Malaysia: Defence Ministry doing cloud seeding to deal with haze

The Star 17 Aug 18;

KLANG (Bernama): The Defence Ministry has mobilised its assets to carry out cloud seeding to help deal with the hot and hazy conditions in several parts of the country.

Its minister, Mohamad Sabu, said two Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) aircraft were sent out this morning to locate suitable clouds in the Selangor and Perak airspace, to precipitate rain.

"We need to find suitable clouds and locations to make cloud seeding a success," he told reporters after visiting the peat soil area at Johan Setia here today.

Also present was Selangor Fire and Rescue Department director Azmi Osman.

According to Mohamad, the hazy condition in the country was not caused by forest fires here but had been blown over from Sumatra, Indonesia.

For the record, the Air Pollutant Index readings for Banting and Johan Setia at 4pm today (Aug 17) were unhealthy at 106 and 117 respectively.

Meanwhile, Azmi said the forest fires in the peat soil area were under control and currently only eight hectares (20 acres) of the area were still on fire as compared to 16 hectares (40 acres) yesterday.

Peat soil fires are notoriously hard to put out as they burn deep underground. They often occur in former peat swamps that have been drained dry to plant oil palm.

Mohamad said the dry and hot weather this time around had made firefighting a problem and as such he advised the public, especially oil palm estate and farm owners not to carry out open burning.

"This month the Selangor Fire and Rescue Department received 545 reports on open burning ,” he added. -- BERNAMA

554 acres burnt in 178 Sarawak wildfires
stephen then The Star 17 Aug 18;

MIRI: Some 554 acres (224ha) of forests throughout Sarawak have been burnt in 178 different wildfires since Aug 2.

The latest statistics from the Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) showed that in the past 24 hours, firefighting teams statewide had been tackling 15 such wildfires.

The wildfires are in Miri, Kuching, Sri Aman, Sibu, Mukah, Song and Bintulu districts.

According to the Bomba Sarawak operation centre, there was a huge wildfire raging in Sri Aman over an area of some 100 acres (one acre is about the size of one football field).

Haze hits Negri Sembilan; fishermen hope situation improves soon
Mohd Khidir Zakaria New Straits Times 17 Aug 18;

PORT DICKSON: Business is as usual for fishermen in the district despite the haze that has been enveloping the state since yesterday.

One of them, Taufik Abdul Ghani, 56, said he hoped that the situation would improve soon.

“The air pollutant index (API) recorded a moderate with visibility had yet to be affected. We can still carry out activities and daily chores as usual.

“It was worse two years ago when we couldn’t go even go to the sea due to the limited visibility,” he said when met here today.

As of 6pm today, the API readings at three locations, namely, Nilai (97), Port Dickson (73) and Seremban (90) recorded a moderate level.

An API reading of 0 to 50 indicates good air quality; 51 to 100, moderate; 101 to 200, unhealthy; 201 to 300, very unhealthy and 300 and above, hazardous.

For the latest API readings nationwide, visit

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Indonesia: Shoot-on-sight order issued in Riau as growing forest and peatland fires cause choking haze

Lee Seok Hwai Straits Times 17 Aug 18;

A commander tasked with preventing fires in Riau said he has issued a shoot-on-sight order across the Indonesian province against those found clearing land by burning, as growing forest and peatland fires shroud several areas in smog ahead of the Asian Games.

The order came as satellites detected 121 hot spots in Riau on Thursday morning (Aug 16) - a big jump from the 22 spots detected on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

"Ninety-nine per cent of the land and forest fires in Riau Province are related to the intentional acts of irresponsible people," Brigadier-General Sonny Aprianto, Commander of the Riau Land and Forest Fire Task Force, was quoted by Antara news agency as saying on Thursday.

He said he had ordered army personnel to shoot "arsonists" across Riau. The Indonesian military has previously issued similar orders, as was the case in Jambi, central Sumatra, last year, to deter fire culprits.

Land-clearing fires have been seen as a serious threat to the 18th Asian Games, which will be held in Palembang, South Sumatra Province, from Aug 18 to Sept 2.

President Joko Widodo and other senior leaders have ordered efforts to combat land fires be stepped up to ensure that the quadrennial games would not be affected.

Brig-Gen Sonny said on Thursday that he had discussed the shoot-on-sight policy with Riau Police Chief Inspector General Nandang, and soldiers would be deployed to every military district compound in Riau to enforce the order.

The authorities had asked locals not to clear land by burning but without much success, the one-star general noted, according to Antara. Indeed, he said the slash-and-burn method for clearing the land has become more widespread.

Several arsonists have been nabbed, he added, with at least three cases in Dumai city now ready for trial.

Meanwhile, the fires have blanketed several areas in Riau, including the provincial capital of Pekanbaru, in smog.

"At first I thought it was morning dew, but apparently the environment was dimmed by the haze," Pekanbaru resident Musfarin told the Jakarta Post on Thursday.

Similar conditions were also reported in Dumai city, where visibility dropped to 4km on Thursday morning on the back of the thick haze, the newspaper said.

The haze in Dumai originated from local forest and land fires as well as hot spots from the neighbouring area of Rokan Hilir regency, where the worst fires in Riau were burning.

The fires in Rokan Hilir have burned down hundreds of hectares of oil palm plantation and peatland as well as 20 houses and several vehicles in Tanjung Leban village in Kubu district, reported Jakarta Post.

The fires have also forced residents to evacuate, the report said, without giving a number.

"We have informed land owners not to clear their land for plantation during the dry season, but apparently they ignored it. We did not have the proper equipment to put out the fires and it was hard to find a water source so the fire spread quickly," Tanjung Leban village secretary Wandri was quoted as saying. He said thousands of residents needed surgical masks.

"Four villages near us are covered with smog from the land fires. All the villagers now breathe in haze. The government must take action to help the people."

Mr Edwar Sanger, deputy head of Riau forest and land fires task force who also heads the Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency, said his team had tried putting out fires in Rokan Hilir both from land and air.

"But the dry season has helped the fires spread. Strong winds have also complicated wildfire suppression efforts," he said. Residents should "pray for rain", he added.

Indonesia faces challenges in ensuring haze-free Asian Games
Rahmad Nasution Antara 17 Aug 18;

Bogor, W Java (ANTARA News) - Jakarta and Palembang are gearing up for the opening ceremony of the 18th Asian Games, due to be held at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in the Indonesian capital city on Saturday.

The two cities that will co-host the world`s second biggest multi-sport event after the Olympics from August 18 to September 2 are located on two different islands -- Java and Sumatra. However, Indonesia`s success mainly depends on the two cities` preparedness.

The Asian Games venues and facilities have been readied for use in both Jakarta and Palembang, but Indonesia`s success in convening the event will not just be measured by its excellent services to both athletes and officials of the 45 participating countries.

Its success will largely be measured by the related authorities` capability to ensure that the air quality of Jakarta and Palembang, the capital city of South Sumatra Province, is relatively healthy enough for the competing athletes.

Weather-related issues, particularly the air quality and air pollution in Jakarta, have been brought into the spotlight by the local and foreign news media, including Al Jazeera, considering the importance of clean air for those competing in the event.

The Qatar-based news channel, Al Jazeera, has criticized Jakarta`s air pollution level because it has reached an "unhealthy level of 154 micrograms per cubic meter" (Bayani, 2018).

The air quality of Palembang is relatively similar to that of the country`s capital city, Jakarta.

Palembang has been continuously challenged and threatened by haze, caused by land and forest fires in certain areas of South Sumatra and several other provinces in Sumatra Island.

On August 14, the Riau Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency reported that some 169 hotspots were detected in seven provinces across Sumatra Island, including South Sumatra.

Referring to satellite images, the agency remarked that South Sumatra Province had 13 hotspots, while 90 others were detected in different parts of Riau, 27 in Bangka Belitung, 22 in North Sumatra, 10 in West Sumatra, four in Jambi, and three in Lampung. Instead of having a fewer number of hotspots, on August 15, Riau Province had 103 hotspots. The majority of the hotspots were detected in the province`s northern coastal areas.

Head of the Riau Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) Sukisno argued that the relatively low rainfall intensity makes Riau Province, whose area is just a few hundred kilometers away from Palembang, vulnerable to the spread of potential land and forest fires.

The BMKG has forecast that mild rain was likely to hit the areas of Rokan Hilir District early in the morning, while the maximum temperature at mid-day could reach 35 degrees Celsius, he said.

The Riau Land and Forest Fire Task Force will continue its ground and aerial firefighting operations through four water-bombing choppers.

However, the dry-bulb temperature and blowing wind have hampered the task force firefighters` efforts in extinguishing the land and forest fires on the wetland.

President Joko Widodo had earlier asked the related authorities to do their best to ensure that the 18th Asian Games are not disrupted by the land and forest fires.

"As the host of the Asian Games, we must be able to ensure that the land and forest fires do not occur during the multi-sport event, so that our image and flights are not disrupted by the haze," he said at a coordination meeting for the Forest and Land Fire Mitigation in Jakarta last February.

In response to the ongoing threats of land and forest fires in Riau, Commander of the Riau Land and Forest Fire Task Force Brig. Gen. Sonny Aprianto issued a shoot-on-sight policy.

He ordered army personnel across the province to implement it against arsonists found burning land.

The shoot-on-sight order was given because the land and forest fires along Riau`s coastal areas tend to spread fast.

The arsonists` acts have been seen as a serious threat that can disrupt the convening of the 18th Asian Games in Palembang, the capital city of South Sumatra Province, he said.

By enforcing the law, the local police have been conducting a thorough investigation into the cases of land and forest fires on 45 land areas across the province.

The investigators have set police lines and notice boards along the areas, prohibiting anyone from working on the land, Aprianto remarked.

The dossiers of several suspected arsonists had been completed so that their cases could immediately be tried at local courts. "In Dumai city, for instance, there are three cases with `P21` status. This means that the suspects in the cases are ready for trial."

Aprianto said the suspects, whose cases are being handled by the local police, were all individuals, and none of them represented a company.

"Ninety-nine percent of the land and forest fires in Riau Province are a result of intentional acts by irresponsible people," the one-star army general remarked.

Aprianto further added that he had observed the areas of Dumai city and Rokan Hilir District from a chopper and found massive hotspots there.

The preliminary results of the aerial firefighting patrols that the taskforce team members had conducted indicated that the land and forest fires in Rokan Hilir District areas were intentional acts by those wanting to extend palm oil plantation areas.

"In Teluk Nilam, Rokan Hilir District, alone, the land and forest fires are expected to reach around 17 kilometers. The fires engulfed empty pieces of land located next to a palm oil plantation. This is evidence that the land was intentionally set on fire."

As the host country, Indonesia has no choice but to make utmost efforts to ensure that the over 14,000 athletes competing in Jakarta and Palembang can breathe relatively healthy air.

Editor: Fardah Assegaf

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Thailand: Indonesian smoke haze arrives

ASSAWIN PAKKAWAN Bangkok Post 16 Aug 18;

Smoke haze from this year's burning-off in Indonesia is starting to affect the health of people in Narathiwat, Satun, Songkhla and Yala provinces, the Pollution Control Department said on Thursday.

Particulate matter up to 2.5 microns in diameter had exceeded the safety ceiling of 50 microgrammes per cubic metre of air over the past 24 hours in the four southern provinces, the department reported.

Particulate matter up to 10 microns exceeded the safety threshold of 120 microgrammes in Betong district of Yala.
Officials said the haze was caused by people clearing forest on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo to turn the land into palm and rubber plantations.

The smoke was being carried to Thailand by prevailing winds.

Regional Environmental Office 16 in Songkhla reported the haze was expected to lessen as the number of hotspots on Sumatra had dropped from 62 on Sunday to eight on Wednesday.

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Older than dinosaurs: last South African coelacanths threatened by oil exploration

Just 30 of the prehistoric fish known to exist, raising fears oil wells will push it to extinction
Tony Carnie in Durban
The Guardian 17 Aug 18;

Bright blue, older than dinosaurs and weighing as much as an average-sized man, coelacanths are the most endangered fish in South Africa and among the rarest in the world.

Barely 30 of these critically-endangered fish are known to exist off the east coast of South Africa, raising concern that a new oil exploration venture in the area could jeopardise their future.

Coelacanths, whose shape has remained almost unchanged for 420m years, captured world attention when the first living specimen was caught off the port city of East London in 1938. This discovery was followed by the subsequent capture of several more off the Comoros islands in the early 1950s, confirming that coelacanths were definitely not extinct.

December 2000 brought further excitement when divers found a small coelacanth colony in underwater canyons near South Africa’s Sodwana Bay, adjacent to the iSimangaliso wetland park and world heritage site.

Now the Rome-based energy group Eni plans to drill several deep-water oil wells in a 400km long exploration block known as Block ER236.

Dr Andrew Venter, the chief executive of Wildtrust, one of several conservation groups lobbying for a significant expansion of South Africa’s protected ocean areas, said: “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 decimated fish populations – so if we had an oil spill off iSimangaliso it is very likely it could wipe out these coelacanths.”

The Sodwana coelacanths are about 40km from the northern boundary of the Eni exploration area and nearly 200km north of the first drilling sites, but Venter said oil spills spread far and swiftly.

His concerns have been echoed by the coelacanth expert Prof Mike Bruton, who said the fish are specialist creatures, sensitive to environmental disturbance.

“Anything that interferes with their ability to absorb oxygen, such as oil pollution, would threaten their survival. The risk of oil spills or blowouts during exploration or future commercial production in Block ER236 is a source of serious concern.”

Last year, Eni commissioned a mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) but the scoping report makes scant mention of the potential threat to the Sodwana coelacanths.

Instead, the report suggested that coelacanths were unlikely to be found next to the first exploration wells.

Responding to fears the fish could be wiped out by leaks or undersea blowouts, the oil drilling company said: “Eni always applies the highest operational and environmental standards, which often exceed local compliance regulations.

“Prior to any operation we undertake sensitivity mapping to identify sensitive offshore marine habitat which guide our planning. In addition to this, Eni would comply with all the requirements of the environmental management programme which is based on the outcomes of the impact assessment.

“Specialist studies have been conducted for both marine ecology and oil spill modelling scenarios and no specific threat has emerged in relation to this. The specialist study pertaining to accidental spillage modelling is currently being independently third-party peer-reviewed.”

Bruton said studies on coelacanths caught off the coasts of Indonesia and Tanzania showed that the remoteness of their habitat had not protected them from exposure to pollutants such as PCB and DDT, which had been used on land but had drifted over the sea on atmospheric winds and had accumulated up the food chain to the top predators, such as the coelacanth.

If oil were to be spilled in the ocean, Bruton feared the coelacanth colony could be destroyed. “The risk needs to carefully evaluated before this commercial venture has progressed too far and it is too late,” he said. “Oil spills do not respect the boundaries of marine protected areas.”

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Florida’s worst red tide decimates dolphins, fish, sea turtles

Over 100 tonnes of dead sea creatures have washed up as US state experiences worst red tide in 10 years
The New Paper 17 Aug 18:

SARASOTA, FLORIDA A state of emergency has been declared in Florida as the worst red tide in a decade blackens the ocean water, killing dolphins, sea turtles and fish at a relentless pace.

More than 100 tonnes of dead sea creatures have been shovelled up from smelly, deserted beaches in tourist areas along Florida's south-west coast as a result of the harmful algal bloom this month alone.

In the past week, 12 dolphins washed ashore dead in Sarasota County, typically the toll seen in an entire year.

"It is physically and mentally exhausting," said Ms Gretchen Lovewell, who is in charge of a skeleton crew at Mote Marine Laboratory that collects dead or distressed sea turtles and marine mammals. She and two colleagues "have been literally working around the clock".

On Sunday, Ms Lovewell recovered the remains of a dolphin. A faint number, 252, was visible on its dorsal fin.

It was a 12-year-old male named Speck, who had been spotted more than 300 times by researchers monitoring generations of bottlenose dolphins in the Sarasota Bay.

"It was devastating," said Mr Randall Wells, director of the Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Programme, the world's longest-running study of a wild dolphin population, under way since 1970.

"Speck is somebody we have known from the time he was born," said Mr Wells. "He was named after my dad."

Red tide is suspected as the cause of death, but researchers won't know for certain until the lab results come back.

A natural phenomenon, red tide is caused by a microscopic single-celled organism called Karenia brevis. It releases a neurotoxin that can become airborne, causing headaches, watery eyes, coughing and asthma attacks in people.

Ecologists have said the organism acts like a forest fire, clearing out weeds and allowing the landscape to start anew.

Karenia brevis is found year-round at low levels. But once it multiplies, sea turtles and manatees may inhale it, or die from eating too much neurotoxin-laced fish and sea grass.

The smell of rotting fish has choked Florida's economy, sapping millions in revenue from fishing and tourism.

"Our life is tourism here in south-west Florida," said Mr Omar Botana, owner of a boat rental firm. "It has hurt our business around 40 per cent."- AFP

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