Singapore should have wildlife control down to a science

Natalia Huang For The Straits Times 22 Feb 17;

As land is scarce, should wildlife growth be regulated, like cars? Let an animal management committee decide.

Where there is limited space, intensive management of the things taking up that space is needed.

Roads are limited in Singapore, and so the number of cars is managed intensively. Our options are to either build more roads or have fewer cars. We don't have the space for many more roads, so we need to have fewer cars.

Similarly, wildlife habitat is limited in Singapore. Our options are to either create more wildlife habitats or have less wildlife. Thankfully, we can choose both of these options, and more.

Every few months, public servants evaluate how many new cars should be allowed on the roads. The Land Transport Authority's vehicle quota system "regulates the rate of growth of vehicles on our roads, at a rate that can be sustained by developments (of future roads)", according to its website.

It does this with careful calculations and tried-and-tested methods, not with any sudden moves and certainly not in response to any complaints.

Why not apply this same stringent level of calculation to managing our wildlife?

We might be able to regulate the rate of growth of wildlife in our reserves (or facilitate them to do so themselves) at a rate that can be sustained by future human population growth. An undisputed first necessity is scientific research so that we shift our responses from knee-jerk and short term to scientifically sound and long term.


The vehicle quota system was probably created by an informed group backed by research. We need an informed committee for animal management issues in Singapore.

The role of this committee would be to come up with a united and scientific approach towards animal management across Singapore. It would assess the current situation, devise and oversee relevant research, such as alternatives to culling, trial those alternatives and implement management actions.

Wildlife is more complex than cars, and human-wildlife conflict even more complex. This means there are different topics to deal with, such as wildlife behaviour, governance, scientific research and public behaviour. This committee needs scientist representatives from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), National Parks Board (NParks), Wildlife Reserves Singapore, academia (comprising primate/boar/bird researchers and human behaviour change experts), Nature Society (Singapore) and animal activist group Acres, just to name a few. They should be carefully selected to ensure balanced representation. There already exist successful working groups for pangolins and pythons.


A major role of this committee would be to generate research projects which can address the immediate and long-term needs of animal management in Singapore. Any decision about animal management - especially culling - should be made by a committee which informs itself through scientific research and representative expertise.

Research could include alternatives to culling, effectiveness of each alternative, impact of culling (such as loss of genetic diversity), ability of wildlife species to manage their own numbers, methods to dissuade animals from leaving forested areas, public education, ways to alter human behaviour, and future rates of growth or loss of wildlife and habitat space.

Creative alternatives need to be conceived, tested and trialled.

The call for scientific research is not new. What is needed is funding, a scientific committee to define the research and dedicated animal management researchers. Has animal management become enough of a priority to draw funding from government coffers?


What exacerbates the local animal management issue is legislation. If a monkey sits in a tree in a nature reserve, it is under NParks' protection. The moment it steps outside the reserve, it is under the jurisdiction of AVA. Each government department might respond differently to the monkey and to public complaints about it. We need a unified set of laws for all wildlife in Singapore.

Wildlife laws also need to be revised to reflect the current state of affairs. For example, the common mynah and daurian starling are no longer common in Singapore, but they are listed as pest species in the Wild Animals and Birds Act. This Act refers to bird damage to crops, which was relevant in 1965, when the law was created, but not in 2017.

Another example is that of the red junglefowl, which is listed as endangered in the Singapore Red Data Book, our national assessment of the threatened status of our native animals.

This native chicken is also noisy; it is unclear whether the authorities would allow a threatened species like this to be culled. Interestingly, culling of domestic chickens may benefit our junglefowl by removing the opportunity for them to interbreed and hybridise, so this may be an action the committee could explore.


Remember, our options were to create more wildlife habitats or have less wildlife. Creating more wildlife habitats may not be that easy as developments vie for space and continue to intrude into forested areas. Wildlife habitat keeps decreasing but the number of animals probably stays the same.

The obvious move is to stop encroaching into forested areas and to protect the wildlife habitat which already exists. This would provide space for wildlife to persist.

The committee might be able to examine the carrying capacity of Singapore's natural spaces. Carrying capacity is the maximum number of animals an area can support, and this is determined through scientific research. Increasing carrying capacity could be possible by creating new habitat, such as restoring degraded forested areas, planting green corridors and officially protecting natural spaces.

To plan for the future, the committee could work with the Urban Redevelopment Authority to generate an animal management plan which incorporates future plans for land-use, developments and natural spaces as well as projected wildlife growth.


If the decision is for less wildlife, culling may be an option to remove problematic wildlife.

It is a chosen option by many countries where animals threaten human livelihoods and lives. Animals can become over-abundant if they adapt well to urban areas (for example, crows, pigeons, monkeys) or because they have no predators (for example, wild boar).

When these animals damage property or forested areas, culling can be effective to reduce their numbers. However, culling must only be conducted following research, a thorough assessment of alternatives, as part of a long-term solution and as a joint decision by the committee.


People living in Singapore are a logical and fair bunch. We can understand the need for a vehicle quota system and, albeit reluctantly, certificates of entitlement.

Teach us about animals - why they do what they do and what we can do to avoid conflicts. Teach us that part of living in Singapore involves living with wildlife, and that this is something to be proud of. Charge those who enjoy our wildlife to write letters of compliment to, well, complement complaint letters.

We also respect systems. Come up with an animal management system which is backed by expertise and research, and commit to it. When complaints arise, respond in a united manner backed by the animal management committee and system.

Ultimately, Singapore is a modified landscape and it is up to us to manage it - for cars, people or wildlife. We need to address the animal management issue in a united and scientific manner, instead of behaving like (and creating) headless chickens.

The writer is principal ecologist at Ecology Matters, a consultancy providing ecological advice and biodiversity studies for environmental impact assessments.

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Malaysia: My Chini 1.0 to raise awareness on need to save Tasik Chini

New Straits Times 21 Feb 17;

KUANTAN: Conservation efforts to save Tasik Chini, the second-largest freshwater lake in the country, from the threat of development should be intensifed to ensure that it does not suffer the same fate as Tasik Mentiga, said an environmental activist.

My Chini 1.0 Programme director Nurizzah Ismail said the natural lake is currently facing threat to its ecosystem and natural environment by development surrounding the area.

"Not many people are aware that Malaysia has three natural lakes - Tasik Bera, Tasik Chini and Tasik Mentiga - located in Pahang and that Tasik Mentiga has dried up and considered extinct.

"Recognising the threat faced by Tasik Chini, and to prevent it from suffering the same fate as Tasik Mentiga, MyChini 1.0 programme will be organising programmes to raise awareness among the younger generation on the issue," she told Bernama.

Nurizzah said its efforts also received support from various non governmental organisations as well as assistance from the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)'s Tasik Chini Research Centre, which has been conducting research in the area.

Among the NGOs involved in the MyChini 1.0 programme are; Umno Overseas Clubs Alumni (Akuln), Najib Razak Club (NRC11), Kelas Kaseh, Malaysian Indian Muslim Congress (Kimma) and UiTM Student Representative Council Alumni (Pimpin).

"We hope the awareness programmes will benefit the future generation who may not have the opportunithy to enjoy the beauty of Tasik Chini if conservation efforts are not carried out earnestly from now," she said.

The 202-hectare Tasik Chini in Pekan district of Pahang covers 700 hectares of swamps and forest.

The lake comprises a series of 12 lakes, dubbed as "sea' by the Jakun tribe of the Orang Asli community, and is also listed under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) biosphere reserve.

About 51 lowland plant species, 15 swamp plant species, 25 water plant species and 87 freshwater fish species abound in the area which is famous for its wild lotus flowers that thrive there. -- Bernama

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Indonesia: Two additional helicopters needed to anticipate Riau`s forest fires

Antara 22 Feb 17;

Pekanbaru (ANTARA News) - Two additional helicopters are needed in Riau Province, Sumatra Island, to anticipate the annual land and forest fires, Riaus Forest and Land Emergency Alert Task Force Commander Brig. Gen. Nurendi stated.

"We have, so far, had one Bell 412 helicopter, while the areas that should be covered are large enough. In anticipating an emergency situation caused by land and forest fires, we need at least two helicopters," he noted here, Tuesday.

The two helicopters will be stationed in Pekanbaru and Dumai, he said, adding that the Bell 412 helicopter, provided by the Environment and Forestry Ministry, has been used to conduct air patrols and water bombings since the end of January 2017.

Nurendi said he has officially requested the deployment of the two helicopters.

"We have even requested for an aircraft that can be used to conduct weather modification operations for creating artificial rain," the Military Region Command (Korem) 031/Wira Bima commander stated.

To optimize the task forces efforts to anticipate the threats of this years land and forest fires, Nurendi revealed that the helicopters, owned by the local air force base and pulp and paper firms, were expected to be involved in an emergency situation.

Riau Provinces Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency has detected seven hotspots in five districts on Tuesday.

(Reported by Anggi Romadhoni/Uu.R013/INE/KR-BSR/F001)

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Indonesia: Floods hit 54 areas in Jakarta

Antara 22 Feb 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Incessant heavy rains that had lashed since around 3 a.m. local time on Tuesday, triggered flooding that inundated 54 areas in Indonesias capital city of Jakarta.

Flooding was reported among other things in Grogol, with floodwaters reaching up to 30 centimeters in height; Gunung Sahari, up to 1.5 meters; and Kelapa Gading, Kemang, Cipinang Melayu, Kebayoran Baru, and Cawang, among other areas, according to information from the Jakarta Polices Traffic Management Center.

The flooding has disrupted traffic and caused congestion on several roads.

Heavy rains and thundering are forecast to continue until Wednesday (Feb 22) in Jakarta, Bogor, Bekasi, Depok, and Tangerang, Hary Tirto Djatmiko, spokesman of the meteorology, climatology and geophysics agency, stated.

Major flooding was also reported in Depok and Bekasi, forcing several inhabitants to move to higher grounds.(*)

BNPB advises Jakarta to brace for floods
The Jakarta Post 21 Feb 17;

Heavy rainfall since the early morning has led to floods in several areas of Jakarta.

Water was rising at several flood gates at 6 a.m., with most alarming level at Karet in South Jakarta, Pasar Ikan in North Jakarta and Pulo Gadung in East Jakarta.

Places nearby have been inundated with water, including the Cipinang Melayu and Cawang underpasses, both in East Jakarta.

“People should remain on alert and brace for floods,” said National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) spokesperson Sutopo Purwo Nugroho in a press statement.

The rain and floods, however, have not stopped a group of people who planned to stage a rally in front of the House of Representatives demanding the prosecution of Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama.

The Jakarta Police have reported that 200 people are already in front of the House complex in Senayan, Jakarta, as of 7:34 a.m.

BNPB provides real time information on the flood status in the capital via (wit)

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Indonesia: Activists help dolphin find way back to Mahakam River

N. Adri The Jakarta Post 22 Feb 17;

A pesut (Irrawaddy dolphin) that was found trapped in a swamp in Sangkuliman village, Kutai Kartanegara regency, East Kalimantan, is now free after local animal activists facilitated the mammal’s return to the Mahakam River.

“According to locals, the pesut had been trapped in the area for two weeks,” said Innal Rachman, an activist from Save the Mahakam Dolphin.

Following up on the report, the Rare Aquatic Species Indonesia (RASI) conservation foundation and Save the Mahakam Dolphin sent five people to check on the condition of the mammal. The East Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) also deployed a team to assist the dolphin.

RASI researcher Danielle Kreb said the dolphin did not immediately return to the Mahakam River after the activists made a way for it to swim. The animal instead played around with the activists.

Kreb said the RASI team would check again on Wednesday to see whether the dolphin had managed to return permanently to the Mahakam River. Activists will lead it to the river if it cannot find its own way back to its habitat.

This is not the first time a dolphin has been found trapped in the village area. “In 2002, there was a pesut trapped in Sangkuliman,” said Innal. In 2009, Innal added, a dolphin and its baby were also found trapped in the swamp. Villagers and the RASI team were able to save the dolphins and return them to the Mahakam River. (trw)

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Indonesia: Foreign researchers ‘steal’ Indonesia's genetic resources

Hans Nicholas Jong The Jakarta Post 22 Feb 17;

Govt may incorporate clause on biopiracy in revision of 1990 bill on natural resources

As one of the most species-rich countries on earth, Indonesia attracts researchers from around the world to study the archipelago’s unique ecosystems, which contain a diverse array of flora and fauna.

Indonesia, for instance, possesses 10 percent of the world’s flowering species, 12 percent of the world’s mammals and 17 percent of the total species of birds, despite occupying only 1.3 percent of the world’s land surface.

However, this rich biodiversity makes Indonesia a haven for biopiracy, a practice where natural resources and traditional knowledge are being exploited without consent.

“There are lots of cases we’ve discovered that have occurred through research and cooperation where we haven’t realized that our genetic resources were being stolen,” said Rosichon Ubaidillah, the head of zoology at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) biology research department.

He cited various examples, including varieties of Indonesian eggplants, the genetics of which have been mapped by the Netherlands. “There’s an Indonesian researcher whose study was funded [by the Netherlands]. He unwittingly collected samples of eggplants, which now have now been genetically mapped by the Netherlands. This is very sad,” Rosichon said.

Last November, Rosichon requested that his student not accept any scholarships from the German government because it required the student to collect samples of Indonesian insects in order to find new antibiotics.

“I told my student that she had two options, to risk [our genetic resources being stolen] or to find another school. She finally applied for an Australian scholarship because Australia doesn’t require us to bring samples to the country,” he said.

Foreign countries, he added, are also allegedly trying to collect genetic samples through other means, such as cooperation with researchers in Eastern Indonesia, where foreign researchers come to teach Eastern Indonesia’s researchers.

Rosichon cited an example concerning Khairun University in Ternate, North Maluku. “The university once worked with foreign researchers to teach them how to collect and conserve marine biodiversity, but they don’t even have marine biology faculty or equipment,” said Rosichon.

These incidents are only the tip of the iceberg as many biopiracy cases go undetected with little to no regulation on how to protect genetic resources in the country.

Foreign researchers, for instance, could disguise themselves as tourists and go to national parks to collect samples of tree bark, logs, dried leaves and even soil that contains living microorganisms. The samples would be brought to their countries, isolated, studied and produced as medicine or other products.

As there is no clear regulation protecting genetic resources, the House of Representatives is currently revising Law No. 5/1990 on natural resources and ecosystem conservation.

“The current law only regulates information about species and ecosystems. In the latest draft of the revision bill, genetic resources have been included,” Indonesian Communication Forum on Community Forestry (FKKM) executive secretary Andri Santosa, who has been involved in the deliberation of the bill, said.

The bill, which is included in the 2017 priority list, will lay out the legal framework for protection of genetic resources in the country, such as sanctions for biopiracy perpetrators, he said.

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Images of new bleaching on Great Barrier Reef heighten fears of coral death

Exclusive: Coral bleaching found near Palm Island as unusually warm waters are expected off eastern Australia, with areas hit in last year’s event in mortal danger
Elle Hunt The Guardian 19 Feb 17;

The embattled Great Barrier Reef could face yet more severe coral bleaching in the coming month, with areas badly hit by last year’s event at risk of death.

Images taken by local divers last week and shared exclusively with the Guardian by the Australian Marine Conservation Society show newly bleached corals discovered near Palm Island.

Most of the Great Barrier Reef has been placed on red alert for coral bleaching for the coming month by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Its satellite thermal maps have projected unusually warm waters off eastern Australia after an extreme heatwave just over a week ago saw land temperatures reach above 47C in parts of the country.

According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, sea surface temperatures from Cape Tribulation to Townsville have been up to 2C higher than normal for the time of year for more than a month.

The NOAA Coral Reef Watch’s forecast for the next four weeks has placed an even higher level alert on parts of the far northern, northern and central reef, indicating mortality is likely.

Corals south of Cairns, in the Whitsundays and parts of the far northern reef that were badly hit by last year’s mass bleaching event are at fatal risk.

Imogen Zethoven, the Great Barrier Reef’s campaign director for the AMCS, said the projections for the next four weeks, plus evidence of new coral bleaching, were “extremely concerning”.

The bleaching that occurred over eight to nine months of last year was the worst-ever on record for the Great Barrier Reef, with as much as 85% of coral between Cape York and Lizard Island dying. Twenty-two per cent of corals over the entire reef are dead.

Zethoven pointed to projections by NOAA that severe bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef would occur annually by 2043 if nothing was done to reduce emissions.

“The reef will be gone before annual severe bleaching,” she said. “It won’t survive even biennial bleaching.”

The $1bn reef fund announced by the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in June last year was a “cynical rebadging exercise” undercut by its support for fossil fuel initiatives such as Adani’s Carmicheal coalmine “that will spell catastrophe for the reef”, Zethoven said.

“There’s no doubt about that anymore,” she said. “They know what they are doing and they should come clean with the Australian public that they have no interest in the long-term survival of the Great Barrier Reef.

“To the average person on the street, that’s what it looks like. And if the government thinks that’s not the case, they’re out of touch.”

In December last year the government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund granted Adani “conditional approval” to $1bn loan for its Carmicheal coalmine and rail project in central Queensland, which could produce 60m tons of coal annually for 60 years.

Warmer ocean temperatures brought about by climate change is a key factor in coral bleaching. Polling suggests that more than two-thirds of Australians believe the reef’s condition should be declared a national emergency.

Zethoven said the government had made “a very deliberate decision to go down the coal road”, despite it jeopardising the reef’s future prospects as well as the 70,000 jobs in regional Queensland that depend on it.

John Rumney, a diving operator based in Port Douglas, said the “commercial advantage” to saving the reef went beyond jobs. Much of coastal Queensland was “majorly invested” in reef tourism, he said.

The federal government’s measures to save the reef were hypocrisy and lip service, he said, when it was simultaneously “actively supporting the cause of the cancer – the worst cause”.

“It’s immoral that those of us who are making our living from a healthy environment are paying taxes to subsidise infrastructure that’s going to cause climate change in a major way for the next 50 years,” he said. “If this all goes ahead, we’re basically dooming our tourism industry.”

Rumney said he had seen new and extensive bleaching of corals from Cairns to Townsville.

“There are definite large areas of mortality. It’s just the next depressing moment. Before, the reef has bleached and recovered but now we’re talking about how often is it bleaching and what percentage is left.”

Areas that suffered in last year’s event were now less resilient and there seemed to be less coral strong enough to spawn.

Climate change-induced mass bleaching increasingly resembled a catastrophe the reef would be unable to recover from, he said.

“It’s weaker, just like humans,” Rumney said. “If you’re already down and out with a cold or cancer, you’re less resilient – the next thing that comes along is going to knock you back more.

“It’s the continual onslaught that will eventually kill the reef.”

Coral bleaching again reported off Cairns
Dominic Geiger, The Cairns Post 21 Feb 17;

CORAL bleaching is being reported from some of the most visited reefs off Cairns for the second time in as many years.

Film maker and James Cook University researcher Richard Fitzpatrick said bleaching had been detected at Michaelmas Cay, Green Island, Upolu Reef, Batt Reef, and Vlasoff Cay.

He said that included locations filmed for David Attenborough’s recent documentary series Great Barrier Reef.

“We have reported it to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and they have told us they have bleaching reports all the way to the Whitsundays,” Mr Fitzpatrick said.

The reef from Cairns south managed to escape the more severe bleaching during last year’s event, while the region off Port Douglas to the Torres Strait suffered heavy coral die off.

While the bleached reefs are not yet dead, Mr Fitzpatrick said it was a “wake up call” for people from all parts of the world to take action on climate change.

“The only way to combat climate change, at the moment Australia is having a debate over renewable energy, but there should be no debate, we should be making the change now,” he said.

GBRMPA is expected to issue a statement on the new bleaching event later today.

New photos reveal fresh bleaching at beleaguered Great Barrier Reef
Gavin Haines The Telegraph 20 Feb 17;

A heatwave that has brought record-breaking temperatures to parts of Australia – leading to bush fires, power outages and a rise in deaths from heat stress – could have a devastating effect on the Great Barrier Reef.

Though the mercury is set to drop this week, scientists fear the extreme weather event could place stress on the underwater ecosystem, which is still reeling from the worst bleaching events in its history.

Bleaching happens when corals become stressed by high water temperatures, which happened on a massive scale in 2016 when an underwater heatwave ravaged the 1,500-mile reef.

Scientists claim 93 per cent of the reef was affected last year and that 22 per cent of its coral had died as a result. The same scientists now fear the reef could come under attack once again as parts of Australia bake in temperatures exceeding 47C.

According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS), which has published photographs of its findings, newly bleached corals were discovered last week near Townsville, Queensland and around the Whitsundays.

The waters off eastern Australia are unusually warm for this time of the year, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has placed vast swathes of the Great Barrier Reef on red alert (Alert Level 1) for the next four weeks, meaning coral bleaching is likely.

Parts of the far northern, northern and central reef have been placed on Alert Level 2, indicating mortality is likely. Corals south of Cairns, in the Whitsundays and in parts of the far northern reef, that were badly hit last year, are at mortal risk.

“Signs of new coral bleaching in February, plus the likelihood of extensive severe bleaching and even mortality in the next four weeks, is extremely concerning,” said Imogen Zethoven of AMCS.

“Last year we witnessed the worst bleaching event on record for our reef. Over the entire reef, 22 per cent of corals are dead.”

Around 1.9 million people visit the Great Barrier Reef annually, contributing A$5.6 billion (£2.7billion) to the local economy and supporting 69,000 jobs. However, Australia’s biggest tourism asset appears to be in grave danger due to climate change, which campaigners claim is being exacerbated by the Australian coal industry.

“The government must stop special treatment for the coal industry,” warned Zethoven. “Climate change will be catastrophic for our reef unless we urgently move to cut pollution. We cannot afford to risk such a valuable national treasure.”

In 2016, Telegraph Travel reported how many of the sites used to film the series, Great Barrier Reef, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, had succumbed to coral bleaching.

“We actually went out to the same locations where we filmed a lot of David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef series and found significant bleaching over many, many species,” said cameraman and marine biologist, Richard Fitzpatrick. “It was pretty shocking.”

In the hit BBC series, Sir David forewarned about the threats facing the Great Barrier Reef, which in 2015 was spared a place on Unesco’s list of endangered heritage sites.

“The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger,” said the television naturalist. “The twin perils brought by climate change – an increase in the temperature of the ocean and its acidity – threaten its very existence. If they continue to rise at the present rate, the reef will be gone in decades and that would be a global catastrophe.”

Should I cancel my dive holiday?

Despite the bleak outlook, some dive sites are holding up well.

“A lot of the live-aboard sites are on the edge of the reef, and are flushed by oceanic currents, so they are actually probably the most resilient parts of the reef,” said Fitzpatrick.

Rather than abandoning trips to the Great Barrier Reef, according to reef naturalist, Paul O’Dowd, tourists should consider visiting sooner rather than later.

“My advice to anyone wishing to see the reef is that they get over in the near future not the far,” he said. “It is still spectacular, in many ways, and any reputable operator will have a few relatively unscathed sites on their mooring portfolio.

“You will still see scores of brilliantly coloured fish. However, the issue of whether we have anything to show in a decade, after potentially more bleaching events, is less positive.”

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Impacts of mass coral die-off on Indian Ocean reefs revealed

University of Exeter ScienceDaily 20 Feb 17;

Warming seawaters, caused by climate change and extreme climatic events, threaten the stability of tropical coral reefs, with potentially devastating implications for many reef species and the human communities that reefs support.

Warming seawaters, caused by climate change and extreme climatic events, threaten the stability of tropical coral reefs, with potentially devastating implications for many reef species and the human communities that reefs support.

New research by the University of Exeter shows that increased surface ocean temperatures during the strong 2016 El Niño led to a major coral die-off event in the Maldives, and that this has caused reef growth rates to collapse. They also found that the rates at which some reefs species, in particular parrotfish, are eroding the reefs had increased following this coral die-off event.

Similar magnitudes of coral death have been reported on many other reefs in the region, including on the northern Great Barrier Reef, suggesting similar impacts may be very widespread.

Professor Chris Perry and Dr Kyle Morgan, of the University of Exeter's Geography department, studied the impact of the 2016 El Niño event at sites in the southern Maldives and found that the event had not only caused widespread coral bleaching, a phenomenon whereby corals expel their photosynthesising algae when stressed by high temperatures, but that this had also led to extensive coral death in all shallow water reef habitats examined.

"A very major concern now is how quickly these reefs might recover. Recovery from similar past disturbances in the Maldives have taken 10-15 years, but major bleaching events are predicted to become far more frequent than this. If this is the case it could lead to long-term loss of reef growth and so limit the coastal protection and habitat services these reefs presently provide," Professor Perry said.

"The most alarming aspect of this coral die-off event is that it has led to a rapid and very large decline in the growth rate of the reefs. This in turn has major implications not only for the capacity of these reefs to match any increases in sea-level, but is also likely to lead to a loss of the surface structure of the reefs that is so critical for supporting fish species diversity and abundance."

Coral reefs are formed by the accumulation of coral skeletons (made of calcium carbonate) that builds up over 100's to 1000's of years, forming the complex structures that support a huge diversity of marine life. The so-called 'carbonate budget' of a reef, which represents the balance between the rate at which this carbonate is produced by corals and the rate at which it is removed (by biological or physical erosion or chemical dissolution), influences the development of these structures and how fast a reef can grow.

The effect these combined factors was a major decline in the carbonate budgets of these reefs, with an average reduction of 157%. Before the warming event, the reefs had been in a period of rapid growth, but after the period of higher sea temperatures a negative carbonate budget was recorded at all sites. Put simply, the structure of these reefs is now eroding at a faster rate that it is growing. Based on past studies the researchers suggest that given the severity of the bleaching impacts it may take 10 to 15 years for full recovery to occur.

The extent of the 2016 bleaching, which also affected reefs in other parts of the Indian Ocean and Pacific, was so severe that it was subsequently named the 'Third Global Coral Bleaching Event'.

Dr Kyle Morgan said: "Coral reefs provide a wealth of benefits. They are vital habitats, essential for a vast number of species and they are also important for tourism and food provision. The reduction in carbonate budget threatens these benefits and may well also lead to the structural collapse of reefs. The key issue to consider now is whether, and when, these reefs will recover, both ecologically and in terms of their growth. Based on past trajectories, we predict recovery will take at least a decade, however it all depends on the extent of future warming events and climate change."

University of Exeter scientists warned there could be further rises in sea temperatures owing to global warming with potentially devastating effects on coral reefs.

Professor Mat Collins, an expert in climate modelling at the University of Exeter, said:

"We expect El Niño variability to continue into the future which, when combined with rising temperatures due to global warming, means we will see unprecedented sea temperatures and increasing incidence of coral bleaching."

Bleaching drives collapse in reef carbonate budgets and reef growth potential on southern Maldives reefs is published in Scientific Reports.

Journal Reference:

C. T. Perry, K. M. Morgan. Bleaching drives collapse in reef carbonate budgets and reef growth potential on southern Maldives reefs. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 40581 DOI: 10.1038/srep40581

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Tiny plastic particles from clothing, tyres clogging oceans: Report

Channel NewsAsia 22 Feb 17;

GENEVA: Invisible particles washed off products like synthetic clothing and car tyres account for up to a third of the plastic polluting oceans, impacting eco-systems and human health, a top conservationist body warned on Wednesday (Feb 22).

Unlike the shocking images of country-sized garbage patches floating in the oceans, the microplastic particles that wash off textiles and roadways leave the waterways looking pristine.

But they constitute a significant part of the "plastic soup" clogging our waters - accounting for between 15 and 31 per cent of the estimated 9.5 million tonnes of plastic released into the oceans each year, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In its report "Primary Microplastics in the Oceans", IUCN found that in many developed countries in North America and Europe, which have effective waste management, tiny plastic particles are in fact a bigger source of marine plastic pollution than plastic waste.

In addition to car tyres and synthetic textiles, such particles stem from everything from marine coatings and road markings, to city dust and the microbeads in cosmetics.

"Plastic waste is not all there is to ocean plastics," IUCN chief Inger Andersen said in a statement, insisting that "we must look far beyond waste management if we are to address ocean pollution in its entirety."

"Our daily activities, such as washing clothes and driving, significantly contribute to the pollution choking our oceans, with potentially disastrous effects on the rich diversity of life within them, and on human health," she warned.


While microplastics are hard to spot, they can seriously harm marine wildlife and as they enter the global food and water supplies they are believed to pose a significant risk to human health.

Karl Gustaf Lundin, who heads IUCN's Global Marine and Polar Programme, acknowledged that few studies have been done so far on the impact of tiny plastic particles on human health.

But he pointed out to AFP that such particles are small enough to actually move through our membranes, "so we have to assume that there probably will be considerable impact."

IUCN is calling on the makers of tyres and clothing especially to shift their production methods and make products that pollute less.

Lundin pointed out that tyre makers could for instance revert back to using mainly rubber, while textile makers could stop using plastic coatings on clothes.

Washing machine makers could also install filters that could catch micro and even nano plastic particles, he said.

Such steps are vital to limit the damage, he said, warning that the situation is particularly worrying in the Arctic - the biggest source of sea food in Europe and North America.

"It seems the microplastic is freezing into the sea ice, and since you actually lower the melting point of ice when you have small particles in it, you have a quicker disappearance of sea ice," he said.

Lundin pointed out that when the ice melts, it releases plankton that attracts fish, allowing the plastic particles to "go straight into our food chain."

- AFP/ec

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Best of our wild blogs: 21 Feb 17

Tambja Tambja everywhere!
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crows vs eagle @ SBWR - Feb 2017

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The Life Interview With Subaraj Rajathurai: Self-taught naturalist stumbled upon his calling

Self-taught naturalist Subaraj Rajathurai believes in education as the best way forward for the conservation cause and uses walking tours to expose people to Singapore's nature.
Venessa Lee Straits Times 20 Feb 17;

The nature guide and conservationist found his calling during a trek up Bukit Timah Hill at the age of 18

Wildlife expert Subaraj Rajathurai holds up the skin of a snake. He knows that it belongs to a black spitting cobra and that it was sloughed off about an hour ago as it is still soft and moist.

Retrieving the 1.5m-long skin from the undergrowth seems par for the course for Mr Subaraj, 53, who later washes his hands in a stream along the trail through the forested areas of Venus Loop near Upper Thomson Road.

The tour guide licensed by the Singapore Tourism Board has been conducting nature walks like this one since 1990.

He is a self-taught naturalist who has been studying wildlife for about 35 years and his experience shows.

During our walk, which takes more than two hours, he points out a female Malayan colugo, or flying lemur, gripping the top half of a tree trunk. He knows that the deep croaking that fills the air is the call of a four-ridged toad.

He gestures towards a towering species of wild pandan, a giant compared with the fragrant pandan used in cooking.

He also spots a Nibong palm and says it was used to build kelongs in the past, but only after its copious, ferocious-looking thorns were removed.

Wearing a purple bandana from his 100-piece collection to protect his head from sunburn and sporting hair past his shoulders, he rocks an avuncular, easy-going vibe.

White-bearded and burly, he looks a little like Santa Claus, one bearing gifts of knowledge of the wild.

Our trail is so close to houses in the Upper Thomson area that the smell of cooking wafts into the green space at one point - a microcosm of the relationship between Singapore's wilderness and built-up areas.

People live cheek by jowl with nature in land-scarce Singapore and he is aware that conservation has to fight for its place in the sun.

"There is a need for other aspects in Singapore like housing and recreation. It's all about balance," he says.

Animal encounters in urban spaces, for instance, have sparked calls for culls in recent years.

Mr Subaraj is rooting for nature - and has been doing so for a long time. The director and founder of Strix Wildlife Consultancy was one of the first few tour guides in Singapore who chose to focus on nature.

Now, there are at least 18 other such licensed tour guides, as well as a plethora of groups involved in conservation issues.

A decade ago, he founded his consultancy, which does research, wildlife surveys, educational outreach, eco-tours and other work in conservation.

A member of the Nature Society (Singapore) since the 1980s, he helped to work on a proposal to save bird haven Sungei Buloh, which had been slated for redevelopment. The proposal was submitted to the Government in 1987.

The wetland officially opened in 1993 as the Sungei Buloh Nature Park and was eventually gazetted as a nature reserve.

It was the first time a civil society group successfully lobbied the Government to change its plans.

The veteran conservationist is still active in the scene. He has worked on Environmental Impact Assessments and wildlife surveys, with fieldwork ranging from Lower Peirce Reservoir in the early 1990s to the Lentor and Mandai areas in recent years.

Although he has a modest formal education, Mr Subaraj, who comes from a family of teachers, including his late parents and some aunts and uncles, believes that education and public awareness are key to conservation.

He estimates that he has taken "thousands" of people on nature walks to share his knowledge and hopefully win some sympathisers, advocates or activists to the conservation cause.

"The more information we share, the better chance we have of saving nature through others having a better understanding and respect for it," he says.

Although Mr Subaraj says he was born with an interest in nature, it bloomed only in his teens.

As a child, he liked to make scrapbooks with animal pictures and was familiar with conservation icons. He read books by Gerald Durrell and watched documentaries by Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough.

He, his older brother and a younger sister were raised in a conservative household with little interest in nature apart from occasional excursions to the zoo. The broad expectation was that he would eventually be "a doctor, lawyer or engineer", he says.

He recalls "a kind of restlessness" in his childhood.

He did well in primary school, but "never quite found" his way in secondary school at Tanjong Katong Technical School. He managed to get his O-level certificate, but dropped out after a year at Stamford College, a private institution for qualification to university.

This put paid to his fledgling ambition of becoming a zoologist. But he was soon to discover his life's purpose.

At the age of 18, he trekked with schoolmates up Bukit Timah Hill, where he had an epiphany.

"Once I got there, it was like coming home. I was in a place where I belonged and I never looked back," he says. "I realised then that I wanted to work in nature, but I didn't know how."

He had to do his national service, but he started educating himself in earnest after that.

For about four years in his early 20s, he spent his days wandering in the wild areas of Singapore such as the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Pulau Ubin, learning about flora and fauna. In the afternoons, he was at the library doing research.

Humming with facts on the wild

He went on regional field trips to places like Endau-Rompin National Park in Johor, learning from mentors such as reputed Malaysian naturalist Dennis Yong, and joined the Nature Society (Singapore) in 1985.

But family members who wanted him to get a job during those years gave him "a hard time", even though his parents supported him emotionally and financially, he says.

He did not apply for jobs at the zoo or bird park as he refused to work with captive animals.

Once, he caved in and tried an office job at the stock exchange. He lasted only a day.

Eventually, after taking some birdwatchers on walks, he decided to conduct nature walks as a professional and took a six-month course at the Singapore Tourism Board to get a tour guide's licence. He was finally employed at the age of 25 as a freelance nature guide.

"I followed the family tradition and became a teacher outdoors without having to do any marking," he says.

His wife, Ms Shamla Jeyarajah, 51, who works with him at his consultancy, explains his single-mindedness: "He is independent and solitary in some ways and he knew what he wanted and didn't let go."

Before they got married in 1994, he told her his priorities were God first (he is a Hindu), followed by nature, her, then their family.

"I'm No. 3. I accepted it immediately because I'm a very easy-going person," she says.

Their two sons, who have been out on nature walks with their father since they were infants, are named after birds.

Saker, who is named after a falcon, is a 16-year-old junior college student. Serin, named after a finch, is 21 and doing his national service.

Influenced and guided by his father, Serin already regards himself as having a "career" in nature, having joined his father on surveys and research programmes in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Borneo. He plans to pursue a university degree in life sciences and is the co-founder of the Herpetological Society of Singapore, which focuses on the conservation of reptiles and amphibians.

Mr Richard Hale, a former chief executive officer at HSBC in Singapore, has known Mr Subaraj since they worked together as part of the group calling for Sungei Buloh's conservation.

The 79-year-old British retiree and avid birdwatcher recalls how, in the 1980s, he knew nature watchers who were keen on specific groups of animals such as birds or butterflies.

"In contrast, Subaraj was one of the first people I knew who realised that everything was interconnected. I've seen how his incredible knowledge can hum out of him," says Mr Hale, who is a Singapore permanent resident.

The pair took a walk in the Dairy Farm area recently and Mr Hale saw a Rufous Woodpecker tapping on a street lamp. He had never seen such behaviour before. Mr Subaraj, on the other hand, explained that to attract others, the woodpecker was using the metal to amplify its drumming.

Mr Hale also notes how his friend keeps a comparatively low profile even while being an effective advocate for nature. "He's not a great publicist. He just gets on with it. One of the great things about Subaraj is that he puts his point of view across in a sensible, non-confrontational way, quite firmly but gently. He's actually very persuasive."

For his part, Mr Subaraj is concerned that, while there has been an increasing awareness of conservation in recent times, some Singaporeans are "loving nature to death (by) flocking to nature reserves" in large numbers.

"Animals are being disturbed. A lot of Singaporeans don't realise the fragility and sensitivity of these habitats," he says.

As a nature warden with the National Parks Board for about 20 years, he has seen people jogging in vulnerable areas of nature reserves, potentially impacting the eco-systems there, even though they can use the more than 300 parks here to exercise instead.

He has also observed the large forest gecko and a bird, the Scarlet Minivet, vanish from the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve since he started studying the reserve in the 1980s.

Mr Subaraj is reflective about the times when the authorities chose development over conservation.

"You pick your battles. In Singapore, you don't lobby - that's for other countries. If you start getting rowdy and protesting, in the end, nature is the loser," he says.

"Emotions don't work. You have to use facts. Dialogue is better for finding solutions. You have to keep working at it."

He will keep fighting on, he says.

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Chicken-culling issue ought to have been better managed: AVA

TOH EE MING Today Online 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE — When it comes to managing Singapore’s animal population, culling will be done only as “a last resort”, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Monday (Feb 20).

He was responding to questions by Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh in relation to the culling of 24 free-roaming chickens in the Sin Ming area, which had sparked a public outcry recently.

Dr Koh pointed out that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) had found that the free-roaming chicken population in the Sin Ming area had “more than doubled” in the past two years, from about 20 in 2014 to 50 last year.

Given that chickens are more susceptible to bird flu, compared to other birds such as pigeons, and can transmit the virus to humans, Dr Koh said the AVA decided to remove some of the chickens, and to keep their population close to the “baseline level”.

When asked by Mr Ng for the number of people who complained, rather than the number of complaints relating to the chickens in Sin Ming, Dr Koh disclosed there were three people who complained in 2014, five in 2015 and 13 people last year.

Countering suggestions that the chickens could have been easily relocated to the wild, such as in Pulau Ubin or other forested areas, Dr Koh said this could create a situation of inter-breeding, thus adversely affecting the genetic stock of the endangered species of red junglefowl, which are found in Ubin and the Western Catchment area.

And while rehoming of chickens is a possible solution, it cannot be done in the same way it is done for cats and dogs, since the fowl cannot be housed in Housing and Development Board flats and they also carry the risk of transmitting avian influenza.

However, Dr Koh said that the AVA acknowledged that engagement and communications with residents and other stakeholders on the Sin Ming chickens issue “ought to have been better managed”.

Adding that there is no “magic number” on what the threshold figure should be before the authorities decide to cull, and citing a lack of specific recommendations on when to cull free-roaming chickens when there is no bird flu infection, Dr Koh reiterated that the AVA takes a “calibrated and measured approach” to reduce the risks posed to public health.

To find the best way to manage the population of free-ranging chickens and other birds, the AVA is currently undertaking research with academics, wildlife experts and other public agencies, he added.

For instance, in January last year, the authority initiated a study with the National University of Singapore to better understand the ecology and population of selected bird species, such as free-range chickens, in Singapore.

Separately, in response to another parliamentary question filed by Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Dr Koh said the AVA received about 21,000 cases of bird-related complaints in the last three years, mostly related to the feeding of pigeons by the public, and pigeon nuisance.

Beyond reducing cases of birds feeding on leftover food in hawker centres, Dr Koh cited other solutions to the problem, such as bird deterrent gels, oral contraceptives for pigeons, and fogging trees to deter mynahs.

However, in situations where the authorities perceive the risk is high or there is a higher incidence of bird flu around the region, for instance, they might have to step up measures “more aggressively”, such as culling these birds to reduce the risk.

“Clearly, there is no perfect answer. If you want a perfectly safe environment, then yes, we should go all out, guns blazing, to remove every single bird from the sky of Singapore.

“But that’s not a practical approach ... You can cull a thousand birds today and tomorrow, another thousand will fly in from somewhere else ... So, it’s something we have to take a practical view and escalate when necessary,” Dr Koh said.

Culling of free-ranging chickens will only be done as 'last resort': MND
Melissa Zhu Channel NewsAsia 20 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) will only cull free-ranging chickens and other animals as a "last resort", Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon said in Parliament on Monday (Feb 20).

AVA recently said it culled 24 free-roaming chickens in the Sin Ming area after getting about 20 complaints from residents last year, largely about noise. This ignited public debate, after which AVA director-general Yap Him Hoo clarified that the culling was due to concerns over public health and safety and not the noise issue.

Responding to questions by Member of Parliament (MP) for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Daniel Goh on Monday, Dr Koh said AVA found that the free-roaming chicken population near Sin Ming Avenue had more than doubled in the last two years from about 20 to more than 50 birds.

AVA received complaints about the fowl from three people in 2014, five in 2015 and 13 in 2016. The higher number of people complaining "clearly correlates" to the increased sighting of birds, Dr Koh said.

Noting that free-roaming chickens had a higher risk than other birds of being infected with and transmitting the bird flu virus to humans, Dr Koh reiterated that AVA's culling of the birds was not motivated solely by noise concerns.

"That said, AVA acknowledges that engagement and communications with residents and other stakeholders on this issue ought to have been better managed," he said.

Dr Koh, who is also MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, urged the community to "act responsibly" by not feeding wildlife. Doing so would disturb the balance in the ecosystem and increase the risks of human-animal cross-transmission of diseases as well as conflicts due to human-wildlife contact, he explained.

Regarding suggestions that the chickens could be re-located to the wild, such as to Pulau Ubin or other forested areas, Dr Koh said the free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming and most urban settings were "highly unlikely" to be of native stock.

The free-ranging chickens were brought in by humans, perhaps to be raised as pets, and would therefore be different from the endangered indigenous red junglefowl, the Minister of State said. Thus, they could threaten the genetic stock of the native species if there was inter-breeding.

Dr Koh also encouraged the public to refrain from abandoning pets. He said: "Not only is it cruel and against the law, but it will also cause an imbalance and an adverse impact on our native wildlife population."

However, Mr Ng said he had seen photos of the chickens at the Sin Ming area and at least some of them were red junglefowl.

In answer to this, Dr Koh acknowledged that AVA would need to conduct genetic studies to ascertain whether the chickens found in the area were red junglefowl or other breeds.

AVA is continuing to undertake research with academics, wildlife experts and other public agencies to find the best ways to manage the population of free-ranging chickens and other birds, according to Dr Koh.

The agency will involve different stakeholders, including the community and animal welfare groups, in exploring various approaches and solutions to the issue, he added.

- CNA/mz

Chickens had to be culled due to health risks: Dr Koh
Audrey Tan, The New Paper AsiaOne 21 Feb 17;

Culling of animals will only be done as a last resort, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon after a public outcry over the culling of 24 free-ranging chickens in Sin Ming last month.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Dr Koh said the population of free-roaming chickens in Sin Ming had doubled to 50, and studies have shown chicken are more susceptible to the bird flu virus, compared to other birds such as pigeons.

Citing a report by the World Health Organisation, Dr Koh added that there is scientific evidence that chickens can in turn transmit the disease to humans.

That is why the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) felt it had to take action to manage the chicken population there, he said, noting that complaints about noise was not the only reason behind the culling.

Also the chickens, though free-roaming, are not wild birds, he said in response to Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, who asked about the episode, which generated a debate that lasted nearly 30 minutes, as MPs sought more clarity on the issue and AVA's approach to culling.


That is why they could not be relocated, as doing so adversely affects the genetic stock of the native red junglefowl - the endangered ancestor of the domestic chicken.

Dr Koh told Parliament that AVA is conducting scientific studies to enhance its animal management strategies.

He also urged people not to feed wildlife, as such a practice disturbs the balance in the ecosystem and will invariably increase human-wildlife contact, and lead to conflict.

On the Sin Ming birds, Dr Koh said AVA had initiated a study with the National University of Singapore in January last year to better understand the ecology and population of selected bird species here, one of which is free-ranging chickens.

He said: "AVA will also involve different stakeholders, including the community and animal welfare groups, in exploring various approaches and solutions.

"Culling will only be done as a last resort. Ultimately, we want to thrive as a City in a Garden, living in harmony with nature, and enjoying the flora and fauna around us."

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