Best of our wild blogs: 4 Sep 18

Owlsome day out at Pasir Ris Park!
Adventures with the Naked Hermit Crabs

Where to recycle electronic waste?
Little Green Men

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AVA looking into allegations that 18 cats were removed from St John's Island

Jan Lee Straits Times 3 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE - The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) is looking into allegations that 18 community cats have been removed from St John's Island.

The authority also urged members of the public with information on the cats to come forward.

The cats' apparent disappearance is understood to have happened about a week ago on Aug 26, said Ms Angela Ling, who set up the Facebook page St John's Island's Cats and is a regular caretaker of the cats.

Ms Ling, 41, who has been taking care of the stray cats on the island since 2014, told The Straits Times that a follower of the cats' Facebook page who had been fishing on the island told her that she saw a group of people armed with 18 carriers take the cats away.

They told the Facebook group follower that they were bringing the cats to the mainland for treatment.

But four of these cats were found on Monday (Sept 3), abandoned near Sembawang beach.

Ms Ling, who works in the service industry, was informed about three of the abandoned cats through a private message and recognised them when shown pictures of the cats.

She found one more cat after she rushed to the scene. Aside from the four cats, the remaining 14 cats lost are unaccounted for.

Ms Ling said the four cats she found showed some signs of dehydration. One appeared to be suffering from a gum issue and "clearly wasn't well-taken care of in the week it went missing", she said.

"I really don't know what their intent is," Ms Ling said of the people who took the cats away.

"These cats are very old strays so even if the people who took them have good intentions and want to rehome the cats, it's very difficult to find people willing to adopt the cats."

She reported the missing cats to AVA and plans to make a police report as well.

Ms Ling said St John's island used to have some 100 cats. Many domestic cats born on the island were left behind when former residents of the island moved out. As many of the cats were not sterilised then, the population of the cats increased.

Most of the cats, which Ms Ling said are old cats aged between eight and nine, have now been sterilised due to efforts by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

She visits the island about once every two weeks. She helps to appeal for cat food for the felines and has engaged workers on the island to help with feeding them. She also brings the cats to veterinarians when they need medical treatment.

On the disappearance of the cats she has cared for over the past four years, she said: "Of course I'm very worried about the missing cats. I'm choosing to believe that whoever took them had good intentions. I just want to know that the cats are okay."

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Not so green, NTU stores give out plastic bags freely despite initiative to cut down usage

KENNETH CHENG Today Online 3 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE — It was the first day of a campus-wide movement to hand out plastic bags only on request, but it appeared that some businesses at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) did not get the memo.

Caught off guard, some of them continued to distribute plastic bags to students and staff on Monday (Sept 3) although patrons did not ask for them.

TODAY's visit to the NTU campus on Monday found that crew at fast-food outlets KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Long John Silver's, as well as food court stalls at the North Spine Plaza, continued to give out plastic bags freely.

At KFC, for instance, staff members were seen packing all takeaways in plastic bags. Students and staff members who patronised these food outlets said the crew did not ask if they needed the bags.

The initiative to cut the use of plastic bags comes about a month ahead of a wider move to halt distribution at the university's more than 50 food and retail outlets, as well as at campus events. From Oct 1, retailers — including supermarkets Prime and Giant — will charge 20 cents for each plastic bag.

The North Spine food court's manager, who declined to be named, said he had not received word on the initiative from the university, but had learnt about it through the news.

When queried about the lack of awareness among some outlets, an NTU spokesperson said notices have been posted at the cashier counters of the two supermarkets and two convenience stores to inform customers and "give them time to adjust to the change".

"The other retailers and food outlets will be roped in progressively in the coming weeks," added the spokesperson.

At Prime supermarket, cashiers were seen telling customers about the 20-cent charge that will kick in next month.

Most of the students approached by TODAY were aware that they would have to fork out money for a plastic bag from next month, and said they would bring a reusable bag or store their purchases in their backpacks. Others said they would not mind paying for a plastic bag if they really needed it.

Some students, however, felt that a 20-cent charge would not be enough to wean customers off plastic bags.

Second-year business student Low Zi Qing, 21, said charging 20 cents was "too little", adding that the fee could be increased to 50 cents a bag.

Biological science student Vartika Goenka, 19, said that while any fee levied on plastic bags would hurt, charging 40 cents a bag would make it so "outrageous" for patrons that they would not want one. A third-year chemical engineering student, who gave her name only as Ms Varsha, 21, said patrons should be charged "no more than S$1 (a bag)".

Other students suggested that the university could do more to help save the environment.

Mr Darren Lou, 22, who went on a student exchange programme to Finland last year, noted that NTU's halls of residence could take a leaf from how recycling points at Finnish supermarkets provide a 40-cent rebate for returning a used 1.5-litre bottle, for instance.

This would incentivise students to recycle plastic bottles, aluminium cans and glass bottles, and could be administered by the hall's office or student committee, he said.

"I hope such initiatives can be implemented for each hall cluster," said the chemical-engineering student.

NTU's move to do away with free plastic bags, announced last week as its president Subra Suresh unveiled the university's five-year plan, is expected to save nearly 10 million plastic bags a year.

This is based on a household's daily average of 1.6 plastic bags and the NTU's community of about 17,000 households in its student hall rooms and staff residences, said the university's spokesperson. Proceeds from the sale of plastic bags will go into the university's student assistance fund.

Even before the NTU's scheme kicks off next month, at least one campus retailer is already charging patrons for plastic bags. Gift and lifestyle shop Mini Toons levies 10 cents on each plastic bag requested by patrons, a move rolled out across its stores islandwide in May.

Its operations manager Nicholas Yong said he would discuss with his management team whether it would revise its fee to 20 cents, but said the store would most likely stick to its original fee. "It is the same goal, which is to reduce plastic bags," he added.

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Malaysia: Eli, the mutilated baby elephant, melt hearts at Kuala Gandah conservation centre

NAZIRUL ROSELAN New Straits Times 3 Sep 18;

TEMERLOH: A female elephant calf is getting all the attention it needs at the National Elephant Conservation Centre in Kuala Gandah, Lanchang.

Meet Eli, the ‘princess’ of the centre, who was rescued after suffering injuries caused by wire snares trap installed by illegal poachers in Jeli, Kelantan, two years ago.

Her name, by the way, was derived from the place she was discovered.

The two-year-old calf, that had found shelter here since early last year, is coping well from the injuries that left her right front leg mutilated and is now one of the attractions at the centre.

Eli is a natural when it comes to interacting with people and seemed to enjoy the star treatment given by visitors.

Her caretaker, Mohamad Suri Aziz, 41, said it was initially difficult for the calf to warm up to the new surrounding and a prosthetic leg donated by Universiti Malaya (UM).

“She actually loves to be pampered and caressed. As Eli is still young, she would spend a lot of time playing and her favourite fruit is watermelon,” he told reporters when met at the centre today.

Mohamad Suri said the calf received much attention from over 2,000 visitors who were present in conjunction with the World Elephant Day celebrated yesterday.

He said Eli drank 20 litres of milk daily, prepared using enamel milk formula and red sugar.

“We also feed her with napier grass,” he said.

The conservation centre was opened in 1989 had so far provided shelter to 30 elephants.

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Indonesia: Bromo national park probes cause of 65-hectare wildfire

Aman Rochman The Jakarta Post 3 Sep 18;

The management of Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park (TNBTS) in East Java is investigating the cause of a wildfire that burned at least 65 hectares of the park's savannah and vegetation on Saturday.

The fire had been extinguished by Sunday afternoon, but local residents said on Monday morning that fire had again broke out in the area.

TNBTS head John Kennedie said the park was continuing with its investigation.

“The cause of the fire is still under investigation,” he said on Monday. “It is estimated that the fire burned 65 hectares [of savannah],” he added.

The fire, which burned through the Pentongan Block of the Laut Pasir (Sand Sea) Tengger Resort, reportedly broke out around 9:45 a.m. local time on Saturday.

Initially, the park deployed 15 personnel to put out the fire. The team was later joined by officers of Malang regency's Poncokusumo Police and 83 local residents.

But the fire continued to spread, said John, and that around 320 people from the area joined the firefighting effort.

John said that the park management temporarily closed on Saturday the Jemplang entrance on its Malang side. The entrance was reopened after the area was deemed safe for visitors.

“We reopened the [Jemplang] entrance on Sunday afternoon. Tourism activities are normal,” he said.

By Sunday evening, most of the fire had been extinguished except for several hot spots on Mount Watangan. (sau)

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Japan killed 50 whales in Antarctic protected area, data shows

The disclosure of the cull, conducted under a legal loophole, comes as Japan seeks to further weaken a global ban on commercial hunts
Damian Carrington The Guardian 4 Sep 18;

Japanese whalers have killed more than 50 minke whales in an Antarctic marine protection area this year, WWF has revealed.

The disclosure comes on the opening day of the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting in Brazil, which Japan is chairing as it seeks to restart commercial whaling. Killing whales for profit was banned in 1986, but nations including Norway and Iceland have granted themselves exemptions.

Japan allows itself to hunt whales under a “scientific” programme which still sees the meat go on sale. The 2018 hunt led to 333 minke whales being killed in the Southern Ocean, including 122 pregnant females.

Now analysis of an IWC scientific committee paper by WWF shows that three Japanese ships killed dozens of minke whales in part of the Ross Sea marine protection area (MPA) in January and February 2018. All fishing is restricted in that section of the MPA in order to protect marine life, including blue, humpback, minke and killer whales, emperor penguins and Weddell seals.

However, the 24-nation body that agreed the MPA – the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources – does not control whaling in the region. The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan should cancel all existing “scientific whaling” permits in the Southern Ocean but Japan simply issued itself a new permit for the killing of hundreds of Antarctic minke whales each year until 2027.

“Thousands of other species are protected in this part of the Ross Sea, so it is shocking and absurd that minke whales are not,” said Rod Downie, polar chief adviser at WWF. “The banner of so called ‘scientific whaling’ needs to stop once and for all. The IWC and CCAMLR must work together and take immediate action to close these loopholes currently being exploited by Japan to ensure this ocean sanctuary is protected for future generations.”

At the IWC meeting, Japan wants to allow the hunting of whales whose populations are assessed as high and create a “sustainable use” committee. “There couldn’t be a better opportunity,” a Japanese government official said. Japan has previously labelled opposition to its whaling as “eco-imperialism”.

Previous attempts to weaken the existing ban have failed and Japan appears unlikely to succeed in changing the rules. Conservationists have called on other nations to reject the proposals.

“If Japan gets its way, it would be a massive victory for those rogue whalers who have time and again defied the international ban on commercial whaling and an absolute disaster for the world’s whales,” said Clare Perry, at the UK’s Environmental Investigation Agency.

“Japan, Iceland and Norway have collectively killed at least 38,539 great whales since 1986,” she said. “Many whale species have not yet recovered from massive overhunting in the past and are also facing mounting existential threats ranging from climate change to marine pollution by chemical, plastics and noise.”

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UN treaty would protect high seas from over exploitation

Matt McGrath BBC 4 Sep 18;

The first significant steps towards legally protecting the high seas are to take place at the UN in New York.

These waters, which cover 46% of the planet's surface, are under threat from deep-sea mining, over-fishing and the patenting of marine genetic resources.

Over the next two years, government representatives aim to hammer out a binding agreement to protect them against over-exploitation.

But several nations, including the US, are lukewarm towards the proposals.

Experts believe that the oceans of the world are vital for a number of reasons. Scientists say they capture around 90% of the extra heat and around 26% of the excess carbon dioxide created by humans through the burning of fossil fuels and other activities.

Why are countries laying claim to the deep-sea floor?

"The half of our planet which is high seas is protecting terrestrial life from the worst impacts of climate change," said Prof Alex Rogers from Oxford University, UK, who has provided evidence to inform the UN treaty process getting under way on Tuesday.

"Yet we do too little to safeguard that or to protect the life within the ocean which is intrinsic to our collective survival. Protecting the biodiversity of the high seas by bringing good governance and law to the whole ocean is the single most important thing we can do to turn the tide for the blue heart of our planet."

So what exactly does 'high seas' mean?

The high seas are defined as the oceans that lie beyond exclusive economic zones. These zones are usually within 370km (200 nautical miles) of a country's coastline. These waters cover one and a half times the total land area of the planet and are home to some of the rarest and most charismatic species - but all countries have the right to navigate, fly over, carry our scientific research and fish on the high seas without restriction.

Aren't these water already protected?

In 1982, the UN adopted the Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which, when it became active in 1994, regulated sea-bed mining and cable-laying to some extent. There are also a host of other international groups, including the International Whaling Commission that look after aspects of the seas, but there is no overarching treaty that would protect biodiversity or limit exploitation.

What are the big threats to the high seas?

Researchers believe the high seas may be major source of mineral resources in years to come. Just last year a team of British scientists exploring an underwater mountain in the Atlantic Ocean discovered high concentrations of a rare and valuable substance used to build solar panels.

They're not the only ones - companies are also targeting deep-sea hydrothermal vents, home to a range of extremely rare and often exotic species.

The undersea world far from shore is also of growing interest because the strange and wonderful creatures that live there may lead to new pharmaceuticals - certainly a select group of research bodies believe this to be the case with 84% of patents related to marine species filed by just 30 institutions over the past 30 years.

It's the same story when it comes to fishing. Ships from 10 rich countries - among them Japan, Korea and Spain - take around 70% of the catch. Several studies using satellite data have shown the scale of fishing taking place away from national waters, including the practice of unloading catches on to other ships in international waters, something that allows boats to evade monitoring and enforcement.

How would a new treaty work?

There would be three likely elements to any new treaty. Firstly, it would allow the setting up of Marine Protected Areas in international waters - something many countries have already done in their own jurisdictions. A new pact would also allow the carrying out of environmental impact assessments to guard against potential harm from activities on the high seas. In addition, a new, legally binding deal would allow poorer countries to benefit from any discoveries developed from marine genetic resources.

"A strong global ocean treaty would allow us to create a network of ocean sanctuaries to protect wildlife, ensure food security for billions of people and help us to tackle climate change," Sandra Schoettner, a marine biologist with Greenpeace, told news agencies.

Why are some governments reluctant to support the treaty?
The US rejected the UNCLOS treaty back in 1994 and is reticent about these new proposals. Some whale-hunting countries, such as Japan, Iceland and Norway, are said to be cautious about the idea because they fear it will restrict their fishing operations. Russia is also said to be dragging its feet.

Campaigners, though, are optimistic that eventually a deal will be reached.

"The current high seas governance system is weak, fragmented and unfit to address the threats we now face in the 21st Century from climate change, illegal and over-fishing, plastics pollution and habitat loss," said Peggy Kalas, from the High Seas Alliance,

"This is a historic opportunity to protect the biodiversity and functions of the high seas through legally binding commitments."

UN set for talks on treaty to protect imperiled high seas
Philippe RATER AFP Yahoo News 2 Sep 18;

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - United Nations member states on Tuesday kick off long-awaited talks on a 2020 treaty that would regulate the high seas, which cover half the planet yet lack adequate environmental protection.

Four sessions of talks, each lasting two weeks, are planned to take place over two years, with the goal of protecting marine biodiversity and avoiding further pillaging of the oceans.

"The negotiations will relate to spaces beyond national jurisdictions, or areas that belong to no country in particular," said Julien Rochette of the Paris-based think tank Iddri, or the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations.

Talk will focus on "the high seas and the international zone of marine waters, or about 46 percent of the planet's surface," he added.

In 1982, the UN adopted the Convention on the Law of the Sea, but left the high seas free from restrictions.

"All States enjoy the traditional freedoms of navigation, overflight, scientific research and fishing on the high seas," it said.

The convention took effect in 1994, without the participation of the United States.

Since then, shipping routes have expanded considerably, and the resources of the ocean deep have aroused significant interest, whether by fishing or mineral extraction.

"Marine life is already reeling from the impact of industrial fishing, climate change and other extractive industries. We have a shared responsibility to protect our global oceans before it is too late," said Sandra Schoettner, a marine biologist with Greenpeace.

Talks will focus on creating protected areas on the high seas, more sharing of maritime resources and technology, and research on environmental impacts.

- Ocean sanctuaries -

Some whale-hunting nations, like Japan, Iceland and Norway, are expected to be more cautious than others because they fear overly strict fishing restrictions.

The United States is also reticent "because they are opposed to all regulation of marine genetic resources and they did not ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea," said Rochette.

"Russia has also been dragging its feet for a long time."

Liz Karan, an ocean expert at the US-based Pew Charitable Trusts, called the negotiations "a critical turning point."

"We now understand so much more about the interconnectedness of the world's ocean with the health of the planet," Karan said.

"It's time for the global community to take action to develop a treaty to protect the high seas."

According to Schoettner, "the life of our seas depends on the outcome of the next two years of negotiations, from the tiniest life-giving plankton, to dolphins, turtles and the great whales.

"A strong global ocean treaty would allow us to create a network of ocean sanctuaries to protect wildlife, ensure food security for billions of people and help us to tackle climate change," she added.

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