Best of our wild blogs: 25 Apr 18

28 May - 2 Jun: Tua Pek Kong Festival
Pesta Ubin 2018

Sea anemones of Singapore's seagrass meadows
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

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Electric vehicles have a long way to go, so don't write off oil yet

One expert discusses the limitation and factors affecting the slow growth of adoption of electric vehicles.
Chris Midgley Channel NewsAsia 25 Apr 18;

SINGAPORE: By almost any measure, China leads the world in road transport electrification.

It makes more, buys more and, with 75 different models available in 2017, offers consumers a wider choice of electric vehicles (EVs) than any other country.

Elsewhere in Asia, Singapore launched its first electric vehicle sharing service in December 2017 with 80 cars and 30 charging stations.

By 2020, the goal is to have 1,000 of such green cars, along with 500 charging locations offering 2,000 charging points – making BlueSG the second-largest electric-car sharing programme in the world.

The service was launched by BlueSG, a subsidiary of France’s BollorĂ© Group that runs the world’s largest electric car sharing service Autolib in Paris.

It’s easy to get carried away with the hype surrounding electric vehicles (EVs).

But while sales of battery-powered cars may be surging, the technology is still in its infancy and batteries are by no means the only low-carbon solution for global mobility.

What’s clear however, is that understanding the changing face of transport in whatever form it takes is one of the big challenges facing the energy and commodities industries.

That said, it’s too early to think about the demise of fossil fuels just yet.


For one, three years of low oil prices have stimulated strong car sales, while growing urbanisation and a buoyant global economy have boosted demand in various forms of transportation globally.

These point to strong “demand stickiness” for fossil fuels in the near term which many commentators have failed to factor in when considering the future trajectory for oil demand.

About two-thirds of oil consumption comes from transportation, with 40 per cent of that demand coming from cars. In the passenger vehicle sector, all the hype is around EVs, but despite 55 per cent growth of EV sales globally last year, overall sales amount to less than 2 per cent of new car sales, and less than 0.2 per cent of the total fleet.

Today’s 3 million EVs displace less than around 60,000 barrels per day, or less than 0.06 per cent of total global demand.

Second, the growth of EVs in global markets such as Europe is driven by subsidies and policies designed to push consumers into battery-powered transport, especially in urban areas.

Similarly, in Asia, government incentives have turned China into the biggest manufacturer and market for electric vehicles, while most electric cars in Singapore qualify for a S$30,000 rebate on the main car tax.

Yet, subsidies have their limitations. They hit the treasury coffers twice (cost of subsidies and loss of fuels duty revenue) and their swift removal has seen an equally swift decline in sales. How the market for this emerging form of passenger transport will hold up once these incentives are removed is uncertain.

Finally, consumer behavior will be driven in part by policy and technology, which will influence the relative cost of transportation options – both upfront capital costs and fuel costs.

But there also will be a reciprocal impact on policy and technology by consumer concerns and preferences regarding performance, storage space, refueling time and uncertainty, and other driving amenities.

Electric vehicles may also see uplift from being perceived as “next generation transport”. Consumer comfort with autonomous vehicles, car and ride-sharing may play a role in the longer term and future generations may take a different view on the importance of car ownership.

In Singapore, there is still a long way to go before there is significant adoption of electric vehicles.

As at the end of last year, there were 520 such cars in Singapore, a sharp increase of 380 per cent from only 137 at the close of 2016. But such cars still make up only a tiny proportion of cars on the road here.

Factors affecting adoption rate include the lack of charging stations across the island and a highly stringent Vehicular Emissions Scheme.

Under the scheme, only full-electric cars – which are costlier and in limited supply – will qualify for the top-tier rebate of S$20,000, causing traders to appeal for a revision.


S&P Global Platts Analytics’ projections are that oil production will have to increase from around 100 million barrels a day today to just under 125 million barrels in 2040 in the “most likely” reference case to meet rising demand from transport.

Like any disruptive technology, there will be winners and losers in the drive for more fuel-efficient internal combustion engines, or the development of cheaper and more usable EVs.

Big oil companies are already adapting fast by investing heavily into the production of cleaner transportation fuels, such as liquefied natural gas, and by installing charging points into their service station networks. Some are going a step further by investing in power generation and distribution.

But we should recognise that EVs are also not the only low-carbon solution for future mobility. Autonomous vehicles could transform the traditional model of car ownership, while hydrogen may eventually provide another alternative fuel, especially for larger commercial vehicles.

Chris Midgley is the head of Analytics for S&P Global Platts.

Source: CNA/sl

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Phillipines: 131 giant clams ‘adopted’ in Pangasinan

Philippine News Agency Northbound Phillipines 24 Apr 18;

BOLINAO, Pangasinan — A total of 131 giant clams have been adopted by 99 foster parents through ‘Adopt a Clam” project launched by the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute- Bolinao Marine Laboratory (UPMSI-BML).

Ruby Esmolo, institutional research assistant of UPMSI-BML, said the launching on April 20 was just a dry run of the extension project, in which interested foster parents will have the chance to adopt their own baby giants in the future.

“We are overwhelmed by the response of the people to this project, so we are readying the guidelines for this,” she said in an interview Monday.

Esmolo said the project aims to raise awareness on the conservation of giant clams and the marine environment.

The donations by foster parents, ranging from PHP200 to PHP400 depending on the size of their adopted clam, will support the giant clam conservation efforts of UPMSI and also allow them to produce more baby giant clams for restocking throughout the country.

“We have restocked giant clams to 70 areas nationwide,” she said.

Esmolo said giant clams are beneficial to the marine environment as they serve as nursery to fishes and help maintain the balance of ecology in the reef, among others.

Based from the guidelines of UPMSI-BML, a baby giant clam upon adoption has been tagged with the name of its foster parent and placed in a special area in the Silaqui Ocean Nursery here.

Foster parents have also received an adoption kit with a certificate, as UPMSI-BML will care for the adopted clams and regularly track their growth to adulthood.

UPMSI-BML also conducts training workshop on how to care and grow giant clams as part of their efforts. Hilda Austria/PNA –

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Online skin trade fuels Myanmar elephant slaughter: conservation group

AFP Yahoo News 24 Apr 18;

Bangkok (AFP) - An emerging online market for elephant skin in China is threatening the survival of the creatures in neighbouring Myanmar as poaching intensifies to meet demand, conservationists warned Tuesday.

Myanmar has watched with alarm as the number of slain elephants found in the country's forests rises each year, with many blaming the trade in the mammal's hide.

The biggest market for the products is in China, where the tough skin is ground up and used to treat stomach or human skin ailments, or sold as jewellery in the form of blood-red beads and pendants.

The items are increasingly advertised and sold on the internet, according to the UK-based charity Elephant Family, which outlined the findings in a new study called "Skinned: The growing appetite for Asian Elephants".

Unlike poaching for ivory, the skin trade does not discriminate between genders and ages in elephants, making them far more vulnerable.

"This means that no elephant is safe," said the group's acting conservation director Belinda Stewart-Cox. "Myanmar is losing too many elephants too fast."

Elephant Family monitored multiple internet forums and interacted with traders -- without making purchases -- to learn more about the supply chain.

Out of eleven online sellers who said they knew the product origin, nine cited Myanmar and two Laos.

One China-based trader who claims to have "invented" elephant skin beads said she gets the material from a Myanmar border town, calling the sourcing "long-term and nonstop," the report said.

Some 2,000 wild elephants are thought to be left in Myanmar, the second largest population in the region after Thailand.

But a combination of weak oversight and lawless border regions outside central government control has made Myanmar a key hub in the global wildlife trafficking trade.

Last year 59 elephant carcasses were found in the wild, a jump from four in 2010, according to government statistics cited by the report.

While the NGO said it was hard to prove with certainty whether the rise in skin product sales was directly linked to the rise in poaching, the parallel surge leaves few other explanations.

The researchers also documented the sale of elephant skin powder through China-based traditional medicine and pharmaceutical platforms, though it remains unclear whether African or Asian elephants were used in the goods.

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Record concentration of microplastics found in Arctic

Helen Briggs BBC News 24 Apr 18;

Record levels of microplastics have been found trapped inside sea ice floating in the Arctic.

Ice cores gathered across the Arctic Ocean reveal microplastics at concentrations two to three times higher than previously recorded.

As sea ice melts with climate change, the plastic will be released back into the water, with unknown effects on wildlife, say German scientists.

Traces of 17 different types of plastic were found in frozen seawater.

Microplastics are tiny plastic pieces under five millimetres long. They can be eaten by filter-feeding animals and passed up the food chain.

A considerable amount of microplastic is released directly into the ocean by the gradual breakdown of larger pieces of plastic. But microplastics can also enter the sea from health and beauty products, washing synthetic textiles or abrasion of car tyres.

Their "plastic fingerprint" suggests they were carried on ocean currents from the huge garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean or arose locally due to pollution from shipping and fishing.

More than half of the microplastic particles within the ice were so small that they could easily be ingested by sea life, said Ilka Peeken of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, who led the study.

"No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings," she said.

Smaller than human hair

The ice cores were gathered from five regions throughout the Arctic Ocean in the spring of 2014 and summer of 2015. They were taken back to the laboratory, where they were analysed for their unique plastic "fingerprint".

"Using this approach, we also discovered plastic particles that were only 11 micrometres across," said co-researcher Gunnar Gerdts, also from the Alfred Wegener Institute.

"That's roughly one-sixth the diameter of a human hair, and also explains why we found concentrations of over 12,000 particles per litre of sea ice - which is two to three times higher than what we'd found in past measurements."

The researchers found a total of 17 different types of plastic in the sea ice, including packaging materials like polyethylene and polypropylene, but also paints, nylon, polyester, and cellulose acetate (used to make cigarette filters).

They say the plastic found its way to the Arctic Ocean from the huge garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean or from ship's paint and fishing nets.

"These findings suggest that both the expanding shipping and fishing activities in the Arctic are leaving their mark," said Dr Peeken.

"The high microplastic concentrations in the sea ice can thus not only be attributed to sources outside the Arctic Ocean. Instead, they also point to local pollution in the Arctic."

Melting sea ice
The study confirms that sea ice traps large amounts of microplastics and transports them across the Arctic Ocean. The plastic particles will be released back into the ocean when the sea ice melts.

"As climate change will accelerate sea ice melting, more microplastics will be released from the sea ice and will enter the marine environment," said Dr Pennie Lindeque, lead plastics scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who was not part of the research team.

Dr Jeremy Wilkinson, a sea ice physicist at the British Antarctic Survey, said the work, published in Nature Communications, was a "benchmark study".

"Microplastic particles were found throughout all cores sampled," he said. "It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world's ocean. Nowhere is immune."

And Dr Jason Holt of the National Oceanography Centre said we might expect plastic waste from some European countries to eventually end up in the Arctic, due to ocean circulation patterns.

"It is therefore vital to understand the transport and fate of plastic waste in the Arctic and how it impacts on the marine environment there, and what can be done to reduce this impact," he said.

Estimates suggest about eight million tonnes of plastic move from the land into the ocean every year, with some finding its way into remote areas, such as the Polar Regions and the deep ocean floor.

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One in eight bird species is threatened with extinction, global study finds

Report on the state of the world’s birds reveals a biodiversity crisis driven by intensive farming, with once-common species such as puffins and snowy owls now at risk
Patrick Barkham The Guardian 23 Apr 18;

One in eight bird species is threatened with global extinction, and once widespread creatures such as the puffin, snowy owl and turtle dove are plummeting towards oblivion, according to the definitive study of global bird populations.

The State of the World’s Birds, a five-year compendium of population data from the best-studied group of animals on the planet, reveals a biodiversity crisis driven by the expansion and intensification of agriculture.

In all, 74% of 1,469 globally threatened birds are affected primarily by farming. Logging, invasive species and hunting are the other main threats.

“Each time we undertake this assessment we see slightly more species at risk of extinction – the situation is deteriorating and the trends are intensifying,” said Tris Allinson, senior global science officer for BirdLife International, which produced the report. “The species at risk of extinction were once on mountaintops or remote islands, such as the pink pigeon in Mauritius. Now we’re seeing once widespread and familiar species – European turtle doves, Atlantic puffins and kittiwakes – under threat of global extinction.”

According to the report, at least 40% of bird species worldwide are in decline, with researchers blaming human activity for the losses. After farming, logging is a key factor in declines of 50% of the most globally endangered species, followed by invasive species (39%), hunting and trapping (35%), climate change (33%) and residential and commercial development (28%). The illegal killing of birds – usually because of traditional hunting – results in an estimated 12 to 38 million individual birds dying or being taken each year in the Mediterranean region alone.

One victim of illegal hunting is the yellow-breasted bunting, which the report warns could repeat the cautionary tale of the passenger pigeon, once a common bird across North America before being rapidly driven to extinction in 1914. The yellow-breasted bunting was one of the most widespread birds across Europe and Asia but its population has declined by 90% since 1980 and its range has contracted by 5,000km. Although officially banned, large-scale hunting of this Chinese delicacy continues with the birds caught while roosting communally in reedbeds.

Overfishing and climate change is affecting seabird species, particularly the Atlantic puffin and the black-legged kittiwake, which are both now considered “vulnerable” on the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of imperilled species. The decline of the snowy owl is linked to climate change, with snowmelt in the Arctic affecting the availability of prey, while the European turtle dove’s rapid disappearance is caused by both hunting and habitat loss through modern farming.

Neonicotinoids – widely implicated in flying insect declines (a key bird food source) – have also been found to be directly detrimental to some bird species. One recent study from the US found that migrating white-crowned sparrows exposed to neonicotinoids lost a quarter of their body mass and fat stores. The neurotoxin also impaired the birds’ migratory orientation.

But there are conservation success stories: according to BirdLife, 25 bird species would have gone extinct this century without targeted conservation work, which has helped remove these species from the “critically endangered” list. The Guam rail, which is classified as extinct in the wild, has been successfully bred in captivity and returned to safe-haven islands cleared of the snake that predates it.

“Everything is reversible because everything is unfortunately of humankind’s making,” said Allinson. “It’s one thing to work at the last-minute on particular species and drag them back from the edge but what we do need is wide-scale solutions to agricultural intensification and expansion in particular – they are the biggest driver of extinction in birds.”

With bird declines also being driven by logging – 10 billion trees are being destroyed each year – one large-scale conservation response is the Trillion Trees project, in which BirdLife, the WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society are combining to plant, protect and restore one trillion trees by 2050.

Allinson added: “We could easily feed the world’s population and leave room for birds and other wildlife if we were more sensible and reduced our food waste and pesticide use and put the right crops in the right areas. They are big challenges but there are successful systems that marry wildlife conservation and productive landscapes for people.”

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