Best of our wild blogs: 16 May 18

Indonesia enlists plantation companies to ensure haze-free Asian Games

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PUB investigating report of dead fishes spotted in Sungei Tampines, says no impact on drinking water quality

Ng Huiwen 15 May 18;

SINGAPORE - National water agency PUB is investigating a report of dead fishes spotted in Sungei Tampines on Monday afternoon (May 14).

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, PUB said that the dead fishes have been removed after they were seen in the river between Pasir Ris Drive 1 and Pasir Ris Drive 3 at 2.20pm.

Sungei Tampines flows through parts of Tampines and Pasir Ris before draining into the sea.

"Online water quality sensors and in-situ water quality readings show water quality is within the normal range," PUB said in the post.

There is no impact on the quality of drinking water, it added.

"PUB has not observed any visible signs of pollution on the site that may be the cause of fish kill," it said, adding that it will investigate further.

In 2015, a 1.1km stretch along Sungei Tampines was outfitted with new decks and a community plaza to bring people closer to the river.

The project was part of a move by PUB to rejuvenate Singapore's drains, canals and reservoirs.

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Living City: A sight to behold at low tide

Straits Times 15 May 18;

Cyrene Reef reveals its rich marine life only during low tide, each time for about one to 1½ hours.

It is made up of three submerged reef flats and measures about 1km long and 300m wide in total.

The natural wonder is found in the sea near Jurong Island, Bukom Island and Pasir Panjang Terminal.

“The amazing thing about Cyrene Reef is that it exists in the middle of an industrial triangle, yet it is full of life,” said marine enthusiast Ria Tan.

The 62-year-old, who has been exploring the shores of Singapore for more than 10 years, said the reef has one of the best seagrass meadows in Singapore and you can see sea stars bigger than your face.

The Straits Times followed Ms Tan and a group of International Year of The Reef 2018 interns on a recent outing to the reef.

See them explore the marine life in the first episode of Living City season two. The video series focuses on Singapore’s little-known spaces and communities.

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Indonesia: Wildfires may cause long-term health problems for endangered orangutans

Rutgers University 15 May 18;

Orangutans, already critically endangered due to habitat loss from logging and large-scale farming, may face another threat in the form of smoke from natural and human-caused fires, a Rutgers University-New Brunswick study finds. The study appears in the journal Scientific Reports.

In 2015, Wendy Erb, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Anthropology at Rutgers, was studying male orangutans in the forests of Indonesian Borneo when fires started. She and her colleagues at the Tuanan Orangutan Research Station continued working until they had to stop and help fight the blazes, which occur annually, often due to smallholder farmers and plantations clearing forests to plant crops.

A few weeks into the fire season, Erb noticed a difference in the sound of the males' "long call," which scientists believe is used to attract females and warn other males. "I thought they sounded raggedy, a little like humans who smoke a lot," she said.

Erb decided to find out if the smoke the orangutans inhaled during the fires had affected their health. Humans who inhale smoke suffer ill effects, but she knew of no studies on the possible effects on orangutans.

Erb studied four "flanged" males, who weigh about 200 pounds and have large cheek pads. She awoke each day before dawn to collect their urine in a bag at the end of a stick she held below them. Analyzing their behavior and urine, the scientists discovered the big males traveled less, rested more and consumed more calories. They also produced more ketone bodies, molecules made by the liver from fatty acids during periods of low food intake, which was unexpected because the apes were eating more, not less. Why were they burning fat?

The only new element in the orangutans' lives was the three months of fire and smoke. The forests' natural surface consists of peat, which is flammable, allowing the fires to burn underground for weeks. The fires were worse in 2015 because of a strong El Niño effect, which brought with it a severe drought.

Soil analyses suggest that wildfires have occurred in Borneo for millennia, but have become increasingly frequent and intense in recent decades due to deforestation and draining of peatlands. In 2015, Indonesia experienced the most severe fire activity and smoke pollution on record since the disastrous wildfires during the 1997 El Niño droughts burned some 24,000 square kilometers of peatlands (12 percent of the total peat area). Peatland fires destroy forest habitats, release greenhouse gases and produce hazardous particulate matter, the leading cause of worldwide pollution-related mortality. Two independent studies estimated that the 2015 haze caused somewhere between 12,000 and 100,000 premature human deaths, but there has been very little research into the effects on wildlife populations inhabiting these burning habitats.

The unexpected loss of nearly 100,000 Bornean orangutans from intact forests in Kalimantan between 1999 and 2015 indicates that habitat loss alone is not driving this critically endangered species' declines. Increasingly frequent exposure to toxic smoke could have severe consequences for orangutans, other animals and people, and this research highlights the urgent need to understand the long-term and indirect impacts of Indonesia's peatland fires, beyond the immediate loss of forests and their inhabitants.

Anthropology professor Erin Vogel, co-author of the study and the Tuanan Research Station's co-director, said the next step is to analyze data from female and juvenile orangutans to see how the fires affected their health.

"We'll look at different indicators of inflammation in the urine," she said. "We'll look for cytokines, proteins that are part of the immune response, and cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. It's possible these males are burning fat because their energy is going to repairing tissue."

More information: W. M. Erb et al, Wildfire smoke impacts activity and energetics of wild Bornean orangutans, Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-25847-1

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Indonesia: Riau Ecosystem Restoration Program Sees Return of Rare Fauna on Riau's Kampar Peninsula

Suksmajati Kumara Jakarta Globe 14 May 18;

Jakarta. It has been five years since pulp and paper giant APRIL Group started its ecosystem restoration program in Indonesia’s Riau province and, according to the program’s 2017 annual report, it has resulted in the return of wildlife, an improvement in community welfare and reduced forest fires.

APRIL Group has invested significant resources in its ecosystem restoration program that is aimed at protecting, restoring, as well as conserving, ecologically important peatland forest within Indonesia’s Riau Province.

Located on Sumatra’s eastern coastline, the RER program has a license to restore an ecosystem across 150,000 hectares of peatland forest, with 130,000 hectares located on the Kampar Peninsula and an additional 20,000 ha located on nearby Padang Island. The total peatland restoration area is about twice the size of Singapore.

The restoration program was started in 2013 and involves five concessions operated by a number of companies, Gemilang Cipta Nusantara, Sinar Mutiara Nusantara, The Best One Unitimber and Global Alam Nusantara, all operating under 60-year ecosystem restoration licenses granted by the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

The program is part of APRIL Group’s pledge to conserve one hectare of natural forest for every hectare of fibre plantation. To date, APRIL has met 83 percent of its goal with more than 400,000 hectares of natural forest protected and conserved. In 2015, APRIL dedicated $100 million to support and secure the long-term conservation and restoration program.

"These achievements illustrate our model where RER is complemented by production forestry, which provides the financial resources to fund restoration, as well as the protection provided by an actively managed ring of fiber plantations” said Bey Soo Khiang, chairman of the RER advisory board.

A map showing the Riau Ecosystem Restoration Program areas on the east coast of Sumatra Island. (Photo courtesy of the APRIL Group) A map showing the Riau Ecosystem Restoration Program areas on the east coast of Sumatra Island. (Photo courtesy of the APRIL Group)
Another highlight of the report is the first identification of the Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis) in the restoration area, becoming the 300th species of bird known to be present in the area.

Camera traps were essential tools in discovering species in the Kampar Peninsula and Padang Island concessions. In a period between March and October of last year, the restoration effort installed 84 cameras, capturing 6,310 snapshots that identified 52 species of animals in the region.

The wildlife monitoring team from RER also identified the Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor). Surveys completed by FFI previously have only managed one sighting of the elusive animal.

The restoration effort placed personnel at each of the main access rivers into the restoration area, and continually encouraged the local community to use alternatives to slash-and-burn land clearing methods. Results indicated that no hotspots were detected inside the RER area in 2017 and, for the third consecutive year, no fires were recorded.

Hydrological and forest restoration demonstrated steady progress in 2017. RER produced over 39,000 seedlings in its nurseries which contain over 70 different tree species, utilising over 1,900 seedlings on 12.5 ha of degraded land for planting and assisted natural regeneration.

“We have made good progress in 2017, while at the same time understanding that we need to maintain momentum into 2018 and beyond,” said Bey Soo Khiang.

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Thailand: No access to Maya Bay from front of Phi Phi after rehab, protection work kicks off in earnest in June

The Nation 15 May 18;

Access to Maya Bay from the front of Phi Phi island will become permanently unattainable following the upcoming four-month closure of the area to make way for a long-term rehabilitation of the environmentally degraded bay, which has suffered due to the overcrowding of tourists.

The bay, located in Had Nopparat Tara- Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park, was made famous following the 2000 Hollywood film “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but it has been degraded by the excessive number of tourists – at around 4,000 each day.

Following a recommendation by marine experts, the National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department decided in late March to make the bay off limits from June 1 to September 30.

The closure is seen as an entry point for new tourism management that would also set a new standard for another 26 Thai marine parks that also bear a similar burden.

“Like I said, we focus more on the health of our ecosystem, not income. If we manage to do this, we can do it elsewhere – the more environmental friendly management,” said Thanya Netithammakul, director-general of the department.

According to the department’s National Parks Office director, Songtham Suksawang, the rehabilitation process as well as the new management approach will be based on academic knowledge.

The department has begun exploring the present extent of the damage to coral reefs in front of the bay. Various techniques to replant the reefs will be introduced once the bay is closed, including coral-reef propagation, he said.

Access to the bay, Songtham added, would shift to the back of the island, where a new aluminium and quality plastic-based pier and bridge would be introduced as a new access to the bay to reduce ecological impacts from tourists.

Their number and transport boats will also be limited to half of the present figures, while an e-ticketing system will be introduced to help handle tourist demand.

“It’s also sort of distributing tourists to other less-crowded spots to help handle pressure from them,” said Songtham, echoing the government’s toursim policy.

Thailand still relies heavily on tourism, and according to Thon Thamrongnawasawat – a member of the national strategy committee on sustainable growth – it is one of the prime sectors highlighted in the 20-year national strategy to help drive the country’s gross domestic product.

Tourism currently comprises about 20 per cent of GDP, with annual revenue estimated at around Bt3.3 trillion.

This year’s foreign tourists are expected to reach 40 million, with more than 70 per cent tending to visit the country’s popular marine locations, Thon pointed out.

This has caused several popular marine spots to become crowded with foreign tourists, and their carrying capacity having become extensively compromised, he added.

Thon said he was glad to see the initiative at Maya and it would be a turning point for reform on marine resources management.

“It’s sort of you are telling the world that you are going to do this, and it is loud and clear this time. It’s also a critical point for the reform of our marine resources management,” said Thon, a marine ecologist who is also a member on the National Natural Resources and Environment Reform Committee.

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