Hurricane Matthew’s Aftermath

A week after Hurricane Matthew (Oct 2016) hit Haiti, the death toll had climbed to 1,000 people, and United Nations agencies struggled to bring aid to devastated communities. The scope of the destruction on the Caribbean island nation is so dramatic it can be seen from space.

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One of the most obvious changes is vegetation loss – this includes the loss of farmland that Haitian’s require for food (many farmers are subsistence farmers)

Another obvious change: the amount of sediment coursing out of the rivers and streams. This is seen from the visible change of the waters in the bay seen above, as exposed soil is washed to rivers and eventually the sea without the protection of roots of vegetation.

Source: http://landsat.visibleearth.nasa.gov/

 

Threats to Singapore Coast – oil Spills

Oil spills cause not only enviromental damages to coastlines but also economic impacts and potentially threats to food security especially in coast countries like Singapore, where fish farms are found out at sea.

A day after two ships collided in Johor waters, oil patches were found along coastlines in the north-eastern part of Singapore, while an 800m stretch of Changi Beach was closed on Thursday (Jan 5) to clean up the oil spill.

A second fish farm in the affected area also reported fish deaths from the spill, although the authorities said most farms were spared and impact on supply was “minimal”. Nonetheless, some farms have been told to suspend sales, until food safety tests are completed.

When TODAY visited Mr Timothy Ng from 2 Jays Pte Ltd at his farm off the north-western coast of Pulau Ubin, cleaning personnel could be seen working to remove swathes of black oil.

This was “the largest such incident” to hit his 12-year-old farm, which is among those hit with a suspension. A visibly-disappointed Mr Ng said he could not do much with his fish stock now, except to put aerators into the fish cages to pump in fresh air.

“We cannot feed any fish now, since the food will be contaminated, so for now, we will just have to wait and see,” said Mr Ng, adding that “no more than 10kg” of fish had already died due to the oil spill.

His farm has around 10 tonnes of fish and seafood, and four employees.

Source: Todayonline

 

Shrimp farming in Honduras

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While shrimp aquaculture has provided economic options in developing Latin American countries, the industry creates some environmental and social problems. Mangrove destruction degrades water quality, reduces habitat for fish (pitting shrimp farmers against those whose livelihood depends on fishing), increases the risk of inland flooding, and displaces coastal communities.

Eutrophication can also occur.

The ponds themselves can contaminate the surrounding environment with too many nutrients (from fish meal fed to the shrimp), waste, and antibiotic residues.

Shrimp farming can affect other fisheries as well.

Also, the industry relies heavily on wild-caught shrimp, either larvae that have reached a given level of maturity or else pregnant females, which are transferred to the protected ponds. When done on industrial scale, the harvesting of wild shrimp in the Gulf can harm other fisheries because the nets pull up fish or other aquatic creatures that die and are discarded. National and international programs are underway to make shrimp farming both economically viable and more environmentally sound.

Where do the shrimps we find in Singapore come from?
Are they farmed sustainably? Or do the same problems seen in Honduras occur?

Why the South China Sea matters – Part 2 of the South China Sea dispute

A continuation from the Spratly Islands dispute post

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Nat Geo Reporter Rachel Bale reports her investigation into giant clam poachers on reefs in the South China Sea, like those on the Spratly Islands, in the video below:

In 2012 Philippine authorities found a Chinese fishing boat loaded with corals, live sharks, and giant clam shells at Scarborough Shoal, some 138 miles (220 kilometers) from the Philippine coast.

The government contacted Gomez with a question. Why in the world would the Chinese have so many giant clam shells? Gomez didn’t know, but he soon found out. A friend gave him a tip, advising him to visit the port town of Tanmen, on the island of Hainan.

When he got there, he was flabbergasted: “Rows and rows of shops selling nothing but giant clam carvings, giant clam shells, and corals,” he says. “There must have been, I would guess, a mile and a half of stores.”

It turned out that the giant clam handicraft market in China had exploded, and the South China Sea was its epicenter.

By the late 1990s Hainan fishermen had overfished their coastal waters. Their catches were getting smaller, and they were looking for ways to supplement their income, says Zhang Hongzhou, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

The government helped them out with a special fuel subsidy to travel more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) south to the Spratly Islands, as well as subsidies for bigger and better boats.

Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/wildlife-giant-clam-poaching-south-china-sea-destruction/

Corals in Singapore – Wild Singapore and Reef Ecology Lab

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Wild Singapore discusses the rich diversity of wildlife our sunny island has.

See the link above for one post explaining Singapore reefs and an account of the recent mass coral bleaching that has been observed:

Devastating world wide mass coral bleaching was declared in October 2015, eight months before it first happened in Singapore, by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The third global mass coral bleaching event in recorded history, scientists warned it could result in the biggest global coral die-off. The only two previous such global events were in 1998 and 2010, when every major ocean basin experienced bleaching. Singapore’s reefs also suffered mass coral bleaching then.

As bleaching events occur more frequently and closer together, corals have no time to recover. Some scientists believe that continued global temperature rise would lead a point when every year is a bleaching year by around 2030. This may lead to complete global loss of coral reefs by the middle of this century.

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The Reef Ecology Lab also conducts research on the Reefs of SG and the region. Click on the link to see a short description of the SG reefs and their threats – one threat, land recalamation, is quoted below:

The most significant cause of reef degradation in Singapore is sedimentation. Land reclamation, dredging of shipping channels and dumping of earth spoils, have increased the sediment load. Loss of coral reefs to land reclamation have occurred along the southwest coast of the mainland and on several of the offshore southern islands. Increased sedimentation have affected the remaining reefs in two ways:

(1) by causing a slow but steady reduction in live coral cover, and
(2) by reducing the lower depth limit of coral growth on reef slopes.

Surveys since 1986 indicate that live coral cover have decreased by up to 20% on some reefs, although other reefs register no impact. The reduction in sunlight penetration have furthermore reduced the lower depth limit of coral growth. In the 1970s, coral growth extended to 10 m down the reef slope. Today, growth is restricted to 6 m although some coral species still occur at the 8-m depth.

Sources:
1) http://coralreef.nus.edu.sg/singapore.html
2) http://wildshores.blogspot.sg/2016/08/mass-coral-bleaching-in-singapore-why.html#.V-ZrsJN970E

Spratly Islands Dispute – Death of the corals

The Spratly Islands are one of many islands found in the South China Sea that are part of the regional territorial dispute between nearby countries like China, Vietnam, Philippines.

All claim to have claim to various islands within the South China Sea, the largest claim being China’s ‘nine-dash line’:

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Other claims include:

Up to 5 countries are claiming parts or all of the Spratly Islands – China, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Why are the Islands important?

In terms of national security, these islands are important due to their location in the South China Sea, where many merchant ships pass through to deliver  goods, people, and energy products to Asian-Pacific countries. By controlling these islands, the country in question would be able to ensure the safe passage of their goods.

In terms of energy security, the Spratly Islands are considered indispensable to countries in the region due to the potential sources of natural gas and oil found under the islands’ seabed. Whichever country wins the dispute would have the right to explore and develop these resources for their own domestic consumption. This would help in diversifying a country’s energy portfolio while making them less vulnerable to foreign oil and gas markets. At this time, however, the amount of recoverable oil and gas that these islands contain have not been fully proven.

Beyond this, whichever country gets control of the islands will also have control over activities within the area – including fishing. Economically, the fishing industries of countries in the region can be very severely affected.

Source: http://energyinasiablog.com/2011/10/the-spratly-islands-dispute-defining-sea-lane-security/

Environmental impact so far?

China has been very active within the disputed islands and in recent years have constructed artificial islands within the disputed zones.

Satellite imagery from 30 March, 7 August 2014 and 30 January 2015 shows the extent of Chinese progress in building an island at Gaven Reefs in the Spratly Islands.
Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/28/asia/china-south-china-sea-disputes-explainer/

With the building of such islands on what used to be reefs, comes massive damage to reef systems, as discovered by experts:

Marine biologist John McManus said Chinese poachers had been using the propellers on their boats to destroy coral reefs at disputed islands Spratyls and Pag-asa, referred to as Thitu in China.

According to data, coral bleaching and reef scarring are evidence of systematic crushing through repeated scratching or scraping by Chinese poachers to harvest giant clams.

McManus added that aside from discovering the poaching method, the data also links the destruction of the corals to China’s construction of artificial islands.

“They said their scientists went there. They looked around and they say ‘Oh, this is all dead coral.’ It was! It’s the truth—it had been killed by the Chinese fishers,” he said.

Source: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/582462/scitech/science/chinese-poachers-destroyed-coral-reefs-in-spratly-pag-asa-islands-us-biologist

It doesn’t look like we are anywhere close to any solution to the dispute, those most agree that any solution should only come with negotiations and not military action. Until that happens, it is doubtful the reefs will be left unscathed.

Getting charcoal from mangroves – short term benefits, but long term problems?

How can communities and governments balance the need for environmental conservation and economic survival?
Can the locals afford to be forward looking and consider the long term impacts when food/ income is not guaranteed? Could anything be done differently?

Source: How is charcoal made from mangroves?

“Japanese fire up Malaysia’s mangrove coal industry

Varsha Tickoo, Reuters 4 Mar 09;

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

Nearly half of Perak is covered with mangrove forest called Matang, the largest in the Malaysian peninsula, spread over more than 40,000 hectares covering nearly half of the state.

The government has a replanting exercise in place but there are environmental concerns about the dwindling forest that guards wildlife, protects against climate change and events such as the tsunami, by acting like a barrier against the Indian Ocean.

“I understand these mangrove trees are very dense and make good charcoal but this would be like burning the Mona Lisa to keep you warm,” said Glen Barry, President of Ecological Internet Inc, a U.S.-based non-governmental organisation.

He said the mangrove harvest exceeded the number of mangroves regenerated, due in part to the fact that the trees take 30 years to mature.

But this may be a hard sell to the local people, who depend on the swamps to eke out a living in a state that is the second biggest on the peninsula by area but contributes less than 4 percent to the country’s economy.

“I’m not young anymore, what other job can I do?” says Mahteh Mah, a 43 year-old mother of three, wiping the sweat from her face on a dusty afternoon at the charcoal factory.”

 

Source: How is charcoal made from mangroves?