Best of our wild blogs: 8 Dec 16

Sungei Buloh Wetlands 23 Anniversary
Art in Wetlands

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Malaysia, Malacca: Faced with rapid erosion, residents want to see master plan of reclamation project

New Straits Times 7 Dec 16;

MALACCA: Is Malacca’s future, particularly that along its storied coastline, one that is bereft of its traditional ways, a sprawling metropolis inhabited by foreigners buying into foreign investments?

This is the multi-billion ringgit question asked by many as the face of the 70km-long coastline transforms through massive reclamation works.

“What we would all like to see is a master plan on what these reclamation projects are going to project,” said Lim Heng Tin, a 66-year-old whose childhood memories of growing up on Kampung Hailam’s lush beach have been wiped away by rapid erosion in the past two months.

From where the fallen Malacca Club Rotunda’s guardpost lies in shambles, having been blown to pieces during high tide on Friday morning, with the beach that once protected it well eroded, Kampung Hailam folk need to just look out to sea to find the alleged reason for the damage.

From Klebang, to the west of the Kampung Hailam cape, beyond what was once the turtle hatching haven of Pulau Upeh, dredging is visible, as landfills push on further into deeper sea.

So far, there are plans available for the RM8 billion Melaka Gateway port, which is an extension of Pulau Melaka up to Pulau Upeh, along with commercial and residential developments within its project.

Another mammoth project — the RM12.5 billion Kuala Linggi International Port (KLIP), is being questioned by experts who said the project has not been approved by the Department of Environment.

On Nov 6, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released to the New Straits Times damning statistics of the dwindling number of recorded landings of the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles along the Malacca coastline.

Residents, too, have highlighted the lack of turtle landings, which, in past years, have been sighted along the coast from Klebang, with Pulau Upeh, now close to no longer being an island, recording among the highest landings.

The Malacca government, possibly alerted to the damage being done to turtle habitats, on Nov 7 announced through Tanjung Bidara assemblyman Datuk Md Rawi Mahmud the designation of an 800m stretch of beach along Padang Kamunting to Air Hitam Darat as a turtle sanctuary, to be left untouched and devoid of human activities to allow turtles to lay eggs.

Along the coast, there are stories such as how restaurant owner Bertrand Pau and residents in a neighbouring condominium block were locked in a legal and lengthy debate with the state government as the dredging began to reclaim land in front of what was once sea-fronting properties.

The result? Reclamation commenced to the left and right of their properties, eventually leaving an eyesore of a pool of stagnant seawater fronting their property.

“We must know what we want. But what is happening here, nobody knows. They just seem to reclaim and reclaim with no end,” said Pau.

“Tourism is Malacca’s bread and butter. Tourists come for our tradition, heritage and beaches. But what is left of those now? This is what everybody should ask.”

Excessive land reclamation means smaller catch for Malacca fishermen
New Straits Times 7 Dec 16;

MALACCA: As a lean and fit-looking 40-year-old Edgar Rodrigues stands to greet visitors at the lobby of a four-star hotel, one might guess his build could be the result of lifting countless kilogrammes of guests’ luggage at his workplace.

But that is far from the truth. A turn of fate had caused this well-spoken traditionalist from the Portuguese Settlement to make the most difficult shift in his life just a year ago, from a fisherman to hotel bellhop.

“I couldn’t support my family with my income. What used to be catches worth between RM150 and RM200 in a four-hour shift are now gone.

“These days, we drift the butterfly net for four hours and we’re considered lucky if we have RM30 worth in catch,” said Rodrigues.

He had to give up life as a coastal fisherman, earning his living from drifting butterfly nets to catch geragau prawns (acetes, a genus of small krill-like prawns) used in the production of the popular local condiment cincaluk.

As a landfill developed to extend what was Pulau Melaka, a man-made island that came into existence more than 30 years ago, in came what Rodrigues describes as “dead mud”, one that is toxic and inhabitable for the prawns.

And it is not just Rodrigues who is feeling the pinch.

From more than 100 people with butterfly nets painting a picturesque view in the muddy waters off the Portuguese Settlement, 49-year-old Hilary d’Costa is now among the 10-odd people who still cast their nets in the hopes of earning a living.

Only a handful of acetes is his take from three hours of labour on the day the New Straits Times caught up with him, and d’Costa duly threw them back into the sea, hoping that they would spawn.
“Only geragau is available here these days. Other species of fish have depleted. Those days, in June when it is the geragau season, I can easily catch up to 40kg within three hours. Now, I catch so few that they can’t even be used to cook a proper dish,” he said.

Those in the Portuguese Settlement have had several brushes with the authorities over the years, in battles for their plot to not be taken away by reclamation.

Chef and traditional Portuguese cuisine campaigner Benildus da Silva, 42, believes the compensation paid by the state government should be in the form of increased educational and commercial opportunities.

“Our livelihoods, the traditional ways, they are gone. We came from the sea, so we would want to live by the sea. But that can’t be the case anymore. We are a small (community of) people, just about 2,000 of us living here. We can’t fight the authorities and large corporations.

“Some of us in the Portuguese Settlement had been compensated with a nominal sum for the loss of livelihood, but many who agreed did not see the bigger picture. We are losing something that has been a part of us, which we can’t get back.

“What they should have asked for was compensation in the form of opportunities. If the land was to be reclaimed, we should be given commercial lots to do business and our children given opportunities in education, so they can find other jobs, instead of the traditional ones.”

It isn’t just those in the Portuguese Settlement who are affected.

Along the coast in Klebang and Tanjung Kling, fishermen are facing similar plights due to declining marine life caused by what they claimed was excessive reclamation.

The days of the coastal fishermen, said Rodrigues, were gone, with conditions fit only for larger industrial-sized trawlers who ply their trade in deeper waters.

“There is no place for the traditional fisherman on the coast. It is all gone. We have to move on, but it is sad that Malacca has lost this part of our heritage,” he said, an air of defeat about him.

Experts puzzled over Kuala Linggi International Port's construction
ARNAZ M. KHAIRUL AND KELLY KOH New Straits Times 7 Dec 16;

MALACCA: Just how the RM12.5 billion Kuala Linggi International Port (KLIP) has been given the go-ahead to begin construction in the first quarter of next year has left experts, who deemed the project an environmental hazard, puzzled.

Experts reviewing the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) report on the proposed KLIP insist the Department of Environment (DoE) had rejected the report, based on its location.

Former International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Department of Engineering Associate Professor Dr Zaki Zainudin, who was in the team that review the report, confirmed that the team had agreed upon a consensus against the project.

The DEIA report was prepared by the proponent’s consultants.

“The main issue was the location. The port would be built on reclaimed land, which would form an island right at the river mouth of Sungai Linggi.

“The biggest concern is that this may disrupt the hydrodynamics and cause floods, which would affect towns and people upstream.

“We came to a consensus that the location was not suitable as it would disrupt the flow of water from the river, marine life and the livelihood of the people.

“Thus, I was shocked to see press reports that the project would start in the first quarter of next year, when our team (which review the DEIA report) had advised the DoE against it,” he told the New Straits Times.

The commencement of the project, announced by owners TAG Marine Sdn Bhd on Nov 28, with its managing director, Datuk Wira Noormustafa Kamal Yahya, also announcing the bulk of the funding would be from Chinese investors, will be an expansion of the Kuala Linggi Port, which opened in 2001.

The Kuala Linggi Port serves mainly the oil and gas industry, while the expansion would be to provide larger scale servicing facilities aimed at the more than 100,000 vessels transporting US$60 billion (RM266.5 billion) worth of trade through the Straits of Malacca annually.

Noormustafa had said the project would provide 6,000 new jobs.

This, however, raised further question marks and public outcry over the excessive land reclamation along Malacca’s 70km-long coastline, with another project amassing land past Pulau Upeh, about 20km south of Kuala Linggi, allegedly causing dangerous levels of erosion at the coast along Tanjung Kling.

Along the coast of Malacca, public outcry is increasing as the once popular stretches of beaches in Klebang have disappeared, while the livelihoods of fishermen continue to be affected.

Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron, when contacted by the NST, ticked off the developers, stating that the project would only be allowed to continue when all standards were adhered to.

“Launching it is not a sign that work can commence.

“They can launch it a thousand times, but if the required documentation and standards are not met, the project will not be allowed to continue.” he said.

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Malaysia: ‘No oil palm on swampy land’

SARBAN SINGH The Star 8 Dec 16;

SEREMBAN: Negri Sembilan, a major palm oil producing state, will no longer allow the palm to be grown in swampy areas and abandoned padi fields to prevent the state from “drying up”.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan said his administration had to resort to this as many streams and sections of rivers had dried up since the crop was grown on a big scale statewide in recent years.

“Not many of us know that a fully grown oil palm needs more than 200 litres of water a day to survive and give a good harvest.

“Since many of our streams and sections of rivers have dried up due to a combination of factors including oil palm cultivation, we do not want to allow the crop to be grown in swampy areas and abandoned paddy fields,” Moha­mad told reporters after chairing the state exco meeting.

He said the state exco had rejected applications from two companies to do so at the meeting.

Mohamad has also directed the state and district land administrators to ensure the ruling was complied with.

“I have nothing against oil palm cultivation but we need to strike a balance so that we are not completely dried up in 20 years’ time,” he said.

He added that other crops could be grown if there was a need to rehabilitate abandoned padi fields.

Citing an example, he said a company had successfully grown pineapples in the abandoned padi fields in Rembau.

“These pineapples which are now produced on a commercial scale are very juicy and sweet, and much sought after.

“Pineapples are also a good substitute as they don’t require much water,” he said.

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Malaysia: MMEA seizes 1,400 tortoises

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 8 Dec 16;

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysian coastguards intercepted a boat and rescued 1,400 tor­toises that were being taken out of Sabah for the exotic food market in Vietnam.

Six crewmen, two of them Malay­sians, were arrested when the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) inter­­cepted a boat 1.6 nautical miles from the state capital at 3am.

Kota Kinabalu MMEA commander First Admiral Adam Aziz said they believed that the tortoises were to be handed over to buyers in international waters off Pulau Mengalum about 40 nautical miles from here.

“Our investigation indicates that a boat from Vietnam was waiting for them along our international borders,” he said, adding that it is the first time that illegal smuggling and trading of tortoises were detected by the agency.

He said that investigations were carried out under the state Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1996 which carries a fine of between RM30,000 and RM100,000 and a minimum jail term of six months to five years.

“We will be handing the tortoises to the Wildlife Department,” he said, adding that the foreigners among the crew would be investigated for offences under immigration laws.

First Admiral Adam said that the tortoises were collected from a businessmen in Kinarut near Kota Kinabalu and handed over to the members of the crew to be exported to waiting buyers in international waters.

However, the species of the tortoises and whether they are listed under the wildlife protection list in the state could not be immediately ascertained.

Of the 1,400 tortoises seized, 200 were dead.

Each tortoise was valued around RM30.

In a separate incident, the agency is searching for a fishermen Mohd Helmi Otong, 20, who went missing in Samawang waters west of Sabah late Tuesday after his boat capsized.

The boat was recovered but Mohd Helmi is still missing.

MMEA seize 1,400 tortoises headed for the pot
MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 7 Dec 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) foiled an attempt to smuggle out some 1,400 tortoises meant for the exotic food market in Vietnam.

Six crewmen, comprising two locals and four fishermen, were also arrested when the MMEA intercepted the boat about 1.6 nautical miles from the state capital at about 3am Wednesday.

Kota Kinabalu MMEA commander First Admiral Adam Aziz said it is believed that the tortoises were to be handed over to buyers in international waters off Pulau Mengalum, about 40 nautical miles from here.

"Our investigations indicate that there was boat from Vietnam waiting for them along our international border," he said, adding that this was first time that the MMEA had detected illegal smuggling and trading of tortoises.

He said that investigations were carried out under the state's Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1996, which carries a fine of between RM30,000 and RM100,000 and a jail term of six months to five years.

"We will be handing it over to the Wildlife Department for further action," he said, while the foreigners among the crew will be investigated also for offences under immigration laws.

First Admiral Adam said that the tortoises were collected from a businessman in Kinarut near Kota Kinabalu and handed over to the members of the crew for "export".

However, it could not be immediately ascertained the exact species of the tortoises and if they fall under the wildlife protection list.

Of the 1,400 tortoise seized, 200 were already dead. Each tortoise is valued around RM30.

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IUCN Red List update highlights trade threat to Southeast Asian birds

TRAFFIC 7 Dec 16;

Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 7th December 2016—First profiled through TRAFFIC’s work on birds threatened by demand for the cagebird trade, a number of Southeast Asian birds are now perched in higher categories of threat in the latest update of the IUCN Red List released today.

According to the IUCN, the Rufous-fronted Laughingthrush Garrulax rufifrons, Scarlet-breasted Lorikeet Trichoglossus forsteni and Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus are among a suite of species uplisted to higher threat categories as a result of the impacts of trade. Ample evidence points towards unsustainable levels of illegal capture for the cagebird trade, largely centred on Java, as driving their deteriorating status.

The list of species identified for uplisting was drawn from the 28 species prioritized during the first Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit held in September 2015. The Summit brought together experts from various fields to formulate actions to save them from extinction. An IUCN-SSC Southeast Asian Traded Songbird Specialist Group was conceived during the Summit and is in the process of being created.

Prior to the summit, TRAFFIC sounded the alarm in a report recording over 19,000 birds representing 206 species for sale in Jakarta’s Pramuka, Jatinegara and Barito markets over a three-day period. Another three-day inventory of five major markets in eastern and central Java documented nearly 23,000 birds for sale. This May, another paper highlighted 13 bird species and a further 14 subspecies found in Sundaic Indonesia that are at serious risk of extinction because of excessive over-harvesting. It was through these studies, and the Summit, that species previously thought to be abundant and relatively unaffected by trade were brought into the spotlight.

The Greater Green Leafbird Chloropsis sonnerati is one such example. It was only traded in low volumes a decade ago, but in the past few years work by TRAFFIC and other organizations including Planet Indonesia has uncovered a massive demand for the species, exemplified by confiscations of thousands of individuals.

TRAFFIC submitted data from these market surveys and trade analyses through the BirdLife Threatened Bird Forums and a recent publication on laughingthrushes to support the recommended uplistings of many of these species.

“It is important that the conservation status of these species are being updated to reflect the threats facing them, but much more needs to be done to address this looming Asian songbird crisis,” said Chris R. Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia. “It is due to lack of research, lack of protection measures and ineffective regulation that these species have been ranked in this list of threatened species in the first place.”

The second Asian Songbird Trade Crisis Summit will take place in February 2017, gathering all partners to share progress since the first meeting and to put into action the regional strategy to enhance conservation and enforcement efforts for bird species threatened by trade.

In addition to a number of songbirds, the Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus and Timneh Parrot Psittacus timneh were also uplisted. In October, both species, collectively termed African Grey Parrots, received higher protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) through a listing in Appendix I due to unsustainable levels of harvesting for trade. A WCS and TRAFFIC study highlighted discrepancies in trade figures of the import and export of the species in Singapore.

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Best of our wild blogs: 7 Dec 16

Highlights for the Semester
BES Drongos

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Malaysia: ‘Forest City has great potential’


GELANG PATAH: The mammoth Forest City project has attracted investments totalling RM10bil so far and is propelling the economy and creating jobs, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister said the project was not just about property development but involved other positive aspects to it.

“This project is generating the economy and creating jobs, including helping with tourism,” said Najib.

The development would also be a boon for the manufacturing, high tech, services and financial sectors.

“This project has a huge potential,” he said, adding that to date it had also sold 11,000 houses.

Najib was speaking to reporters after a two-day visit to Johor to check on the progress of various projects in the state.

At the forest city, Najib witnessed the signing ceremony between Forest City and 36 other companies before the grand opening of Phoenix Hotel.

Country Garden Pacificview (CGPV) executive director Datuk Md Othman Yusof said the mixed development project was expected to contribute some RM66bil in tax revenue to the country over the next 20 years.

He added that many industries were flocking to Forest City which was expected to contribute RM1.98 trillion to the country’s GDP.

“Forest City is gaining momentum due to its local, regional and global positioning and with a total cumulative investment of US$100bil (RM444bil) will attract returns of sufficient proportion.

“It is expected that Forest City will contribute tax revenue of about RM66bil to the Government over a period of 20 years,” Md Othman said during the signing of strategic initiatives ceremony and grand opening of Phoenix Hotel here yesterday.

The synergic partners are organisations from industries such as medical and healthcare, education and training, tourism, financial services, manufacturing, emerging technologies, smart city as well as green building.

The collaborations include seven companies listed under Fortune 500: Huawei, Cisco, Accen­ture, Midea, China Construction Steel Structure Corporation, Deutsche Bank (Asia Pacific) and Bank of China (Malaysia).

“This will cumulatively garner Forest City into becoming an economic hub complementing Iskandar Malaysia which will drive new business activities into the sustainable township,” said Md Othman.

He also noted that the completion of the hotel spelled good news for locals, as there would be job opportunities in the services sector, besides spurring tourism.

Md Othman said Phoenix Hotel, located on a 1.71ha plot of land on one of the four man-made islands, was among 50 other hotel chains in China developed by CGPV

Mega projects to give big boost to country’s economy
The Star 7 Dec 16;

JOHOR BARU: Malaysia’s mega infrastructure projects are expected to boost the country's economy by more than 50% to RM2 trillion in the next seven to eight years.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said he was hoping to make Malaysia one of the top 20 countries in the world.

“Presently, our economy is about RM1.3 trillion. I am confident that we can achieve this, especially with all our present projects,” he said.

The projects include the High Speed Rail, the Pan Borneo Highway, East Coast Rail Link, Bandar Malaysia and Vision Valley.

“In Johor itself, we have Iskandar Malaysia and the Pengerang oil and gas projects,” he said at the launch of Iskandar Malaysia’s 10-year anniversary here yesterday.

Later, asked on the details as to how he planned to make Malaysia to be among the top 20, he said there were certain criteria which would be announced later.

Najib also commended Iskandar Malaysia for helping to propel the state into a southern economic powerhouse, adding that the growth corridor had so far brought in investments totalling RM221bil and helped to create some 700,000 jobs.

During the event, he also announced special incentives for global business services (GBS), which would be one of the promoted sectors in Medini, Iskandar Malaysia.

“I hope this tax benefit will help make Iskandar Puteri into a hub for GBS,” he said, adding that this move was expected to attract some RM6.5bil in investments and create 14,000 jobs.

Under the incentives, eligible companies can apply for special Medini tax support packages and employees, a personal income tax rate of 15%.

Other plans being carried out in Iskandar Malaysia include RM50mil for a Bus Rapid Transit (first phase), RM280mil for a Sg Segget river upgrading project and other infrastructure development.

Asked about the High Speed Rail, Najib said everything was well and good, adding that it was expected to be signed next week.

“Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has contacted me asking for more time as they needed the consent of their president who is away,” he said, calling this a technical matter.

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Malaysia: Evidence found in Danum Valley could mean Sumatran rhinos exist in the wild

MUGUNTAN VANAR The Star 7 Dec 16;

KOTA KINABALU: The declaration by scientists that the Sumatran rhino is extinct in Malaysian jungles may have been premature after a footprint was spotted in Sabah’s untouched Danum Valley.

The footprint is believed to be from the animal, giving scientists and conservationists here a glimmer of hope.

It was found by a survey team at the internationally renown rainforest research centre between Aug 16 and 29, this year.

“We believe that it is a rhino footprint. But we can’t confirm it.

“It gives us some hope that rhinos still exist in the wild.

“So far, the rhino has not been seen or captured on camera in the area of survey,” said WWF Sabah Terrestrial Conservation Pro­g­­­ramme manager Sharon Koh Pei Hui during a briefing on her team’s findings to the media here yesterday.

Her team was among 10 who carried out the survey in Danum Valley as part of Yayasan Sabah’s efforts to strengthen strategic conservation efforts in the 438 sq km of untouched rainforest.

Koh, who did not identify the exact area where the footprint was spotted, said they needed to go back with various experts from the Borneo Rhino Alliance, Sabah Wildlife Department and Forestry Department to thoroughly check the area.

Koh said there were also some concerns about encroachment by people – possibly hunters –near where the footprint was found.

“We saw markings on the trees. It looks like people are encroaching into the area. There is a need to secure the place,” she said, adding that the place was close to the border with plantations.

Asked if the footprint could be that of an elephant or its calf, she said this was unlikely as there was no evidence of elephant dung or damage in the forest where the elephants might have passed through.

Only three rhinoceros in captivity are known to exist in Sabah with none having been spotted in the wild since 2011.

The last one spotted in Peninsular Malaysia was in 2007.

Last year, 11 scientists had declared that the Sumatran rhinos are now extinct from Malaysian jungles.

However, local conservationists are still holding on to the slim hope that the rhinos might be out there in untouched forests like Danum Valley or the Tabin Conservation Area in Lahad Datu.

Like in Indonesia’s central Kalimantan where the animals were thought to have also gone extinct, WWF camera traps recorded two rhinos in the wild about three years ago.

All the three rhinos at the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary have problems in their reproductive systems and are unable to breed.

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Indonesian govt imposes moratorium on land clearing of peatland

Antara 6 Dec 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Indonesia, through its new government regulation (PP) No. 57/2016 on the revision of PP No. 71/2014 on Peat Ecosystem Management and Protection, has imposed a moratorium on land clearing in peatland areas.

The revision ruled that there should be no land clearing and no issuance of new licenses in peatland areas, especially for deep peatland, Secretary General of the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry Bambang Hendroyono said here, Tuesday.

PP 57/2016 also states that no drainage should be performed as it causes the peat to dry out, and no fires can be set in peatland areas.

Even traditional communities have been barred from setting fires in peatland areas.

The new PP was signed by President Joko Widodo on Dec 2 and will go into effect in the very near future.

The new PP places a permanent moratorium on peatland exploitation, stating that everyone is prohibited from clearing new land until a zoning system for the protection and cultivation of the peatland ecosystem is in place.

"PP No. 57/2016 shows the solid commitment of President Joko Widodo to peatland ecosystem protection," stated San Afri Awang, who works with the Forestry Planology and Environmental Management section of the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry.

Natural succession, rehabilitation, and restoration are ways of improving the peatland ecosystem.

"Natural succession means restoration without any human intervention," he explained.

In addition to the regulation, the government will also intensively monitor peatland restoration efforts.

Govt revises regulation on peatland protection
Antara 6 Dec 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government has issued Government Regulation (PP) No. 57/2016 as a revision of PP No. 71/2014 on peatland ecosystem management and protection.

"President Joko Widodo signed PP No. 57/2016 on December 2, 2016," Secretary General of the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry Bambang Hendroyono said here, Tuesday.

The process of revising the government regulation had started in February 2016 with the support of other ministries.

The new PP places a permanent moratorium on peatland exploitation, stating that everyone is prohibited from clearing new land until a zoning system for the protection and cultivation of the peatland ecosystem is in place.

"PP No. 57/2016 shows the solid commitment of President Joko Widodo to peatland ecosystem protection," stated San Afri Awang, who works with the Forestry Planology and Environmental Management section of the Environmental Affairs and Forestry Ministry.

Natural succession, rehabilitation, and restoration are ways of improving the peatland ecosystem.

"Natural succession means restoration without any human intervention," he explained.

In addition to the regulation, the government will also intensively monitor peatland restoration efforts.

Environmental Affairs and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has issued an assignment letter to San Afri, placing him in charge of a monitoring team for a peatland restoration operation.

"The government is very serious (about this). We will monitor it continuously and impose sanctions against violators. This is proof of the governments serious commitment to peatland restoration," he added.(*)

Indonesia pledges to protect peatlands to fight climate change, haze
Coco Liu Reuters 6 Dec 16;

HONG KONG (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Environmental activists hailed on Tuesday Indonesia's ban on converting peatlands into plantations but said enforcement was critical to reducing annual fires that shroud parts of Southeast Asia in choking haze.

Indonesia announced on Monday that companies were banned from turning peatlands into palm oil and other types of plantations, and must restore peatlands they have degraded.

Peat soils contain huge quantities of carbon in the form of organic matter, which accumulates over hundreds of years and provides nutrients for plant growth.

When peatlands are drained or cleared by fire to make way for plantations, the carbon is released into the atmosphere.

Environmental experts welcomed Indonesia's ban in light of a global accord signed in Paris last year to lower carbon emissions blamed for a warming planet.

"This regulation will be a major contribution to the Paris climate agreement and a relief to millions of Indonesians who suffer the effects of toxic haze from peat fires," said Nirarta Samadhi, Indonesia country director for the World Resources Institute think tank, in a statement.

Indonesia, the world's 6th largest emitter of greenhouse gases, according to the country's Peatlands Restoration Agency, has more than 15 million hectares of peatlands, an area twice the size of Ireland.

WRI estimates by 2030, the new ban could help Indonesia cut up to 7.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to roughly all the annual greenhouse gases emitted by the United States.

Peaty soil, found in many parts of Indonesia, is particularly flammable when dry, often causing fires to spread beyond their intended areas.

Every year smoke from fires used to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations in Indonesia clouds the skies over much of the region, raising concerns about public health.

Indonesia has been criticized by neighbors and green groups for failing to end the annual fires, which were estimated to cost Southeast Asia's largest economy $16 billion in 2015, and left more than 500,000 Indonesians suffering from respiratory ailments.

Yuyun Indradi, a forest policy researcher at the Jakarta office of international campaign group Greenpeace, said Indonesia's ban was a "good move".

However, Indradi said Indonesia had introduced several moratoria aimed at protecting the environment before.

"A key problem has been enforcement and lack of transparency," Indradi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that previous environmental policies - such as requiring companies to protect carbon-rich deep peatlands - had been widely ignored.

"The big question will be how to get the new regulation enforced," he said.

(Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit to see more stories)

Indonesia expands protection for peatlands

Indonesia has extended legal protection for its wetlands and peat bogs by expanding a ban on the conversion of these carbon-rich swamps into plantations.

The move, if properly enforced, could drastically reduce Indonesia's sizeable carbon footprint and prevent a repeat of the annual forest fires that plague the region, conservationists say.

A moratorium on new conversions of certain peatland areas has been in place since 2011 in Indonesia.

But this latest revision -- signed into law by President Joko Widodo, and issued Monday -- clarifies and expands the law, ensuring that all peatlands are covered and that companies must restore areas they have degraded.

"We want to avoid any misinterpretation of the existing regulation, which gives the impression that land-clearing is still allowed," environment ministry spokesman Djati Witjaksono Hadi told AFP Tuesday.

Peatlands take thousands of years to form as layers of dense wet plant material compact into dense carbon stores.

When these ancient swamps are drained or cleared by fire to make way for commercial plantations -- such as for palm oil or pulp wood -- that carbon is released into the atmosphere.

Conservationists hailed the strengthened moratorium as a win for climate change.

"This regulation will be a major contribution to the Paris climate agreement," said the World Resources Institute's Nirarta Samadhi, referring to a binding agreement on reducing emissions.

Norway -- which pledged in 2010 to pay Indonesia up to $1 billion if it preserved its rain forests -- committed $25 million to restore peatlands in the wake of the announcement.

The moratorium could also help prevent the outbreak of deadly smog from forest fires that shrouds the region every year, causing widespread illness.

Peatlands are moist and unlikely to ignite unless drained.

Hadi said the new regulation provided clearer guidance, ensuring no burning or draining was permitted.

Fires deliberately lit in 2015 across Indonesia's forests and peatlands were the worst in nearly two decades.

Research from Harvard and Columbia universities in the US estimate the crisis caused more than 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia and neighbouring countries.

The World Bank put the economic impact at $16 billion -- twice Indonesia's clean-up bill in the wake of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.

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Indonesia: Central Sulawesi’s mineral mining muddle

Ruslan Sangadji The Jakarta Post 6 Dec 16;

Risky business: Sand and rock mining activities take place on the shores of Palu and Donggala, Central Sulawesi. The massive mining operation has caused environmental and health problems.

Large-scale rock and sand mining in Central Sulawesi has taken its toll on the environment and people in the area.

On the shores of Palu and Donggala, Central Sulawesi, excavators and crushers were seen in full operation, smashing stones into gravel, sand and dust. Large trucks then took these small rocks to barges and tugboats for delivery to East Kalimantan.

Around 100 meters from the mine in Watusampu subdistrict, Ulujadi district, Palu, a middle-aged woman was sweeping the yard of the local public health center. The thick dust she was removing came from mineral, rock and sand mines around the hills in Watusampu.

Hamidah, the woman who heads the health center, said the dust polluting the air had caused local residents to suffer from acute respiratory infection, with up to five patients complaining of symptoms daily. If they remain untreated, she fears that they might be affected by tuberculosis.

The health center has recorded around 20 cases of people vomiting blood and hundreds of others affected by respiratory disease caused by the mining dust over the last few months.

In addition to health problems, 23 traffic accidents have taken place at mining locations. There has also been erosion and landslides, creating slippery roads within only a year.

Environmental activist Dedi Irawan said large-scale mining activities had also impacted the supply of water in the area. Currently, there are six mining companies operating in the region, each with a concession of 12 hectares and a shoreline reclamation area of up to 200 meters.

Talo, a local woman, said it was now harder for her to access water than five years ago, when water from nearby mountains was running plentifully.

“Now the water has been contaminated by mining dust,” she complained.

An agriculture expert from Palu’s Tadulako University (Untad), Alam Anshari, said the dust had also affected plants cultivated by residents as the thick dust sticking to their leaves hampers the process of photosynthesis.

The irresponsible mining activities may also increase the vulnerability of the area to earthquakes, the university’s spatial layout expert, Amar Akbar Ali, says.

He explains that sand mining activities located on the outskirts of Palu and Donggala serve as a buffer zone for the city and regency.

Seismographic records at the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency in Palu show that almost every minute Palu and Donggala are shaken, though only by minor tremors detectable by the seismograph.

“The situation will get worse if uncontrolled mining continues in the same way,” said Amar.

Health and environmental problems are among issues that have arisen from the lack of supervision over large-scale sand and rock mining in Palu and Donggala, resulting in many irresponsible practices, at both the exploration and exploitation stage.

When mining business licenses were still under the authority of regents and mayors, local governments issued many mining permits. Yet, there has seemingly been an inadequate level of supervision from local authorities.

Head of the provincial energy and mineral resources office, Bambang Sunaryo, said that 34 licenses had been issued in Palu and an additional 55 in Donggala, most of which hadn’t been clear and clean.

Meanwhile, the Mining Advocacy Network of Central Sulawesi recorded only 24 licenses issued in Donggala.

“If the number turned out to be 55 in Donggala, the provincial administration might have issued new ones,” said Syahruddin Douw, the network’s director for Central Sulawesi

Syahruddin explained that his office’s data was based on Donggala’s mineral mining tax revenue of Rp14.063 billion (US$1.04 million) annually between 2014 and 2015.

Yet, Bambang Sunaryo denied such accusations, arguing that since the revocation of local authority over license issuance by Law No. 23/2014; his office had not issued any new mining business licenses.

“We’re now evaluating all the existing mining licenses,” Bambang said, adding that both license holders and local administrations were responsible for the many violations that had occurred.

Among others, some mining companies possessing only exploration permits have begun exploitation activities. As an excuse, they have reportedly said that the materials they are looking for are visible on the surface and therefore no further exploration is needed.

The provincial energy and mineral resources office plans to halt all mining activities with questionable licenses. Such action follows the Corruption Eradication Commission’s supervision program in 2014 on mining operation restructuring.

“If a company is unwilling to meet the relevant requirements, its license will be revoked,” Bambang pointed out.

Head of the provincial environment agency, Abdul Rahim, admitted that provisional study results had revealed many violation indicators, including environmental damage around mining areas in Palu and Donggala and respiratory complaints from residents.

— Photos by Ruslan Sangadji

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Indonesia: Efforts underway to restore Lake Limboto in Gorontalo

Otniel Tamindael Antara 6 Dec 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The central government is giving special attention to Gorontalo, currently the third conservation province in Indonesia after the provinces of West Papua and East Kalimantan.

Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya explained in Gorontalo on Monday that the conservation effort is intended to preserve and protect the environment, biodiversity and rare flora and fauna and to restore Lake Limboto.

The largest lake in Gorontalo is now in critical condition from an environmental standpoint because of silting, so efforts are being made to restore the lake to its former glory and prevent it from running dry.

Local wisdom in Gorontalo, according to the environment and forestry minister, must be revived as one of the necessary measures for restoring the condition of Lake Limboto.

Conservation efforts in the area, including restoring the condition of the lake, must consider other dimensions to the problem and solution, such as taking into account the values of the nobility in society.

The environment and forestry minister also highlighted the decline in the quality of water at Lake Limboto and promised to step up efforts to conserve and restore the lake.

Lake Limboto is one of the most popular tourist spots in Gorontalo, but it is being threatened by pollution and environmental problems, so prompt measures for preservation are underway.

Without these efforts, the lake, also a habitat for the flora and fauna in the province, will eventually completely dry out.

The locals have been called on to lend their complete support to the revitalization initiative, which is in their own interests and for their welfare.

The Regional Development Planning Board (Bappeda) has coordinated efforts to restore and revitalize Lake Limboto with the government of Gorontalo to synergize the various programs associated with the lakes preservation.

The coordination effort also involved the Department of Public Works of Gorontalo Province, the Lake Limboto Revitalization Team, and the Board of Watershed Management.

Gorontalo Regional Development and Natural Resources Head Sulastri Husain has said her party is currently familiarizing the locals with the revitalization process for Lake Limboto.

"Coordination with the Gorontalo city government is important because the revitalization and handling of Lake Limboto must be comprehensive and sustainable," she remarked in Gorontalo some time ago.

According to her, embankment construction work and the dredging of sediment in the lake will continue and needs the support of the local government, local people, and all relevant parties.

The local government should proactively provide clear information to the locals concerning the revitalization efforts, so that there is no confusion.

The revitalization of Lake Limboto will include recovery efforts upstream, midstream, and downstream, because the largest contribution of sediment occurs upstream.

Gorontalo Governor Rusli Habibie has also encouraged the locals to support the project by not hindering the construction of an embankment around the lake and a sluice gate to manage the flow of water into and out of the lake.

He also pointed out that the embankment and sluice gate will help prevent the floods that frequently plague Gorontalo during the rainy season.

The governor explained that continuous dredging was necessary as the depth of the lake had steadily decreased.

"The revitalization process is aimed at restoring the condition of the lake," he noted, adding that the central government, through the Public Works Ministry, had allocated funds worth Rp150 billion to restore the lake.

The funds were also used for sediment dredging and the construction of a sluice gate and dykes around Lake Limboto.

As part of the 15 inland water bodies in Indonesia that are in critical condition, Lake Limboto, the largest in Gorontalo province, should be returned to its original state.

Thus, Gorontalo Deputy Governor Idris Rahim stated that the provincial administration was ready to implement a forest integration program to save the lake.

"Lake Limboto is currently in a very alarming condition because of silting. Therefore, the forest integration program, involving the military (TNI) and police, aims to save the lake," Rahim remarked in Gorontalo some time ago.

He noted that efforts such as reforestation programs around the lake and along the banks of the tributaries that empty into the lake have been started to prevent silting.

According to him, the forest integration program to save Lake Limboto is a strategic effort as it is among the 15 lakes in critical condition in Indonesia that need to be preserved.

"Lake Limbotos preservation must involve the local communities that are concerned about the viability of the lake," he emphasized.

He pointed out that although the provincial administration has implemented several programs to save the lake, these had yet to yield optimal results.

"Therefore, involving the TNI and Polri in the forest integration program to save Lake Limboto is expected to prove effective," he added.

Even President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) is concerned about the current condition of Lake Limboto, as it was covered by water hyacinths, which make the lake shallower by the day.

Moved by the critical condition of Lake Limboto, the head of state had promised to speed up the dredging of sediments from the lake bed, a process that he estimated could cost nearly Rp11 trillion.

He also urged the public works minister to speed up the dredging process and construction work.

The local government is optimistic that the revitalization and preservation programs for the lake can be accelerated.

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Indonesia: 177 landslides since early this year

Antara 7 Dec 16;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - A total of 576 landslides have hit Indonesia since early this year, leaving 177 people dead and 100 others injured, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Board (BNPB).

"The threat of landslides continues to increase, along with heavy rainfall. The rains are expected to peak in January 2017 and more landslides may occur," Chief of the BNPB Information Center and Public Relations Service, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said here on Tuesday.

The landslides also forced 38,506 people to abandon their homes and caused major damage to 1,068 houses, moderate damage to 987 houses and minor damage to 926 houses.

The landslides also affected tens of public buildings, the board added.

The agency predicted that more landslides are expected to occur in the few days left in this year.

Landslides have been occurring with ever more frequency, compared to 291 in 2012, 296 in 2013, 600 in 2014, and 515 in 2015.

While 119 deaths were recorded in 2012, 190 in 2013, 372 in 2014 and 119 in 2015.

"The rising number of landslides in Indonesia is related to the high level of vulnerability," he noted.

A total of 274 districts and municipalities in Indonesia are prone to landslides.(*)

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