Best of our wild blogs: 22 Sep 17



World Economic Forum – The Big Picture on Oceans
Mei Lin NEO


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Popeye and Mini-Me are... bugs

Audrey Tan Straits Times 22 Sep 17;

What do Professor Severus Snape of Harry Potter fame, spinach-gobbling cartoon character Popeye, and Austin Powers villain Mini-Me have in common?

Most people would recognise them as figments of popular culture. But they have also been immortalised in the annals of science, with newly discovered animal species named after them.

The Paraphysoderes popeye, Physoderes minime and Harryplax severus - two species of assassin bugs, and a crab respectively - were recently discovered and named by scientists from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Armed with dagger-like piercing mouthparts, assassin bugs are a group of carnivorous insects so named for the many ways they kill their prey and suck them dry.

There are more than 7,000 species of them around the world, and they play an important role in controlling the population of other insects, such as caterpillars.

Last month, the museum's entomologist, Dr Hwang Wei Song, 35, added 15 new species to the ever-growing list.

Of these, two of them, Paraphysoderes popeye and Physoderes minime, were named after popular culture: the cartoon character, Popeye the Sailor Man, and Mini-Me, a character from the Austin Powers series of movies, respectively.

The other 13 were given descriptive names, such as Macrophysoderes cirripilosa, which refers to its curly hair, or named after a place. For example, Physoderes muluensis was named after Gunung Mulu, a national park in Sarawak, Malaysia, where it was found.

Dr Hwang had worked with Professor Christiane Weirauch, from the University of California, Riverside, on the scientific paper which described the new species.

"Scientists usually consider various matters before naming a new species. The name can describe the way the organism looks, or honour a person or a place," said Dr Hwang.

For him, the popular culture references were indicative of the way the bugs looked. For example, Paraphysoderes popeye has enlarged forearms, similar to the cartoon character's bulging biceps. The species can be found only on the eastern edge of Papua New Guinea.

Physoderes minime, on the other hand, was named for its similarity to a larger known species - Physoderes fuliginosa, which is about 24 per cent larger. Physoderes minime can be found only on the islands of Luzon and Panay in the Philippines.

The discovery of the 15 new species was 10 years in the making.

Dr Hwang first had to sort through 905 specimens of assassin bugs - all smaller than a 10-cent coin - from natural history museums around the world.

Then, as part of his PhD thesis to systematically study how this group of assassin bugs, known as physoderines, are related and should be classified, he visited museums to compare specimens, and conducted computational analyses to determine their evolutionary relationships.

"This group of assassin bugs is actually quite diverse in South-east Asia, but most species described many years ago were rather poorly done by various scientists, leading to misidentifications and impressions of low diversity ," he said.

It is important to keep an inventory of such species, to understand the role they play in the natural ecosystem.

A group of blood-feeding assassin bugs, known as kissing bugs, transmits Chagas disease, a parasitic disease that leads to heart failure and gut complications.

"Kissing bugs are found in South-east Asia and the Western Hemisphere, but luckily the disease-causing parasite they transmit is found only in the Americas," said Dr Hwang.

"Understanding what species we have in this region would allow us to quickly identify public health risks should they crop up.

"Some assassin bugs could also have the potential to be used as a biological control for pests in agriculture."

As for the Harryplax severus, the pale yellow crab was named by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum's crustacean curator Jose Mendoza, 38, an avid fan of the wizarding world.

Like Dr Hwang's serendipitous discovery of the new bug species, Dr Mendoza's eureka moment also came while sorting through specimens collected 20 years ago in Guam - an island in the western Pacific Ocean - by collector and naturalist Harry Conley.

When Mr Conley died in 2002, his samples were passed to biologist Gustav Paulay, who later passed them to Professor Peter Ng, an international expert on crab taxonomy and head of the museum in NUS.

The Harryplax severus, a pale yellow crab, was named by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum's crustacean curator, Dr Jose Mendoza, who is an avid fan of the wizarding world. Dr Mendoza was inspired by Professor Severus Snape, the potions master in the Harry Potter series. ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN
The crab's name - Harryplax severus - was a nod to both Harrys (Conley and the boy wizard), and Severus Snape, the misunderstood potions master in the books.

"(Its name) is an allusion to a notorious and misunderstood character in the Harry Potter novels, Professor Severus Snape, for his ability to keep one of the most important secrets in the story, just like the present new species which has eluded discovery until now, nearly 20 years after it was first collected," noted Dr Mendoza and Prof Ng in the January edition of ZooKeys, a scientific journal .

Said Dr Mendoza: "Crabs and other crustaceans are often overshadowed by charismatic organisms like mammals and birds, and naming it after a popular culture reference would perhaps draw attention to the species, and be a good way to let people know about the great diversity of crustaceans around the world."

It was a strategy that seems to have worked, with international publications such as the National Geographic, Guardian and Time, reporting on the discovery.

Said Dr Mendoza: "What's in a name? Apparently a lot. I didn't think the name would catch the public's attention as much as it has... We have merely scratched the surface; there are still more species waiting to be discovered and described."


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How to fight haze three times a day

Consume less fried food, choose haze-free palm oil and encourage others to do so, too
Maxine Chen and Tan Yi Han Straits Times 22 Sep 17;

From up in the air, Indonesia's Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu Biosphere Reserve is a scene straight out of an epic nature documentary: lush green islands dot shimmering blue lakes.

This peat swamp forest is home to rare and endangered species such as the Malayan tapir and Sumatran elephant. The Sumatran tiger, too, can be found there. Its numbers have dwindled to as few as 400 individuals within the last remaining patches of forest in Sumatra.

But as our chopper hovered over the nature reserve during a research trip in February this year, we sat paralysed with shock. A blanket of grey smoke was rising from black and brown clearings in the forest.

Next to the burnt patches we saw neat rows of crops - the unmistakable sign of a plantation. This supposedly protected forest was being cleared illegally and burnt to make way for plantations.

Although we in Singapore have been enjoying clear skies this year because winds have not blown the pollutants our way, the root of the haze - uncontrolled large-scale fires - persists.

And the impact is devastating.

HOW HAZE CAN HARM

Two years ago, in September 2015, Singapore was hit with an intense haze that forced the closure of all primary and secondary schools for a day. That same year, Harvard and Columbia University published a study showing how the haze may have caused the early deaths of more than 100,000 people in South-east Asia that year.

That year, the region was plagued with the worst haze on record, as warmer and drier weather caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon resulted in the forests in Indonesia burning harder and for a longer time. Most of the fires were concentrated in the South Sumatra province, where large swaths of peatlands are located.

The haze is a toxic mix of harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, ammonia, cyanide and formaldehyde, as well as microscopic particles coated with carcinogens such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

It is also a massive contributor to global warming. In 2015 alone, Indonesia's forest fires generated around 600 million tonnes of greenhouse gases - roughly the amount Germany produces in a year.

But as we complain about the haze giving us headaches and burning eyes, the fact is that a portion of the money we pay for fried curry puff could have funded the deforestation in Sumatra, the early deaths in Kalimantan and the pollution that hangs over Singapore.

The reason is palm oil.

While large palm oil and paper companies have been put under heavy scrutiny in recent years, numerous mid-level palm oil operations remain under the radar even as they commit blatant abuse like clearing protected forests.

INGREDIENT FOR HAZE

Besides being present in half of all consumer products that we buy (think packaged foods and personal care products), palm oil is also the most commonly used cooking oil in Asia.

A survey our organisation, People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM Haze), a Singapore non-profit, conducted last year revealed that 32 out of 33 popular eatery chains in Singapore used cooking oil that contains palm oil.

For the growers, oil palm is also a favourite - oil palm fruits can be harvested for around 25 years before palms need to be replanted.

The huge demand for palm oil has created a race to clear land for oil palm plantations, making it the No. 1 driver of deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. From 2006 to 2010, oil palm was responsible for half of the deforestation in Indonesia and a third of deforestation in Malaysia.

Burning is the cheapest way to clear land. But even if fire is not used, the landscape becomes fire-prone when forests make way for plantations.

A pristine forest is like a woman's long, luscious hair. After a shower, it takes a long time to dry. Once the forest has been cut down, it resembles the bald head of a national serviceman, drying in no time at all.

In such dry landscapes, even a carelessly thrown cigarette butt can create a fire that rages out of control.

However, oil palms yield a relatively high amount of oil - up to nine times more compared with an equal area of canola or soya bean crop. Therefore, switching to other crops without changing deforestation practices means farmers would have to clear more forests to obtain the same amount of oil.

Soya bean oil, for example, is one of the main causes of deforestation in South America, threatening precious ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado savannah.

For this reason, we do not advocate boycotting palm oil. Instead, we want to improve the way palm oil is produced. And by being a more careful consumer, so can you.

HOW TO BE A CONSCIOUS CONSUMER

First, reduce unnecessary consumption of palm oil and other vegetable oils. Eat less fried food and choose less oily (and healthier) food instead.

Many processed food products such as margarine and potato chips are also heavy users of vegetable oil. Reducing demand for vegetable oil is a key step towards driving down the need to clear more land.

Next, if you do need a certain product with palm oil in it, choose one that uses haze-free palm oil - palm oil produced by growers that do not engage in forest clearing and burning.

Currently, palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is the closest to haze-free palm oil.

RSPO is an international non-profit organisation that brings together non-governmental organisations and companies to develop standards for sustainable palm oil, including no burning to clear land and no clearing of primary forests. To be certified, growers must be audited to ensure that they comply with these standards.

In Singapore, there are already four brands of cooking oil that are RSPO-certified. Moreover, two companies use RSPO-certified cooking oil in their eateries - Ikea Singapore and the Singapore Zoo.

For cooking oil in Singapore, the cost difference between RSPO-certified and uncertified palm oil is currently less than 10 per cent.

Third, tell others about the issue. Most of the eateries PM Haze spoke to were not even aware that they were using palm oil and mentioned terms like "vegetable oil" or "tempura oil" - generic names for palm oil.

By reaching out to your favourite eateries, you can encourage them to check if their cooking oil contains palm oil, and if so, whether it is RSPO-certified. With many popular eatery chains maintaining social media platforms and websites, it has never been easier to do so.

You can get more tips on how to take action on pmhaze.org/gohazefree.

Do consumers truly have the power to influence businesses? History has shown that to survive, businesses must respond to consumer demand.

In March last year, the RSPO temporarily suspended palm oil conglomerate IOI Corporation's certification because its deforestation practices violated RSPO's guidelines. In three short months, IOI lost 26 major corporate customers and its share price fell by 18 per cent. Reacting quickly to its consumers' signals, IOI announced that it would work towards deforestation-free practices.

Consumers have the power to spur businesses to minimise negative impacts on the health of our people and planet. Let's demand that businesses act responsibly and go haze-free.


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70% of brands in Malaysia and Singapore don't disclose palm oil use

WWF rated 47 regional companies and found the majority have no public policies or commitments on sustainable palm oil sourcing
Laura Paddison The Guardian 21 Sep 17;

A new scorecard rating companies headquartered in Singapore and Malaysia on their palm oil sustainability commitments has found that the majority do not disclose any information on their sourcing practices.

The WWF Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard surveyed 47 companies, all household brands in Malaysia and Singapore, asking how far along the path they were to sourcing 100% certified sustainable palm oil. Only 16 disclosed any information.

“We were disappointed at the number of non responses,” said Denise Westerhout, the lead for WWF Malaysia’s sustainable markets programme, “because it doesn’t enable us to gauge how well the market is moving along and how much help it needs in raising awareness and understanding what we need to do”.

Two companies emerged as regional leaders in the scorecard, providing, according to WWF, “a clear indication that sourcing sustainable palm oil is possible”. Out of a total of 12 points, Denis Asia Pacific and Wildlife Reserves Singapore Group (WRS) scored 10 and nine respectively. Both have committed to sourcing 100% certified sustainable palm oil by 2018 and 2022 respectively.

The aim behind WRS’ decision to focus on palm oil sourcing was “guaranteeing the protection of habitat for wildlife threatened by unsustainable palm oil production”, said Sonja Luz, director of conservation, research and veterinary at WRS.

For Denis Asia Pacific, it was about “employee satisfaction, brand value and business opportunities in Europe, US and Australia where sustainable palm oil has become a market entry criteria,” according to Roy Teo, managing director of Ayam Brand at Denis Asia Pacific.

Market drivers are a key pressure point when it comes to engaging companies with sustainable palm oil sourcing, said Westerhout, “for example consumer pressure or regulatory demands from export markets.”

However, the majority of companies surveyed – 70% – either refused or ignored WWF’s request for information and do not publicly disclose their palm oil policies. And of the 15 which responded, half admitted to taking no action to source sustainable palm oil.

Benjamin Loh, WWF Malaysia’s sustainable palm oil manager, said some companies they talked to lacked internal capacity and expertise on sustainable palm oil. “So they don’t even have the infrastructure, or the facility, or the resources to comment on the scorecard,” he said.

Palm oil is an ingredient in a huge number of consumer goods, from biscuits to infant formula, which accounts for the much cited statistic that the oil is in 50% of all supermarket food products. It’s also a huge driver of deforestation, and can have negative consequences on the people and animals that live in areas of palm production.

While WWF has been ranking international companies on their palm oil commitments since 2009, this marks the first time the non-profit has focused solely on Malaysia and Singapore. The decision was made to take a regional view, said Westerhout, because local companies have a very low level of awareness about sustainable palm oil: “It would be unfair for us to compare them against the larger [international] companies that were far further down the road of sustainability.”

Palm oil accounts for 5-6% of the GDP of Malaysia, which is the world’s second largest producer of palm oil after Indonesia. Singapore is a base for the regional operations of major palm oil growers and traders and is also a financial hub for investment into these companies.

Both countries were affected by the choking haze pollution blown their way from neighbouring Indonesia, which experiences widespread forest fires every year thanks to illegal forest clearance, linked to the palm oil industry among others.

The fires were particularly devastating in 2015 when the noxious smoke settled across swaths of south-east Asia, leading to regional shut downs in Malaysia and Singapore and forcing tens of thousands of residents to seek help for respiratory problems.

In response, WWF last year launched a new alliance in south east Asia aimed at boosting demand for sustainable palm oil and tackling haze pollution. Members include Unilever, Ayam Brand, Danone, Ikea and WRS. “The alliance sends a clear signal to consumers about which companies are committed to sustainability and which are not”, said Elaine Tan, CEO of WWF­-Singapore.

However, there is still much work to be done on raising consumer awareness. In Malaysia, “there is very low to zero awareness on palm oil”, said Westerhout. “We need to help consumers better understand that their choices make a difference”


Most Singapore brands not transparent about palm oil use: WWF
Channel NewsAsia 21 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE: Two out of three Singapore brands contacted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) did not respond to a request to disclose their palm oil usage, the non-governmental organisation said on Thursday (Sep 21).

As part of its Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard – Malaysia and Singapore 2017, WWF Singapore contacted 27 local retailers, manufacturers and food service brands with a survey to assess their buying and sourcing of palm oil.

The companies were selected based on criteria such as the use of palm oil, market leadership and crowd-sourced suggestions from members of the public, WWF Singapore said in a press release.

Only 10 companies responded. Companies which did not respond include BreadTalk, Crystal Jade, Bee Cheng Hiang, Dairy Farm, Khong Guan, Paradise Group, Tung Lok and Commonwealth Capital – which has stakes in brands like Soup Spoon, PastaMania and Udders. These companies were not given a score and were classified as "not transparent" in their palm oil usage.

Ayam Brand, which uses only certified sustainable palm oil for its canned food products, and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which uses palm oil for cooking in its food and beverage outlets, scored highest in the report.

WWF also reached out to 20 Malaysian companies, of which six responded - a similar percentage to Singapore companies contacted.

The level of "non-discosure and lack of action" among brands in Singapore and Malaysia was higher than the global average, WWF said. While 30 per cent of brands in the region responded to the WWF survey and only three had public commitments on palm oil use, 80 per cent of global brands responded to the survey and more than 60 per cent had palm oil commitments.

WWF Singapore CEO Elaine Tan said unsustainable practices in the palm oil industry are at the root of the transboundary haze and deforestation.

"Singapore is at the heart of a region that supplies 85 per cent of the world’s palm oil. Our local brands need to show leadership by being accountable for their palm oil use and take real action to source sustainably,” she said.

According to WWF Singapore, brands cited internal factors such as capacity issues and higher costs as obstacles in the switch to sustainable palm oil, even though the additional cost of sustainable palm oil options start at less than S$0.01 more per litre.

There is also a perceived lack of demand for sustainable palm oil by customers in Singapore, it added.

In response to the findings, WWF-Singapore has launched a campaign to get consumers to pressure local brands on their use of palm oil, by sending emails to the companies via https://palmoil.sg.

Since the launch of the campaign, several companies including Bee Cheng Hiang, Tung Lok and Commonwealth Capital have signed a pledge to commit to sourcing for sustainable palm oil, WWF said.


Most Singapore brands not transparent about palm oil usage, says WWF
Today Online 22 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE — Two-thirds of homegrown Singapore brands are not transparent about their palm oil usage, and almost eight in 10 do not source for sustainable palm oil, said the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) yesterday.

A WWF study, Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard — Malaysia and Singapore 2017 — contacted 27 local retailers, manufacturers and food service brands, as well as 20 Malaysian firms to assess their buying and sourcing of palm oil. Unsustainable palm oil production has been linked to the perennial haze problem in South-east Asia.

Only 10 local and six Malaysian firms responded when contacted.

The level of “non-disclosure and lack of action” among brands in these two countries was higher than the global average, the WWF said.

While 30 per cent of regional brands responded to the WWF survey and only three had public commitments on palm oil use, 80 per cent of global brands responded to the survey and over 60 per cent had palm oil commitments.

The companies surveyed cited internal factors, such as capacity issues and higher costs, as obstacles in the switch to sustainable palm oil.

However, the WWF noted that the additional cost of sustainable palm oil options starts at less than S$0.01 more per litre.

There is also a perceived lack of demand for sustainable palm oil by customers in Singapore, it added.

Among the local brands, Denis Asia Pacific (Ayam Brand) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) scored highest in the WWF scorecard. Both are already sourcing sustainable palm and oil and are involved in industry-led platforms, such as the South-east Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil. WRS, for example, uses palm oil for cooking at its food and beverage outlets.

Dr Sonja Luz, WRS’ director of conservation and research, said: “We knew the shift to using sustainable palm oil would be challenging. The process took months, but it is definitely worthwhile as all of us are convinced that this supports our cause — to protect wildlife and conserve biodiversity.”

In response to the findings, WWF Singapore has launched a campaign to show local brands that consumers care about and support sustainable palm oil, by sending emails to brands via palmoil.sg.

Through these emails, CEOs of local companies are urged to take a pledge to be transparent with their palm oil use and start taking steps to source sustainable palm oil.

WWF Singapore chief executive officer Elaine Tan said: “People want to know what goes into the products they buy and the real impact of it. Through this campaign, we hope to demonstrate to popular local brands that their customers want them to do their part in a preventable environmental problem that every person in Singapore experiences.”


Many Singapore consumer brands do not source for sustainable palm oil, survey finds
Annabeth Leow Straits Times 21 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - Many Singapore companies do not source for sustainable palm oil, according to a survey on Thursday (Sept 21).

It also found that businesses believe that customers are not clamouring for sustainable palm oil, reducing the incentive to change the way they operate.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) study polled 47 firms with headquarters here and in Malaysia - the first region-specific study.

It rated businesses on a 12-point scale that measured the proportion of certified sustainable palm oil used in their supply chains.

The judging criteria also looked for membership in the international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) bloc and a commitment to buying only certified sustainable palm oil.

Singapore-based Denis Asia Pacific, which is behind Ayam Brand canned food, rated 10 points to top the leaderboard.

Its products use only certified sustainable palm oil, said Ayam Brand country managing director Roy Teo.

"While our total consumption of palm oil is limited, it is possible to make sustainable choices even when manufacturing in smaller volumes," he added.

"We see this business decision paying off through increased employee satisfaction, higher brand value and new business opportunities in Europe, the United States and Australia, where sustainable palm oil has become a market entry criteria."

Another company that fared well was Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which runs attractions such as the Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park.

At least 75 per cent of the palm oil used in its eateries is sustainably sourced.

"We encourage businesses to take this step and consumers to voice their support," said its conservation and research director, Dr Sonja Luz.

But, in general, regional firms did not seem fazed by how customers would perceive the use of non-sustainable palm oil.

Eight companies of the 16 respondents were given scores of zero, meaning that they were upfront about their use of palm oil but had not yet made any progress on sustainability. The four Singapore companies in this category are Sheng Siong, Tong Seng Produce, Viz Branz Holdings and Yeo Hiap Seng.

Eight firms felt there was a lack of consumer awareness and demand for certified sustainable palm oil, so there was no rush to make changes in the supply chain.

Also, nine of the companies that spoke to the WWF said that cost was an obstacle, especially with profit margins at the top of their minds amid tight economic conditions.

The WWF study put consumer brands under the microscope, even as big commodity companies have recently been pushed to step up their sustainability efforts.

Singapore-listed palm oil supplier Golden Agri-Resources - the target of a Greenpeace campaign against illegal deforestation in 2010 - said on Monday that it had made it to the Dow Jones Sustainability Asia Pacific Index for large listed companies with sustainable business practices.

Another home-grown commodities company, Wilmar International, was a founding member of the Fire Free Alliance in 2016. This body comprises non-governmental organisations as well as forestry and agriculture firms.

The regional WWF study had a response rate of just 34 per cent, and only three companies told the environmental group that they are committing to sustainable sourcing, the report said.

In comparison, the organisation's 2016 ranking exercise of 137 companies across Europe, North America, Australia, India and Japan had an 80 per cent response rate.

That survey also found that 70 per cent had thrown their weight behind the use of certified sustainable palm oil.

Still, some Singapore companies that were marked as having given nil returns on the WWF report said that they do make an effort to ensure that the palm oil they use is sustainable.

TungLok Restaurants (2000) executive chairman Andrew Tjioe, whose restaurant group was listed as a non-respondent, told The Straits Times in an e-mail: "We are all for sustainability, therefore we use only RSPO-certified cooking oil, even though it costs us more."

More than 85 per cent of the world's palm oil is produced in South-east Asia, mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia, with the oil going into a wide range of consumer products, from food items like chocolate to soaps and cosmetics.

But cultivation of oil palm has been linked to ecologically harmful practices such as slash-and-burn deforestation, which can cause problems such as habitat loss, water pollution, transboundary haze and climate change.

WWF-Malaysia launches the results of the first Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard
WWF-Malaysia 21 Sep 17;

~ In conjunction with the First Anniversary of the 2016 International Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard ~

Kuala Lumpur: While many palm oil buyers are aware of the importance of using sustainable palm oil to the environment, some are still doing little or nothing to help reduce deforestation and other adverse impacts of producing the world’s most popular vegetable oil in some of the most vulnerable tropical habitats around the world.

With this in mind, the Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard (POBS) Malaysia and Singapore 2017 was jointly released by WWF-Malaysia and WWF Singapore, to evaluate which local companies were sourcing and using sustainable palm oil in their supply-chains. The scorecard also aims to encourage companies which have not yet started their journey to sustainability to do so, with guidance from WWF. As with the WWF International Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecards started in 2009, this Scorecard measured how companies perform on basic steps, such as joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), committing to and buying sustainable palm oil, and transparency.

“The scorecard in Malaysia and Singapore is the first of its kind and will be the baseline for Malaysian and Singaporean companies in recording their journey and commitment towards using, sourcing and supplying certified sustainable palm oil,” said Dato’ Dr Dionysius Sharma, Executive Director / CEO of WWF-Malaysia.

Malaysia is the second largest palm oil producer with 1,363,518 ha of palm oil plantations certified by RSPO. Dato’ Dr Sharma added, “The demand for sustainably produced palm oil will drive a positive change in Malaysia’s palm oil industry. While the survey only included 20 Malaysian companies, the ease of accessing a ready supply of locally produced certified palm oil should serve as a catalyst towards local champions in this area.”

WWF-Malaysia’s Sustainable Markets Programme (SMP) has worked closely with companies to change their demand patterns towards sustainably produced goods and promote sustainable consumption. “This change requires a long term commitment and is not limited to large international players. Local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should take up this challenge to positively change their sourcing practices towards certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO). We would certainly be ready to work hand-in-hand with them to initiate this commitment,” he said.

A total of 47 companies participated in the scorecard, with 27 from Singapore and 20 from Malaysia. The companies, which were required to complete a simple online survey, were selected from sectors known to consume palm oil and are producers of familiar house brands in the region. Survey questions in the POBS follow the requirements for RSPO certified sustainable palm oil.

The results of the scorecard were released in conjunction with the first anniversary of the 2016 International Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard. Denis Asia Pacific, which uses certified sustainable palm oil across all its Ayam Brand food products containing palm oil as an ingredient, emerged as the overall top scorer with a score of 10 over 12 points. They were hailed as one of the companies leading the way in sustainability, and as an example to other companies planning to start the journey. Said Roy Teo, Managing Director of Ayam Brand, “While our total consumption of palm oil is limited, it is possible to make sustainable choices even when manufacturing in smaller volumes. We see this business decision paying off in employee satisfaction, brand value and business opportunities in Europe, US and Australia where sustainable palm oil has become a market entry criteria.”

For Malaysia, the results revealed that the majority of local companies evaluated have yet to start sourcing sustainable palm oil, with a score of either zero or are non-respondents. From the 30% of companies which responded to the scorecard, two companies disclosed their usage of CSPO in their products. Of the two companies, MAMEE-Double Decker (M) Sdn Bhd was the top scorer, with five over 12 points, and a percentage of 1 to 25% of CSPO usage. This was very encouraging to see as MAMEE, which carries well-known household brands, has a prominent and visible presence in the industry. The close contender was Munchy Food Industries Sdn Bhd, with a score of four over 12 points.

Compared to the International POBS, non-disclosure and non-responsiveness was higher among the companies selected from Malaysia and Singapore. Out of the 47 companies evaluated, 31 companies were non-respondents. A majority of the companies cited a lack in internal capacity or expertise in sustainable practices, costs and the lack of demand from consumers for them to switch to using CSPO.

“The world is at a critical stage on the journey to sustainability, especially in palm oil. Although more major brands are now using only CSPO, there are companies which have yet to start. That needs to change. WWF urges companies to visit the Scorecard website and use it as a guide to start their journey to sustainability. For consumers, we all have a role to play in demanding full participation and transparency of all palm oil buyers across the globe in order to halt the threat of deforestation and affect true sector wide transformation,” stated Dato’ Dr Sharma.

The complete performance profile on each company is shared in the published report, which can be accessed from the POBS website, www.mypobs.com


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Malaysia: Authorities optimistic of conserving dugong habitat in Johor

The Star 22 Sep 17;

PULAU SIBU: The Johor Department of Marine Park Malaysia (JTLMNJ) is optimistic of its efforts to conserve the habitat of the dugong, which is the icon of the waters off Mersing, said its Education and Information Interpretation head Nor Sallehuddin Md Ali.

To this effect, he said various efforts had been undertaken, including educating fishermen, boat owners and tourists not to venture near the habitat of these shy mammals whose conservation status is threatened.

The latest figures show there are about 50 dugong in these waters.

To achieve its objectives, the department is working with agencies such as the World Wildlife Fund as well as public and private companies to conduct research which would contribute to the conservation of the dugong.

“The main focus of JTLMNJ is to ensure the continuity of marine life which is threatened with extinction, such as the dugong, and for that, we will always work to ensure their main source of food which is seaweed is preserved and not destroyed in these waters.

“Information-sharing with villagers will hopefully prevent dugong deaths caused by human ignorance, like being trapped in the fisherman's drift nets, collision with boats and water pollution,” he said after the Eco Volunteers programme (13th edition), organised by BIMB Holdings Berhad at the JTLMNJ Centre in Pulau Tinggi here.

In the waters off Mersing, dugong habitats have been found in Pulau Sibu, Pulau Tinggi, Pulau Besar, Pulau Tengah, Pulau Seribuat and Pulau Rawa.

Meanwhile, BIMB Holdings Berhad group chief strategy officer, Hizamuddin Jamaluddin, said the Eco Volunteers programme was the organisation’s show of support for JTLMNJ in its efforts to promote marine life in Mersing waters.

The corporate social responsibility programme was first held in April, followed by a second programme in May.

Hizamuddin said programmes such as these would educate students of SK Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi on the importance of environment conservation, including not disturbing the ecosystem of marine life. — Bernama


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Malaysia: KK Wetland gets Ramsar status

stephanie lee The Star 22 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Numerous conservation efforts, including restricting visitors, are already being planned for the world’s first urban mangrove wetland to be internationally recognised for its importance.

The Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre, which is located in the city, was yesterday declared the first urban mangrove wetland to be given Ramsar status for its international importance.

The status is accorded under the Ramsar Convention, an inter-governmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society president Datuk Zainie Abdul Aucasa said visitors will be allowed at the site but the number will be restricted to preserve the ecosystem and the area.

The society, he added, will be working with various agencies and departments to conserve the 24ha prime land.

“We will emphasise more conservation, research and awareness programmes, instead of turning the centre into a tourism spot. We want to further conserve this area which is home to some 30 mangrove species, some of which are endangered, over 90 types of resident and migratory birds as well as five species of reptiles,” he said.

In his speech at the ceremony to designate the centre a Ramsar site, Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman said the recognition was the result of the Government’s continuous rehabilitation efforts for the environment.

“Sabah is home to some 60% of the country’s total mangroves and we are committed to not only protecting the remaining mangroves and forests here, but also properly managing and rehabilitating areas that have been degraded,” he said.

“The effort to protect this natural heritage while pursuing economic success is part of striking a balance that will benefit all,” he added.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun delivered Musa’s speech.

Sabah striving to attain 3rd Ramsar status with Klias wetlands
AVILA GERALDINE New Straits Times 21 Sep 17;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is looking at turning the Klias wetlands into the state’s next potential Ramsar Site, striving to make it its third wetland to attain international recognition.

Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said the state now has two wetlands of international importance after the KK Wetland was finally bestowed with Ramsar status in Dec, last year.

“We have a lot of wetlands and there have been suggestions to make the Klias wetlands, which is part of the forest reserve, as the next candidate (for Ramsar).

“There will be a meeting with the Forestry Department to discuss the necessary with regards to this,” he told reporters after the launching of KK Wetland Ramsar Site here, today.

Present was Sabah Wetlands Conservation Society president Datuk Zainie Abdul Aucasa.

Stressing that wetlands with Ramsar status would not affect land owners, Masidi said the state government aimed to add value to the land and to restrict certain development that would further destroy the rich biodiversity.

“We are not saying they (land owners) cannot do anything but we encourage development in a systematic and sustainable manners,” he added.

Earlier, Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman, in his speech delivered by Masidi, said the management and restoration of mangroves are given priority as Sabah has about 338,000 hectares of mangrove vegetation within its forest reserves.

He added that the state government via the Sabah Forestry Department has a responsibility to protect these lands as Sabah is home to some 60 per cent of Malaysia’s total mangroves area.

“Our commitment is clear as Sabah has protected the KK wetlands despite it being within the city centre and we are continuously increasing the Totally Protected Area apart from keeping sustainable forest management practices on track on commercial forest reserves.

“Areas with high conservation values within commercial forest reserves are mapped out and not disturbed,” he said.

Musa added that the new Ramsar status for the KK Wetland will help to enhance conservation efforts of the last remaining patch of mangrove forest in a city that is developing at a fast pace.

The KK Wetland Ramsar Site was officially declared as the seventh Ramsar site in Malaysia earlier this year, and it is the second wetlands in Sabah after the Lower Kinabatangan-Segama Wetlands, which was awarded the status in 2008.

It is also the second Ramsar Site within the boundaries of a city in the world after Yatsu-Higata Ramsar Site in Tokyo.


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Malaysia: MMEA discovers 315 sharks on Vietnamese vessel fishing in Sarawak waters

KANDAU SIDI New Straits Times 21 Sep 17;

MIRI: Up to 315 sharks of various sizes were among 2,000 kilograms of catch confiscated by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) from a Vietnamese fishing vessel which was seized yesterday for invading Sarawak's northern waters.

Five Vietnamese crewmembers, aged 19 to 62, were also arrested.

Miri's MMEA director Fauzi Othman said the vessel, with the registration number VIVI 1 /QMY 8892K, was detained 60 nautical miles from the Miri River estuary at 6.05pm on Tuesday.

"The vessel does not have valid documents. All the Vietnamese crewmembers also have no legal documents," he said here today.

The crewmembers were detained to assist in a probe under the Fisheries Act 1985 and the Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1952/1960.

The vessel is now being held at the Pulau Melayu Vessel Detention Centre for further investigation.

315 live sharks seized off Miri’s shores
stephen then The Star 21 Sep 17;

MIRI: A fishing boat with two tonnes of fish and 315 live sharks have been detained off the shores of Miri in northern Sarawak.

Five Vietnamese fishermen, aged 19 to 62, were arrested during an operation carried out by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) at about 6pm on Wednesday.

The boat, with the crew on board, has been towed to Pulau Melayu bay near Miri city.

MMEA Miri head Mohd Fauzi Othman said two fishing boats were detected 60 nautical miles off Miri and upon checking, enforcement officers found that one of the boats did not have valid a fishing permit.

A check on board the fishing vessel found the Vietnamese crew with two tonnes of fish and 315 live sharks which were kept in several containers.

Initial investigations showed the possibility that the boat was heading to Vietnam with the catch.

The crew are being probed for violating fisheries laws while the boat has been compounded.


Live sharks seized from fishing boat
The Star 22 Sep 17;

MIRI: A fishing boat with two tonnes of fish and 315 live sharks was detained off Miri in northern Sarawak.

Five Vietnamese fishermen, aged between 19 and 62, were arrested in an enforcement operation carried out by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) at about 6pm on Wednesday.

The crew and the boat have been towed to Pulau Melayu bay near Miri city.

MMEA Miri head Mohd Fauzi Othman said an enforcement patrol boat detected two fishing boats about 60 nautical miles offshore and upon checking found that one of the boats did not have a valid fishing permit.

A check on board the fishing vessel found the Vietnamese crew with 2,000kg of harvest plus 315 live sharks kept in several containers.

An initial probe showed the possibility that the boat had been going from Miri to Vietnam with the harvests.

The crew is being probed for violating fisheries laws while the boat has been compounded.

Sarawak assistant tourism minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin said there was a possibility that a big number of sharks and whales were travelling past Miri during their annual migration from the northern to the southern hemisphere.

“There is a need for the marine authorities to carry out comprehensive studies on this and do more to protect these sharks and whales.

“These creatures must be protected from illegal fishermen.

“These sharks and whales offshore Miri are tourist-draws too,” he said.

Lee praised the maritime agency for its efforts to tackle illegal fishing activities in the seas off Sarawak.


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Indonesia: East Nusa Tenggara fishermen rescue stranded whale

Djemi Amnifu The Jakarta Post 21 Sep 17;

Local fishermen have saved a stranded whale at Oka Kea beach, Nggodimeda village, Central Rote district, Rote Ndao regency, East Nusa Tenggara province.

The 4.4 meter whale was found stranded around the marine compressed natural gas (CNG)-fired power plant (PLTMG) in that village.

“The whale had been stranded since Wednesday at 4 p.m. on Oka Kea beach. There were eight cuts around its body,” Kupang National Marine Conservation Bureau (BKKPN) chief Ikram Sangadji told reporters on Thursday.

Ikram said that the BKKPN team had gone to Rote to see exactly what type of whale was stranded in the most southern part of Indonesia.

He added that when the locals found it on the beach, the whale was still alive, although it was very weak and did not move. It was believed that the whale was stranded due to the cuts on its body.

“From its morphology, the stranded whale is possibly a finned pilot whale, 4.4 meters in length and 1.5 meters in width,” Ikram said.

From Wednesday to Thursday, Nggodimeda and Central Manoholok Rote sea turtle conservation groups, and the marine police and village supervisory non-commissioned military officers (Babinsa) kept up efforts to save the whale by keeping its body wet with sea water.

Ikram said that on Wednesday at 10.40 p.m. the whale, which had gotten stranded on the coral at Oka Kea beach, was released into the sea during high tide, but showed no sign of life. The whale did not move from the sea shore.


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Vietnam: New study shows unfettered bird trade in Viet Nam

TRAFFIC 21 Sep 17;

Viet Nam, 21st September 2017—A new study warns that Viet Nam’s sizeable trade in wild birds is going unchecked and could harm wild populations if not managed.

During a three-day survey, TRAFFIC researchers found 8,047 birds of 115 species offered for sale by 52 vendors in the country’s largest cities: Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Of the thousands of birds observed in April 2016 over 99% were of species native to Viet Nam, while regulations governing the trade exist for only some 771 (10%) of the total: indeed, nine of the top 10 most abundant species recorded during the survey were not subject to any trade controls under Vietnamese legislation.

“The survey findings are consistent with a thriving demand for native birds within Viet Nam. However, as trade in most of the species seen is not regulated by law, it means large numbers of birds are being extracted with no oversight of sustainability or how severely it will impact wild populations,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Acting Regional Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

She said the survey showed a rise in the number of species and volume of birds for sale since previous studies in 1991, 1998, 2001 and 2008; adding that the volumes, the array of species and high number of immature individuals for sale were all a sign of the need for improved monitoring of the trade including regulation of offtake and oversight of any ranching or captive breeding operations.

Scaly-breasted Munias Lonchura punctulata (21%) and Red-whiskered Bulbuls Pycnonotus jocosus (15%) were most abundant in the survey, collectively reaching close to 3,000 individuals. Both are legally tradeable. The latter species, popular in the cage-bird trade, was also one of the most abundant species previously recorded by TRAFFIC in Singapore and Bangkok bird markets.

Meanwhile seven species recorded in the two cities in Viet Nam match those recognized in the Conservation Strategy for Southeast Asian Songbirds in Trade as being directly threatened by trade in the region. The seven are White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus, Oriental White-eyes Zosterops palbebrosus, Oriental Magpie-robin Copsychus saularis, Silver-eared Mesia Leiothrix argentauris, Common Hill Myna Gracula religiosa, Java Sparrow Lonchura oryzivora and Asian Fairy Bluebird Irena puella.


The interior of shop specializing in the sale of songbirds often used in singing competitions © James Eaton / TRAFFIC
The report recommends improved monitoring and regulation of the harvest and trade of wild caught bird species to ensure it does not negatively affect wild populations.

The authors specifically call for Viet Nam’s current legislation to include range-restricted endemic birds and species assessed as globally threatened in the IUCN Red List within protected species lists.

“TRAFFIC stands ready to support Vietnamese authorities in any effort to review and strengthen current regulations. We will continue to provide information on the levels of bird trade in Viet Nam—this critical knowledge will help to identify the need and urgency to adjust policies and regulations so that Viet Nam meets its international commitments on conserving biodiversity,” said Madelon Willemsen, Head of TRAFFIC’s Viet Nam Office.

“These findings present us with better knowledge of the scale of bird trade in the region and emphasizes the species, especially native sub-species, common in the regional bird trade. This is crucial information for any regional bird conservation effort,” said Dr Sonja Luz, Director of Conservation, Research and Veterinary, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which funded the survey.

The Caged In The City: An inventory of birds for sale in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam report marks TRAFFIC’s sixth inventory of notable bird markets in the region—the others were in Indonesia (3), Thailand and Singapore, collectively recording 60,000 birds in trade.

The release of this report coincides with the launch of Silent Forest, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria's new campaign to address and mitigate the songbird extinction crisis in Asia and increase awareness within and beyond the zoo community.


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Coastal States Can Restore Wetlands to Fight Floods, Scientists Say

Amena H. Saiyid Bloomberg 20 Sep 17;

Coastal communities built atop drained salt marshes and leveled mangrove forests had little natural flood protection from hurricanes Irma and Harvey, exposing the need for better planning against future storms and sea-level rise, marine scientists and environmental engineers told Bloomberg BNA.

“As they say, floods are natural events, disasters are human-caused events,” Bruce Stein, vice president for the National Wildlife Federation’s conservation science and climate science adaptation program, said. “It is where and how structures and people are put into the path of flooding, or other natural hazards, that determines the extent and cost of property damage.”

Harvey’s historic rains created storm surges that turned the concrete urban sprawl between downtown Houston and Galveston Bay into a flowing river, and inundated cities like Rockport and Port Arthur along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Irma’s 130 mile-per-hour winds created storm surges of up to 10 feet that overwhelmed what little is left of natural defenses posed by mangroves and sea marshes in the Florida Keys, Miami Beach in southern Florida, Tampa Bay along the Gulf Coast, and other cities in central Florida.The flooding and property damage could have been mitigated in some communities had Florida and Texas done more to protect coastal wetlands, mangroves and salt marshes—or even added more man-made levees and sand dunes as storm barriers—Stein said.

Natural Defenses

Coastal wetlands play an important role in reducing wave energy, and a smaller role in mitigating storm surges of the kind that Irma unleashed in South Florida, said marine scientist Molly Mitchell at the College of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

But the resiliency of coastal communities can be improved if multiple lines of defense are employed by using wide swathesof salt marshes or mangroves that are backed by engineered levees, Mitchell said. “The natural structure will help break up the wave energy, while the engineered structure will provide the defense against the wave elevation,” she said.

“Ideally it would have to be be combined with some hard infrastructure for protecting critical facilities like nuclear power plants,” Thomas Wahl, assistant professsor for coastal risks and engineering at the University of Central Florida, said.

But coral reefs, which are far more efficient than wetlands at reducing wave energy, can’t be grown everywhere, Wahl said, and “you can’t build a dike on a sandy beach in Florida. The water would seep right through.”

But there are steps that can be taken.

Lessons from the Netherlands

Mitchell pointed to the Netherlands, where some 227 kilometers (141 miles) of dikes protect the Dutch mainland and barrier islands.

But the Dutch wanted a solution that would be more responsive to the natural conditions of the coast, as well, and in 2015 decided to adapt its flood defenses along the Wadden Sea coast to include salt marshes in response to growing concern over sea-level rise caused by climate change.

In the U.S., a federal law enacted in 1982 doesn’t bar risky development on barrier islands—but reduces incentives for such activity by making these properties ineligible for financial assistance, including federal flood insurance.

With the Trump administration expressing widespread skepticism about human-caused climate change, renewed federal action seems unlikely in the coming years. Still, some states are acting more aggressively.

Louisiana’s Post-Katrina Plans

Louisiana’s 2017 coastal restoration plan offers a 50-year blueprint for the state to restore a coastline that has been devastated by hurricanes, land subsidence and other factors, said Gerald Galloway, a research engineering professor at University of Maryland.

The plan calls for a mix of projects, including restoring salt and freshwater marshes, diverting sediment, constructing breakwaters, and rebuilding barrier islands.

Between 1932 and 2010, the Louisiana coast lost more than 1,800 square miles of land, including more than 300 square miles of marshland that was lost to hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and Gustav and Ike in 2008, according the U.S. Geological Survey.

The key to coastal resilience is to develop a comprehensive, regional long-term plan that combines natural features of the coast along with engineered solutions that mimic nature, said Galloway, who was appointed in 2010 to Louisiana’s advisory committee on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation.

Record Rains and Overflow

But engineered solutions can be overwhelmed, Galloway said.

In Houston, for example, ponds and dams filled to capacity and overtopped when Harvey lashed the Gulf Coast with record rains.

“What really nailed Houston was not a large storm surge, but rather an extraordinary amount of rainfall,” Stein, of National Wildlife Federation, said.

Harvey was a rainfall-dominated event, but what if there was a Katrina-like-event where a wall of water moved in, Galloway asked.

“It would wipe out refineries, wipe out homes between Galveston Bay and Houston,” he said.

Loss of Freshwater Wetlands

A form of wetlands known as coastal prairie potholes are native to Houston, “but now all you see is pavement,” Stein said. The eight-county Houston area has built over most of its freshwater wetlands so the flood-absorbing capacity of its natural systems has been compromised, he said. These freshwater wetlands are the headwaters for virtually all of the water bodies feeding into Galveston Bay.

Since 1992, the Greater Houston metro area lost about 5.5 percent—or 24,600 of the 447,949 acres—of natural freshwater wetlands mapped by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wetland Inventory, according to a 2014 study by the Texas A&M University’s Texas Coastal Watershed Program that attempted to quantify wetland loss in the city.

The greatest losses occurred in Harris County, which includes the city of Houston itself, and where almost 30 percent of the freshwater wetlands that had existed in 1992 were gone by 2014.

In Florida, the problem lay in development that has continued to the water’s edge, encroaching into the mangroves and barrier islands, Stein said, pointing to Miami Beach, which was developed on a barrier island that normally would have protected against storm surges.

Half of Florida’s Mangrove’s Gone

Florida has lost about half of its mangrove forests just since the mid-1900s.

The state has about 469,000 acres of mangrove forests today, which provide critical habitat for adult fish, stabilize shorelines and help prevent storm surge and erosion damage to coastal property, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

While storms and hurricanes, notably Andrew in 1992, have damaged mangroves, “human destruction of mangrove habitat by shoreline development is their greatest threat,” contributing to the removal of nearly 500,000 acres between 1943 and 1970, a University of Florida fact sheet notes. In 1996, Florida passed a law restricting trimming of mangroves.

Loss of mangrove habitat has been severe in Florida’s largest estuaries. Since 1900, Tampa Bay, home to one of the largest ports in the nation, has lost nearly 50 percent of mangrove forests and salt marshes. Charlotte Harbor has lost nearly 60 percent. And on Florida’s East Coast, construction of mosquito ditches and empoundments have destroyed or compromised 85 percent of mangroves in the Indian River lagoon.

Both Galloway and Stein said city planners need to reconsider their past policies of allowing people to build homes in flood-prone areas, or encourage those already living along the coast to relocate to higher ground, and find ways to preserve natural habitat.

“It is a challenge to get people’s cooperation,” Galloway said, but he added it can be done. After the Red River flooding in 1997, North Dakota relocated whole communities away from the river banks.

‘Investing More in Natural Resiliency’

Other solutions include the use of engineered techniques that mimic nature, such as permeable pavements, strategically planted wetlands and vegetation to capture downpour and filter it through the ground naturally.

In Houston, which is completely built up, the goal should be where it’s possible to remove impervious driveways and install driveways that allow stormwater to filter through, Alisha Renfro, coastal scientist with the federation’s Mississippi River Delta Campaign, said.

Stein pointed to the two-mile stretch in Pensacola, Fla., where oyster reefs have been constructed to provide shoreline protection.

A report coauthored by Stein cites a number of states that are taking steps to enhance natural defenses.

Alabama placed the western spit of Dauphine Island, a barrier island located three miles south of Mobile Bay, under the protection of the Coastal Barrier Reduction Act, a 1982 law signed by President Ronald Reagan that discourages development by making properties ineligible for federal flood insurance. Alabama aligned its local and state zoning laws, making at least the edge of the island that is most prone to storms off development.

A recent study quantified the storm surge risk reduction benefits of retaining coastal wetlands at $625 million in averted property damages along the New Jersey shoreline that was caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, according to Michael Beck, the study’s author and a senior scientist with the Nature Conservancy.

Beck said his study was the first to put an economic value on the benefits of coastal wetlands, but—like all other engineers interviewed by Bloomberg BNA—he cautioned that nobody is saying coastal wetlands weren’t a silver bullet to prevent storm surges and flooding.

Still, he said, “we should be investing more in natural resiliency because it does offer protection.”


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Best of our wild blogs: 21 Sep 17



Would love to hear YOUR views – Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (Amendment) Bill (Oct 17)
Your Voices in Parliament

32nd Annual Bird Census 2017
Singapore Bird Group

Pangolins reduced to small, isolated populations in Bangladesh: new study
mongabay.com


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Most Singapore consumer brands do not source for sustainable palm oil, survey finds

Annabeth Leow Straits Times 21 Sep 17;

SINGAPORE - Most Singapore companies do not source for sustainable palm oil, according to a survey on Thursday (Sept 21).

It also found that businesses believe that customers are not clamouring for sustainable palm oil, reducing the incentive to change the way they operate.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) study polled 47 firms with headquarters here and in Malaysia - the first region-specific study.

It rated businesses on a 12-point scale that measured the proportion of certified sustainable palm oil used in their supply chains.

The judging criteria also looked for membership in the international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) bloc and a commitment to buying only certified sustainable palm oil.

Singapore-based Denis Asia Pacific, which is behind Ayam Brand canned food, rated 10 points to top the leaderboard.

Its products use only certified sustainable palm oil, said Ayam Brand country managing director Roy Teo.

"While our total consumption of palm oil is limited, it is possible to make sustainable choices even when manufacturing in smaller volumes," he added.

"We see this business decision paying off through increased employee satisfaction, higher brand value and new business opportunities in Europe, the United States and Australia, where sustainable palm oil has become a market entry criteria."

Another company that fared well was Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which runs attractions such as the Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park.

At least 75 per cent of the palm oil used in its eateries is sustainably sourced.

"We encourage businesses to take this step and consumers to voice their support," said its conservation and research director, Dr Sonja Luz.

But, in general, regional firms did not seem fazed by how customers would perceive the use of non-sustainable palm oil.

Eight companies of the 16 respondents were given scores of zero, meaning that they were upfront about their use of palm oil but had not yet made any progress on sustainability. The four Singapore companies in this category are Sheng Siong, Tong Seng Produce, Viz Branz Holdings and Yeo Hiap Seng.

Eight firms felt there was a lack of consumer awareness and demand for certified sustainable palm oil, so there was no rush to make changes in the supply chain.

Also, nine of the companies that spoke to the WWF said that cost was an obstacle, especially with profit margins at the top of their minds amid tight economic conditions.

The WWF study put consumer brands under the microscope, even as big commodity companies have recently been pushed to step up their sustainability efforts.

Singapore-listed palm oil supplier Golden Agri-Resources - the target of a Greenpeace campaign against illegal deforestation in 2010 - said on Monday that it had made it to the Dow Jones Sustainability Asia Pacific Index for large listed companies with sustainable business practices.

Another home-grown commodities company, Wilmar International, was a founding member of the Fire Free Alliance in 2016. This body comprises non-governmental organisations as well as forestry and agriculture firms.

The regional WWF study had a response rate of just 34 per cent, and only three companies told the environmental group that they are committing to sustainable sourcing, the report said.

In comparison, the organisation's 2016 ranking exercise of 137 companies across Europe, North America, Australia, India and Japan had an 80 per cent response rate.

That survey also found that 70 per cent had thrown their weight behind the use of certified sustainable palm oil.

Still, some Singapore companies that were marked as having given nil returns on the WWF report said that they do make an effort to ensure that the palm oil they use is sustainable.

TungLok Restaurants (2000) executive chairman Andrew Tjioe, whose restaurant group was listed as a non-respondent, told The Straits Times in an e-mail: "We are all for sustainability, therefore we use only RSPO-certified cooking oil, even though it costs us more."

More than 85 per cent of the world's palm oil is produced in South-east Asia, mostly in Indonesia and Malaysia, with the oil going into a wide range of consumer products, from food items like chocolate to soaps and cosmetics.

But cultivation of oil palm has been linked to ecologically harmful practices such as slash-and-burn deforestation, which can cause problems such as habitat loss, water pollution, transboundary haze and climate change.


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