Typhoon Mangkhut destroys rice, corn and fish – but what has this got to do with Singapore?

The strongest storm so far this year to hit Asia may lead to huge losses in food production that affects countries including Singapore, says one observer.
Paul Teng Channel NewsAsia 20 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE: Asia’s reputation as a region with one of the highest frequencies of severe weather events has again been proven right with the recent experience of Typhoon Mangkhut.

The strongest storm so far this year to hit Asia, Typhoon Mangkhut has left a devastating trail of destruction along its path. Buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed.

Lesser known but just as severe are the disastrous impact the storm may have on the livelihoods of farmers and the resulting huge losses in food production.

It made landfall in northern Luzon island, Philippines early Saturday morning but effects of its strong winds and heavy rain were felt over a wide swath of land which included the Philippines “ricebowl” area in Central Luzon, and major corn growing provinces such as Isabella and Cagayan (among top five corn growing provinces).

The typhoon’s path also included Guangdong province which is among the top ten rice-growing areas of China, and coastal waters off Southern China where there is much fish-farming.

However, the Philippines seems to have borne the brunt of this typhoon. There will be some immediate effects on food supplies in the affected areas, and some short to mid-term effects on the food security of other areas, including countries like Singapore.


While the local impact of typhoons may be severe on agriculture in the affected areas immediately, the livelihoods of the small farmers in these areas may experience longer term effects.

The bulk of rice farmers in Asia are smallholders who farm less than two hectares and often depend on their harvests as the main source of income and food.

Destruction of their main means of livelihood means that they are likely to go into even greater debt and have difficulty with procuring inputs to replant now or for the next season.

Rice for farming families are not just extra produce that feeds the cities and used to obtain cash for other necessities, it is also their staple food.

After the previous super typhoon Haiyan in 2013, farmers faced not just a lack of rice for food but also a lack of rice seed for planting and additionally, the lack of credit to purchase seed and other inputs.


Apart from rice, corn and fish are food items that are most likely to have supplies affected in the short term because of Typhoon Mangkhut.

The Philippines has reportedly lost over 250,000 tonnes of paddy rice – that’s about 62,500 hectares, assuming an average yield per hectare is four tonnes.

Heavy rainfall and strong winds would also have meant that wild-caught fish may show a temporary shortage as fishermen have been unable to go into fishing waters. And even for those who were able to, fish landings and ports along the typhoon’s path were mostly closed.

Meanwhile, China, where most fish consumed are from fish farms rather than wild catches, has not reported the extent of loss. But it can be expected that floating sea cages along the coasts of Southern China would suffer dislodgement or fish escapes.

Heavy rain likewise could damage inland ponded farms.


Singapore is an overwhelmingly food importing country although with its over 5 million population, its demand for rice, corn or fish pales in comparison to its neighbours.

As a country that diversifies its imports from over 160 countries, it has inherent buffer capacity in the event of calamity in one geographic region.

Countries in the typhoon belt and the monsoon belt in Asia can export only when they have surplus production. If severe weather events or changed weather patterns affect their production capacity, or the production in other importing countries, Singapore ends up competing with them for any stock left for trade.

For example, China, the world’s largest producer of rice, can take up all the available rice traded in the world, estimated at around 15 million tonnes, since it has lifted its import ceiling on staples.

Singapore may see a temporary reduction in the supply of food items like wild-caught fish or an increase in its food price index as a result of weather-induced effects elsewhere, but in a worst-case scenario, this is unlikely to last long.

The caveat, of course, is if global stocks are reduced due to simultaneous or consecutive events like a series of mega-typhoons closely following each other - let’s not forget the typhoon season this year is not yet over.

Singaporeans generally are fortunate that the average household expenditure on food is relatively low when compared to our neighbouring countries, partly because there are no tariffs on food in Singapore and average incomes are relatively high when compared to the cost of food.

This is not to say though that all Singaporeans are immune from food price hikes as there are members in the community who will feel the pinch.

A much bigger danger is presented when climate change simultaneously affects shipments of the same food items from our source countries. And this is not improbable.


So what can net food exporters and net food importers do to deal with climate change-related extreme weather?

Experts in the region have proposed many approaches, which include building infrastructure to minimise damage from extreme weather, developing and growing climate-adapted crop varieties and animal breeds, importing from geographically spread-out countries, and investing in countries to help them produce more.

It is ironic that while one solution may sound simple – which is to protect farming against climate-related risks and the technology is already available – countries in general have not taken up the challenge seriously.

Flood-tolerant and drought-tolerant crop traits are not new but currently limited only to a few crops.

Delayed ripening and delayed ageing technology has been available for years to keep vegetables and fruits fresh much longer without refrigeration. And close to home, technology for indoor, controlled-environment “plant factories” to grow fresh vegetables is only just starting to take off.

Major cities in the US like Boston and New York, and likewise cities in Japan and China have numerous such plant factories which supply vegetables year round and are located close to the majority of consumers.

While the investment community is beginning to catch up with the potential of climate-proof urban farming, government policies and regulations in general are still slow to respond.

Perhaps this is one area where courage can be demonstrated again by policymakers to take Singapore another step forward in becoming an exemplary city of the future.

Paul Teng is Adjunct Senior Fellow (Food Security) in the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and concurrently Adjunct Professor, Murdoch University Australia.

He previously held leadership positions at the Worldfish Centre and the International Rice Research Institute, two international organisations located in Southeast Asia under the auspices of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.

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Man jailed six weeks for illegal import of two birds and animal cruelty

Toh Ting Wei Straits Times 19 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE - A 46-year-old man was sentenced to six weeks in jail on Wednesday (Sept 19), after he was convicted of animal cruelty and illegally importing two birds.

Abdul Rahman Husain tried to smuggle two live zebra doves into Singapore on May 12 without an import licence from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), said a joint statement from AVA and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

ICA officers had stopped Rahman for checks at Woodlands Checkpoint when they detected the two doves crammed in separate socks and placed in two drawstring pouches hidden in his pants.

The birds were found to be in poor condition, and Rahman's action was deemed by AVA to have caused unnecessary suffering to the birds. The birds were seized and placed under the care of Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Rahman was sentenced to six weeks' jail for illegal import of the birds, and another six weeks' jail for failing to ensure that the birds were not subjected to unnecessary suffering.

Both sentences will run concurrently.

Anyone convicted of smuggling animals and birds into Singapore can be fined up to $10,000, and jailed for up to a year.

Animals that are smuggled into Singapore may introduce exotic diseases, such as bird flu, into the country.

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The lost decade of Sentosa Cove, Singapore's billionaire haven

As luxury real estate markets boomed across Asia-Pacific over the past decade — from Hong Kong’s famed Peak to the seaside mansions of Sydney — Sentosa Cove stands out as a rare cautionary tale about the perils of international property speculation.
Bloomberg Today Online 19 Sep 18;

SINGAPORE — Sentosa Cove, a residential enclave nestled on an island off the coast of Singapore, is quiet at the best of times. On a weekday, its frangipani-lined streets are mostly devoid of life, save the odd domestic helper taking her four-legged charge out for a walk.

The stillness, however, belies the real estate shuffling taking place behind the scenes. Property listings here have been rising. But unless you’re buying, there’s no cause for celebration: sellers are stomaching losses as steep as 40 per cent. Average prices are down almost 30 per cent from their 2011 highs, a far more severe slump than in prime central London areas reeling from Brexit.

As luxury real estate markets boomed across Asia-Pacific over the past decade — from Hong Kong’s famed Peak to the seaside mansions of Sydney — Sentosa Cove stands out as a rare cautionary tale about the perils of international property speculation.

The hot money from a commodities frenzy that peaked about seven years ago has fizzled, and millionaires’ preferences have shifted toward other areas on Singapore’s mainland.

And now, after years of predominantly loss-making transactions, the enclave on Sentosa faces yet another blow, this time from the government’s decision in July to further raise stamp duties.

“Loss-making deals continue to plague the market,” said Ms Christine Li, Cushman & Wakefield’s head of research for Singapore. “The recent cooling measures, coupled with the looming uncertainties arising from interest-rate hikes and trade tensions, will weigh on investor appetite in the near term.”

Private-home sales tumbled 64 per cent in August to the least in six months as government cooling measures took effect, data released earlier this week from the Urban Redevelopment Authority showed.

What was previously Sentosa Cove’s main strength has lately become a liability. The area is the only place in Singapore where foreigners can buy a landed house, increasing its allure to overseas buyers, who accounted for a third of luxury purchases in Singapore last year.

But with stamp duties doubling to 20 per cent since 2011 for foreign buyers compared with just 3 per cent for Singaporeans, the waterfront oasis is suffering.

Singaporeans, meanwhile, prefer to buy landed property on the mainland, which is freehold, compared to Sentosa, which is leasehold. Freehold is where the purchaser of a property enjoys ownership of the land for perpetuity, whereas leasehold refers to land granted by the government to use for a fixed number of years (usually 99 in Singapore).

Constructed on reclaimed land, Sentosa Cove is home to more than 2,000 residences, a mix of private houses and condominium apartments. Frequently billed as Singapore’s playground for the rich and famous (in 2012, Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart splashed out S$57 million on two units at Seven Palms, next to Tanjong beach), the enclave also includes a golf course, marina, man-made canals with private boat berths, and a strip of upmarket restaurants and a gourmet deli.

One of its newer condominiums, Cape Royale, scored a cameo in summer blockbuster movie Crazy Rich Asians. And Sentosa Island — a Malay word meaning “peace and tranquility” — had its 15 minutes of fame earlier this year when it hosted the meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Prices began falling in Sentosa Cove in 2013 following two rounds of property cooling measures in January and June of that year. Landed-home prices are at their lowest since 2009, according to data compiled by CBRE Group.

Values have plummeted to the point where further declines may be limited, said Cushman & Wakefield’s Li. But deep-pocketed international buyers, with plenty of luxury markets to choose from, are playing a patient game.

“I have a few Russian investors that are interested in buying, they want to enjoy the island life, but they’re waiting for the right price,” said Mr Chandran V R, managing director of Cosmopolitan Real Estate. “Some bungalows have been on the market for four, five years.”

Cosmopolitan was involved in an S$11 million transaction last year where the seller was a businessman from the Middle East. The seller lost about S$3 million on the deal, “but he had a willing buyer and he was being realistic about the situation,” Mr Chandran said.

A penthouse at The Oceanfront sold for S$7.2 million in April, three years after it was first put on the market, the Straits Times reported earlier this month, citing people it didn’t identify. The property last changed hands in 2007 for S$9.33 million.

The British owner of an apartment at Seven Palms, meanwhile, is asking S$12 million, according to the newspaper report. The 4,822-square-foot unit cost S$16 million in 2010.

While none of the six sales in Sentosa Cove since the government’s July 5 curbs have been done at a loss, according to Cushman, owners are still looking to exit. PropertyGuru Group says the number of for-sale listings on the island is up about 7 percent from a year ago.

“The new measures will affect the entire residential market,” said Mr Desmond Sim, head of research for Singapore at CBRE. “Sentosa, because of its high ticket size, may fall further down the pecking order.” BLOOMBERG

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Malaysia: Cabinet paper to facilitate Sabah wildlife action plan

Avila Geraldine New Straits Times 19 Sep 18;

KOTA KINABALU: A cabinet paper is expected to be tabled soon to faciliate an action plan to save Sabah’s endangered Sunda clouded leopard, proboscis monkey and Bornean banteng.

Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) director Augustine Tuuga said the cabinet paper would most likely be tabled by the state administration soon, and this will pave the way for the action plan to be tabled during the next state assembly sitting in November.

He said the action plan signalled the final final lap towards implementation of measures to protect endangered wildlife. He said with the cabinet paper in place, it only needed approval from the state government to be set into motion.

“A cabinet paper will be prepared and we hope the plan will be approved by the state cabinet. We are hoping that the action plan could become a reality by the end of the year.

“The Chief Minister’s (Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal) support of these plans will also boost conservation efforts of these three endangered species,” said Augustine in a statement, which coincided with the soft launch of the wildlife action plan today by Deputy Chief Minister Christina Liew.

The SWD and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) produced the 10-year action plan for the Sunda clouded leopard, proboscis monkey and the Bornean banteng following several years of gathering biological and ecological information on the three totally protected species in Sabah.

The efforts were supported by Yayasan Sime Darby since April 2011 with a total commitment of RM3.96 million. The funds included allocations for consultation workshops and international conferences with various stakeholders, which involved governmental departments, subject matter experts and industry leaders.

The recommendations made during these workshops and conference were included in the action plan.

DGFC director, Dr Benoit Goossens said the three species were threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching and road developments such as the upcoming Pan Borneo Highway.

“The decline in the proboscis monkey population is directly attributed to the expansion of aquaculture projects in mangrove areas. An example of this is the shrimp farming project in Pitas.

“The population of this animal is also decreasing due to the conversion of riparian or wetland and riverine habitats into agriculture land and human settlements,” said Goosens, who is from Cardiff University, United Kingdom.

He said the Sunda clouded leopards also have a low population now, while the Bornean banteng, which is a type of wild cattle suffered from low numbers due to heavy poaching, snaring and fragmentation.

Goossens said the establishment of the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting (SMART) patrols has also become important in saving these three species.

“But more specifically, for the Bornean banteng, which now has a minimum population of 300, the setting up of a captive breeding programme is imperative,” said Goossens.

He said any area with the presence of bantengs must be managed sustainably by developing and maintaining pastures within and near the home ranges of the existing herds.

As for the proboscis monkey, Goossens said increasing suitable mangrove and riparian forests and the habitat connectivity between them was crucial for their survival.

“For the Sunda clouded leopard, which has a population size of 750, it is imperative to halt the loss and degradation of their habitat and maintain landscape connectivity.

“The proposed Pan Borneo Highway could have a detrimental effect on the Sunda clouded leopard by increasing fragmentation and the number of road kills,” he said.

Goossens said DGFC also recommended that an Endangered Species Conservation Unit be set up to monitor the implementation of the action plan.

10-year action plan drawn up to protect Sabah wildlife
stephanie lee The Star 20 Sep 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Human activities including development, poaching and illegal trapping of Sabah’s wildlife are endangering protected species, such as the Borneon Banteng (wild buffalo), proboscis monkey and Sunda Clouded Leopard.

A 10-year action plan has been drawn up to help protect these species, and is expected to be submitted to the Cabinet soon.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christina Liew said the action plan drawn up by various experts including scientists, the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and Sabah Wildlife Department will help the state tackle the issue.

“The plan will provide guidelines and a structure for the management of wildlife in Sabah,” she said after the soft launch of the State Wildlife Species Action Plan here on Thursday (Sept 20).

Liew said the daunting task of protecting Sabah’s unique flora and fauna does not only lie with the authorities, but with the people itself.

“We need everyone, including local communities to be aware of the things they do that could hurt our wildlife,” she said, adding that the Sime Darby Foundation had also played a huge role in funding research and efforts to protect Sabah’s wildlife.

Among the proposals in the action plan is to have an "elite" team of enforcers on the ground to help tackle the issue.

Liew said she was all for it but whether on not it could be implemented immediately was another issue.

She said this was because the funds involved would be huge to rope in local experts and those from overseas.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said the three species – Sunda Clouded Leopard, proboscis monkeys and the Borneon Banteng – are threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and road development such as the Pan Borneo Highway.

“We need to get the government to relook at the Pan Borneo Highway and get information on how not to bulldoze through wildlife rich areas,” he said.

He said the decline in proboscis monkey population was due to the expansion of aquaculture projects in mangrove areas while the clouded leopards suffer from low population density (loss of habitat).

“The Banteng is victim of heavy poaching, snaring and fragmentation and sometimes, hybridisation where it is mated with domestic cattle,” Dr. Goossens said.

On Sabah’s fight against illegal hunting and killing of the Borneo Pygmy Elephants, Liew said efforts are continuously being taken to prevent deaths but the tasks are difficult.

“We suspect foreign workers and even locals themselves to be the ones responsible for their deaths but we don’t have any proof or eyewitness,” she said.

She said the government is planning to have one to one meetings with plantations and local communities to tell them to stop setting up snare traps or killing encroaching animals.

“We won’t press charges for now (as we don’t have any proof) but we want to get everyone on board to help protect our protected wildlife in Sabah,” Liew said.

Sabah finalising wildlife action plan
The Star 22 Sep 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Development, poaching and illegal trapping of Sabah’s wildlife are endangering protected species such as the Bornean Banteng (wild buffalo), proboscis monkey and Sunda Clouded Leopard.

To address the issue, a 10-year action plan to help protect these species is expected to be handed to the state Cabinet soon.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Christina Liew said the plan drawn up by experts including scientists, the Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) and Sabah Wildlife Department, would help the state tackle the problem.

“The plan will provide guidelines for the management of wildlife in Sabah,” she said after the soft launch of the State Wildlife Species Action Plan here yesterday.

Liew said she supported the proposals in the plan, and would submit the plan to the Chief Minister once everything was finalised.

“We need all, including the local communities, to be aware of the things they do that can hurt our wildlife,” she said, adding that Sime Darby Foundation had played a huge role in funding research to protect the state’s wildlife.

She said she was all for the proposal in the action plan to have an elite team of enforcers on the ground.

DGFC director Dr Benoit Goossens said the Sunda Clouded Leopard, proboscis monkey and Borneon Banteng were threatened by habitat loss, poaching and the development of the Pan Borneo Highway.

“We need to get the government to relook the Pan Borneo Highway and get information on how not to bulldoze through wildlife-rich areas,” he said.

He said the decline in the proboscis population was due to expansion of aquaculture projects in mangrove areas while the clouded leopard suffered from loss of habitat.

“Bantengs are victims of heavy poaching, snaring and fragmentation and also ‘hybridisation’ with the Banteng mated with domestic cattle,” Dr Goossens said.

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Indonesia: Ministry detects over three thousand hotspots across country

Antara 19 Sep 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) had until early this month detected over three thousand hotspots across the country, a ministry`s official stated.

Chief infrastructure official of the KLHK Ministry`s Climate Change Control Directorate General Agus Hariyanto informed reporters here on Wednesday that until September 3, 2018, his office had detected 3,032 hotspots.

The number of hotspots until Sept. 3 was higher than about one thousand in 2017. Yet, it is far lower than 15 thousand hotspots recorded in 2015.

He pointed out that several regions in Indonesia continue to face drought until November 2018

This is based on the forecast of the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency that a relatively weak El Nino phenomenon is approaching Indonesia.

"We have to remain on alert regarding land and forest fires," he added.

An integrated patrol team continues to be on the field, especially in the forestry-prone areas. In 2018, he noted that the team had exceeded the target of visiting 1,200 villages.

He stated that the president`s directive on the control of forest and land fires is usually issued early in the year as a precautionary measure against hotspots.

To detect the hotspots, the KLHK is using the National Aeronautics and Space Institute (Lapan) Fire Hotspot application, with accuracy rates of above 80 percent. This is then followed up on the field.

Meanwhile, the Terra and Aqua satellites had detected a total of 801 hotspots, indicating forest and plantation fires, across Indonesia, on Monday (Sept 17).

The hotspots were of moderate- and high-risk categories, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, noted in a statement.

In West Kalimantan Province, 272 hotspots were detected.

"Of the 272 hotspots, 149 are categorized as moderate and 123 as high risk," he stated.

Haze shrouded Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan Province, from dawn until 7:30 a.m. local time on Monday and later disappeared due to the wind.

Earlier, Ins. Gen. Didi Haryono, the West Kalimantan police chief, urged local inhabitants to help put out wildfires, as the efforts could not be made by the military and police personnel alone.

Banjarmasin, the provincial capital of South Kalimantan, and North Barito in Central Kalimantan were also shrouded by haze on Monday morning.

The ongoing prolonged drought has caused water shortage in several regions, such as in the provinces of East Nusa Tenggara and West Java, and triggered fires in forest areas, particularly in West Kalimantan and Central Java.

In West Kalimantan, schools were recently closed, as forest fires produced smoke that could affect the health of students.

The national disaster mitigation office deployed four helicopters to help extinguish the fires.

Reporting by Virna P Setyorini
Editing by Andi Abdussalam, Suharto

Editor: Fardah Assegaf

Wildfires raze part of Mount Ciremai and Mount Slamet forest areas
Antara 19 Sep 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Wildfires have razed parts of the forest areas on Mount Ciremai, located in Kuningan, West Java Province, and Mount Slamet, located in Pemalang, Central Java, since Tuesday.

Some 100 hectares of forest area on Mount Ciremai was gutted by fire, Agus Yudantara, spokesman of the Mount Ciremai National Park, said here on Wednesday.

The wildfire, razing bushes and grasses, was triggered by the current prolonged drought, he added.

A joint team, comprising military and police personnel, local fire fighters, and volunteers, was deployed to extinguish the blaze.

On Mount Slamet, fire razed a pine forest area belonging to the state-owned forestry company Perhutani, according to Captain Sarmin of the Pemalang military district.

Local authorities and volunteers had tried to put out the fire since Tuesday evening, but due to difficult terrain, the fire was still unable to be extinguished.

The ongoing severe dry season has triggered wildfires on several mountains on Java Island.

Among the affected mountains are Mount Sindoro in Central Java, Mount Lawu in the border of the provinces of Central and East Java, Mount Argopuro in East Java, Mount Sumbing in Central Java, and Mount Sadran in East Java.

Reporting by Khaerul Izan and Sumarwoto
Editing by Fardah
Editor: Otniel Tamindael

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Microplastics can spread via flying insects, research shows

‘Shocking’ study reveals plastic contaminates our skies as well as the oceans, say scientists
Damian Carrington The Guardian 19 Sep 18;

Microplastic can escape from polluted waters via flying insects, new research has revealed, contaminating new environments and threatening birds and other creatures that eat the insects.

Scientists fed microplastics to mosquito larvae, which live in water, but found that the particles remained inside the animals as they transformed into flying adults. Other recent research found that half of the mayfly and caddisfly larvae in rivers in Wales contained microplastics.

Concern over microplastic pollution is rising rapidly as it is discovered in ever more places, and very little research has been done on how it may harm wildlife or humans. The particles can harbour bacteria or leach toxic chemicals. Microplastics have been found in tapwater around the world, in vast numbers in the oceans and sea creatures and even in remote Swiss mountains.

“It is a shocking reality that plastic is contaminating almost every corner of the environment and its ecosystems,” said Prof Amanda Callaghan, at the University of Reading, UK, who led the new research on mosquitoes. “Much recent attention has been given to the plastics polluting our oceans, but this research reveals it is also in our skies.”

The new study, published in the journal Biology Letters, used Culex pipiens mosquitoes, as they are found across the world in many habitats. The researchers found the larvae readily consumed fluorescent microplastic particles that were 0.0002cm in size.

“Larvae are filter feeders that waft little combs towards their mouths, so they can’t actually distinguish between a bit of plastic and a bit of food,” Callaghan said. “They eat algae, which are more or less the same size as these microplastics.”

The larvae matured into a non-feeding pupa stage and then emerged as adult mosquitoes, which still had significant microplastic within them. The researchers are now studying if this damages the mosquitoes.

Callaghan said it is “highly likely” that other flying insects that begin as water larvae will also eat and retain microplastics. Birds, bats and spiders are among the species that eat large numbers of insects, suggesting these are also consuming microplastics. “You can get swarms of insects,” she said. “You could have a lot of plastic going up. It’s totally depressing. These plastics are going to be around forever.”

Plastics have been found inside many seabirds, but this is the first research suggesting terrestrial birds that eat insects are at risk. “This is a new pathway to get plastics up in the air and expose animals that are not normally exposed,” said Callaghan. “We don’t know what the impact will be.”

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of the conservation charity Buglife, said: “Aquatic insects are in the microplastic front line. We emit billions of plastic fibres every year, many of which go straight into rivers, so there is an urgent need for more research into the role microplastics may be playing in observed declines in aquatic life.”

Many microplastics are fibres shed by synthetic clothing during washing – a single wash can release 700,000 fibres. “While research proceeds, we can all think carefully about our clothing choices,” said Shardlow. Other microplastics are formed by the abrasion of larger pieces of plastic in rivers and oceans.

Large pieces of plastic are easily seen and clearly harm animals, from turtles to albatrosses. But research has also found microplastics, defined as smaller than 5mm, in many marine creatures, from worms to plankton and up the food chain to fish. Where investigated, they have been shown to damage the health of the animals.

Like the oceans, freshwater rivers and lakes are also heavily contaminated – a river near Manchester, UK, has the worst microplastic pollution yet recorded – but the impact on wildlife in these habitats has been much less studied.

The research in the Welsh rivers found microplastics in larvae both upstream and downstream from wastewater treatment plants, indicating that plastic pollution enters rivers directly, not just via sewage.

The researchers, led by Prof Steve Ormerod at Cardiff University, said the overall dearth of data on the effect of microplastics on freshwater creatures means that the understanding of the risk to the ecosystem remains “seriously limited”.

It is widely accepted that humans are also consuming microplastics. “We all eat them, there’s no doubt about it,” said Callaghan. Eating seafood such as mussels or cod is one route, while beer, sugar and sea salt have all been found to contain microplastics. Exposure is likely to rise, as plastic production is expected to climb by 40% in the next decade, prompting scientists to call for urgent research on the effects of microplastics on people.

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