Best of our wild blogs: 1 Jun 18

YES! Singapore got dugongs!
wild shores of singapore

Sea turtles and dolphins in Singapore waters!
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Nanoplastics can accumulate in marine life and threaten human health: NUS study

CHEN LIN Today Online 31 May 18;

SINGAPORE — Tiny plastic particles called nanoplastics from everyday items such as plastic containers and straws could accumulate in marine organisms, transfer up the food chain and threaten food safety and human health, said researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

For the first time, a NUS research team working with the acorn barnacle, Amphibalanus amphitrite, demonstrated that nanoplastics – which are less than one micrometre in size and invisible to the naked eye – consumed during the larval stage are retained and accumulated inside the barnacle larvae until they reach adulthood.

In an experiment conducted in November 2016, the team incubated the barnacle larvae in solutions of their regular feed with plastics that were about 200 nanometres in size. The larvae were exposed to two different treatments: acute and chronic.

Barnacle larvae in the acute treatment were kept for three hours in a solution that contained 25 times more nanoplastics than what is currently present in oceans, while those under the chronic treatment were exposed to a solution with low concentrations of nanoplastics for up to four days.

The larvae were then filtered from the solution and examined under a microscope.

“Our results showed that after exposing the barnacle larvae to nanoplastics in both treatments, the larvae had not only ingested the plastic particles, but the tiny particles were found to be distributed throughout the bodies of the larvae,” said Ms Serina Lee from the Tropical Marine Science Institute at NUS on Thursday (May 31). She is the second author of the research paper.

While the barnacles had removed some nanoplastics through moulting and excretion, the team detected continued presence of nanoplastics inside the barnacles as they grew and reached adulthood.

According to the researchers, it is estimated that the oceans may already contain over 150 million tonnes of plastic. Each year, about eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean.

Plastics of all sizes are usually broken down into smaller pieces by the sun, waves, wind and microbial action. These micro- and nanoplastic particles in the water may be ingested by marine organisms such as barnacles, tube worms and sea-squirts.

“Barnacles may be at the lower levels of the food chain, but what they consume will be transferred to the organisms that eat them,” said marine biologist Dr Neo Mei Lin, who is also from NUS’s Tropical Marine Science Institute, and one of the authors of the paper.

“In addition, plastics are capable of absorbing pollutants and chemicals from the water. These toxins may be transferred to the organisms if the particles of plastics are consumed, and can cause further damage to marine ecosystems and human health.”

Associate Professor in Department of Chemistry at the NUS Faculty of Science, Suresh Valiyaveettil, who co-supervised the research, said that nanoplastics can “enter into animal cells and induce adverse health effects”. He added that further investigation was required for scientists to understand the mechanism.

The NUS team’s research findings were first published online in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering in March 2018. The study was funded under the Marine Science Research and Development Programme of the National Research Foundation Singapore.

The team is also examining how nanoplastics affect other invertebrate model organisms to understand the impact of plastics on marine ecosystems.

Nanoplastics found to accumulate in marine organisms, risk being transferred up food chain: NUS study
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 31 May 18;

SINGAPORE: Plastic nanoparticles - plastic pieces smaller than 1 micrometre - have been found to accumulate in certain marine organisms and could be transferred up the food chain, according to a study by scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

It is estimated that there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world's oceans, with 8 million tonnes ending up there every year.

This plastic can get broken down into smaller pieces and eaten by marine animals that mistake them for food.

The NUS research team looked at smaller pieces of plastic - nanoplastics - using barnacles and their larvae to understand how nanoplastics could impact marine organisms.

As barnacle larvae are transparent until they mature, feeding them with fluorescent, non-toxic nanoplastics meant the researchers could easily spot these under the microscope.

"Their short life cycle and transparent bodies made it easy to track and visualise the movement of nanoplastics in their bodies within a short span of time," said Mr Samarth Bhargava, a Chemistry PhD student who contributed to the research paper.

The team demonstrated for the first time that nanoplastics consumed during the larval stage are retained and accumulated inside the barnacle larvae until they reach adulthood.

This was the case even when the organisms were exposed to a high concentration of nanoplastics for just three hours.

"It's worrying, because this suggests that the organisms have a problem excreting and removing the nanoplastics, which increases the risk of bioaccummulation in the organisms, and subsequently into the rest of the food chain," said Dr Serena Teo, a Senior Research Fellow from the NUS Tropical Marine Science Institute who co-supervised the research.

The nanoplastics were found to have spread all over the larvae's bodies.

According to the researchers, this was because the nanoplastics - which are about 1,000 to 10,000 times smaller than the larvae - are small enough to enter the organisms' bloodstreams and infiltrate cell walls. These nanoplastics can absorb pollutants and chemicals from the water.

“Barnacles may be at the lower levels of the food chain, but what they consume will be transferred to the organisms that eat them," said one of the authors of paper's authors, marine biologist Dr Neo Mei Lin from the Tropical Marine Science Institute at NUS. "In addition, plastics are capable of absorbing pollutants and chemicals from the water."

"These toxins may be transferred to the organisms if the particles of plastics are consumed, and can cause further damage to marine ecosystems and human health."

Associate Professor Suresh Valiyaveettil, who also supervised the research, said that plastic waste is a big concern.

"The lifespan and fate of plastic waste materials in marine environment is a big concern at the moment, owing to the large amounts of plastic waste and its potential impact on marine ecosystem and food security around the world," he said.

However plastics are so prevalent in modern life that we cannot really get rid of them, said Dr Teo.

Instead, she said the study emphasises the importance of waste management - not letting the plastics get into the ocean in the first place.

"It also opens the doors for a lot of ways in how we shall now design new advanced materials," she added, giving the example of green plastics that degrade into inert molecules.

The next step for these researchers is to understand how nanoplastics affect other marine organisms such as tubeworms and sea urchins and, ultimately, how they impact human beings.

The team’s research findings were first published online in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering in March 2018. The study was funded under the Marine Science Research and Development Programme of the National Research Foundation Singapore.

Source: CNA/nc(aj)

Nanoplastics can accumulate in marine organisms' bodies, NUS research finds
Kimberley Chia Straits Times 31 May 18;

SINGAPORE - Researchers here have found that some marine organisms may be able to retain tiny pieces of plastic in their bodies for several days.

This means that if these plastic pieces carry hazardous chemicals and are eaten by these organisms, aquatic food chains could be contaminated if these organisms are, in turn, eaten by others, say researchers.

National University of Singapore (NUS) scientists have found that one particular marine organism, the acorn barnacle, retained tiny plastics from larvae to adulthood, a span of about seven days.

Dr Serena Teo, senior research fellow from the Tropical Marine Science Institute at NUS who co-supervised the research, said at a media briefing on Thursday (May 31): "Hazardous chemicals can also be absorbed by the particles. So when the particles are eaten, they can be transferred from the particle to the organism."

The 1½-year research, which started in November 2016, aimed to track the accumulation and retention of nanoplastics in marine organisms throughout their lifespans.

Nanoplastic particles, which are less than one micrometre in size, are about a thousand times smaller than the plastic beads in facial scrubs and toothpastes.

The team used the acorn barnacle as a model organism in order to track the movement of the particles.

Mr Samarth Bhargava, one of the researchers, said: "We wanted to use barnacles as the model organism because the larvae are transparent, so while taking an image of them, we can actually see the plastics through imaging techniques."

The research team incubated the barnacle larvae in solutions with non-toxic nanoplastics, along with their regular feed under two different conditions.

The nanoplastics were created by the team themselves before being tagged with a fluorescent dye for visibility.

In the first condition, termed "acute", larvae were exposed to high concentrations of nanoplastics for about three hours.

Under the second, "chronic" condition, which is closer to a common marine environment, larvae were exposed to a low concentration of nanoplastics for up to four days.

In both cases, plastic particles were found to have accumulated and been distributed throughout the entire body of the larvae after being ingested.

Substantial traces of plastic were also retained in their bodies until they reached adulthood. Barnacles that had been exposed to plastics under the "chronic" condition generally retained a higher amount of nanoplastics.

The study was funded under the Marine Science Research and Development Programme run by the National Research Foundation Singapore.

The findings were published online in March in science journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

The team hopes to use the study as a launch pad for further understanding of the pathways of such plastic particles within the marine ecosystem, including the potential of these nanoplastics to move up the food chain.

NUS Department of Chemistry Associate Professor Suresh Valiyaveettil, who co-supervised the research, said: "The lifespan and fate of plastic waste materials in a marine environment are a big concern at the moment, owing to the large amounts of plastic waste.

"The team would like to explore such topics in the near future and possibly come up with pathways to address such problems."

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Hotels cut down on single-use plastics like straws and cutlery

Kimberley Chia Straits Times 1 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE - Plastic disposables such as straws and toiletry bottles will soon be a thing of the past for several hotels in Singapore.

Ahead of World Environment Day next Tuesday (June 5), the Millennium Hotels and Resorts (MHR) group has pledged to eliminate single-use plastics from all six of its Singapore hotels by June next year.

They are Orchard Hotel, Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, M Hotel, Studio M, M Social and Copthorne King's Hotel.

Over the next one year, the hotels will gradually phase out the use of disposables such as straws, stirrers, cutlery, toiletry bottles and plastic bags, and opt for alternatives that are made with more environmentally-friendly materials such as paper and wood.

In a press release on Thursday, MHR said the move comes as part of an effort to join the global fight against plastics.

"While the hotel industry benefits from the convenience of using plastic products, we see that it has long-lasting adverse impact on the environment," said Mr Lee Richards, vice-president of operations (South-east Asia) at MHR.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, over 13 million tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean every year, killing 100,000 marine animals annually.

M Social has already replaced plastic straws with paper ones. The hotel is also using environmentally-friendly packaging, such as paper boxes and wooden cutlery for its takeaway service "Order & Grab".

The other five hotels under MHR will soon replace plastic straws and stirrers used in restaurants and for room service with greener alternatives, including paper straws.

Orchard Hotel and Studio M are also in the process of changing plastic toiletry containers to dispensers in hotel rooms.

The changes will affect more than 2,600 rooms in all the six hotels.

Environmentally-conscious guests will also be able to play a part in the green efforts, by opting not to have their towels and bed linens change daily.

With the six hotels producing an average 67kg of plastics weekly, the initiative will greatly cut down on the amount of pollutive waste by the group, and save it nearly $500,000 a year in terms of expenditure on plastic products.

MHR's pledge follows Hilton's recent announcement on May 25 that it will eliminate plastic straws across its 23 managed hotels in Asia Pacific by the end of this year. This is part of Hilton's plan to halve its environmental footprint by 2030.

While some acknowledge that the changes might be jarring, they are generally welcomed.

Said student Rachel Tey, 17: "We may no longer be able to keep souvenirs of hotel shampoo bottles and toiletries, but I think it's a cost I'm very happy to pay for reducing our environmental impact."

"In fact, I think having these waste reducing initiatives in hotels is a selling point for these hotels."

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Rainbow Warrior drops by Singapore

The New Paper 31 May 18;

A ship with a famous name arrived in Singapore on Monday to continue its global mission for action against climate change.

The Rainbow Warrior, first launched by environmental organisation Greenpeace 40 years ago, made its first official visit to Singapore, having previously visited only to rest its crew and stock up on supplies.

The third version of the Rainbow Warrior was docked here for three days as part of Greenpeace's five-month climate action tour of South-east Asia.

More than 100 Singaporeans from environmental groups and civil service sectors were invited to view a climate change exhibition and attend a campaign talk aboard the ship on Tuesday.

"Greenpeace is grateful for the opportunity to be here in Singapore with the Rainbow Warrior," said its captain, Mr Peter Willcox.

"(She) stands in solidarity with the people fighting to reclaim their rights to a healthy and peaceful environment."

Greenpeace was founded in 1971 in Canada, with a message of a green and peaceful future, which it chose to spread by ship.

Its first flagship - also called Rainbow Warrior - held its first voyage on April 29, 1978, to Iceland, to oppose the commercial whaling programme there.

Its exploits have not always been welcome. In July 1985, the Rainbow Warrior was bombed by the French secret service in an attempt to counter its protest against French nuclear testing in Mururoa Atoll. One man died.

Mr Willcox would not trade his job for anything in the world.

"I have three children. I want to leave them some kind of planet that is fit to live on, and right now, we are not doing it."

The Rainbow Warrior's South-east Asian voyage began in the Philippines in February.

It left Singapore yesterday for Malaysia, and will round up the trip in Phuket. - ESTHER KOH

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Families around the world join war on plastic

Reuters 31 May 18;

(Reuters) - Faced with shops full of food and other goods swathed in plastic, families across the world are trying to reduce its use and recycle wherever possible to cut down its impact on the environment.

Reuters photographers met people from Athens to Singapore trying to play their part as the war on plastics becomes a hot political topic and governments work to outlaw single-use items such as drinking straws and cotton buds.

Eight million tonnes of plastic - bottles, packaging and other waste - are dumped into the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain, the United Nations Environment Program said in December.

The impact hit home for Eri Sato, 32, when she lived in Canada and volunteered to clear up debris swept across the ocean from Japan, where she now lives in Yokohama, after the devastating earthquake and tsunami there in March 2011.

“It was the first time I realized how plastic waste pollutes the oceans and beaches all over the world. I think there’s no escaping the plastic waste,” she said.

How to cut down and eventually eradicate it is the question.

“Since plastic is dominating our daily life, it would be very difficult to stop using it. But, if someone somehow makes it like a habit, we think we could stop buying altogether,” said Alexandra Patrikiou, 39, in the Greek capital Athens, who works hard to recycle paper and glass and buy recycled products.

Her comments were echoed by Brandy Wilbur in Wenham, Massachusetts.

“When shopping, I do try to buy products with minimal packaging, but that is challenging too, everything is packaged,” the 44-year-old said.

While governments and retailers started clamping down on plastic bags through bans and small fees more than a decade ago, the focus has now increasingly turned to eradicating throwaway items such as straws and take-out food and drink packaging.

“It is really the small, single-use plastics that stick around for a long time and leach into everything,” Audrey Gan, 31, said in Singapore.

“If we are really craving for a drink of bubble tea, we bring our own containers to avoid the plastic cup and straw they come in.”

Like other families Reuters spoke to, the Joshi family in the Indian city of Mumbai has already started taking measures such as using bamboo toothbrushes, unpackaged shampoo bars rather than bottles and taking containers to restaurants to bring home any left-overs.

“I carry my own spoon, fork and stainless steel straw to avoid single use plastic cutlery,” Mugdha Tanmay Joshi, 32, said.

For some, it is a personal battle, overcoming the preconceptions of others as they try to do their bit.

“They say ‘are you part of this green movement’, ... They don’t understand it. Also not using plastic bags for vegetables is considered disgusting, they hate it .. but I still do it,” said Tatiana Schnittke, 39, in Jaffa, Israel.

Reporting by Reuters photographers; Writing by Alison Williams; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock - it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland
Damian Carrington The Guardian 31 May 18;

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

The study, published in the journal Science, created a huge dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” he said. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

The analysis also revealed a huge variability between different ways of producing the same food. For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and use 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture. But the comparison of beef with plant protein such as peas is stark, with even the lowest impact beef responsible for six times more greenhouse gases and 36 times more land.

The large variability in environmental impact from different farms does present an opportunity for reducing the harm, Poore said, without needing the global population to become vegan. If the most harmful half of meat and dairy production was replaced by plant-based food, this still delivers about two-thirds of the benefits of getting rid of all meat and dairy production.

Cutting the environmental impact of farming is not easy, Poore warned: “There are over 570m farms all of which need slightly different ways to reduce their impact. It is an [environmental] challenge like no other sector of the economy.” But he said at least $500bn is spent every year on agricultural subsidies, and probably much more: “There is a lot of money there to do something really good with.”

Labels that reveal the impact of products would be a good start, so consumers could choose the least damaging options, he said, but subsidies for sustainable and healthy foods and taxes on meat and dairy will probably also be necessary.

One surprise from the work was the large impact of freshwater fish farming, which provides two-thirds of such fish in Asia and 96% in Europe, and was thought to be relatively environmentally friendly. “You get all these fish depositing excreta and unconsumed feed down to the bottom of the pond, where there is barely any oxygen, making it the perfect environment for methane production,” a potent greenhouse gas, Poore said.

The research also found grass-fed beef, thought to be relatively low impact, was still responsible for much higher impacts than plant-based food. “Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions,” Poore said.

The new research has received strong praise from other food experts. Prof Gidon Eshel, at Bard College, US, said: “I was awestruck. It is really important, sound, ambitious, revealing and beautifully done.”

He said previous work on quantifying farming’s impacts, including his own, had taken a top-down approach using national level data, but the new work used a bottom-up approach, with farm-by-farm data. “It is very reassuring to see they yield essentially the same results. But the new work has very many important details that are profoundly revealing.”

Prof Tim Benton, at the University of Leeds, UK, said: “This is an immensely useful study. It brings together a huge amount of data and that makes its conclusions much more robust. The way we produce food, consume and waste food is unsustainable from a planetary perspective. Given the global obesity crisis, changing diets – eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit – has the potential to make both us and the planet healthier.”

Dr Peter Alexander, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, was also impressed but noted: “There may be environmental benefits, eg for biodiversity, from sustainably managed grazing and increasing animal product consumption may improve nutrition for some of the poorest globally. My personal opinion is we should interpret these results not as the need to become vegan overnight, but rather to moderate our [meat] consumption.”

Poore said: “The reason I started this project was to understand if there were sustainable animal producers out there. But I have stopped consuming animal products over the last four years of this project. These impacts are not necessary to sustain our current way of life. The question is how much can we reduce them and the answer is a lot.”

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