Category Archives: News

Singapore sand imports threaten Cambodian ecosystem

By Jonathan Watts, The Guardian UK

Singapore, which prides itself on being one of the most environmentally friendly nations in Asia, is expanding its coastline with irresponsibly dredged sand from Cambodia, according to a report from an environmental NGO.

Global Witness says the lucrative sand trade devastates ecosystems, lacks regulatory oversight and enriches traders at the expense of local fishermen.

The report, Shifting Sand: how Singapore’s demand for Cambodian sand threatens ecosystems and undermines good governance, reveals that much of the demand is from Singapore, a small island state with big ambitions to increase its territory. The city state of 4.9 million people has expanded its surface area from 582 sq km in the 1960s, to 710 sq km in 2008, an increase of 22%, and it has ambitious plans to reclaim further land from the sea.

This requires far more sand than the island is able to provide for itself, prompting suppliers and middlemen to dredge and buy overseas.

Cargo manifests and photographs in the report suggest Singapore imported 14.2m tonnes of sand worth $273m (£184m) in 2008 from Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia. Its sourcing has reportedly expanded recently to Burma, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

The lucrative trade has alarmed neighbouring nations, which have seen chunks of their land being shipped off. After local media reported the shrinkage of several islands in Indonesia, the government there banned sales of sand to Singapore in 2008. Malaysia and Vietnam have imposed similar controls.

After the trade moved to Cambodia, the prime minister, Hun Sen, announced last May that his country too would restrict exports of sand.

But Global Witness says coastal dredging operations have increased in the year since. The NGO estimates a single Cambodian province – Koh Kong – has an annual trade with Singapore worth $248m (£168m).

On a single day, the NGO says its investigators have seen nine dredgers inside a single protected area – the Peam Krasop wildlife sanctuary and Koh Kapik Ramsar site.

The dredging operations threaten mangrove swamps, coral reefs and the biggest seagrass bed in the South China Sea, which is home to several rare species including the Irrawaddy dolphin, dugong and seahorses, it said.

Local communities have reported a sharp fall in fish stocks and crab harvests. The Cambodian government has denied any link with dredging operations.

In Cambodia, at least 14 firms have been given dredging licenses. A tonne of sand, which costs $3 (£2) per tonne to extract, can be sold for $26 (£18) per tonne in Singapore. It is unclear how much of the revenues are returned to the people in the form of taxes.

“Cambodia’s natural resource wealth should be lifting its population out of poverty. Instead, international aid has propped up basic services in Cambodia for over 15 years. Meanwhile, money from natural resources disappears into private bank accounts, and nearly 70% of the population subsists on less than $2 a day,” said George Boden, campaigner at Global Witness.

The government of Singapore, which will this summer host the World Cities Summit – focusing on sustainability – denies any wrongdoing. It says the import of sand for reclamation is done on a commercial basis with safeguards for the environment.

“The policing and enforcement of sand extraction licences is ultimately the responsibility of the source country. However, Singapore will continue to play its part to ensure that sand is extracted in a legal and environmentally responsible manner,” noted a statement by the Ministry of National Development. “We have not received any official notice on the ban of sand exports from Cambodia.”

Original Article

Mining ‘eating’ dunes at Northland refuge

By wayne Thompson, The New Zealand Herald.

The erosion of dunes at a remote Northland beach and wildlife refuge is being blamed on dredges mining the near shore Mangawhai-Pakiri sand resource.

A year’s wave action on the exposed coast has eroded 28m at the base of the Mangawhai Spit despite a 20-year community conservation effort to restore one of the country’s few nesting sites for the endangered fairy tern.

“The erosion is huge and continuing,” said Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society chairman Ray Welson. “It has not recovered after the July storms.”

The sea breached the spit 30 years ago. The society successfully fought to have sand mining off the spit stopped in 2004, but dredges operate to the south, off Pakiri Beach.

Mr Welson said erosion during the past 18 months north and south of Te Arai Pt threatened a pristine area, the stability of the restored sandspit, Mangawhai Harbour and its waterfront community.

However, ARC environmental chair woman Dianne Glenn said officers considered the erosion was likely to be due to wave action in extreme storms in July 2007 and last year.

She said erosion along the beach was consistent with low beach levels recorded in the ARC’s surveys of other east coast beaches.

Mr Welson disagrees. “From vantage points along the coast, on a clear day, one can see the adverse erosive effects sand extraction continues to have on the shoreline.”

Pakiri sand was used to restore Kohimarama Beach in Auckland City. But the sand lost at Pakiri in a year was equivalent to 50 times the amount used for Kohimarama.

Mr Welson said the society was trying to rebuild the spit’s dune system. This year, it grew and then planted 10,000 pingao and spinifex on the toe of the spit to the beginning of the coastal forest.

“Within weeks, you see sand building up against them. But the sand must be able to build up on the foreshore in front to dissipate the energy of the waves.

“There’s not as much sand being deposited on the foreshore, because it’s being taken away, and we are getting more severe wave action and it’s washing these plants away.”

Mr Welson said the society believed persistent erosion was concealed by inadequate and outmoded monitoring of the dredging.

The annual report on monitoring up to April last year should have prompted the ARC to order an independent review of the mining consents.

In March, the ARC and Friends of Pakiri Beach will go to the High Court to challenge the Environment Court’s granting resource consents for near shore mining of Mangawhai-Pakiri. In 2006, that court extended Sea-Tow and McCallum Bros’ consents for a further 14 years.

It also preferred the monitoring proposal of the companies to one which the ARC said could better isolate the effects of mining.

The appeal rests on a lack of evidence to support the company’s claim there was more sand coming into the area than was going out.

Meanwhile, dredges have left the Pakiri area for the Christmas holiday period.

Original Article

Governor Ends Support For California Oil Drilling

By Samantha Young, The Huffington Post

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday withdrew his support of a plan to expand oil drilling off the California coast, citing the massive oil spill that resulted from a drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

The announcement assures that no new drilling will take place off the state’s coastline in the foreseeable future because Schwarzenegger would have to include the drilling proposal in his May revision of the state budget.

Speaking at a news conference near Sacramento, the governor said television images of the oil spill in the Gulf have changed his mind about the safety of ocean-based oil platforms.

“You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, ‘Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?'” Schwarzenegger said.

The Republican governor had proposed expanding oil drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara County to help close the state’s $20 billion budget deficit. Democrats last year blocked a similar proposal, but Schwarzenegger renewed his support, saying it was a reliable way to increase revenue as the state grapples with an ongoing fiscal crisis.

On Monday, Schwarzenegger said his support had been based on numerous studies finding it was safe to drill. But now, “I see on TV, the birds drenched in oil, the fishermen out of work, the massive oil spill, oil slick destroying our precious ecosystem,” the governor said.

A drilling deal struck in 2008 between some environmental groups and Plains Exploration & Production Co., known as PXP, was estimated to bring the state some $100 million a year. The Houston-based company was going to slant-drill up to 30 new shafts into state waters from an existing platform that is sitting in federal waters.

The governor’s budget had set aside the $100 million from anticipated oil revenues to keep state parks open in the next fiscal year.

Schwarzenegger said he would find another way to plug the state’s budget deficit.

“If I have a choice to make up $100 million and what I see in Gulf of Mexico, I’d rather find a way to make up that $100 million.”

Scott Winters, a spokesman for PXP, did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.

Republican state Sen. Tony Strickland of Thousand Oaks said it was unfair for the governor to compare the type of drilling proposed in the Tranquillon Ridge area off California’s coast to the drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

“They are two completely different types of drilling. In the Gulf they had to use floating platforms because of deep waters. T-ridge is only 1,000 feet deep and the platforms would be fixed,” Strickland said. “If we don’t drill oil here, then we have to import it from overseas, which also has a big risk of oil spills.”

California’s drilling plan still needed final approval from the three-member State Lands Commission. Schwarzenegger has one appointee and one ally on the commission, newly installed Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. Schwarzenegger’s announcement Thursday means all three commissioners are likely to oppose any efforts to expand offshore drilling.

The California coast was not part of President Barack Obama’s announcement a month ago when he said he wanted to expand oil drilling off the Atlantic coast and in eastern portions of the Gulf. Including California would have been too difficult politically because of strong opposition within the state’s congressional delegation and with environmental groups in the state.

A 1969 blowout on a Union Oil Co. platform off Santa Barbara fouled miles of ocean and beaches and led to a moratorium on offshore drilling.

Currently, 27 platforms operate off the Central and Southern California coasts. They produced 13.3 million barrels of oil in 2009.

The PXP plan split environmental groups in California. Some conservation groups threw their support behind the plan in exchange for a promise that PXP’s operations would end in 2022.

Environmental Defense Center attorney Linda Krop, who represents the groups that signed the agreement with PXP, said PXP agreed to shut down existing oil production from three offshore platforms in nine years and a fourth platform in 14 years.

“We’re very mystified. We had a plan that would have eliminated the risk of an oil spill,” said Krop, who was taken aback by Schwarzenegger’s announcement.

But others worried the deal would open the door to expanded drilling along the entire California coastline.

“I don’t care when someone is converted to oppose offshore oil drilling, I’m just pleased when it happens,” Assemblyman Pedro Nava said after hearing about the governor’s decision. The Democrat from Santa Barbara has been a vocal opponent of the proposed oil drilling.

The project was rejected by the State Lands Commission in early 2009 with the help of former Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a Democrat. Since then, Garamendi was elected to Congress and Maldonado, a Republican who as a state senator represented a long strip of the Central California coast, took his place.

Associated Press writers Alicia Chang in Los Angeles and Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this report.

Original Article

State of emergency is declared as US oil slick nears the coast

Oil Spill

From The Times by Jacqui Goddard in the Gulf of Mexico, Tim Reid in Washington and Frank Pope, Oceans Correspondent

The massive oil spill pouring from a ruptured rig in the Gulf of Mexico has reached the coast of Louisiana, threatening an environmental catastrophe in the region.

The first fingers of oily sheen reached the mouth of the Mississippi River on Thursday evening local time, 24 hours ahead of previous estimates by the US Coast Guard

As the sun began to set over the fragile wetlands surrounding the Mississippi, the oil was slipping into the South Pass of the river and already lapping at the shoreline in long black lines.

Although US government agencies and BP set up 100,000 feet of booms to protect coastal areas from the slick, rough seas sent five foot waves of oily water over the top of the booms into the river.

The slick is on its way to becoming Americas’s worst environmental disaster in decades, endandering hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife in one of the world’s richest marine environments.

Even before the spill neared the coast, wildlife experts said a toxic mix of chemicals was poisoning the waters of endangered marine life and fisheries, including one of only two breeding grounds world-wide for Atlantic bluefin tuna.

“It is of grave concern,” said David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling.”

Fear turned to fury among local residents as BP, which has leased the Deepwater Horizon rig from owner and operator Transocean, stood accused of playing down the scale of disaster after as it emerged that five times more oil was surging into the Gulf from the seabed than had been calculated previously.

There is a growing sense among the fishermen and tourist guides dependent on the wetlands for their livelihood that the Government has once more failed them, just as it did in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

President Obama was briefed on the disaster and ordered Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security Secretary, and Ken Salazar, the Interior Secretary, down to the Gulf Coast today.

Mr Obama said: “While BP is ultimately responsible for funding the cost of response and clean-up operations, my administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defence, to address the incident.”

The operation now involves 1,100 people and more than 70 vessels. Last night, the Governor of Louisiana declared a state of emergency.

Cade Thomas, a fishing guide in Venice, said he was terrified that his livelihood will be destroyed. He said he did not know whether to blame the Coast Guard, the federal government or BP.

“They lied to us. They came out and said it was leaking 1,000 barrels when I think they knew it was more. And they weren’t proactive,’ said Mr Thomas. “As soon as it blew up, they should have started wrapping it with booms.”

US experts are now fearful that it could take weeks, or even months, to shut off the ruptured pipe — yesterday a third leak was discovered — meaning that within two months the spill would surpass the 11 million gallons that leaked from the Exxon Valdez tanker in the notorious spillage off the Alaska coast in 1989, America’s previous worst oil disaster.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency on Thursday so officials could begin preparing for the oil’s impact. He said at least 10 wildlife management areas and refuges in his state and neighboring Mississippi are in the oil plume’s path.

The 100-mile by 45-mile slick also threatens the Alabama coast.

It also emerged yesterday that the oil rig did not have a remote-controlled shut-off switch used in other oil-producing nations, such as Norway and Brazil, which could have closed down the well after the explosion.

The device, known as an acoustic switch, is not required under US law, but the lack of one added to questions about BP’s operation of the Deepwater Horizon. It exploded 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20. The cause of the blast, which killed 11 of the 111 workers on board and set the rig ablaze before it eventually sank, has yet to be determined.

Mr Suttles said that Deepwater Horizon was equipped with other safety devices that should have prevented this type of spill, in which the oil is coming out of fractures on a severed pipe connected to the wellhead, 5,000ft below the surface.

Dozens of vessels were trying to contain the spill, using a variety of methods. Crews triggered a series of controlled fires to burn off the thickest parts of the slick, while booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants were trying to stop the rest from reaching shore. Heavy seas, forecast to last into next week, are hampering the operation.

BP was due to start drilling a new “relief” well that would allow them to stop the flow from the seabed, although officials said that it would take at least two months to complete.

A separate effort was also under way to try to place a dome on the ruptured wellhead but that, too, could take weeks.

BP has also tried, unsuccessfully, to close the wellhead using submersible robots.

More than 400 species are threatened by the oil, including wading birds and sea otters. The Gulf’s abundant oyster and shrimping grounds are also in danger of severe damage.

Marine and coastal life from the smallest plankton to the resident sperm whales will all be affected, experts say. Valuable fisheries for oyster and menhaden fish are at risk, as is the breeding of endangered turtles and bluefin tuna.

If the slick spreads, the rare manatees of the Florida panhandle could be under threat.

Much depends on where the slick ends up and the success of the efforts to contain it.

If it is taken by the Gulf’s defining current, which is known as the Loop, the oil may also reach the Florida Keys and endanger the region’s coral and resident marine populations.

The type of oil leaking from the sea floor is complicating matters. It is called sweet crude, which contains heavy compounds, known as asphaltenes, that do not burn easily or evaporate, even on the warm Louisiana coast.

With light crude, both burning and chemical dispersants work well, but neither tactic is very effective against sweet crude, raising fears that nothing can be done to stop the oil reaching shore.

Microbial Answer to Plastic Pollution?

Plastic Pollution Microbes
These are microbes from the coastal seabed attached to plastic, as seen through a microscope. (Photo Source: Jesse Harrison)

By Society for General Microbiology, in ScienceDaily.

Fragments of plastic in the ocean are not just unsightly but potentially lethal to marine life. Coastal microbes may offer a smart solution to clean up plastic contamination, according to Jesse Harrison research presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s spring meeting in Edinburgh…

Read Full Article

Plastic Pollution: The Great Plastic Tide, by Coastal Care
The world population is living, working, vacationing, increasingly conglomerating along the coasts, and standing on the front row of the greatest, most unprecedented, plastic waste tide ever faced. Washed out on our coasts in obvious and clearly visible form, the plastic pollution spectacle blatantly unveiling on our beaches is only the prelude of the greater story that unfolded further away in the the world’s oceans, yet mostly originating from where we stand: the land.

Oil spill: Gulf of Mexico burn is last-ditch effort to stop landfall

By Patrik Jonsson

The decision by the Coast Guard to set fire to parts of the Jamaica-sized Gulf of Mexico oil spill spreading toward the Gulf Coast is a sign of mounting desperation in efforts to prevent oil from the sunken Deepwater Horizon oil rig from reaching American shores.

Though burning crude oil has been done experimentally, most notably off the coast of Newfoundland in 1993, it’s a last resort, and indicates that dogged attempts to both contain the spill and stanch the 42,000 gallons of crude a day spilling out of a crumpled “riser” have largely failed.

On Wednesday, the slick crept to within 20 miles of Louisiana’s sensitive fish nurseries and bird rookeries. There’s now a “high probability” that oil could reach the Pass a Loutre wildlife management area Friday night, Breton Sound on Saturday, and the Chandeleur Islands on Sunday, according to the AP.

IN PICTURES: Louisiana oil rig explosion

“This is potentially a very serious issue…. We are under no illusion of the risk that’s involved here,” Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen said in Miami Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Few other options The Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up last Tuesday, killing 11 and injuring 17. Some 36 hours later the rig sank, and since then oil has continued to spew from the wellhead sitting 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico in the Mississippi Canyon.

A joint task force of industry groups and federal agencies have stretched their capabilities to the point that it has few options other than to attempt the oil burn.

In the Newfoundland experiment, 13,000 gallons of crude were tightly corralled in a fireproof boom and set alight with a so-called Helitorch. The burn took about an hour, and the summary from researchers was that burning is a viable way of dealing with an oil spill in an emergency.

But in the current case, the Macondo wellhead could spill more than 4 million gallons of oil (the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons). Given the difficulty in containing the spill so far, the total volume of oil, and the relative infancy of emergency surface burns, however, the task force will have to start small. Its plans are to corral a 500-foot-long section of the oil spill with a fire-resistant boom, tow it to a remote area, then burn it, according to a statement.

If this works the task force will repeat the process in a series of controlled, one-hour burns, the statement added.

Charges coming?Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday they’ll investigate possible criminal or civil violations on the part of Swiss-based Transocean, the contract driller, and other related companies, as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The incident is adding political pressure to President Obama’s plan to expand deep water oil exploration along the US coast.

The fire and plume may not be visible from land, but the prospect of swaths of the Gulf burning for potentially weeks on end could raise more questions about the safety and viability of more offshore drilling.

“Maybe the biggest risk the offshore industry has had all along is the public relations risk, and the way this is unfolding it could be an incredible public relations disaster,” says Robert Bryce, author of “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.”

Original Article

Singapore accused of launching Sand Wars

sand-barges
Sand barges. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

Excerpts;

Singapore has been accused of launching a clandestine “Sand War” against its neighbours by paying smugglers to steal entire beaches under the cover of night…

The island city-state’s size has increased by over 20 per cent since the 1960s and demand for sand for lucrative land reclamation and development projects is higher than ever.

However, recent bans on exporting sand introduced in Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam have cut off supplies and opened up a thriving smuggling trade.

Thieves have begun making night-time raids on the picturesque sandy beaches of Indonesia and Malaysia, carving out millions of tons of coastline and leading to fears of an imminent environmental catastrophe on a swath of tropical islands…

Read Full Article, Telegraph UK (02-12-2010)