Best of our wild blogs: 27-28 May 15



Zero Waste Singapore – A Call to Action
Zero Waste Singapore

The celebration returns to Pulau Ubin
The Long and Winding Road

Band-bellied Crake – Singapore’s Very Public Rarity
Singapore Bird Group

Asian Glossy Starling caught a snail
Bird Ecology Study Group


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SPCA to roll out stray cat sterilisation programme

SYAFFANA SAZALI Today Online 26 May 15;

SINGAPORE — In a bid to further reduce the stray cat population in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) will from next Monday (June 1) offer free sterilisation and microchipping of stray cats living in HDB estates.

The programme will replace the SPCA’s existing sterilisation voucher scheme, which offers free sterilisation vouchers to the public and other animal welfare groups

Under the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme, first formally launched in 2011 by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), caregivers will have to register with the SPCA clinic to book an appointment for sterilisation and microchipping, or do so at a participating veterinary clinic, said the SPCA in a press release today. The costs will be funded by the SPCA and AVA equally.

Cats living outside of HDB neighbourhoods, such as those in industrial and private housing estates, or farms and outer fringe areas, can be sterilised for S$25 each.

On replacing the current voucher scheme, which started in 1991, Ms Corinne Fong, Executive Director of the SPCA, told TODAY that the organisation decided to streamline its sterilisation operations, instead of running two programmes. The SPCA has distributed more than 33,000 free sterilisation vouchers to the public and other animal welfare groups under the existing scheme, totalling S$1.2 million borne by the SPCA.

Ms Fong said the new programme would be more efficient because the SPCA would have direct communication with stray feeders, while the current scheme does not provide the SPCA with the feeders’ identity or information such as their contact numbers.

“The SPCA believes inworking closely with the relevant caregivers/feeders of the community cats, helping the caregivers/feeders to be more accountable and take greater ownership of the respective cats in their care,” she said. “By ‘tagging’ each community cat sterilised under the (new programme) to its respective caregiver/feeder, that cat can be better traced to the latter as and when there are issues to do with it, for example, when it has been reported in need of seeking treatment for its injury, we can alert the caregiver. In many cases, when cats are not microchipped and thus not tagged to a caregiver/feeder, we aren’t able to locate the person.”

The SPCA also said it would train its volunteers and mediators to work with community feeders to encourage sterilisation, responsible feeding and public education.

The organisation will continue to assist stray dog feeders with controlling and managing the stray dog numbers. Individual feeders and rescuers can arrange to sterilise and microchip the dogs at the SPCA clinic at a subsidised rate of S$25 each, said the SPCA.

SPCA joining scheme to sterilise stray cats
Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 28 May 15;

A national sterilisation programme to reduce the stray cat population in Singapore will have a new partner from next week - the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), it said yesterday.

With SPCA coming on board from Monday, caregivers of stray cats in HDB estates will have anotheroption if they choose to get their animal charges sterilised.

The sterilisation initiative was rolled out nationwide by the Cat Welfare Society and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) in May last year.

Under it, volunteers can take strays from HDB estates to selected veterinary clinics to get them sterilised and micro-chipped for free. The cost is borne equally between AVA and either the SPCA or Cat Welfare Society.

It typically costs between $30 and $60 to neuter a cat, and another $20 to microchip it.

The SPCA said the programme will make caregivers more accountable for the animals in their care, since each cat sterilised under the scheme will be given a microchip number tagged to its caregiver.

This will make it easier for SPCA to look for the caregiver under certain situations, such as if the cat has been injured and requires treatment, said SPCA executive director Corinne Fong.

She added that the programme will offer the animal welfare group the opportunity to work more closely with community cat feeders in their efforts to trap, neuter and release the animals.

Cat Welfare Society vice-president Veron Lau said the group sterilised 4,749 cats last year, although less than 20 per cent of the sterilisations were undertaken as part of the programme.

She said: "The number of stray cats in HDB estates has more or less stabilised."

SPCA to implement stray cat sterilisation programme on June 1
AsiaOne 26 May 15;

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) announced on Tuesday that it will implement the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme on June 1.

The programme, a new collaboration between SPCA and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), aims to further reduce the number of stray cats in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates.

It was first launched by the AVA and the Cat Welfare Society last year.

Under the stray cat sterilisation programme, a community cat can be sterilised and microchipped for free at a participating veterinary clinic. Community cat caregivers will have to register with the SPCA clinic to book appointments beforehand.

The costs of sterilisation and microchipping will be funded by the AVA and SPCA equally.

SPCA added that community cats living in places such as industrial and private housing estates, or farms and outer fringe areas, can be sterilised for a nominal sum of $25 each.

The SPCA will also train its volunteers and mediators to work with community feeders in the areas of encouraging sterilisation, responsible feeding and public education.

The stray cat sterilisation programme will replace SPCA's existing sterilisation voucher scheme which came into effect in 1991.
Under the scheme, the SPCA has distributed over 33,000 free sterilisation vouchers to the public and other animal welfare groups, which amounted to a total of $1.2 million borne by the SPCA.

For more information on the stray cat sterilisation programme, visit http://www.spca.org.sg/services_sterilisation.asp


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Clearing of Tanglin Halt ‘hangout’ upsets activists

NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 26 May 15;

SINGAPORE — The recent clearance of items from State land near Tanglin Halt by the authorities has upset some community activists, who have been trying to revive its use for farming and as a hangout spot.

The plot of land, about the size of a basketball court, is near to the vacated Block 76 and a disused carpark along Commonwealth Drive.

Ten to 20 years ago, the spot — marked by a bamboo grove — became a hangout for drivers of trucks and lorries as the carpark allowed for heavy-vehicle parking, according to residents and Mr Kwek Li Yong, president of civic group My Community. A Taoist shrine was later set up, complete with statues of deities and floor tiles, but the unauthorised shrine was relocated in 2011 by the Singapore Land Authority, together with the then-Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports, to the Taoist Federation in accordance with rituals, an SLA spokesperson said. The removal was necessary to prevent further unauthorised use of State land, the spokesperson added.

Last month, the SLA put up a notice alerting users of the land of unlawful trespass via the placing of chairs, tables, plants and other items there, and requested the removal of items by April 23. Some items were then removed but it is unclear who did it. An informal community group, which has set up a Facebook page called Tree Shrine Sessions at Tanglin Halt, then organised sessions to clear litter from the area and has been encouraging the nearby community to return to the space, said the group’s spokesman Joseph Nair, who lives at Stirling Road.

On Saturday (May 23), they found that the remaining items in the area, as well as the crown of the bamboo grove, had been removed by the authorities. “We were shocked at the brutality when they cut the tree. It was a small beautiful space, the small community that enjoyed the area shouldn’t need to abandon it just because SLA said so,” said Mr Nair.

When contacted, the SLA said it had put up advisories in the area since April 9 informing parties to remove the items by April 23. “As we did not receive any call or feedback then, we proceeded to clear the items on 22 May 2015 as there were potential mosquito breeding concerns from the rubbish and the discarded containers,” said the spokesperson.

Its latest notice put up last Thursday informs parties to remove cultivation in the area by June 4. “Cultivation of land should be done in designated areas in order not to cause disamenity to others,” the spokesperson said.

The SLA also said it received a request from one of the community activists, Ms Lucy Davis, on Saturday for the space to be regenerated as an informal hangout. It will be working with the area’s grassroots advisor, Dr Chia Shi-Lu, to look into Ms Davis’ feedback and “explore a suitable arrangement for the community to continue using the site”.

A Commonwealth Drive resident who only wanted to be known as Mr Tan, 72, told TODAY he has previously tried to grow sugarcane, papaya and banana on the land but found the plants chopped away a few months ago. Mr Tan, who passes the site frequently for walks along the Rail Corridor, would also take fruits to the area to feed squirrels. Asked about the removal of items and the crown of the bamboo grove, he felt it was a pity but acknowledged that the land belonged to the State. “We have no demands, we are just retirees and are not very sure about the rules,” he said.

The group, which has about five active members, want to help Mr Tan and his friend to seek permission for a community farm in the area. They were also planning to submit a proposal for the site, in response to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s recent call for creative ideas for forgotten public spaces. The group hopes for the bamboo grove to be allowed to regenerate, Mr Nair said.

Ms Davis said the Taoist shrine has come up often in interviews with shopkeepers in the community carried out by her students at the Nanyang Technological University, where she is an assistant professor. Such shrines are unique to the syncretic culture of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, she said.

She added that the active users of the bamboo grove have kept the place clean and tidy, and the litter come from people who use the adjacent pathway to get to their workplaces and those who picnic there on weekends.

However, My Community’s Mr Kwek, whose group has extensively documented the heritage of Queenstown, felt the site “may not be representative of the Tanglin Halt community”. Users of the site would burn incense or firewood and did not have a good relationship with residents, he said. “Nonetheless, community spaces are constantly altered or removed in fast-developing neighbourhoods like Tanglin Halt. The authorities should consider providing alternative space in other parts of the estate for these (heavy-vehicle) drivers and elderly residents to gather,” he said.

The area around the site will soon see further changes, with Blocks 74 to 80 to be torn down under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme. New homes will be built and demolition works are expected to start later this year, said the Housing and Development Board.

Tanglin Halt makeshift garden set to be cleared
Melody Zaccheus The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 May 15;

Residents said the overhang of a large bamboo tree that they often rest under, near Block 76, Commonwealth Drive, some sugarcane plants, as well as banana, papaya and mango trees that they cultivated, some in the 1990s, were severely pruned back last Friday by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

State Lands Encroachment advisories were placed across the site on April 9 and May 21, stating that it is "an offence to unlawfully trespass" on state land by depositing items including refuse there.

An SLA spokesman said an April 23 deadline for residents to remove their personal items, such as furniture, from the site came and went, so the authority proceeded last Friday to clear the items, which it said posed as potential mosquito breeding sites.

A second deadline, looming on June 4, requires them to remove personally cultivated plants from the site.

Retired car repairman Tan Nam Siong, 72, one of about five "regulars" who are there nearly every day, said he was sad to lose the hangout.

"We come here to get out of the house and have some fresh air. It is our idea of happy hour," he said in Mandarin.

Residents said the space started out as an informal rest stop for drivers of heavy-duty vehicles who parked at the open-space carpark next to the block. It also drew taxi drivers on a break.

Over time, a tree shrine housing several deities sprang up.

That block and six others around it have gradually been vacated since 2013 under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme.
Tanglin Halt as a whole will eventually be redeveloped under the scheme.

A group of five artists, including photographer Joseph Nair, 29, and visual artist Lucy Davis, 45, came together after the first notice was posted last month, in the hope of preventing the site's destruction.

They started a Facebook community page, Tree Shrine Sessions at Tanglin Halt, and made plans to clean up the site and propose it as an attraction and rest stop along the Rail Corridor, which runs close to it.

Ms Davis, who is a Tanglin Halt resident, said: "The garden is part of the area's heritage, culture and character and we were hoping to develop it into an inter-generational shared space, where the young can interact with the old."

The group has arranged to meet Dr Chia Shi-Lu, an MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, on June 4.

The SLA spokesman said the authority had received Ms Davis' request for the space to be "regenerated" into an informal hangout and will work with Dr Chia "to look into her feedback and to explore a suitable arrangement for the community to continue using the site".


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Singapore casino flamed on social media for dolphin encounter ‘animal prostitution’ promo

mUmBRELLA 26 May 15;

Resorts World Sentosa, the casino and entertainment resort owned by Malaysian gaming giant Genting, has come in for some harsh criticism on social media for an ad promoting captive dolphins as an attraction at its marine life park.

The Facebook ad promotes dolphin encounters from S$68 (US$50) and a competition to name a dolphin calf born in the casino’s aquarium.

Facebook users did not take kindly to the promotion, with many attacking the increasingly taboo practice of keeping dolphins in captivity for commercial gain.

Shuyun Tay wrote in the comment thread: “You can spend all the money in the world to buy ads for your disgusting exploitation program – the world has already started waking up to the atrocious cruelty that is dolphin captivity. Hopefully not too far in the near future, dolphin and whale captivity will be regarded as passe and taboo as circus rings of the past.”

One Facebook user commented: “This is nothing more than animal prostitution.”

Another posted: “RWS why don’t you put your senior management team in a cage and let strangers touch you all day long. Tell me if you like the feeling yeah.”

One user called on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to ban the ad from the site, while others posted links to articles that condemn the practice and the documentary The Cove, which uncovers the practice of dolphin slaughter in Japan. A segment from the comment thread reads:

RWS’ ad comes just a month after an animal rights group, the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society, launched a campaign to encourage Singaporeans to watch dolphins in the wild locally off the coast rather than in the casino aquarium.

ACRES has been looking for an agency to help it develop campaigns to promote dolphin-watching tours.

The charity is also looking to raise awareness of an opinion survey by Millward Brown released in January 2015, which found that seven per cent of Singaporeans agreed that “keeping wild-caught dolphins in captivity should be allowed.” Four of Resorts World Sentosa’s 27 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, captured from the Solomon Islands, have died since Dolphin Island opened.

RWS has defended the practice of holding and displaying the animals, citing their educational value. A video on the resort’s website promotes Dolphin Island as a child-friendly learning experience.


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Development works of Changi East site progressing well: Transport Ministry

Site surveys, soil investigations, and site clearance works have been completed and ground improvement works are currently being carried out, says the Transport Ministry.

Kimberly Spykerman Channel NewsAsia 27 May 15;

SINGAPORE: Land preparation works for the Changi East Development, including the future Changi Airport Terminal 5 and the three-runway system, are progressing well and have moved on to the next phase, said the Transport Ministry on Wednesday (May 27).

Site surveys, soil investigations, and site clearance works have been completed, and ground improvement works are being carried out to treat and strengthen soil at the site currently, it added.

The Changi East Development site is more than 1,000 hectares, but the total land area of ground which needs improvement works is 720 hectares - the equivalent of 667 football fields.

As the Changi East Development site is reclaimed land, the thick layers of soft marine clay cannot support airport infrastructure and aircraft load. Ground improvement works are thus necessary to increase soil strength so that the new taxiways, runways and apron do not crack or sink over time.

These ground improvement works will last for the next five to six years, while other works go on concurrently. For example, works to widen the existing Tanah Merah Coast Road, as well as to construct a new road between Tanah Merah Coast Road and Aviation Park Road, are ongoing.

This new road will replace the existing Changi Coast Road - which will be removed to create a contiguous airfield between the current airport and the new developments in Changi East.

Workers operating the horizontal silo at Changi East. (Photo: Elizabeth Goh)

Other major works like canal diversion as well as runway and taxiway pavement construction will commence progressively starting later this year. These will be carried out in more than 70 sub-phases across the site over the next five to six years.

The Transport Ministry said that while there are challenges, especially with works taking place so close to the airport, it is confident that daily operations will not be disrupted.

Said the Ministry's Director (Air Transport) and Superintending Officer of the Changi East land preparation works project, Mr Chua Kwan Ping: "This is difficult and challenging, it's not easy because the works are next to a very busy airport and operating military airbase. The contractor will need to adhere to very stringent aerodrome safety requirements."

The area is slated to be ready by the mid-2020s.

- CNA/xk

Work on track for Changi East development: MOT
KELLY NG Today Online 27 May 15;

SINGAPORE — Work is on track to prepare the land for the Changi East development, which includes a three-runway system and a new Terminal 5 for Changi Airport, the Ministry of Transport said today (May 27) at a briefing.

Site surveys, soil investigations and site clearance works have concluded, and work is being carried out to treat and strengthen the site, which sits on reclaimed land.

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Sprawling over 1,000 hectares, the site comprises thick layers of soft marine clay and sand which cannot support airport infrastructure and aircraft load. Ground improvement work, using techniques such as prefabricated vertical drains and deep cement mixing, are needed to increase soil strength. The treated soil will then take time to settle before new facilities such as runways and taxiways can be introduced.

Various parts of the site also need to be raised to mitigate the impact of a projected rise in sea level due to climate change.

Work to widen the Tanah Merah Coast Road and construct a new road between Tanah Merah Coast Road and Aviation Road are ongoing. The new road will replace the existing Changi Coast Road, which will be expunged to create an airfield between the airport and upcoming developments.

Other major work, such as canal diversion, runway and taxiway pavement construction, will commence later this year. The entire development of the site will take five to six more years.


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Malaysia: Pulau Redang turtles under siege from rats

FIRDAOUS FADZIL The Star 26 May 15;

KUALA TERENGGANU: The turtle population in Pulau Redang near here is being decimated by a colony of particularly hardy rats, which have so far managed to thwart multiple efforts to eradicate them.

The rats are threatening a long-term sea turtle conservation site at Chagar Hutang, Redang Island, said Dr Juanita Joseph, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu's (UMT) head of sea turtle research station there.

"The rats will eat baby turtles alive."

She said the rats had been their main enemy in their turtle conservation efforts over the past decade, and there is a pressing need for more substantial rat eradication measures.

"Besides eating the eggs, these rats will also eat baby turtles alive. The rats will wait for the baby turtle to emerge from the sand after hatching.

"They usually only eat the belly and head because the shell is too hard for them," she told reporters when met at UMT's Sultanah Nur Zahirah library auditorium, here on Tuesday.

She said the problem escalated in 1996 and she had been battling the threat on her own since then.

"Over the past few years, I have tried using many different kinds of trap to catch the mouse but kept failing," she said.

At her wit's end, Dr Juanita almost resorted to using rat poison.

"But I decided not to because it is dangerous for us humans too. Rats carry lethal viruses like Leptospirosis and we do not want them to die in the river near our research station, which is also our main water source," she said.

Now, Ensystex, an American pest control company, together with Insepro Sdn Bhd are working together as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) by installing automatic traps that humanely kill pest animals dubbed the Goodnature E2 Automatic humane rat and mouse trap.

Steve Broadbent, Ensystex regional director said the trap was friendly to the environment as it did not use any chemicals.

He said rats caught in the trap are killed instantly by a mechanism which delivers a blow to the rodent's head.

Broadbent said the trap resets itself after each kill.

"It also avoids killing non-target species," he added.

Dr Juanita explained that other rodents such as fire ants, ghost crabs and lizards were also threats to baby turtles.

"We are working hard to find ways to handle them but we are focusing on the rats first because they are the largest threat," she said.

She added that besides the turtles, electrical cables were also falling victim to the rats.

"I bought a US$300 (RM1,088) satellite cable from the United States which took months to arrive.

"The rats destroyed it only after a day," she said.


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Malaysia: ‘Ban this hazardous herbicide’

CHARLES CHIAM The Star 27 May 15;

GEORGE TOWN: Sri Lanka has banned the use of the herbicide glyphosate, and Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) wants Malaysia to follow suit.

CAP president S.M. Mohamed Idris decried the use of the chemical and called on the Malaysian Government to ban it.

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum, systemic herbicide commonly used as weedkiller in farms and plantations. CAP revealed that about 172 herbicide brands in Malaysia contain glyphosate.

Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena banned the chemical on Friday due to increased incidences of chronic kidney diseases associated with glyphosate.

Countries including the Netherlands, France, Brazil, Russia and Mexico have also banned the chemical.

Consumer groups in many countries have taken the cue and are calling for their governments to impose similar bans.

According to CAP, glyphosate can cause serious harm to human health, wildlife and environment.

Health hazards cited are infertility, birth defects and difficulties with purifying drinking water.

The Malaysia Palm Oil Board reported in 2010 that the total volume of glyphosate herbicides used in Malaysia was about 15 million litres a year.

Mohamed Idris praised Sri Lanka’s decision to deny requests by suppliers to sell off remaining stock, saying such actions were firm and necessary.

When asked for alternatives to glyphosate, Mohamed Idris said it was for the Government and the farmers to find substitutes.

“All chemicals are dangerous. People should get out of modern chemical-based agriculture and return to traditional methods,” Mohamed Idris said.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) recently reported that glyphosate is classified as “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

The classification is based on limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.


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Indonesian Navy surveys coral reefs off East Java

The Jakarta Post 27 May 15;

The Indonesian Navy is conducting a survey of the coral reefs off Sine Beach in Tulungagung regency, East Java, team coordinator Maj. Mohammad Asad says.

The team has conducted diving operations down to a depth of 500 meters below sea level to study the various types of coral reefs.

"In addition to identifying the coral reefs, we are also mapping out the areas for coral reef conservation in the southern part of the Tulungagung coastal area," Asad said as quoted by Antara news agency.

According to Asad, the survey will be progressively conducted in the offshore areas of Sine Beach, which covers an area of approximately seven hectares.

He remarked that the Naval personnel will undertake a coral reef conservation program by involving the participation of the local community in mid-August 2015.

Aside from the Naval personnel, the cultivation of coral reefs will also involve environmental activists, tourism offices, students, non-governmental organizations, fishermen and the coastal communities.

"Indonesia's coral reefs are part of the world's coral triangle along with Philippines, Malaysia, Timor Leste, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. It's our duty to preserve the coral reefs," Asad pointed out.

According to the Indonesian Science Institution (LIPI), of the 85,200 square kilometers of coral reefs in Indonesia's maritime territory, approximately 31 percent are in a severely damaged state. (hhr)(++++)

- See more at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/05/27/indonesian-navy-surveys-coral-reefs-east-java.html#sthash.vFBpMDVP.dpuf


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139 bizarre and beautiful new species discovered in Greater Mekong region

WWF 26 May 15;

Bangkok –A bat with nightmarish fangs, a stealthy wolf snake, a ‘dementor’ wasp and the world’s second longest insect are among the 139 new species discovered by scientists in Southeast Asia’s Greater Mekong region in 2014. Many are already at risk, according to a new report by WWF.

In total, 90 plants, 23 reptiles, 16 amphibians, nine fish, and one mammal are detailed in the report, Magical Mekong. They include a feathered coral whose nearest relatives live in Africa, four moths named after Thai princesses and a colour-changing thorny frog.

This brings the total new species discovered in the Greater Mekong, which includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, to 2,216 between 1997 and 2014 – an average of three new species a week.

“The Greater Mekong’s unique ecosystems are truly the gift that keeps on giving, providing sanctuary for a treasure trove of species and critical benefits for millions of people across the region,” said Teak Seng, Conservation Director for WWF-Greater Mekong.

Thailand’s Ampulex dementor wasp was named by popular vote after characters from the Harry Potter books. The wasp’s venom paralyses prey before it devours them alive.

The world’s second largest insect, a stick insect that measures 54 cm, was found less than one kilometre away from a village in northern Vietnam. A stealthy wolf snake with a distinctive “flying bat” pattern that helps it to blend in with the tree bark and mosses that characterise its home in Cambodia was also discovered.

Equally fearsome, the long-toothed pipistrelle bat has extremely long fangs. But this bat has more reason to fear humans, as its habitat in Laos could be lost due to dam construction and quarrying.

“As Magical Mekong reveals, the scientists behind these discoveries feel they are racing against the clock to document them and strongly advocate for their protection before they disappear,” said Seng.

A crocodile newt species in Myanmar may also be in trouble as its core breeding habitat is threatened by a construction project. It is already in demand from the international pet trade, with two of the newts found in some Asian pet stores. Two new orchid species were also found being traded in Bangkok.

“We’ve only skimmed the surface of new discoveries in the Greater Mekong,” said Carlos Drews, WWF Director Global Species Programme. “However, while species are being discovered intense pressures are taking a terrible toll on the region’s species. One wonders how many species have disappeared before they were even discovered.”

Such pressures include a proposed new border crossing and road in Cambodia’s Mondulkiri Protected Forest; two unsustainable dams in Laos; rising deforestation rates and continued illegal poaching.

A commitment to protecting key wildlife habitat is also crucial, with countries cooperating across borders to make sustainable decisions on issues such as where to construct large infrastructure, like roads and dams.

“Seeing these incredible new species discoveries – from a color-changing thorny frog to the historic 10,000th reptile species -- gives me hope for the future of the Greater Mekong,” Drews added. “Whether it’s conducting critical field research or training forest guards, WWF and its partners are working to ensure that these species – and those yet to be discovered -- are protected for generations.”


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Potential of seagrass to combating climate change

University of York ScienceDaily 26 May 15;

Seagrass ecosystems could play a key role in combating climate change, researchers have discovered. The marine flowering plant also helps sustain abundant sea life and protects shorelines around the world from coastal erosion. Yet with seagrass habitats suffering rapid global decline and despite the plant's huge potential; there are currently no functioning seagrass restoration or conservation projects. Due to their shallow coastal habitat the aquatic plant is particularly prone to human disturbance - globally 24 per cent of seagrass species are now classified as threatened or near threatened.

Seagrass ecosystems could play a key role in combating climate change, researchers at the University of York have discovered.

The marine flowering plant also helps sustain abundant sea life and protects shorelines around the world from coastal erosion.

Yet with seagrass habitats suffering rapid global decline and despite the plant's huge potential; there are currently no functioning seagrass restoration or conservation projects.

Due to their shallow coastal habitat the aquatic plant is particularly prone to human disturbance -- globally 24 per cent of seagrass species are now classified as threatened or near threatened.

Researchers at the University's Environment Department say the neglect of seagrass ecosystems represents "both a serious oversight and a major missed opportunity."

Lead author PhD student Adam Hejnowicz said: "Seagrass meadows could play a vital role in combating climate change as they are regarded as a net global sink for carbon.They have the capacity to bury significant deposits of organic carbon beneath the sediment, up to many metres thick in places and over millenary time scales."

However, realizing the "true" potential of seagrass meadows requires international cooperation, he said. The research is published in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Seagrass meadows are able to store large amounts of carbon but historically they have been virtually ignored in global carbon budgets.

The prospects for developing a pure carbon credit scheme remain slim, especially if targeted at the regulatory carbon market, the researchers argue. However, opportunities exist for voluntary carbon market schemes.

Adam Hejnowicz added: "The main problem is that seagrasses are still not properly and adequately accounted for in formal carbon climate policies.

"We advocate complementing any carbon-based management approaches with other incentive schemes such as payment for ecosystem service programmes."

He stressed that seagrass ecosystems also play a critical role in protecting coastlines from damaging waves.

He added: "The mixed seagrass meadows of tropical waters provide a home for abundant and biodiverse marine communities, acting as fish nurseries and important ecosystems for charismatic and globally threatened species such as turtles and dugongs."

Journal Reference:

Adam P. Hejnowicz, Hilary Kennedy, Mark R. Huxham and Murray A. Rudd. Harnessing the climate mitigation, conservation and poverty alleviation potential of seagrasses: prospects for developing blue carbon initiatives and payment for ecosystem service programmes. Frontiers in Marine Science, 2015 DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2015.00032


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SE Asia must help farmers adapt in face of mounting disasters: Oxfam

Alisa Tang PlanetArk 27 May 15;

Southeast Asian governments must help farmers find better ways to grow food in the face of worsening droughts, storms and sea level rise that are threatening the region's agricultural output and pushing people into poverty, Oxfam said on Tuesday.

As the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) integrate into a single economic market - allowing for freer flow of goods, labor and capital - they must help farmers adapt to climate change and practice sustainable agriculture, which will boost incomes and ensure food security, Oxfam said.

"By scaling up sustainable agriculture practices across the region, ASEAN can help feed its peoples and prop up the livelihoods of small-scale food producers - and help curb greenhouse gas emissions," Oxfam said in a policy paper.

In 2010, agriculture accounted for about a third of the GDP in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, and employed more than 60 percent of the labor force in Cambodia, half in Vietnam, and more than a third in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, the organization said.

Citing studies, Oxfam noted that rainfall in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam has been below average since 2009, resulting in droughts, lower yields and more pest and disease infestations.

Meanwhile, monster Typhoon Haiyan decimated vast swathes of coconut farms in the Philippines, and saltwater intrusion from rising seawater is threatening rice production in Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

A study by the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute found that a 1 percent rise in minimum temperature during the growing season can result in a 10 percent drop in rice yields.

System of rice intensification - an approach that focuses on management of plants, soils, water and nutrients to optimize harvests without harming the environment - is gaining ground in many countries and should be expanded, Oxfam said.

"ASEAN can help small-scale farmers and fisherfolk become resilient to climate change by reproducing sustainable agriculture practices across the region, on a wider scale," Riza Bernabe, policy coordinator of Oxfam's Grow campaign in Asia, said in a statement.

Oxfam recommended setting up a regional hub to track climate change impacts on agriculture and effective climate adaptation and mitigation practices. It also called for setting up a fund to support programs on sustainable agriculture.

(Editing by Laurie Goering)


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Governments certain to seal Paris climate deal: U.N. climate chief

Susanna Twidale PlanetArk 27 May 15;

Governments are certain to sign a global climate deal in Paris in six months' time even though most countries have yet to outline how they plan to cut emissions, the United Nations' climate chief said on Tuesday.

Almost 200 governments are due to meet at a conference in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 to agree on a deal to slow global warming.

"Governments are actually very well on track...there is no doubt that this agreement will be forged in Paris," Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. climate change secretariat, said in an interview at a carbon market event in Barcelona.

Figureres' comments come just a week after French President Francois Hollande said he was worried about a lack of progress towards a climate deal in the French capital.

So far, just 37 of 196 U.N. member states have submitted plans to the United Nations, outlining their actions to slow global warming beyond 2020.

The plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in U.N. jargon, are meant to be the building blocks for a deal in Paris.

"We expect many more critical ones to come in over the next few weeks and months and then we expect another large crop of INDCs to be coming in the third quarter (ahead of Paris)," Figureres said.

A draft negotiating text to work towards the Paris deal was agreed in February but Figueres said negotiators would, at the U.N. climate meeting starting next week in Bonn, trim down the 86-page document to a more manageable size.

"We will first look through the duplications and how can the ideas and the solutions in the text be crystallized expect a much more manageable product to emerge at the end of June," she said.

The United Nations was confident of a deal up to the last moment in 2009, when a summit in Copenhagen collapsed because of objections from a handful of countries that rich nations were failing to promise deep cuts in emissions.

(Editing by Nina Chestney and Susan Thomas)


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