) if they spot a turtle nest on the resort island, and NParks on 1800-471-7300 if turtles are spotted at other parts of Singapore.

Over 100 endangered turtles hatch in Singapore
AFP 23 Jan 18;

Over 100 baby turtles have hatched on a Singapore beach before being released into the sea, authorities said Tuesday, in a boost for the critically endangered creatures.

A nest of Hawksbill turtle eggs was discovered in November on Sentosa, a popular resort island south of Singapore's main island.

A barrier was erected to keep the nest safe from predators, and officials carried out regular checks, said Sentosa Development Corporation, which manages the island.

On Friday 106 eggs hatched and, after officials carried out tests, the baby turtles were sent off scurrying down the beach and into the sea.

It was the third time that Hawksbill turtle eggs had hatched on Singapore's beaches since August and the first time in eight years on Sentosa, the Straits Times newspaper reported.

Hawksbills get their names from their narrow pointed beaks and are found throughout the world's tropical oceans, mainly around coral reefs.

They are threatened by damage to their natural habitats by pollution and coastal developments, and are also targeted by poachers.

Their body parts are used to make turtle soup and shells are crushed into powder for use in jelly dessert. The Hawksbill shell is also used to make products like combs and ornamental hairpins.

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Monkey business: Youths aim to share love of nature, wildlife with others

KELLY NG Today Online 20 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE — One of Mr Karl Png’s closest encounters with wildlife occurred in his teenage years: Macaques sneaked into his home and took a bite of his meal.

Initially taken aback, Mr Png, now a 21-year-old full-time national serviceman, later learnt the monkeys did not mean it as an “attack”.

“That funny incident taught me that the macaques (lived in the neighbourhood) first, but later the condominiums were built there… So in a way, we share the same space as the macaques,” said Mr Png, who used to live in Bukit Timah. “They saw our food as an opportunity for survival, so the way to prevent such incidents is to keep our food out of their sight and to ensure that windows are locked.”

The encounter did not deter him from engaging with wildlife - in fact, he regularly shares the anecdote with visitors to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where he has been serving as a guide for the last four years.

Mr Png is one of 50 youths who have signed up for a six-month programme called the Biodiversity Challenge, which aims to motivate, train and equip youths to engage their communities on issues surrounding human-wildlife interactions.

Launched last Saturday (Jan 13), participants will attend workshops and on-the-job training sessions with wildlife working groups and park managers before finally running their own projects.

The Challenge focuses on otters, macaques, wild boars, turtles and civets — animals which have a higher chance of encountering humans, said Mr Lim Liang Jim, group director of the National Parks Board’s (NParks) National Biodiversity Centre.

Mooted by a roundtable of more than 20 non-governmental organisations involved in biodiversity issues, the Challenge is supported by NParks, which will help to facilitate some workshops and field guiding sessions.

“Through this community-led effort, we hope to nurture a young cohort of nature advocates who can identify the challenges that this sector will face in the future,” said Mr Lim.

Mr Png hopes the Challenge can equip him with practical skills to share his love for nature with fellow Singaporeans, as well as to debunk misconceptions, such as how wildlife may be “dangerous” or “dirty”.

Unlike Mr Png, fellow participant Zhang Han Xiang is a relative greenhorn. But this was precisely what prompted the 20-year-old Singapore Polytechnic student to sign up for the Challenge.

“I hope to foster a closer relationship and enhance my own encounters with wildlife… I hope to pick up as much knowledge as possible on various types of species,” said the final-year civil engineering student, who does not know which animal he hopes to focus on yet.

“This will be a good opportunity to explore what Singapore’s biodiversity scene has to offer, and I hope to share this with the people around me,” he added.

Another participant, Ms Srishti Arora from the National University of Singapore, was spurred on by a growing number of “conflicts” reported here between humans and wildlife such as wild boars.

“I want to learn how conflicts can be shaped into positive interactions,” said the 21-year-old undergraduate, who majors in environmental biology.

She hopes to come up with a guidebook on the “do’s and don’ts” when approaching wildlife.

Social media is another platform Ms Arora plans to tap to raise awareness of biodiversity among the masses.

Another group of youths hoping to promote Singapore’s natural heritage among their peers is from Nanyang Technological University.

The final-year project of four Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information students consists of a campaign that kicked off with a seminar on Friday (Jan 19).

They invited NParks’ Mr Lim, Strix Wildlife Consultancy director Subaraj Rajathurai and primate researcher Sabrina Jabbar from the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) to share insights with about 70 members of the public who signed up.

Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee was also at the seminar.

The team also surveyed 400 university and polytechnic students and found 85 per cent of them had low awareness of nature reserves in Singapore — for instance, they did not know that these sites are gazetted and protected from development.

Of the respondents, 78 per cent also felt they “did not have sufficient knowledge about (Singapore’s) natural heritage”, but three-quarters were interested in finding out more.

“Through this campaign, we hope to (convey) that like any monument or artefact, our natural heritage holds historical significance as something that was right here from the start and something worth preserving for the future generations,” said Miss Velyn Lee, one of team members. “Natural heritage is a key component of Singapore’s unique identity, and something we should all be proud of.”

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askST: What exactly is the International Year of the Reef?

Audrey Tan Straits Times 20 Jan 18;

S'pore going all out with events for International Year of the Reef

If this year had a colour, it would be blue - blue for the oceans and the creatures that live there.

Welcome to the International Year of the Reef.

It may be only the first month of the year, but things are already in full swing, with programmes being rolled out worldwide to raise awareness about marine habitats, and the need to conserve them.

Singapore, too, has planned a series of public events for the year ahead.

But what marine habitats are there in Singapore, and are they worth visiting? The Straits Times dives into the Republic's underwater universe to find out.

Q What exactly is the International Year of the Reef (IYOR)?

A It is a global campaign that aims to get people thinking about the world's marine habitats.

For the land-bound, underwater habitats, such as coral reefs or seagrass meadows, are often "out of sight, out of mind". As a result, they remain a mystery to many people.

The IYOR hopes to change that.

Governments and conservation groups have joined forces to organise events and programmes that raise awareness of these habitats, and why they need to be conserved.

They include exhibitions, guided walks and workshops.

This year marks the third edition of the global event. The first two were celebrated in 1997 and 2008.

The IYOR is an initiative of the International Coral Reef Initiative - an informal partnership founded in 1994 between nations and marine conservation organisations.

Q What activities have been planned to celebrate the event in Singapore?

A The National Parks Board (NParks) and marine conservation groups have lined up activities that anyone - including those who would rather stay dry - can take part in.

Exhibitions on Singapore's marine biodiversity are being planned for March and April at The Seletar Mall and the Asia Dive Expo at Suntec City respectively. There will also be workshops and talks on seagrass meadows, marine trash and turtle ecology.

People can sign up for patrols to look for turtles or horseshoe crabs on Singapore's beaches, or take part in inter-tidal and coral reef surveys with scientists.

For those who would like to literally get their hands dirty, they can join volunteers in picking up marine rubbish on Singapore's shores. This year would also be a good time to visit the Sisters' Islands Marine Park.

The list of activities planned by NParks and the marine community, along with details about how to take part, can be found at

The sheer variety of activities available may be surprising to some.

After all, Singapore is a global transshipment hub with busy shipping lanes, and the murky waters surrounding the Republic may beg the question of whether there is anything alive in them.

The answer: A resounding yes!

Q What's so special about Singapore's marine habitats?

A Singapore may wear a concrete crown but it is laced with a necklace of blue.

The Republic is home to many different types of marine habitats - from colourful coral reefs in the south, to mangroves in the east and north-west, to seagrass meadows, rocky shores and sandy beaches on other parts of the coast.

And they sustain a surprising amount of life.

Dolphins and endangered sea turtles have recently been spotted in Singapore's waters. The carcass of a sperm whale was found floating off Jurong Island in 2015 - the first time the species has been found here. Hungry dugongs munching through local seagrass meadows have also left their mark.

But it is not just these charismatic animals that have found a home in Singapore's waters. The Republic's marine habitats are also full of little creatures.

For example, there are more than 250 species of hard coral in Singapore, which make up about a third of hard coral species found worldwide. More than 100 species of reef fish can also be found in coral here.

The 12 seagrass species in Singapore make up more than half the total number recorded in the Indo-Pacific region.

Singapore's waters are also home to 200 species of sponge - including the Neptune's cup sponge, a sea creature shaped like a large goblet.

Once thought to be globally extinct, it was re-discovered in Singapore waters in 2011, and there are now five known Neptune's cup sponges in Singapore.

Q Why do these habitats need to be conserved?

A Simply put, they are in danger.

The International Coral Reef Initiative has declared that coral reefs are now one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet as a result of both climate change and local human-induced pressures, such as run-off from industries.

Warming seas caused Singapore's corals to suffer the longest bleaching incident on record in 2016.

Corals depend on symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, for energy. Bleaching occurs when abnormally high sea temperatures cause coral to expel the algae, turning the coral white and depriving it of a key source of nutrition.

The coral on the fringes of Singapore's southern coast started bleaching in early June 2016 and the sea temperature only returned to normal in December that year.

Singapore experienced two earlier bleaching incidents. In 2010, bleaching started in June and ended in September. The 1998 incident lasted from June to August.

In addition, land reclamation and development has also put Singapore at risk of losing other marine habitats, such as mangroves and seagrass meadows.

A study found that development involving filling the island's coastal waters with sand for almost five decades has killed 1.6 sq km of seagrass - nearly half of the country's total.

And Singapore may have lost almost 90 per cent of its mangroves since the 1950s because of land reclamation in the north and south-west.

Losing these habitats will mean losing more than just the loss of colourful coral, plants and animals.

Marine habitats also provide an array of ecosystem services that benefit humans.

For example, healthy coral reefs draw in marine life and function as a nursery for baby fish. Seagrass meadows and mangroves can store large amounts of carbon. Seagrass meadow soil around the world has accumulated an estimated nine billion tonnes of carbon, according to a New York Times report.

All these habitats also provide a natural escape for city dwellers - as visitors to Singapore's beaches or the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve will attest to.

That tiny Singapore has such a variety of marine habitats and lifeforms despite its busy port and history of intense land reclamation is something to cherish.

As Dr Karenne Tun, director of the coastal and marine branch of NParks' National Biodiversity Centre, said: "Our marine biodiversity is our common natural heritage."

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Only 6 per cent of domestic e-waste ends up in recycling bins: NEA study

SIAU MING EN Today Online 20 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE — Most Singaporeans know nothing or little about how to recycle their unwanted electrical or electronic goods, resulting in only about 6 per cent of domestic e-waste recycled and one-quarter thrown out with food and other general waste.

Releasing key findings of an 18-month study on Friday (Jan 19), the National Environment Agency (NEA) found that three in five people in Singapore do not know, or are unsure of how to recycle e-waste.

Singapore generates more than 60,000 tonnes of e-waste each year – the weight of about 220 Airbus A380 superjumbo planes. Half of it is estimated to come from households. This means an individual here throws out about 11kg of e-waste each year.

The study – which surveyed 1,600 consumers and concluded in October last year – found that households recycle only 6 per cent of the estimated 30,000 tonnes of electrical and electronic goods thrown out every year.

Washing machines (32 per cent), refrigerators (27 per cent) and television sets (22 per cent) make up more than 80 per cent of the e-waste generated here. The remainder includes air-conditioners, computers, printers and mobile phones.

About one-quarter of household e-waste is thrown away with general waste or left at common areas. Another 24 per cent, usually the higher-value e-waste like mobile phones, are traded-in or sold.

More than one-third (35 per cent) — usually bulky items such as washing machines and refrigerators — are handed over to deliverymen by consumers collecting their new appliances.

But these items are not always properly disposed of. Some end up with “informal collectors” such as scrap traders and rag-and-bone men, said an NEA spokesperson.

The informal collectors would refurbish and resell the reusable items or trade in parts of the items with recyclers.

“Many of these collectors do not have the capability to maximise resource recovery from e-waste, and as a result, only components of significant value are recycled,” said the spokesperson.

They could endanger themselves and may discard potentially hazardous components with general waste. When e-waste is incinerated, the heavy metals also contaminate incineration ash.

There are only a handful of voluntary recycling programmes in Singapore, but they mostly collect portable e-waste. More than 400 bins are found islandwide under StarHub’s Renew programme and they collected about 93 tonnes of e-waste last year, for instance.

Singapore’s largest e-waste recycler TES-AMM collected about 12,200 tonnes of e-waste last year. About 20 to 30 per cent came from Singaporean consumers while the remainder was from its offices in other countries.

TES-AMM’s Benoi Sector facility can recycle different materials that are extracted from the e-waste, including copper, steel, plastic and even gold.

E-waste is a growing problem worldwide as new products are rapidly rolled out and demand for gadgets grows with increasing wealth and digitalisation. Yet, rare earth metals used to make tech gadgets are reportedly becoming scarcer.

A lot of energy and resources are used to make even small electronic devices and consumers should help in “preserving” them, said TES-AMM group chief operating officer Gary Steele.

Formal recyclers are also able to ensure personal data residing in the devices is not compromised while processing the e-waste, he said.

Most people do not know what to do with e-waste; only a fraction recycle: NEA study
Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 19 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE: Six in 10 people in Singapore may be throwing out items such as old television sets, printers and computers because they do not know or are unsure of how to recycle these electronic waste (e-waste), the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Friday (Jan 19).

This was among the findings of a study it commissioned in a bid to identify the challenges in Singapore’s management of e-waste and to guide the agency in creating an e-waste management system for the country.

The study was conducted between April 2016 and October last year.


Singapore generates more than 60,000 tonnes of e-waste a year – the equivalent of 220 Airbus A380 planes.

Out of this, half is generated by households, NEA said. Each person disposes of around 11kg of e-waste, the equivalent of 73 mobile phones.

NEA said the study found that while people typically trade in or sell e-waste of high value such as mobile phones, they discard the rest with their general waste. In fact, only 6 per cent of e-waste from households ends up in e-waste recycling bins. More than a quarter is just thrown away.

Bulky items such as washing machines and refrigerators may be passed on to deliverymen upon receiving new appliances, but even this is sometimes discarded at common areas.

The study also found that this e-waste could end up with scrap traders and rag-and-bone men.

“Many of these collectors do not have the capability to maximise resource recovery from e-waste, and as a result, only components of significant value are recycled,” NEA said.

As a result, e-waste that is not recycled is incinerated, and results in not just the loss of resources that could have been recycled by proper recycling facilities, but also in the release of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change.

The agency has been working to raise awareness programmes among members of the public and in 2015, formed the National Voluntary Partnership for E-Waste Recycling, where proper recycling and treatment processes are adopted.

But it said there are limits to a voluntary approach.

“A regulated system is therefore needed to ensure that consumers are provided with convenient means to recycle their e-waste, and (that) the e-waste collected is channelled to proper recycling facilities where safety and environmental standards are adhered to,” NEA said.


According to NEA, there are eight voluntary e-waste recycling programmes, including telco StarHub's Renew programme. Under the programme, e-waste such as modems, mobile phones and cables can be collected from some 400 bins around the island.

Still, StarHub's Chief Strategic Partnership Officer, Jeannie Ong said outreach efforts need to be intensified.

"I suppose because this is a society whereby we want instant gratification and we want everything to be quick and fast and convenient, the idea and the concept of recycling your electronic waste is not there, we definitely need to do more to educate, remind public," Ms Ong said.

“With Smart Nation, it means that there will be even more electronic devices around, so therefore, it's even more critical for us to expand the e-waste system in Singapore. We need to get more players in the sector to come together and play a part to tackle these issues."

Recycling facility TES-AMM's group chief operating officer, Gary Steele, said recycling one's mobile phone for example, will not just benefit the environment, but consumers also.

"If it's poorly disposed of, there can also be toxicity and leakage into the environment," Mr Steele said.

"But if you don't dispose of your mobile phones correctly, there are also numerous ways that the phone can be accessed to access your personal data."


NEA said it looked to countries with an established e-waste management system in order to develop a comprehensive one for Singapore. They included Germany and South Korea as well as cities such as New York.

A common feature of formal systems in these countries is that stakeholders throughout the e-waste value chain have responsibilities assigned through the Extended Producer Responsibility approach, NEA said.

This means that when products reach their end-of-life, their producers have to ensure these products are properly recycled.

“For example, in New York, electronics manufacturers fund programmes where consumers can mail small e-waste to recyclers,” NEA said.

In European countries such as Germany and France, large retailers have to provide e-waste collection points in their stores, as well as cater for free take-back services for larger e-waste products.

E-waste recyclers in these countries are also regulated and have to meet high environmental standards, where they need to set recycling targets and provide information to authorities on e-waste flows.

The agency said these systems are being assessed for adoption in Singapore through various consultations.

NEA and the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources will seek public views on the matter through a consultation session next month.

(Additional reporting by Vanessa Lim)

Source: CNA/ms

Steps to shrink mountain of e-waste through better recycling
Samantha Boh Straits Times 19 Jan 18;

SINGAPORE - There could soon be regulations here to ensure that discarded electrical and electronic items are recycled and reused, to help shrink the mountain of computers, laptops, refrigerators and other e-waste thrown away in Singapore.

The Republic's poor record in this area means not only that valuable materials in such items, such as gold and copper, are going up in smoke, but also that hazardous waste in some components, including mercury, is being incinerated and polluting the atmosphere.

"A regulated system is... needed to ensure that consumers are provided with convenient means to recycle their e-waste, and the e-waste collected is channelled to proper recycling facilities where safety and environmental standards are adhered to," said the National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday.

Households here produce some 30,000 tonnes of e-waste a year - half of the total amount generated, equivalent to the weight of 110 Airbus A-380 planes.

But most people have no clue what to do with it. Auditor Rachel Lim, 24, for one, does not know what to do with old electronic goods. "I know it shouldn't go in the dustbin, so I just keep it," she said.

According to NEA's recent survey of 1,600 consumers, only a tiny portion of e-waste - just 6 per cent - is sent for recycling.

To turn things around, the Government is looking to countries like Sweden - which has a sterling 52 per cent recycling rate for e-waste, and Denmark, where the figure is 43 per cent.

Recycling initiative to turn electronic trash into cash for Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund
Both countries harness an "Extended Producer Responsibility" (EPR) strategy, where producers such as brand owners and manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that their products get recycled.

If applied to consumers here, this may mean they will have to mail smaller products to recyclers for free. Retailers might have to provide e-waste collection points in stores, and one-for-one take-back services for large items such as refrigerators.

The wheels have been set in motion, with the NEA announcing on Friday (Jan 19) that it is assessing the suitability of overseas practices with the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources through consultations with industry stakeholders. These discussions will be extended to the public next month.

The NEA said this will ensure that e-waste collected is recycled safely at proper recycling facilities.

The consumer survey had found that e-waste was generally given to deliverymen to cart away, or thrown in the garbage. Such items also end up with scrap traders and rag-and-bone men, who lack the skills to fully recycle these items, and could end up discharging harmful chemical compounds or disposing of them with general waste.

Worse - if e-waste is incinerated, it would add to carbon emissions and contaminate the ash at the Semakau landfill, NEA warned.

Recycling facility TES-AMM's group chief operating officer Gary Steele applauded the move towards regulation: "Enforcing legislation and having EPR schemes makes it more visible for people so they will want to deal with it properly."

And some consumers are keen for the changes to happen. Said Miss Lim: "If recycling e-waste is convenient, such as having the bins around my housing estate, I would of course consider doing it."

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Indonesia: Burning need for more funds to restore Indonesian peatlands

University of Queensland 19 Jan 18;

A major shortfall in funding to restore Indonesia’s degraded peat forests means the country is facing a difficult environmental decision, an international study has found.

Restoring the country's peat forests is essential to reduce the extent and frequency of large-scale fires, which have already caused more than 100,000 premature deaths, released greenhouse gases, destroyed the habitats of threatened species.

University of Queensland School of Earth and Environmental Sciences PhD student Amanda Hansson said Indonesia’s target to restore two million hectares of peat forest was likely to cost more than US$4.6 billion.

“The currently allocated US$200 million in Indonesian and international funds would only restore about 100,000 hectares of peat,” she said.

“This shortfall means Indonesia will have to choose between using best-practice methods in smaller areas or using cheaper and potentially ineffective restoration methods to reinstate larger areas of degraded peat forest.”

Peat is formed under very wet conditions, when dead plant material is unable to decay in a flooded environment.

Ms Hansson and Deputy Head of School Associate Professor Paul Dargusch said the study aimed to understand the restoration activity needs of Indonesia’s degraded peat forests.

It also examined restoration methods and their applications and the classification of degraded peatlands, and applied these classifications to estimate the cost of restoration.

“Many degraded peat forests in Indonesia - caused by draining and clearing - have shown poor signs of natural regeneration, and will require assisted restoration,” Ms Hansson said.

“An initiative to restore more than two million hectares of degraded peat by 2020 has been outlined by the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency.”

Ms Hansson said the study proposed classifying areas of the peat forests based on the type of restoration activities required – determined by fire history, logging, and the width of canals used to drain the peat.

She said classification helped in calculating the cost of restoration per hectare, estimated to range between US$25 and US$400.

The research is published in Case Studies of the Environment, (doi: 10.1525/cse.2017.000695).

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Philippines: Facebook top choice for Philippines wildlife traders

AFP Yahoo News 19 Jan 18;

Manila (AFP) - Facebook has emerged as the top site for wildlife trafficking in the Philippines, a watchdog said Friday, with thousands of endangered crocodiles, snakes and turtles illegally traded in just three months.

Monitoring network TRAFFIC said Facebook had not done enough to shut down the trade, which saw more than 5,000 reptiles from 115 species put up for sale on its discussion groups from June to August 2016 alone.

"Facebook is the platform of choice for illegal traders in the Philippines because of its popularity and insufficient internal monitoring enforcement," the report said.

"This magnitude of commerce in live wild animals online is just mind-boggling," said Serene Chng, TRAFFIC's programme officer for Southeast Asia.

The groups where live reptile advertisements were posted had more than 350,000 members when the study began, with numbers growing 11 percent in three months.

Most transactions were completed using Facebook's Messenger service, the report said, adding that trading continues on the platform despite periodic government raids.

Over half the species bought and sold were protected internationally and by the Philippines' wildlife act, which carries jail terms and fines.

The radiated tortoise, black spotted turtle, Bengal monitor lizard, and Dumeril's boa -- all threatened with extinction -- were among them, as well as the critically endangered Philippine crocodile and Philippine forest turtle.

In one transaction, a trader also used an unnamed ride-sharing service to deliver wildlife to a buyer.

"This small snapshot reinforces how social media has taken over as the new epicentre of wildlife trade," Chng said.

A statement from Facebook's PR firm said the site does not tolerate wildlife trade and is working with TRAFFIC to tackle the problem.

"Facebook does not allow the sale and trade of endangered animals and we will not hesitate to remove any material that violates our community standards when it is reported to us," it said.

TRAFFIC's regional spokeswoman Elizabeth John said that Facebook was "seeking additional information in order to take action" and that the watchdog was helping it liaise with Philippine authorities.

Findings from the study were used to launch raids on suspected illegal traders in Manila and other areas last year, TRAFFIC said, with numerous arrests made.

Philippine customs authorities also intercepted packages with illegal wildlife destined for China, Sweden, and the United States.

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Coral reefs 'at make or break point', UN environment head says

Erik Solheim cites ‘huge decline’ in world’s reefs but says shift from coal and new awareness of plastic pollution are good news
Michael Slezak The Guardian 19 Jan 18;

The battle to save the world’s coral reefs is at “make or break point”, and countries that host them have a special responsibility to take a leadership role by limiting greenhouse gas emissions, plastic pollution and impacts from agriculture, the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has said.

Speaking to the Guardian after the launch of International Coral Reef Initiative’s international year of the reef, Erik Solheim said he expected governments to take their efforts on reef protection in 2018 beyond symbolic designation.

“We expect governments to step up to concrete actions,” Solheim said.

To kick off ​ that effort, Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, has announced new protections ​for large portions of the Great Sea Reef, by nominating it a Ramsar site. The Ramsar Convention ​ gives protection to wetlands – including coral reefs – that are important for the conservation of global biodiversity and for sustaining human life.

Announcing the nomination, Bainimarama said it was shocking that this might be the last generation to witness the beauty of coral reefs.

“Today I appeal to every single person on Earth to help us. We must replace the present culture of abuse with a culture of care,” he said.

Solheim ​said another significant ​ step was ​taken this year when Belize imposed a moratorium on oil exploration and extraction in its waters – a move the Belizean prime minister said was ​a first for a developing country​.

“We have seen a huge decline in the reefs and that is absolutely serious,” Solheim said. “But there are also signs of change. We see now a huge global shfit from coal to solar and wind and that is very good news for our efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.

“And we have seen a huge shift in the awareness of the problem of plastic pollution,” he said, noting there have been many moves around the world to ban various forms of plastic pollution.

Solheim said that while the decline of reefs was a global problem that needed coodinated action, host countries ​had a special responsibility.

“We expect Australia and the Pacific Islands and the Carribbean to protect their coral reefs – they can do so much,” he said.

He called on Australia to do more to mitigate climate change.

“I strongly encourage Australia to transform its energy mix from coal to solar and wind and renewables – that is happening, but the faster it happens the better.”

Solheim said failure to act now would bring about a major catastrophe.

“Beyond the complete moral failure of destroying the enormous beauty and all the different species in the ocean living in the reefs, it would also be an economic disaster,” he said.

Estimates vary, but coral reefs around the world are thought to sustain the lives of about one billion people, ​ by supporting food sources, ​protecting coastlines or providing other economic support.

That is particularly ​true of developing countries, but reefs also support thousands of jobs in Australia, Solheim said.

“It would have a huge impact for Australia – the reduction of tourism, and an impact on the fishing industry. Tourism is the most rapidly growing business on the planet and a huge job provider. At a time when every nation is desperate for jobs, restoring reefs is fundamental to economic success everywhere.”

Unep also announced it would​ be working in collaboration with WWF to “drive an urgent response to combat the decline of coral”.

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