Best of our wild blogs: 10 Dec 17

10 Dec (Sun): Registration opens for St John's Islands walk on 7 Jan 2018 (Sun)
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

Short Morning Walk At Lower Peirce Reservoir (09 Dec 2017)
Beetles@SG BLOG

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Malaysia: Semporna leads the way in coral reef protection

AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 9 Dec 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Semporna is leading the way in adopting the Coral Bleaching Early Response Plan to protect its rich coral reef ecosystem.

Semporna district officer Dr Chacho Bulah recently launched the plan during the six-day Semporna Marine Eco Week 2017, which ended on Dec 2.

The plan aims to monitor coral bleaching and promote recovery. Assessment will be carried out
by Sabah Parks, Reef Check Malaysia, Scuba Junkie SEAS, Reef Dive Resort, Pom-Pom Island Resort, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Malaysia.

Chacho said to sustain Semporna’s tourism industry, the district’s coral ecosystem must be healthy and resilient to face climate change.

“Most foreigners I have spoken to only know Sipadan as one of the top five diving destinations in the world.

“As the gateway to Sipadan, Semporna has not been recognised as a centre of marine biodiversity in the Coral Triangle region.”

He said there was a need for strong commitment and cooperation between government agencies, tourism players, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local communities to conserve marine life and coral reefs.

“I am pleased to announce that Semporna is the first district in Sabah to launch a Coral Bleaching Early Response Plan,” he said, adding that the Semporna Priority Conservation Area had the largest coral reef coverage in Malaysia.

The conservation area, which is in the Coral Triangle, is the centre of marine biodiversity and provides ecosystem services to people in, and beyond the area.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) reef ecologist Dr Zarinah Waheed said coral reefs were areas of high biodiversity, providing food and habitat to marine life.

“It protects shorelines from storms and wave surges. A healthy coral reef encourages tourism. It brings income to locals and has pharmaceutical potential.

“However, coral reefs worldwide are at risk from the impacts of climate change, an emerging threat to coral reef ecosystems. This change in climate can have detrimental effects on coral reefs, such as bleaching.”

In recognising the urgency to address climate change, WWF Malaysia organised the Semporna Marine Eco Week to empower players from different industries to take action to combat climate change together.

WWF Malaysia’s Marine Programme people and marine biodiversity manager Monique Sumampouw said increased sea temperatures led to higher coral reef mortality.

She said based on WWF Malaysia’s preliminary study between 2015 and last year, there was an average rise of 0.5°C in Semporna’s waters.

“Semporna’s Coral Bleaching Early Response Plan aims to strengthen the resilience of the coral reefs and sustain the future of Semporna’s tourism and marine resources.”

The Semporna Marine Eco Week was organised by Sabah Parks, UMS, Reef Check Malaysia, Scuba Junkie SEAS, Seaventures Dive Rig, Green Semporna and Semporna Community College.

The programme aimed to improve awareness about climate change, coral bleaching and the importance of marine conservation among dive operators, local communities and NGOs.

WWF Malaysia on mission to save coral reefs
stephen then The Star 9 Dec 17;

MIRI: WWF Malaysia has started an urgent project to save the coral reefs off the coastal shores of northern Borneo Island from the increasing risks of coral bleaching.

The environmental body found that pollution and climatic change are causing serious coral bleaching offshore Borneo and other states.

As such, WWF Malaysia is deploying volunteers to check on the health of coral reefs offshore Sabah and Sarawak.

WWF Malaysia Marine Diversity project manager Monique Sumampouw said yesterday that the first team of volunteers had gone to offshore Semporna to check on the corals on the seabed there that were experiencing bleaching.

“For example, here in northern Borneo waters, there is an urgent need to activate an early response plan to tackle these bleaching in the coral reefs on the seabed as these areas are important marine parks.

“Bleaching of coral reefs caused by climate changes and sea pollution as well as human activities, if left unchecked, will cause serious decline in population of marine animals.

She added that WWF Malaysia wanted to work with coastal and island resort operators, marine park officials, diving operators and tour agencies to tackle this issue.

“Coral reefs are very sensitive to environmental impact,” she said in an email to The Star.

She stressed that early measures could be taken to rescue corals affected by bleaching.

She explained that natives living on the coasts, fishermen and even tourists must be educated on the need to be cautious when carrying out activities in waters where coral reefs were found.

WWF Malaysia through its Reef Check Malaysia Unit is enlisting the help of the state marine authorities to help out in the effort to save the coral reefs in the respective states, she added.

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Blue Planet II: What you can do to help save our oceans

From eating sustainably caught fish to cutting out single-use plastics, there is plenty we can do to look after ‘Our Blue Planet’
Josh Gabbatiss The Independent 9 Dec 17;

As Blue Planet II draws to a close, it has once again left viewers in awe of the marine world.

The final episode of the series – “Our Blue Planet” – focuses on the terrible impact that human society is having on the world’s oceans, from coral bleaching to albatrosses feeding their chicks plastic.

But it also has a message of hope. Though many of the environmental problems seem insurmountable, we as individuals can take action to help save our blue planet.

“Blue Planet brought the marvels of the oceans to people’s living rooms. But it also showed clearly the risks which threaten them,” said Dr Lyndsey Dodds, head of marine policy at WWF.

Perhaps the issue that has touched viewers most is ocean plastic pollution, which is accumulating in vast quantities and being eaten by animals.

This is an issue where people can take action and make a difference, according to Dr Dodds.

In terms of lifestyle, the most obvious changes are avoiding single-use plastics and ensuring we recycle effectively.

At the other end of the scale, Dr Dodds emphasised the importance of lobbying the Government and businesses.

This includes supporting the planned bottle deposit return scheme, and a possible tax on single-use plastic.

Last year, a 40 per cent drop in plastic bags found on beaches was linked to the 5p charge on bags in supermarkets, suggesting this kind of action has real-world positive outcomes.

“Obviously it’s the Treasury that will make the decision on [the plastic tax] but the more the public can get behind things like that, the more acceptable they will be,” she said.

Such a tax was floated by Chancellor Philip Hammond in his recent Budget speech, in which he also alluded to the impact of Blue Planet II and announced he wanted the UK to become “a world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic”.

“I think that was probably about the most positively received thing in the Budget, so I think they recognise it is capturing the public interest,” said Dr Dodds.

Another key way in which people can change how they impact marine ecosystems is through their dietary choices.

“We are not powerless,” said Toby Middleton, UK programme director at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). “We can all play our part by choosing to eat sustainably caught seafood.”

“We are really trying to get supermarkets and restaurants not to sell fish that we consider to be unsustainable, so people can make choices about the seafood they choose to eat, if they choose to eat it at all” agreed Richard Harrington, a marine biologist and head of communications at the Marine Conservation Society.

MSC provide labels to seafood products that they have verified as coming from sustainable fisheries.

“You don’t need to be a marine biologist to choose sustainable fish,” said Mr Middleton.

“Looking for the MSC label when you’re shopping or eating out gives you the assurance that where your fish comes from has been independently certified as sustainable and is fully traceable,” he said.

The threats to marine ecosystems are multifarious, and one of the best ways to shield them from harm is to establish official marine protected areas.

Human activities such as fishing and extraction of natural resources are restricted in these areas, allowing life there to flourish and even spill out into surrounding, non-protected regions.

“The UK has a wonderful array of marine life, and there aren’t all that many places where sea bed habitats and fisheries are well protected,” said Mr Harrington.

Environmentalists in the UK have pushed for the extension of the “Blue Belt”, a network of marine protected areas that will maximise the protection given to the nation’s marine ecosystems.

“There has been a process to get marine protected areas around our shores, which is quite definitely being slowed down by other government matters such as Brexit,” said Mr Harrington.

Again, the more the public understands and cares about these issues the more they will move up the political agenda.

Issues like climate change and ocean acidification seem so enormous that it’s difficult to see how we can have any real impact.

But the message coming from environmental groups and experts is the same as that espoused in Blue Planet II.

“Businesses and governments need to act, but so do all of us,” said Dr Dodds.

“The blue planet is something we can all enjoy, but we need to act now to make sure that some of the incredible wildlife seen in the show doesn’t become history.”

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Mozzies pose unexpected challenges to Singapore’s Wolbachia project

SIAU MING EN Today Online 9 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE – A larger trial of Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes will be delayed, after a recent field study at three sites threw up unexpected challenges in the form of mosquito movements.

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes from surrounding areas moved easily into the three sites – Braddell Heights, Tampines West and Nee Soon East – where their laboratory-modified male counterparts had been released. This hampered the latter’s ability to suppress the Aedes aegypti population at the release sites, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Friday (Dec 8).

A second challenge was the insufficient numbers of male Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes that reached higher floors of some housing blocks. This hampered suppression at high-rise blocks that had more Aedes aegypti mosquitoes at the higher floors.

Wolbachia is a naturally occurring bacterium found in more than 60 per cent of insect species, but not the Aedes aegypti mosquito – which spreads dreaded diseases like dengue and chikungunya.

When male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that have been infected with Wolbachia are released and mate with females, the eggs do not hatch.

In addition to longstanding measures such as the destruction of breeding sites, this is a potential way to keep the mosquito population at a level where dengue transmission cannot be sustained.

The field study involving Braddell Heights, Tampines West and Nee Soon East began in October and November last year and lasted for about six months.

A larger suppression trial was to have started this year, but no date has now been set, after an expert panel advised the NEA to conduct further field studies.

A second field study will start in the second quarter of next year, with details on its scope and locations to be announced later, said the NEA.

Chairman of the Dengue Expert Advisory Panel, Professor Duane Gubler of Duke-NUS Medical School, said NEA would need to understand if there are potential barriers – such as roads, expressways and parks – that can stop the Aedes mosquitoes from entering the test sites.

“NEA’s Phase One field study has garnered valuable data, but it is important that further field studies be conducted to address the unique challenges that were surfaced during the study so that future application of this exciting technology can proceed more effectively,” he said.

The field study found that half the Aedes mosquito eggs collected from the release sites did not hatch. This means the Wolbachia-carrying male mosquitoes successfully mated with some Aedes aegypti females. But a larger reduction of hatched eggs and the adult population will be needed to suppress the Aedes population, said NEA.

The authorities also found that small releases of female Wolbachia-Aedes – which inadvertently slipped through during the sorting process - could see them taking over and becoming the dominant mosquito strain here. This would hamper the effort to use male Wolbachia-Aedes to suppress the population.

Improvements to existing sorting methods need to be explored, said NEA.

Careful and thorough studies have to be conducted over “several years” to ensure the technology is applied in the most effective way in Singapore’s unique urban landscape, NEA added.

Wolbachia-carrying mosquito study reports 50% suppression rate, phase 2 to start next year: NEA
Channel NewsAsia 8 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE: The first phase of a study on mosquitoes carrying the Wolbachia bacteria has been completed, with the successful suppression of 50 per cent of the targeted Aedes aegypti population, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Friday (Dec 8).

Since October 2016, male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been released on a regular basis at three selected sites at Braddell Heights, Nee Soon East and Tampines West. This is to understand their behaviour and ecology, and see if they can suppress the population of urban Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

Since only female Aedes mosquitoes spread dengue by biting humans, if a male carrier of the Wolbachia bacterium mates with an uninfected female mosquito, the resulting eggs will not hatch.

NEA hopes that by releasing sufficient numbers of Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti males, they can compete successfully against wild males and eventually drive down mosquito numbers as the population fails to reproduce.

Over time, this could also reduce the potential spread of dengue. NEA expects that the method could also help prevent the transmission of other mosquito-transmitted diseases such as Chikungunya and Zika.

Phase 1 of the study has met its objectives and a second recommended phase will commence in the second quarter of next year, NEA said.

The study reported that much fewer Aedes aegypti adult mosquitoes were found at sites where the male Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes were released, implying that the method is effective.

At the same time, half of the collected Aedes mosquito eggs did not hatch at the released sites, which provided strong indication that the released Wolbachia-Aedes males had successfully competed with the urban Aedes males and mated with some of the urban Aedes aegypti females.


The field study also revealed two ecological challenges that are unique to Singapore’s high-density and high-rise urban landscape, and should be addressed to increase the impact of the suppression, the NEA said.

Firstly, the report noted how Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were able to move easily from surrounding areas into the release sites, thus reducing the suppression effect of Wolbachia-Aedes.

Secondly, it was noted that there is a high density of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes on higher floors, where not enough Wolbachia-Aedes mosquitoes can reach.

Data collected on how high and far the male Wolbachia-carrying Aedes aegypti (Wolbachia-Aedes) mosquitoes can fly, how long they live and their mating competitiveness in actual field conditions, will contribute to future field studies.

The Wolbachia technology, if proven effective, will further strengthen our capabilities to tackle dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases, the agency added.

"This is especially crucial as higher global temperatures resulting from climate change can have an impact on the spread of mosquito-borne diseases and public health," NEA said.
Source: CNA/kc

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Malaysia: Less than 350 tigers left in Malaysian jungle, WWF raises alarm

Kelly Koh New Straits Times 8 Dec 17;

MELAKA: World Wildlife Fund Malaysia (WWF-Malaysia) has raised concerns over the dwindling population of Malayan Tigers in the wild, saying that there is a need to protect the endangered big cat from extinction.

Its executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma said concerted effort from all parties were important in ensuring the survival of the species, which is also the national symbol of Malaysia.

"In the 1950's, there were an estimated 3,000 Malayan Tigers. In 1990, statistics by Perhilitan (Department of Wildlife and National Parks) showed there were 500 tigers left.

"Now, the latest figure is between 250 and 340 tigers," he told a press conference at the Sixth International Eco-Schools Conference attended by 71 students from Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore here today.

Present were Department of Environment deputy director-general (Development) Ismail Ithnin and WWF-Malaysia Markets and Education heads Thiaga Nadeson.

Dionysius made the stern call to members of the public to play their role in preserving the tiger, which has been classified as 'Critically Endangered'.

"Under the 11th National Plan, the government has allocated RM18 million to the Wildlife Department to conduct a survey to count tiger's population using chemo trackers.

"Although the data will only be released after a year or a year and a half later, we are concerned that the places where the tigers are spotted seems to be going down.

"This is one species that we cant afford to lose," he said.

"If we just sit down and do nothing, extinction will happen. All Malaysians, other than NGOs and the government must speak up so that all of us can work together to prevent the tigers from going extinct," he said.

Malayan tigers, scientifically known as 'Panthera tigris jacksoni', are found only in Peninsular Malaysia and in the southern tip of Thailand.

Dionysius also conveyed his concern over the extinction of leatherback sea turtles and the 'critically-endangered' Sumatran rhinos.

He said Sumatran rhinos, also the smallest of the living rhinoceroses were no longer found in Sarawak in the 1930's and the species is also no longer sighted anywhere in the Peninsular or Sabah.

"We are concerned as we have not been seeing these animals for the last few decades, although in real terms, we can only declare the animals as extinct if they are not sighted for 50 years.

"Currently, we only have two Sumatran rhinos in captivity," he said.

He added that the leatherback sea turtles, which are currently under the 'Vulnerable' status, were also no longer seen laying eggs at the Malaysian shores.

"We used to be one of the seven nesting places in the whole world where leatherback turtles will come to lay their eggs but over the last seven years or so, there has been no more leatherback turtles landing on our beaches to lay eggs.

"Although they still lay eggs in other parts of the world, but we do not have the nesting population in Malaysia anymore, and this is a concern," he said.

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Malaysia: Fish bombing endangers divers

OLIVIA MIWIL New Straits Times 8 Dec 17;

KUDAT: A number of divers were almost injured by fish bombing near Tanjung Simpang Mengayau here recently.

A seasoned diver, who wants to be known as Lee, said there had been several bombing incidences in Kudat waters while he was diving.

“Recently, while we were diving near Simpang Tanjung Mengayau, the fish bombing was so close to us that (the blast) seemed to cause the tank to explode.

“Not only my ears were painful but also my chest was feeling very uncomfortable,” he said, adding that his eardrums were likely damaged because of the incident.

He added that those engaged in fish bombing usually avoided people at sea. There are 10 dive sites in Kudat waters.

Tourism here has recently flourished with activities such as diving, surfing, paragliding and homestay for visitors.

The Sabah Tourism Board recently hosted the inaugural Music and Surf Fest here which saw hundreds of visitors from places such as Bali, Brunei and Finland.

District officer Sapdin Ibrahim said fish bombing had been plaguing Kudat for a long time.

“There have been many complaints of fish bombing, which not only endangers people’s lives, including the perpetrators, but also harms the marine ecosystem.

“Due to the huge marine park of 8,000 sq km, it is difficult to monitor and catch the culprits despite many joint operations by several agencies,” he said, adding that the fish bombers could lurk anywhere and anytime.

However, since last year’s gazettement of Tun Mustapha Marine Park, which covers Kudat, Pitas and Kota Marudu, the incidences of fish bombing have gone down.

He said besides conducting operations, there had been awareness programme on the dangers of fish blasting and their effects on the marine ecosystem.

The Sabah Fisheries Department echoed Sapdin’s statement on the improved situation in Kudat.

“In the 1990s, there were many cases brought to court but it is fewer now.

“For the past two years, there were three cases where we confiscated 285kg of fishes,” said Fisheries Department deputy director (Legal and Enforcement) Md Yusof Abdullah, adding that the offence fell under the Fisheries Act 1985.

Since last year, the department had conducted 70 operations both at sea and at the market in Kudat.

He added that the department faced several constraints in tackling fish bombing.

Besides having no base in Kudat, there was also a staff shortage with only three enforcement personnel.

“Our small boat cannot go far, thus limiting our area of operation.

“However, the department has been conducting joint operations with agencies such as the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency and the marine police who have bigger assets.”

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Malaysia: Borneo pygmy elephant dies due to dehydration after being shot

The Star 8 Dec 17;

KOTA KINABALU: An endangered Borneo pgymy elephant has died from dehydration triggered by gunshot wounds.
Veterinarians and wildlife rangers could only watch helplessly as the gentle jumbo died due to injuries on his tongue and mouth.

"It could not eat or drink as we tried to provide treatment at the Borneo Wildlife Sanctuary," said Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga in a statement late Friday (Dec 8).

He said the seven-year-old bull elephant died on Dec 6, more than a week after it was rescued from the Desa Plantation near Telupid, some 210km from here.

He said villagers said the elephant was charging at people that were in its path.

"It was then captured on Nov 24 for relocation," he said.

Tuuga said the elephant was then taken to the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary for treatment.

While undergoing medical examination and treatment, its tongue was found to have serious wounds, believed to have been caused by gunshots.

"We are not sure whether this elephant was shot by poachers or villagers," Tuuga said.

A post-mortem found a bullet lodged in the elephant's front left leg, as well as other signs of gunshots on the body.

"However, the wounds on the body were only external," Tuuga said.

He urged villagers and estate owners as well as workers to inform wildlife rangers if they come across elephants on their land instead of handling the matter on their own.

Bornean pygmy elephant dies while undergoing treatment at Sabah sanctuary
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 8 Dec 17;

KOTA KINABALU: A male Bornean Pygmy elephant died while undergoing treatment at the Borneo Wildlife Sanctuary in Kinabatangan, two days ago.

The elephant, aged between six and seven, was found dead in the morning by veterinary officers of the Sabah Wildlife Department.

Department director Augustine Tuuga, in a statement, said a post-mortem examination was conducted on the same day to establish the cause of death.

"During the examination, a bullet slug was found lodged in its injured front left leg.

"There were also sign of gunshots on the body but they did not penetrate or cause any internal organ injury.

A bullet slug was found lodged in the elephant’s front leg. Pic courtesy of Sabah Wildlife Department.
"The cause of death is believed to be due to dehydration as the elephant was unable to drink due to an injury on its tongue," he said.

The department's rescue unit had on Nov 24 captured the elephant, which is listed as a totally protected species, in Desa Plantation, Ladang Pertama for relocation and treatment.

It showed sign of injury on its left front leg and was aggressive towards estate workers and villagers.

Its appearance at Desa Plantation was first reported on Nov 5.

Tuuga said wildlife personnel were sent to manage the situation because the elephant was reportedly charging estate workers who came across its path.

The same elephant was also reported to have caused panic among nearby villages and estates in Telupid for its aggressive behaviour.

"After tracking the elephant for sometime, wildlife personnel finally encountered the elephant at Desa Plantation Nov 24 and successfully captured it.

"The elephant was then taken to the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary for treatment.

"While undergoing medical examination and treatment, its tongue was found to have a serious wound which was believed to have been caused by a gunshot.

"The wound on the tongue left the elephant unable to eat or drink," explained Tuuga.

While the department fully understood the problem faced by residents who encounter the elephant, Tuuga called on people to alert the authorities.

"We will investigate the case further as it involves the death of a totally-protected species," he said.

This is the second incident involving the death of Bornean pygmy elephants this week.

On Tuesday, a bull elephant was found dead with three gunshot wounds, within the Cenderamata Plantation Estate in Tawau. Its tusks were intact.

Last month, another male elephant with its tusks intact was also shot dead within the same plantation.

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Pacific's Palau forces tourists to sign eco-pledge

Channel NewsAsia 8 Dec 17;

KOROR, Palau: Visitors to the tiny Pacific nation of Palau are being made to sign a promise to respect the environment, in an innovative move that authorities hope will curb ecological damage caused by booming numbers of tourists.

Claimed to be a world first, the "Palau Pledge" is stamped onto visitors' passports and must be signed upon arrival in the country, which lies in the western Pacific about halfway between Australia and Japan.

"I take this pledge as your guest, to protect and preserve your beautiful island home," it reads in part.

"I vow to tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully."

With crystal clear waters, pristine reefs and abundant sea life, Palau is regarded as one of the world's best diving spots and was once a niche tourist destination.

But visitor numbers have exploded in recent years, particularly from China, straining both infrastructure and the environment.

The symbolic pledge was written with the help of Palau's children and President Tommy Remengesau said it was about preserving the environment for future generations.

"Conservation is at the heart of our culture," he said.

"We rely on our environment to survive and if our beautiful country is lost to environmental degradation, we will be the last generation to enjoy both its beauty and life-sustaining biodiversity."

Palau welcomed almost 150,000 tourists last year, up 70 percent on 2010 figures and the nation of 20,000 has struggled to cope.

Some of the new arrivals have caused outrage among locals by capturing turtles so they can take selfies with them, walking on fragile coral and leaving trash on beaches.

"The Palau Pledge aims to encourage environmentally sound habits in visitors," the government said in a statement.

"If action is not taken now, it will get to the point where it is too late to protect some of the most unique parts of the country."
Source: AFP

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Vietnam’s protected forest dwindling

VietNamNet Bridge 8 Dec 17;

Despite positive reports from authorities on the steady increase of the national forest cover, the size of the country’s protected forest is in fact decreasing at an alarming rate, experts said.

Pine trees in the protected forest in Ho Chi Minh Highway in Dak Song District, in the Central Highlands province of Dak Nong, are illegally chopped down. — VNA/VNS Photo

During a workshop on Thursday on the survival of protected forest, which plays a key role in mitigating the risks of landslide and flash flood in mountainous areas, Nguyen Hai Van of the Centre for People and Nature (PanNature) announced that Vietnam lost 1.7 million ha of protected forest from 2004 to 2014, 170,000 ha a year on average. The deforestation has left the country with only about 4.5 million ha of protected forest.

Such severe deforestation is often dismissed in the annual forest reports by the Administration of Forestry (AoF), as it focuses more on the total amount of forest cover. According to the AoF, Vietnam’s forest cover has risen remarkably over the last century, from 28 per cent of the country’s land area in 1942 to 41 per cent last year, and currently stands at 13.6 million ha. A surge of planted forest partly explains such encouraging numbers. But forest quantity does not necessarily indicate quality.

Natural forest, which has much higher biodiversity than planted forest and makes up a major part of the country’s protected forests, suffered the heaviest loss with 1.43 million ha disappearing nationwide. It alone accounted for 84.1 per cent of the total protected forest damaged, Van said.

“The deforestation occurred not just in certain areas but across wider regions, with hot spots in the northwest, Central Highlands and the south-central regions,” she said.

“The deforestation happened so fast that 59 management boards of protected forest had to reduce their forest statistics 118 times over the last ten years.”

The adjustments were made after protected forest areas were converted to production forests or were chopped down to make space for building new hydropower plants or mining minerals, Van said.

“The loss of natural forest partly explains why natural disasters of late have caused such devastating consequences,” she added.

Limited force

Mai Van Dam, deputy head of the Thach Thanh protection forest management board in Thanh Hoa Province, acknowledged the deforestation but said there was little the forest protection force could do to prevent it.

A management board usually must cover a very large forest area, ranging between 5,000 and 10,000 ha, but is assigned only 10 people to do the job.

Dam said that his board was forced to sign contracts with another 10 workers, but even that means one person must look after 250 to 500 ha by himself.

“The budget for the unit is also very limited, so that the monthly wage can only be at VND2.5-3 million (US$110-130), even though we must work very hard in the forests and mountains,” he said.

Nguyen Tuan Hung from the AoF’s Department of Special Use Forest and Protected Forest Management said that Vietnam planned to raise the amount of protected forest to 5.68 million ha by 2020, citing the country’s forestry development strategy. Vietnam must find a way to plant more than one million ha of protected forest in about two years to reach the set target, assuming no additional protected forest is lost.

“Without more aggressive measures to guard the forest, it is almost impossible to meet this goal,” Hung said.

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Best of our wild blogs: 8 Dec 17

Changi shore littered by failing shore protection system
wild shores of singapore

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Contractor behind 2016 Christmas Eve flood in Thomson among 14 fined for drainage offences by PUB

Channel NewsAsia 7 Dec 17;

SINGAPORE: Fourteen contractors - including the company responsible for contributing to the Christmas Eve flood in the Thomson area last year - have been fined by national water agency PUB for various drainage offences.

Sato Kogyo was fined S$14,000, the heftiest among the 14 contractors, according to a press release by PUB on Thursday (Dec 7).

The company was found to have altered the public drainage system across Upper Thomson Road (near Lorong Mega) without PUB’s approval, as well as constructing a temporary diversion drain along Jalan Keli opposite Thomson Plaza without notifying the agency.

These acts contributed to the flash floods that happened in the area on Dec 24, 2016, leaving businesses in the area knee-deep in flood water and with damages worth thousands of dollars.

In addition to the 14 contractors, two Qualified Persons (QP) - appointed registered architects or professional engineers responsible for selecting compliant materials and products for a building project - were penalised as well.

“With many construction projects taking place near or next to the public drainage system, it is important that contractors exercise due diligence to ensure that their works do not affect the functioning of the public drainage system. Drains must be kept free-flowing so that they can convey stormwater away quickly during heavy rain to reduce flood risks,” said Mr Ridzuan Ismail, PUB’s director of catchment and waterways.

The other contractors fined for altering and discontinuing drainage systems without approval were Choon Hoe Construction, Boon Tian Contractor, Tiong Seng Contractors and Woh Hup, Hup Seng Lee and Woh Hup. They were fined S$3,000 each.

According to the release, seven companies were fined between S$2,000 and S$4,000 for obstructing the drainage system without approval.

They include Shimizu Corporation, Ssangyong–Hyundai Joint Venture, Tiong Seng–Dongah Joint Venture, KH Foges, Chye Joo Construction, Lum Chang Building Contractors and Evan Lim.

The 14th contractor fined was KJS Construction, which failed to remove the support structure in the drain after completion of the construction project at Singhealth Polyclinic, and as a result, obstructed the drain flow. It was fined S$1,500 for not carrying out work in accordance with the code of practice.

Contractors must seek PUB’s approval before carrying out any works that will interfere with the public drainage system.

Unauthorised alterations may affect the functioning of the public drainage system, as the drains, canals and rivers are interconnected.

Offenders may be fined up to S$50,000 for works affecting the public drainage system, and up to S$20,000 for unauthorised alteration of the public drainage system.
Source: CNA/kc

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Uni students push for use of green starch bags

Made of tapioca flour, the bags are biodegradable and safe if eaten by animals
Samantha Boh Straits Times 8 Dec 17;

Tired of seeing Singapore's waterways clogged up by plastic bags, and equally weary of their growing pile of reusable bags, two undergraduates from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have banded together to try to convince event organisers and retailers to switch to starch bags.

While they look and feel like plastic bags, starch bags are made from tapioca flour, which makes them biodegradable in both water and soil, said Mr Matthew Ong, 24, a student at the NTU School of Art, Design and Media.

He added that they can also be safely eaten by animals.

"People will argue that everything here is incinerated, but there is still the problem of wind-blown litter, he said.

"Even if people don't intentionally litter their plastic bags, the bags may get blown to somewhere inaccessible or into our waterways. But for starch bags, they will dissolve over time."

He started a company, Green Boulevard, with his friend, Mr Jacob Koh, 24, and they have been promoting the use of starch bags, which are imported from Jakarta, since June.


The intent is commendable and honourable. If you cannot eradicate the use of plastic bags overnight, then better to give people environmentally friendly options.

MR EUGENE HENG, founder and chairman of Waterways Watch Society, of the effort by the NTU undergrads.
The pair noted that while the use of reusable bags has gained traction, too many of them are given out at events organised here.

For a standard reusable bag made of thick plastic to have a lower carbon footprint than a regular plastic bag made of high-density polyethylene, it must be reused at least 11 times, according to a 2011 study by Britain's Environment Agency.

Cotton reusable bags have to be reused at least 131 times.

"They are given out way too freely and they cannot be reused (for other events) because there is customised printing on it. What is the point of using reusable bags if it is going to be thrown away after one use," said Mr Koh, who is studying at the NTU School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

The duo have approached event management companies to offer them starch bags as an alternative. They are offering to customise designs which can be printed on the bags, and have also contacted some retailers.

While it is still early days for the pair, they have already received $10,000 in funding from NTU, under the CoLab4Good Fund, which helps fund ground-up community projects.

The NTU Office of Admissions and Financial Aid has also pledged to use the bags, instead of reusable bags, for future events.

Professor William Chen, director of NTU's Food Science and Technology Programme, said this is part of efforts to educate prospective applicants on the application of food science and the importance of sustainability.

The bags will be used in the fairs organised in NTU as well as those at junior colleges and polytechnics.

Mr Eugene Heng, founder and chairman of Waterways Watch Society, said it will be an uphill task to convince people to switch from plastic bags to starch bags, and that the pair will also face competition from producers of reusable bags.

The cost of a starch bag is more than two times that of a plastic bag.

"The intent is commendable and honourable. If you cannot eradicate the use of plastic bags overnight, then better to give people environmentally friendly options," he said.

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