Best of our wild blogs: 2 Aug 18

1 Sep (Sat): Beneath the Waves - films, art, talks and more!
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

The smallest giant clam is really BORING!
Mei Lin NEO

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Malaysia: States must beef up enforcement to stop sand smugglers

A. Ruban Malay Mail 31 Jul 18;

PUTRAJAYA, July 31 ― Minister Dr Xavier Jayakumar told states implicated with illegal sand mining activities to step up enforcement.

The water, land and natural resources minister said the sand mining business is a lucrative one, but pointed out that only less than five companies in the country are legally in the business due to its expensive operational cost.

“I don’t have an exact figure of illegal sand mining operators, but enforcement falls under the jurisdiction of states and they should up enforcement checks to prevent unscrupulous groups of people from stealing our sand,” Dr Xavier told Malay Mail in an exclusive interview.

Under the Continental Shelf Act 1966, Dr Xavier noted that the federal government was in power over sand mining activities three nautical miles from the country’s shore line.

For such activities, he explained that Approved Permits (APs) to run the business were issued by the federal government.

Under the former Barisan Nasional administration, Dr Xavier said, 15 APs had been given out but pointed out that only five or fewer are active today.

When asked about illegal sand mining activities specifically happening in the shores of Johor for Singapore’s consumption, Dr Xavier stopped short at saying that he was aware about it and that the Cabinet had been informed of the matter.

UK’s The Guardian had recently reported that almost 133 million tonnes of sand had been allegedly smuggled into Singapore in 2008.

Separately, Dr Xavier said the country’s total exports of sand and gravel in 2016 increased significantly to 294,918 tonnes and was worth RM5.02 million, compared with 1,374 tonnes that was valued at RM1.2 million in the year before.

The main export destinations, he said, were to Singapore, India, China, Thailand, Germany and Australia.

“But if you say illegal activity, I was made to aware that most of these activities are for local consumption.

“And to tackle this, the states must step up enforcements as land is their prerogative,” he said.

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Malaysia, Indonesia collaborate on conservation effort

natasha joibi The Star 1 Aug 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Partners in Kalimantan and Sabah continue to work together to secure wildlife corridors under the “Heart of Borneo” initiative.

The landscape of south Sabah and North Kalimantan not only serves as a border between the two countries, but also as key corridors that are important to the movement of Borneo elephants.

Recognising the importance of protecting these corridors, WWF-Malaysia signed an agreement with the Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Wildlife Department last October to secure and protect key elephant habitats in the transboundary area.

As a part of the Heart of Borneo initiative, the agreement served as a precursor to the transboundary work between Malaysia and Indonesia.

A delegation from Kalimantan, comprising WWF-Indonesia and local government representatives, visited two Tawau-based plantations - Sabah Softwoods Bhd and Zillion Fortune Sdn Bhd - from July 23 to 26, to study efforts being taken to reduce human-elephant conflict in these areas.

Other than that, the purpose of the visit was also to share with Kalimantan counterparts what plantations in Sabah are currently doing to manage High Conservation Value areas, and where suitable, adopt these practices.

This visit was a follow-up from a previous visit made by the Sabah delegation comprising WWF-Malaysia and Sabah government officials to the Tulin Onsoi sub-district in North Kalimantan.

Sabah Softwoods was selected as one of the host plantations due to their long-standing commitment towards conservation.

In 2013, the plantation company agreed to set aside approximately 1,067ha of its land to establish a wildlife corridor to promote connectivity between the fragmented Ulu Kalumpang Forest Reserve, to the Ulu-Segama Malua main forest complex.

This enables elephants to access larger foraging areas away from human activity, which therefore helps to reduce conflict with humans as a whole.

Sabah Softwoods has also set aside a corridor to allow elephants to move through another area being newly planted with oil palm.

Zillion Fortune Sdn Bhd also played host to the delegation.

The company holds licences inside the Forest Management Unit that is located on the southern part of Sabah, within the Heart of Borneo transboundary corridor.

Since 2015, Zillion Fortune has been managing 10,800ha of forest area with mosaic tree planting strategy and silviculture treatment.

It carries out regular patrolling and boundary surveillance of illegal encroachment into the licensed area as well as to identify potential high conservation value areas.

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Indonesia: Footage of Sumatran tiger family in Riau raises conservation hopes

Gemma Holliani Cahya The Jakarta Post 2 Aug 18;

Video footage capturing the lives of a family of Sumatran tigers in a forest in Riau has sparked hope of a better future in the country for the species.

The footage was released by the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to commemorate International Tigers Day on Monday.

It shows how the tiger, named Rima, has given birth twice ̵ to three cubs in 2015 and to four in 2017. Rima lives in a forest in Riau with Uma, her male partner, and their seven offspring.

Parts of the video show the mother tiger and her four new cubs pass a trap camera in the forest. The cubs look healthy and curious about their surroundings as they follow their mother through the forest.

Tigers Alive Initiative head Michael Baltzer was quoted on the WWF website on Monday as saying the footage proved that tigers “could proliferate like cats” if they had a protected habitat, enough food and were not hunted.

Sumatran tigers have been listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List since 2008.

Accelerated deforestation in Sumatra, poaching and the rampant illegal trade have significantly decreased the number of Sumatran tigers across the island.

In 1978, experts estimated the population of Sumatran tigers at 1,000. Today, the Environment and Forestry Ministry estimates that the Sumatran tiger population currently stands at no more than 600.

The Riau BKSDA head said the rare footage was good news as the government was aiming to increase the country’s tiger population by 10 percent.

“It proves that Sumatran tigers can thrive in Sumatra. This shows a strong commitment by the government to save the tiger and its habitat,” he said. (ahw)

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Indonesia: Whale washes ashore in Sikka, East Nusa Tenggara

The Jakarta Post 1 Aug 18;

A whale has been found washed ashore on Liwung Pireng Beach in Kolidetung village, Lela district, Sikka regency, East Nusa Tenggara.

District head Lela Rikardus Pieterson said the whale was already dead when it washed ashore. "When the local residents found it on Saturday, the whale was dead and was decomposing," he told on Wednesday. "It might have been dead for a week."

According to Rikardus, the whale might have been brought ashore by big waves on Monday, July 23.

As the carcass had already mostly decomposed, local residents took its bones home. However, they did not take its meat for consumption, reported.

Program and Evaluation head of the Kupang National Marine Conservation Bureau, Imam Fauzi, said the bureau was still trying to identify the species of the whale. (stu)

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Lemur extinction: Vast majority of species under threat

Victoria Gill BBC News 2 Aug 18;

Almost every species of lemur, wide-eyed primates unique to Madagascar, are under threat of extinction.

That is the conclusion of an international group of conservationists, who carried out an assessment of the animals' status.

This "Primate Specialist Group" reviewed and compared the latest research into lemur populations and the threats to their habitat and survival.

Lemurs, they concluded, are the most endangered primates in the world.

What are the main threats to the species?

In a statement, Russ Mittermeier, from the charity Global Wildlife Conservation, who is chair of the Primate Specialist Group which delivered the alarming conclusions, said that it highlighted the "very high extinction risk to Madagascar's unique lemurs" and was "indicative of the grave threats to Madagascar biodiversity as a whole".

"Madagascar's unique and wonderful species are its greatest asset," he added.

The animals face a variety of threats, primarily the destruction of their tropical forest habitat, from so-called slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging, charcoal production and mining.

The hunting of lemurs for food, and their live capture for the pet trade has also emerged as a serious threat to their survival.

Prof Christoph Schwitzer from Bristol Zoological Society is deputy chair of the Primate Specialist Group. He told the BBC: "More and more, we are seeing unsustainable levels of lemur poaching.

"We see commercial hunting as well - probably for local restaurants. And this is a new phenomenon for Madagascar - we didn't see it at this scale 15 years ago."

There are 111 known species and subspecies of lemur, all endemic to Madagascar, and this group concluded that 105 of those were under threat.

This workshop, convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is the first step in an official assessment of the conservation status of every studied species, which is ultimately published as what is known as the Red List of Threatened Species.

The findings though will go through a peer review process before the Red List is officially updated to reflect them.

What can be done to prevent the animals dying out?

Although the conclusions sound dire, that is the aim of this assessment process - to examine the latest research and use it to work out what the most urgent conservation priorities are.

The IUCN has also already implemented what it calls a "lemur action plan" to save the animals, with plans including protecting habitats where the most threatened species live and tackling poverty through ecotourism schemes, in order to help local people to avoid the need to hunt the animals.

Prof Schwitzer said that he was an "eternal optimist", adding that it was "important that people shout about this".

"People who love lemurs need to shout about these problems and get the message out there," he told BBC News.

"When we published the lemur action plan and the media picked up on it, suddenly we had people call offering to help - to donate money or other resources.

"That can really make a difference."

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Seagrass can provide localized protection against ocean acidification

Brooks Hays UPI 31 Jul 18;

July 31 (UPI) -- Seagrass could serve as a local buffer against ocean acidification, protecting vulnerable species against rising levels of carbonic acid.

In addition to providing food and shelter to a variety of marine organisms, seagrass also absorbs carbon dioxide as it performs photosynthesis. Researchers with the Carnegie Institution for Science designed to models to measure whether a seagrass meadow's carbon uptake abilities could lower pH levels.

The models accounted for grass density, photosynthetic activity, water depth, currents and a variety of other factors. The results, detailed in the journal Ecological Applications, suggests seagrass can have a small, local effect on ocean acidity.

"Local stakeholders, such as California's shellfish industry, want to know whether seagrass meadows may help to counteract ocean acidification," Carnegie researcher David Koweek said in a news release. "Our results suggest that seagrass meadows along the California coast will likely offer only limited ability to counteract ocean acidification over long periods of time."

Though scientists found seagrass was unlikely to offer longterm protection, they did show seagrass meadows can offer stronger, short-term benefits during low tide and during the day when photosynthetic activity peaks.

Carbonic acid is corrosive and prevents shellfish from forming their shells out of calcium carbonate. The latest research suggests shellfish could potentially take advantage of the short-term protections offered by sea grass.

"We are starting to understand that some marine organisms, such as blue mussels, are actually able to shift the time of day in which they do most of their calcification," Koweek said. "If other organisms are able to do the same, then even brief windows of significant ocean acidification buffering by seagrass meadows may bring substantial benefits to the organisms that live in them."

RELATED How ocean acidification weakens coral skeletons
The best way to fight ocean acidification, scientists insist, is to drastically curb the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. But conserving sea grass could help, too.

"Although our results indicate that seagrass meadows along the California coast are not likely to offer long-term buffering to fight ocean acidification, their enduring role as habitat for marine organisms, protectors against sea level rise, and magnets of biodiversity should be more than enough reason to restore and protect these iconic ecosystems," Koweek said.

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German farmers step up $1 billion aid call after drought damage

Michael Hogan, Reuters Yahoo News 31 Jul 18;

HAMBURG (Reuters) - German farmers intensified calls for around 1 billion euros ($1.17 billion) in special aid on Tuesday after crop damage from a drought and heatwave, but Berlin said it would wait for an August harvest report before making a decision.

The president of German farming association DBV, Joachim Rukwied, said drought had caused 1.4 million euros ($1.6 million) of damage to grains crops alone this year.

Poor growing weather, including a heatwave and lack of rain, has damaged crops in France, Germany and the Baltic Sea countries, while a shortage of animal feed is also looming after damage to maize (corn) crops and grass.

“Expensive animal feed will have to be purchased,” Rukwied told German TV channel ZDF.

However, German agriculture minister Julia Kloeckner said on German television that a clearer view of the national picture was needed and the government would await her ministry’s own harvest report in late August.

"Then we will have a real overview of the situation in Germany," she said, adding that regional state governments could provide local aid if needed.

Indications were that German federal and state governments were in disagreement about whether aid should be paid.

German state and federal agricultural agencies meet on Tuesday to discuss the drought and Kloeckner is due to report to the cabinet on Wednesday.

Kloeckner said later on German radio NDR that harvests were varied among states.

"Farmers themselves do not know how their harvest will turn out," she said.

Till Backhaus, the farm minister in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, called on the government to declare a state of emergency for farmers, saying a decision in late August would not be fast enough.

French consultancy Strategie Grains expects the German soft wheat crop to fall to 20.7 million tonnes, from 22.8 million estimated in early July, Reuters reported on July 25. Last year some 24 million tonnes were harvested in Germany.

German grain traders, however, increasingly expect a wheat harvest of under 20 million tonnes.

($1 = 0.8535 euros)

(Reporting by Michael Hogan, additional reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann and Gernot Heller, editing by Alexander Smith)

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Last year was warmest ever that didn't feature an El Niño, report finds

State of the climate report found 2017 was the third warmest with a record high sea level and destructive coral bleaching
Oliver Milman The Guardian 1 Aug 18;

Last year was the warmest ever recorded on Earth that didn’t feature an El Niño, a periodic climatic event that warms the Pacific Ocean, according to the annual state of the climate report by 500 climate scientists from around the world, overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) and released by the American Meteorological Society.

Climate change cast a long shadow in 2017, with the planet experiencing soaring temperatures, retreating sea ice, a record high sea level, shrinking glaciers and the most destructive coral bleaching event on record.

Overall, 2017 was third warmest year on record, Noaa said, behind 2016 and 2015. Countries including Spain, Bulgaria, Mexico and Argentina all broke their annual high temperature records.

Puerto Madryn in Argentina reached 43.4C (110.12F), the warmest temperature ever recorded so far south in the world, while Turbat in Pakistan baked in 53.5C (128.3F), the global record temperature for May.

Concentrations of planet-warming carbon dioxide continued on an upward march, reaching 405 parts per million in the atmosphere. This is 2.2ppm greater than 2016 and is the highest level discernible in modern records, as well as ice cores that show CO2 levels back as far as 800,000 years. The growth rate of CO2 has quadrupled since the early 1960s.

The consequences of this heat, which follows a string of warm years, was felt around the world in 2017.

In May of last year, ice extent in the Arctic reached its lowest maximum level in the 37-year satellite record, covering 8% less area than the long-term average. The Arctic experienced the sort of warmth that scientists say hasn’t been been present in the region for the last 2,000 years, with some regions 3 or 4 degrees Celsius hotter than an average recorded since 1982. Antarctic sea ice was also below average throughout 2017.

Land-based ice mirrored these reversals, with the world’s glaciers losing mass for the 38th consecutive year on record. According to the report, the total ice loss since 1980 is the equivalent to slicing 22 metres off the top of the average glacier.

Prolonged warmth in the seas helped spur a huge coral bleaching event, which is when coral reefs become stressed by high temperatures and expel their symbiotic algae. This causes them to whiten and, in some cases, die off.

A three-year stretch to May 2017 was the “longest, most widespread and almost certainty most destructive” coral bleaching event on record, the report states, taking a notable toll on places such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Global average sea levels reached the highest level in the 25-year satellite record, 7.2cm (3in) above the 1993 average.

“I find it quite stunning, really, how these record temperatures have affected ocean ecosystems,” said Gregory Johnson, an oceanographer at Noaa.

There were several major rainfall events in 2017 contributing to a wetter than normal year, with the Indian monsoon season claiming around 800 lives and devastating floods occurring in Venezuela and Nigeria. Global fire activity was at the lowest level since 2003, however.

While exceptionally warm years could occur without human influence, the rapidly advancing field of climate change attribution science has made it clear the broad sweep of changes taking place on Earth would be virtually impossible without greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.

The loss of glaciers and coral reefs threaten the food and water supplies of hundreds of millions of people, while heatwaves, flooding, wildfires and increasingly powerful storms are also a severe risk to human life.

These dangers have been highlighted in stunning fashion this year, with a scorching global heatwave causing multiple deaths from Canada to Japan, while wildfires have caused further fatalties in places such as Greece and the western US.

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