Best of our wild blogs: 23 Feb 18

Mangroves = Chilli Crab!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

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Ultraviolet radiation in Singapore hit highest 'extreme' level of 15 twice in a week

Ng Huiwen Straits Times 22 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE - Slather on some sunscreen or seek shade in the afternoon, as the ultraviolet radiation level in Singapore has recorded "extreme" readings this week, reaching the highest of 15 on Monday (Feb 19).

On that day, the one-hour average UV Index of 15 was recorded at 1pm and 2pm, according to the Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS).

This is not the first time Singapore has hit the highest value of 15 on the index. This was also seen at 2pm last Tuesday, as well as at 1pm on both Sept 8 and 17 last year.

However, it is not uncommon for the index to hit extreme levels for several hours during the day.

The UV Index - an international standard measurement of the level of UV radiation exposure - ranges from 0 to 11+ and is grouped into various exposure categories, from low to extreme.

Extra protection against sunburn is needed when the value hits "very high" levels of between 8 and 10, and "extreme" levels of 11 and above, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA) website.

The reading on Monday was first spotted by a netizen, who posted about it on online forum Reddit, firing a discussion among many Singaporeans.

Some of them pointed out instances during the day where they had felt the heat,while others raised concerns about the harmful effects of UV radiation.

Said a Reddit user: "Was wondering why it felt like a sauna in my house. Usually it's really cool here. Was out in direct sunlight for 5 minutes today and it was already too much."

Earlier this month, MSS said that Singaporeans can expect drier and warmer weather, following a mostly cool and wet January.

Some warm days can be expected in the second half of the month, with the daily maximum temperature possibly reaching a high of around 34 deg C, according to MSS' fornightly weather outlook.

On most days, the daily maximum temperature is forecast to be around 32 deg C or 33 deg C, while the daily minimum temperature is expected to range between 23 deg C and 24 deg C.

In response to queries by The Straits Times, an MSS spokesman explained that the weather on Monday had been fair with little cloud cover in the early afternoon.

Over the past two weeks, some of the highest UV Index values recorded included 12 last Friday (Feb 16), 13 last Saturday and Sunday, 15 on Monday and 14 on Tuesday.

The readings were recorded between 11am and 3pm.

The spokesman said that the UV Index varies with factors such as time of day and time of year, latitude (proximity to the Equator), altitude and cloud cover.

Countries near the equator are exposed to higher levels of solar UV radiation.

In Singapore, it is common for the index to reach extreme levels during a four-hour period from 11am to 3pm, when the sun intensity peaks and UV radiation is strongest.

"Under less common conditions when the skies are clear or almost cloud free, more UV radiation can reach the earth's surface," added the spokesman.

According to the NEA website, February is also among the months of the year when the average daily maximum UV Index hovers at "very high" levels. It is an average of 9 in February.

Excessive exposure to solar UV radiation can result in harmful effects to the skin and eyes, the spokesman said.

According to MSS, here are some protective measures to take to minimise the effects if you are out in the sun, especially between 11am and 3pm when the UV index levels are highest:

Use sunscreen (at least SPF 30)
Use an umbrella and seek shade
Wear sunglasses that block UVA/UVB rays
Wear a broad-brimmed hat
More information on factors that affect UV radiation is available here.

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S$5 per tonne tax rate ‘fair amount’ to pay for greenhouse gas emissions: Masagos

SIAU MING EN Today Online 23 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE – The initial carbon tax of S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions imposed on large emitters is a “fair amount”, and was decided after considering the industry’s compliance costs, among other factors, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli on Thursday (Feb 22).

The initial tax rate will also help affected businesses transit into the carbon tax regime, and give them time to adjust and comply, said Mr Masagos, who spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the opening of a green classroom at Bukit View Secondary School.

In his Budget speech in Parliament on Monday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that large carbon emitters who produce 25,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gases annually will be taxed S$5 for each tonne of emissions from next year to 2023. This will be increased to between S$10 and S$15 by 2030.

The carbon tax will apply to about 30 to 40 of the largest emitters in the power generation, petroleum refining, chemicals and semiconductor sectors, which account for about 80 per cent of Singapore’s emissions.

Mr Masagos said they had consulted the industry and arrived at the S$5 per tonne rate, which is lower than the S$10 to S$20 rate first announced by the authorities last year. They also wanted to make sure that the cost of compliance is comparable to the tax they will have to pay.

The businesses had also asked the authorities to be transparent about the tax rates in the long run, among other reasons, which is why they have set a flat carbon tax rate that will apply to all sectors, with no exemptions, he noted.

“We took into account that these companies need to transit into the future where they will need time to change their processes, improve their emissions, so that when the tax actually takes place at a higher rate… they (would) already have reduced (their) emissions,” he added.

Businesses will also need time to comply with the requirements under the carbon tax regime, as well as to adjust to them during this period of transition, he said.

“I think by giving them five years to adjust and also getting used to the compliance regiment of this carbon tax, S$5 is a fair amount to put to our companies,” said Mr Masagos. In jurisdictions where there is a high carbon tax, he noted that exemptions are also made for certain industries where the tax rates are lowered such that it is no longer as effective.

While there is concern about the projected carbon tax rates after 2030, Mr Masagos said that timeline is still “too far away”. Reiterating that companies will pay between S$10 and S$15 by 2030, he added that this is “depending on many factors, including competitiveness as well as the level playing field we will like to see around.”

When asked if more regular and detailed data on Singapore’s emissions,including those of individual emitters, will be published, Mr Masagos said the carbon pricing bill has to be passed in Parliament so that the authorities can get a clearer picture of how much greenhouse gas each large emitter produces and how to nudge them to do better.

In the draft carbon pricing bill released for public consultation last October, large emitters will have to register themselves as a taxable facility. The National Environment Agency will determine the number of carbon credits they have to surrender based on the emissions report they submitted for that year, which must be verified by an independent third party.

Such data will not be released publicly but the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) will continue to release key environmental statistics annually.

For instance, the most recent publication last year showed Singapore’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions for 2014 and 2015, which were recorded at about 50 million and 51.4 million carbon dioxide-equivalent tonnes respectively.

There is a more comprehensive emissions report published in 2012, which was submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change two years ago. Updated figures will be released at the end of this year.

Dr Sanjay Kuttan, programme director at Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Energy Research Institute, said more data on Singapore’s emissions will help with innovation, where specific innovation can be targeted at areas or processes that can be more efficient.

Associate Professor Toh Mun Heng from the National University of Singapore Business School said the amount of information to be made publicly available has to be balanced between allowing businesses to remain competitive, and to be accountable to the public.

Given that the large emitters will have to submit more of such data to the authorities, the Government has to be the “honest broker” to monitor the emitters’ emissions levels and their impact on the environment and the public, he added.

Carbon tax of S$5 per tonne of greenhouses gases to give companies time to adjust: Masagos
Deborah Wong Channel NewsAsia 22 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE: The Government decided to impose a carbon tax of S$5 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions, instead of the previously announced range of between S$10 and S$20, so as to give affected companies time to adjust, Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said on Thursday (Feb 22).

“We considered a few things,” he said. “Number one: To make sure that the cost of compliance is comparable to the tax being paid. We impose it only on the highest greenhouse gas emitters. This means that to cut off at 80 per cent of the total emission, about 40 companies will be affected by this.”

On the decision to implement flat rates without exemptions, Mr Masagos said: “These companies also ask us to be transparent, to know what the rates will be like in the long term as well as to make it simple so compliance costs are not difficult. Because of that, we made the rates flat."

Mr Masagos was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the launch of JOULES Smart Centre, a green classroom at Bukit View Secondary School.

The centre will be used for the school's environmental classes, as well as other events and functions.

The school also plans to use the JOULES Smart Centre to help senior residents in the neighbourhood learn to use electronic devices.

The centre itself uses sustainable products, such as tables made from repurposed pallets, and a thermal air conditioning system that harnesses solar and ambient heat to reduce electricity.

It has an indoor green wall that purportedly gives better air quality and reduces noise levels by absorbing acoustic energy.

The Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC), which had a hand in building the JOULES Smart Centre, said it hopes to use the facility to make the case for greener, healthier classrooms.

“Green building should not be adopted by just the building and construction industry alone,” said the council's president Tan Swee Yiow. "Research has shown that Green Mark-certified buildings are not only better for the environment, but also have positive effects for the building occupants.”

BVSS has a strong focus on sustainability education. Its students attend a four-year enrichment programme, where they learn about key environmental issues and developments, how to build a solar car, as well as coding.

Source: CNA/aa

$5-per-tonne carbon tax is fair on companies, says Masagos
Samantha Boh Straits Times 22 Feb 18;

SINGAPORE - Getting large carbon emitters to pay $5 for every tonne of greenhouse gases they generate is a "fair" way to start a compliance regime, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said on Thursday (Feb 22).

From next year till 2023, all facilities producing 25,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gas emissions a year will be taxed $5 per tonne of emissions - significantly lower than the $10 to $20 per tonne envisioned last year.

However, the Government will review the tax rate in 2023, and eventually increase the carbon tax to between $10 and $15 per tonne by 2030.

He called the initial $5 per tonne a "fair amount", which gives the affected 30 to 40 companies - which contribute 80 per cent of Singapore's greenhouse gas emissions - time to "adjust and also get used to the compliance regime"

"They will need time to change their processes and improve their emissions" he said.

He added that the transition period will allow the affected companies - mainly from the petroleum refining, chemicals and semiconductor sectors - to be better placed to comply with the higher tax rates to be imposed by 2030.

Mr Masagos was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to Bukit View Secondary View, where he launched a new green classroom comprising various eco-friendly features, including a green wall - covered in plants - and motion-activated fans.

A carbon tax is a common tool used to control the amount of earth-warming greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

About 67 countries and jurisdictions, including China, the European Union and Japan, have implemented or announced plans to implement such a scheme. They aim to encourage companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy efficiency.

Households here could see their total electricity and gas expenses increase by 1 per cent on average due to the carbon tax, which will be offset by additional Utilities-Save rebates.

Asked how companies can be made accountable, Mr Masagos said it is necessary to pass a carbon tax act which will require companies to submit data on their greenhouse gas emissions, and which will impose stricter requirements on large emitters such as an audit report that confirms their data.

"By doing so we will have a better grasp of how much each of these industries and companies emit and therefore have an idea of how we can then nudge (them) to do better," he said.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said there are no plans to make individual company emissions data public.

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Indonesian official warns of forest and plantation fires threat to Asian Games

Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja Straits Times 23 Feb 18;

JAKARTA - The Asian Games could be threatened if forest and plantation fires are not addressed early, an Indonesian disaster management agency official has been quoted as saying.

The Games taking place between Aug 18 and Sept 2 are, for the first time, being co-hosted by two Indonesian cities - Jakarta, the capital, and Palembang, in Sumatra.

The Sumatra-based disaster management official warned that fires, if not addressed early, could spread and become difficult to control, national television Indosiar reported.

Mr Edwar Sanger, head of Riau's disaster management agency, was speaking on Wednesday after news broke that four provinces - Riau, South Sumatra, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan - were on disaster alert because of a rising number of hot spots within their boundaries.

"With the disaster alert being declared, we could better coordinate work with the military, police, local governments and seek help. I will indeed report immediately to the headquarters to send in helicopters for water bombing and aircraft for cloud-seeding," he told Indosiar.

Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for BNPB, the national disaster management agency, disclosed the alert status, which means that the government in Jakarta will now be now able to intervene easily and with less red tape to deal with the fires, including deploying troops and providing logistics and funds.

Four Indonesian provinces, including Riau, declare disaster alerts for forest fires
On Thursday, there were a total of 15 hot spots across the country, with only two recorded on Sumatra. Nine were in Kalimantan in Borneo and the remaining four on Java island. The figures represent a sharp drop from the day before when 78 hot spots were recorded throughout the archipelago.

The hot spots on Wednesday in Riau province - which is close to Singapore - were located in Indragiri Hilir, Bengkalis and Pelalawan. More than 500ha were affected and some residents exposed to choking haze, Indosiar, citing Mr Edwar, reported.

Pekanbaru, Riau's capital, however, has so far been spared.

Mr Patrick Tampubolon, an information officer at the Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport in the provincial capital, said that visibility was recorded at 10km at 1pm, well above the distance required for any plane to take off or land.

"In fact Tuesday morning we had rain that lasted a short while, and in the evening more rain fell for longer," Mr Patrick told The Straits Times via telephone. "In the past week, we saw a total of three days of rain," he added.

The peatlands of Riau province are by far the most extensive in Sumatra, accounting for more than 50 per cent of the total on the island. The fragile, flammable peatlands are a major source of the choking annual haze that has blighted the region in the last two decades.

In 2015, six of the 14 districts and cities in Riau recorded hazardous PSI levels for extended periods. Malaysia and Singapore also suffered as a result of the raging forest and plantation fires in Indonesia

Indonesian provinces located near the equator are now in their first phase of the dry season, which usually runs from early in the year to March. The rainy season then sets in for these provinces in March and lasts until May, before another, more intense dry season from June to September.

Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) on Wednesday said the likelihood of transboundary haze affecting Singapore was currently assessed to be low.

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Indonesia: Polluted air from fires starts to affect Riau residents

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 22 Feb 18;

Air quality in Dumai regency, Riau has worsened, with the latest air quality index showing a moderate level of pollution resulting from recent fires in surrounding peatland, an official has said.

Dumai Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Tengku Ismed said pollutant particles in the air had increased.

“The PSI level stands at 43,” Tengku said Wednesday, referring to the pollutant standard index. He added that the level stood at 27 on Feb 15.

Tengku said the fires had affected land in West Dumai, South Dumai, East Dumai, Sungai Sembilan, Bukit Kapur and Medang Kampai.

Tengku said his agency would take measures to prevent air quality from worsening.

“We do not want it [the air pollution] to disrupt two major events: the Asian Games and the regional elections,” he said.

Dumai is nearly 1,000 kilometers away from Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra, which will cohost the quadrennial sporting event in August. Riau will also hold a regional election in June.

Tengku claimed that this year’s fires were less severe than those in 2015 and 2016, when fires decimated vast areas. In 2017, the agency reported that the fires affected 64 hectares.

Tengku attributed the cause of the fires to the dry season.

Meanwhile, Riau BPBD head Edwar Sanger said worsening air quality was also reported in the province’s other regencies, such as Rokan Hilir and Kampar.

On Wednesday morning, the Riau Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) spotted three hot spots in Bengkalis, Rokan Hilir and Siak.

“Rain is helping us put out the fires,” said Slamet Riyadi of Riau BMKG . (gis/dmr)

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Malaysia: Sabah Wildlife Dept captures aggressive female elephant in Telupid

OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 22 Feb 18;

TELUPID: Sabah Wildlife Department has captured an aggressive female elephant Wednesday following villagers’ complaints.

This was made possible by the department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit.

NSTP has recently reported that the human-elephant conflict here has grown rampant with sightings of two herds of about 20 elephants reported at Kampung Gambaron and its surrounding areas since early this year.

The Wildlife Rescue Unit has been stationed at the area around the clock to contain the situation involving the large herd of elephants, including four baby elephants.

The herd, however, has gone separate ways in search of food, making it harder for the team to keep the elephants under control.

It is understood that three of the elephants have been identified as aggressive.

Department director Augustine Tuuga had said the three elephants, once caught, will be relocated to the Imbak forest reserve located about 100km from here.

In a statement, the Wildlife Rescue Unit acting manager Dr Diana Ramirez said the elephant has now been secured and will be translocated soon.

The department also listed villages damaged by the elephants so far. The villages are Kampung Gambaron 1, Kampung Gambaron 2, Kampung Batu 4, Kampung Bintang-Mas, Kampung Bauto, Kampung Telupid, SMK Telupid, Telupid Agricultural Department, Kampung Gaab, Kampung Lubang Batu, and Kampung Maliau.

The department has also stated that since the operation began, at least RM10,000 has been spent. However, the unit is currently fully funded by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council.

Yesterday, the unit also managed to secure a bigger team to conduct the operation, headed by Jibius Dausip, as well as additional hands from the Orangutan Appeal UK, Eco Health Alliance and Gambaron youths.

The bigger tea allowed the rescue unit team to focus on the translocation, while the rest of the support focused on elephant control to avoid further damages to the villages.

Telupid may see an end to attacks by aggressive elephants
stephanie lee The Star 22 Feb 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Over the past month, villagers in Sabah's interior Telupid district have been terrorised by several aggressive elephants.

Not only were they faced with dangers from being attacked, their plantations were also damaged.

However, their plight might end soon with wildlife rangers capturing a female elephant on Wednesday (Feb 21).

"A few from the herd of about 20 elephants have been acting aggressively towards villagers and our rangers, especially those involved in controlling their movements," said Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga in a statement Thursday (Feb 22).

He said it had been a difficult task to control and locate all the elephants, which included four babies and two bulls, as they normally travelled in several groups in search for food.

Augustine said the translocation operations by the Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU) were funded by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC).

Apart from the Sabah Wildlife Department, other agencies such as the Orangutan Appeal UK, Eco Health Alliance and Belia Gambaron were also involved in the operation.

This allowed the WRU team to focus on the translocation, while the rest of the support focused on elephant control to avoid further damages.

About RM10,000 has been spent the past month for the purpose.

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Thai junta under pressure to tackle pollution 'crisis'

AFP 22 Feb 18;

Around a dozen activists delivered the large hourglass to a representative of Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha
Environmental activists presented the Thai junta with an hourglass filled with dust on Thursday as part of a plea to tackle the hazardous levels of air pollution that have hung over the capital in recent weeks.

Bangkok, one of the world's top tourist destinations, has been shrouded in smog for nearly a month, with authorities reporting unhealthy concentrations of harmful microscopic particles known as PM2.5.

Around a dozen Greenpeace activists wearing facemasks and carrying placards delivered the large hourglass to a representative of the Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha in Bangkok.

The gift "symbolises calls on the government to urgently tackle the air pollution crisis", Greenpeace said in a statement.

The group's Thailand director, Tara Buakamsri, called on the junta chief to improve the kingdom's pollution monitoring and warning systems.

"Bangkok cannot continue choking on hazardous air," he said.

"It endangers the lives of people, affects economic productivity and negatively impacts the prestige of one of the most popular cities on earth," he added.

According to the watchdog, on 42 of the past 50 days Thailand's PM2.5 concentration has exceeded the safety limits recommended by the World Health Organization.

On Thursday Bangkok's Air Quality Index (AQI) was measured at 119 by the monitor AQICN, a level described as "unhealthy for sensitive groups".

Thai officials say they expect rain to help clear the air but have warned the young, sick and elderly to stay indoors.

Troops have also been deployed to spray water into the air and wash down streets to help clear the dust, while Bangkok's governor said open burning would be restricted.

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Debt for dolphins: Seychelles creates huge marine parks in world-first finance scheme

An innovative exchange of sovereign debt for marine conservation, backed by the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, could pave the way to saving large swaths of the world’s oceans
Damian Carrington The Guardian 22 Feb 18;

The tropical island nation of Seychelles is to create two huge new marine parks in return for a large amount of its national debt being written off, in the first scheme of its kind in the world.

The novel financial engineering, effectively swapping debt for dolphins and other marine life, aims to throw a lifeline to corals, tuna and turtles being caught in a storm of overfishing and climate change. If it works, it will also secure the economic future of the nation, which depends entirely on tourism and fishing. With other ocean states lining up to follow, the approach could transform large swaths of the planet’s troubled seas.

The challenge for the Seychelles is clear on the coral reef fringing Curieuse Island, once a leper colony and now a national park. The mass bleaching caused by warming waters in 2016 has left the white limbs of branching corals lying like bones in a ploughed graveyard, with rare flashes of the cobalt-blue coral survivors.

“The biggest changes are climate change,” says David Rowat, a marine scientist and diving school owner for 30 years, who says storms and bleaching events are becoming more frequent. Some clownfish have never returned since the major bleaching in 1998, he says: “The ‘nemos’ all went.” As the reef recovered, the 2016 bleaching was a “kick in the teeth”, Rowat says.

Overfishing, and the killing of dolphins, sharks and turtles as bycatch in tuna nets, is also taking its toll across the Seychelles’ vast ocean territory. The new marine plan bans fishing around biodiversity hotspots, keeping them healthy and better able to resist climate change.

The biodiversity jewel in the Seychelles crown is the Aldabra archipelago, which rivals the Galapagos in ecological importance. Spinner dolphins, manta rays, humpback whales and nurse, lemon and tiger sharks share the waters with hawksbill and green turtles, and seabirds from some of the world’s largest colonies soar above. Dugongs - or sea cows - are the most endangered species in the Indian Ocean and shelter here, while 100,000 rare giant tortoises slowly roam the land.

The new protected area around Aldabra is 74,000 square kilometres - almost the size of Scotland - and bans all extractive uses, from fishing to oil exploitation. The second new protected area is 134,000 sq km, centred on the main Seychelles island of Mahe. It allows controlled activities but is, for example, banning “fish aggregating devices” – rafts that concentrate fish but drive up bycatch.

Together, the parks cover 15% of the Seychelles ocean and the government will double this by 2021, putting it far ahead of an international target of 10% by 2020. The parks resulted from the first ever debt-swap deal for marine protection in which $22m of national debt owed to the UK, France, Belgium and Italy was bought at a discount by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the NGO that has assisted the Seychelles.

TNC also raised $5m from donors to pay off part of the debt and cut the interest rate charged to the Seychelles government on the outstanding loan. This has freed up $12m over the next 20 years to help implement the new marine plan.

“The Seychelles is positioning itself as a world leader in ocean governance,” says environment minister, Didier Dogley. “But we are not doing this because we have such a great ego but because we truly believe these initiatives will create prosperity for our people, conserve critical biodiversity and build resilience against climate change.”

Leonardo DiCaprio, whose foundation donated $1m towards funding the debt swap, said: “These protections mean that all species living in these waters or migrating through them are now far better shielded from overfishing, pollution, and climate change.”

BenoĆ®t Bosquet, environment practice manager at the World Bank, which is not involved in the Seychelles marine plan, said: “They are a leader in this field worldwide and may be an example for many other countries.”

However, despite the biggest consultation since the Seychelles nation was founded, some islanders have not welcomed the new plan. On Praslin island, as he unloads his catch of job fish and white spotted snappers onto Grande Anse beach, fisherman Richard Bossy, says: “We are worried. They want to make a lot of regulated areas where we can’t fish. Fishing is already harder and we are going to lose a lot. If there is not enough enforcement, it will never be implemented.”

Leroy Lesperance, who charters glass-bottomed and game-fishing boats to tourists on Praslin, is also sceptical the plan will become a reality: “I am 44 and I have heard this talk since I was at school.”

But others have bought into the idea, including Graham Green, a young fisherman at Baie St Anne on Praslin: “If the fish are protected where they are spawning, I’ve heard they will get bigger. We need to do it if we are going to be catching fish in 20 years.”

Green expects the benefits will take perhaps five-10 years to be realised, but sees it as an investment: “You couldn’t start a business today and be a millionaire tomorrow - if you could everyone would be a millionaire.”

Another challenge to the marine plan is a controversial new military base planned for the island of Assumption, about 20 miles from the Aldabra atoll and to be paid for by India. One well-informed source, who asked for anonymity, told the Guardian: “I am worried that it could damage the biodiversity of Aldabra. We are talking about big ships coming in to berth.” That implies pollution and the dredging of channels, which can cover corals in silt, he says.

“The Assumption saga will certainly test the credibility of the marine spatial plan process,” says Keith Andre, from the Fisherman and Boat Owners Association.

But Seychelles vice-president, Vincent Meriton, says the military base will have to pass environmental assessments and will actually benefit protection, by enabling better surveillance around the isolated Aldabra archipelago: “This facility will allow us to better monitor. It augurs well.”

Meriton also says the Seychelles will need to use new satellite surveillance programmes that use machine learning algorithms to detect the tell-tale movement patterns of fishing boats, already in use in some parts of the Pacific.

Oil exploration is another dilemma for the Seychelles, which could be sitting on “world-class” reserves, according to Patrick Joseph, CEO of PetroSeychelles, a state-owned company. It has given up some high-priority prospects, such as the Wilkes seamount which is now in the Aldabra protection zone.

But, pointing to the revisions to the plan expected every five years, he says: “If the price of oil goes a bit higher, there will be companies drilling here in the Seychelles.” Andre, pointing to the possibility of seismic surveys in the protected zone around Aldabra, says: “The nature and impacts of these activities contradicts the authenticity of the entire process.”

Many of the details of exactly what is allowed in the protected zones could not be finalised until the areas were selected and are still being worked out, meaning many difficult negotiations still lie ahead. “It is a chicken and egg situation,” says Helena Sims, TNC’s project manager in the Seychelles. “But we have built trust from the bottom up and if we keep that and are transparent I am positive our targets can be met.”

The Seychelles debt swap is a vital test case for this new way of funding ocean conservation. Rob Weary at TNC did the deal and expects to close a $60m debt swap deal with Grenada this year and a series of others in the Caribbean in the next couple of years. Mauritius also has serious interest.

Despite the election of Donald Trump scuppering for now planned swaps of US debt for Palau and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, Weary is confident debt swaps for marine conservation are going to grow: “In the next three to five years we could potentially do a billion dollars of these deals. We have a sight line to that.”

“All eyes are on us to see whether it works,” says Sims. The Seychelles, which is 99% ocean, will have gone from 0.04% to 30% protected area in a few years if it does.

Questions, such as oil exploration, remain. But environment minister Dogley says: “We don’t have answers for everything now but the marine spatial plan has started the process of thinking about these things - before we were not. The debt swap triggered everything.”

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Half of world's oceans now fished industrially, maps reveal

Data gathered from more than 70,000 vessels shows commercial fishing now covers a greater surface area than agriculture
Juliette Jowit The Guardian 22 Feb 18;

More than half the world’s oceans are being fished by industrial vessels, new research reveals.

The maps based on feedback from more than 70,000 vessels show commercial fishing covers a greater surface area than agriculture, and will raise fresh questions about the health of oceans and sustainability of trawler fishing.

The data, published in the journal Science, also shows how fishing declines sharply at weekends, and celebrations like Christmas and Chinese new year.

The data also helps to explain the extreme decline in some fish stocks: the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says one-third of commercial fish stocks are being caught at unsustainable levels.

But the clear impact of cultural and political events on fishing also offers hope that humans can restrain overfishing, said the report’s author, David Kroodsma.

“What that means is we have control as humans to decide how we’re fishing the oceans: we’re not destined to overfish, we can control it,” said Kroodsma.

Kroodsma and colleagues gathered 22bn pieces of information from satellite systems installed in the biggest fishing vessels, and some smaller ones, usually operating closer to shore.

From this work from 2014 to 2016 they produced maps of where fishing activity was happening, and where it was the most intense. The blue to yellow colouring showing fishing activity covers most of the world’s oceans.

Exceptions are the vast Southern Ocean, far from home and suffering extreme cold and dramatic storms; and striking black “holes” in more heavily used seas, which are either lesser-used exclusive economic zones, and “deserts” in the seas where there are too few fish and crustaceans to catch.

Latest estimates have suggested the extent of fishing was even greater, but faced with such intense data and dramatic maps, the team were still stunned by how far the biggest ships roamed.

“It is really surprising to look at the map and see how much fishing there is,” said Kroodsma.

The research was led by Kroodsma, research and development director for US-based charity Global Fishing Watch, part-funded by Google and supported by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. The paper is written with academics from the universities of California, Stanford and Dalhousie in Canada, plus National Geographic and Google.

Among other findings is that five countries account for 85% of commercial fishing measured by hours at sea. Half of that is China; other large-scale operators include Spain, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan - which is smaller than Switzerland, and with a population of just 23 million.

On average, every person on the planet eats 20kg of fish each year, with the FAO’s own estimates suggesting this makes up 6.7% to 17% of protein eaten.

The figure is much higher in some developing countries, however, where people on islands and in coastal areas rely heavily on fish for their energy, up to 70% of protein in some cases.

The fish protein being measured is also caught in inland waters, and aquaculture, the controversial practice of large-scale fish farming, has expanded rapidly in recent years.

The data - which without the satellite systems fitted on fishing vessels would have taken a fisheries’ expert 200 years working full-time to achieve - showed the “human face” of fishing, said Elvira Poloczanska of the research group, the Alfred Wegener Institute of Ecophysiology in Germany.

“High-seas fisheries governance has the potential to reduce the risks from climate change - for example through international co-operation and the closure of high-seas areas to fishing,” she added.

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