Best of our wild blogs: 25 May 18

10 Jun (Sun): FREE Chek Jawa Open House
wild shores of singapore

Tree Nest Hole for Rent at Pasir Ris Park II
Singapore Bird Group

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Malaysia: SAM wants sand mining at Perak turtle landing site stopped

Bernama New Straits Times 24 May 18;

LUMUT: Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) has called for all sand mining activities at the river mouth of Sungai Puyu in Pantai Pasir Panjang, Segari here to cease immediately to prevent the destruction of turtle landing sites at the area.

Its research field officer Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman said the activities have caused problems at the only turtle landing area in Perak which stretched over seven kilometres.

He said the area has been categorised as a 'level 1 environment sensitive area' which could not be developed for any activities or change of land use except for low-impact tourism economic activities, education and research.

"When the sand mining began, we are worried it may disrupt the natural habitat and affect the number of turtle landings.

"The state government should give attention to environmental protection and not only on development.

"In fact, according to licensed turtle egg collectors appointed by the Fisheries Department, turtle egg collection in the area has fallen,” he told reporters here today.

Meor Razak also called for the protected turtle landing site as well as the nearby forest areas to be gazetted as a State Park. — BERNAMA

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Dugong and sea turtle poo sheds new light on the Great Barrier Reef’s seagrass meadows

James Cook University The Conversation AU 25 May 18;

Just like birds and mammals carrying seeds through a rainforest, green sea turtles and dugong spread the seeds of seagrass plants as they feed. Our team at James Cook University’s TropWATER Centre has uncovered a unique relationship in the seagrass meadows of the Great Barrier Reef.

We followed feeding sea turtle and dugong, collecting samples of their floating faecal matter. Samantha then had the unenviable job of sifting through hundreds of smelly samples to find any seagrass seeds. These seeds range in size from a few centimetres to a few millimetres, and therefore can require the assistance of a microscope to be found. Once any seeds were found, they were stained with a chemical dye (Tetrazolium) to see if they were still viable (capable of growing).

Why is this important for turtles and dugong?

Green sea turtles and dugong are iconic animals on the reef, and seagrass is their food. Dugong can eat as much as 35 kilograms of wet seagrass a day, while sea turtles can eat up to 2.5% of their body weight per day. Without productive seagrass meadows, they would not survive.

This relationship was highlighted in 2010-11 when heavy flooding and the impact of tropical cyclone Yasi led to drastic seagrass declines in north Queensland. In the year following this seagrass decline there was a spike in the number of starving and stranded sea turtles and dugong along the entire Queensland coast.

The seagrass team at James Cook University has been mapping, monitoring and researching the health of the Great Barrier Reef seagrasses for more than 30 years. While coral reefs are more attractive for tourists, the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area actually contains a greater area of seagrass than coral, encompassing around 20% of the world’s seagrass species. Seagrass ecosystems also maintain vibrant marine life, with many fish, crustaceans, sea stars, sea cucumbers, urchins and many more marine animals calling these meadows their home.

These underwater flowering plants are a vital component of the reef ecosystem. Seagrasses stabilise the sediment, sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and filter the water before it reaches the coral reefs. Further, the seagrass meadows in the Great Barrier Reef support one of the largest populations of sea turtles and dugong in the world.

Seagrass meadows are more connected than we thought

Samantha’s research was worth the effort. There were seeds of at least three seagrass species in the poo of both sea turtles and dugong. And lots of them – as many as two seeds per gram of poo. About one in ten were viable, meaning they could grow into new plants.

Based on estimates of the number of animals in the coastal waters, the time it takes for food to pass through their gut, and movement data collected from animals fitted with satellite tags, there are potentially as many as 500,000 viable seeds on the move each day in the Great Barrier Reef. These seeds can be transported distances of up to 650km in total.

This means turtles and dugong are connecting distant seagrass meadows by transporting seeds. Those seeds improve the genetic diversity of the meadows and may help meadows recover when they are damaged or lost after cyclones. These animals help to protect and nurture their own food supply, and in doing so make the reef ecosystem around them more resilient.

Understanding recovery after climate events

Seagrass meadows have been under stress in recent years. A series of floods and cyclones has left meadows in poor condition, and recovery has been patchy and site-dependent.

This research shows that these ecosystems have pathways for recovery. Provided we take care with the environment, seagrasses may yet recover without direct human intervention.

This work emphasises how much we still have to learn about how the reef systems interconnect and work together – and how much we need to protect every part of our marvellous and amazing reef environment.

Disclosure statement
Samantha Tol receives funding from various research grants and income from coastal projects and consultancies.

Paul York receives funding from various research grants and income from coastal projects and consultancies.

Rob Coles receives funding from various research grants and income from coastal projects and consultancies.

Alana Grech does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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The Internet: a dangerous place for wild animals

AFP The Star 24 May 18;

PARIS: From ivory baubles and leopard coats to rare turtles and live bears, the online market for protected wildlife is booming, according to an International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) investigation released May 23.

Experts from the NGO spent six weeks last year combing the Internet in four countries – Russia, France, Germany and Britain – for advertisements hawking endangered animals, whether dead or alive, in pieces or whole.

The haul was impressive: 11,772 individual articles or animals in 5,381 ads spread across 106 websites and social media platforms.

Total asking-price value? Just shy of US$4mil (RM15.92mil).

And while it is possible to sell and buy certain endangered species with permits under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), 80%-90% of the transactions proposed were probably illegal, said Celine Sissler-Bienvenu, IFAW’s director for France and francophone Africa.

“The Internet has transformed the global economy, and illegal wildlife trade has transformed with it,” said Rikkert Reijnen, director for wildlife crime at the US-based NGO.

“All those who profit form wildlife crime have moved into the online space.”

Besides turtles, other sought-after reptiles on the black market include snakes, lizards, and alligators. Owls, birds of prey, toucans, cranes and other protected bird species were also on the virtual bloc.

The market for mammals is more varied, ranging from body parts – rhino horns, cheetah and leopard furs, and a pair of coffee tables made from elephant legs – to a menagerie of protected species, trapped in the wild or raised in captivity under doubtful conditions.

“Of the many threats to our planet’s wildlife, the illegal trade of live animals and their body parts is one of the most inhumane,” said Reijnen.

Most of the live animals were on sale in Russia, including big cats, monkeys, lemurs and at least one bear.

IFAW praised the “precious work” and commitment shown by major online peer-to-peer platforms such as e-Bay, which has trained its personnel to join in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking.

But national regulations are lagging behind, especially for commerce on the internet, the reports said.

As a general rule, sellers – often connected to criminal organisations – know they are breaking the law, but buyers may be less aware.

“They just want some exotic animals,” Sissler-Bienvenu said.

IFAW has forwarded their findings to national and international authorities. Similar reports from the NGO in the past have resulted in legal proceedings against both sellers and buyers. — AFP

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Global warming may have 'devastating' effects on rice: study

Kerry SHERIDAN AFP Yahoo News 24 May 18;

As carbon dioxide rises due to the burning of fossil fuels, rice will lose some of its protein and vitamin content, putting millions of people at risk of malnutrition, scientists warned on Wednesday.

The change could be particularly dire in southeast Asia where rice is a major part of the daily diet, said the report in the journal Science Advances.

"We are showing that global warming, climate change and particularly greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide -- can have an impact on the nutrient content of plants we eat," said co-author Adam Drewnowski, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington.

"This can have devastating effects on the rice-consuming countries where about 70 percent of the calories and most of the nutrients come from rice."

Protein and vitamin deficiencies can lead to growth-stunting, birth defects, diarrhea, infections and early death.

Countries at most risk include those that consume the most rice and have the lowest gross domestic product (GDP), such as Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, Drewnowksi said.

The findings were based on field studies in Japan and China, simulating the amount of CO2 expected in the atmosphere by the second half of this century -- 568 to 590 parts per million. Current levels are just over 400 ppm.

For the experiments, 18 different strains of rice were planted in open fields, surrounded in certain areas by 56-foot wide (17-meter) octagons of plastic piping that released extra CO2.

According to study co-author Kazuhiko Kobayashi, a professor at the University of Tokyo, the experiment is designed to be more accurate than growing in a greenhouse.

"This technique allows us to test the effects of higher carbon dioxide concentrations on plants growing in the same conditions that farmers really will grow them some decades later in this century," said Kobayashi.

- Vitamins cut -

Researchers found that iron, zinc, protein, and vitamins B1, B2, B5, and B9 -- which help the body convert food to energy -- were all reduced in the rice grown under higher CO2 conditions.

"Vitamin B1 (thiamine) levels decreased by 17.1 percent; average Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) by 16.6 percent; average Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) by 12.7 percent; and average Vitamin B9 (folate) by 30.3 percent," said the report.

On average, protein content fell 10.3 percent, iron dropped eight percent and zinc was reduced by 5.1 percent, compared to rice grown today under current CO2 conditions.

Vitamin B6 and calcium were unaffected, and vitamin E levels rose for most strains.

The reasons for the changes have to do with how higher CO2 affects the plant's structure and growth, increasing carbohydrate content and reducing protein and minerals, said the study.

Higher CO2 means less exposure to nitrogen, which also may affect vitamin content, researchers said.

Not all rice varieties saw the same drops in nutritional value, raising hope that future research could help farmers develop strains of rice that would be more resilient to atmospheric changes.

A separate study out last year by researchers at Harvard University found that global warming would cut protein in a number of key staples, including rice, wheat, barley and potatoes.

The result: an additional 150 million people globally may be at risk of protein deficiency by 2050.

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Best of our wild blogs: 24 May 18

10 Jun (Sun): Dive clean up of the Sisters' Islands Marine Park
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

23 Jun (Sat): Southern Islands Sea Kayaking with Kayakasia
Celebrating Singapore Shores!

24 Jun (Sun): FREE Cach'in in Ubin with Outward Bound Singapore
Pesta Ubin 2018

Singapore Raptor Report – March 2018
Singapore Bird Group

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Woman fined S$4,000 for illegally importing sugar glider

Channel NewsAsia 23 May 18;

SINGAPORE: A 24-year-old woman has been fined S$4,000 for illegally importing a sugar glider, said the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) on Wednesday (May 23).

Nur Syahirah Hussein was caught at Woodlands Checkpoint in February. During immigration checks, a live baby sugar glider was found in a red pouch she was carrying.

Sugar gliders - small, omnivorous animals that belong to the marsupial family - are considered exotic wildlife that are not allowed to be imported as pets in Singapore.

The red sling pouch which was used to carry the animal. (Photo: AVA)

In addition to the charge of importing animals without a valid licence, a second of charge of failing to ensure that the animal was not subjected to unnecessary suffering was also taken into consideration, said AVA.

"The introduction of such animals may impact our local biodiversity should the animal be inadvertently released," said AVA.

"More importantly, exotic animals may introduce undesirable animal diseases into Singapore, which could threaten local animal and public health."

AVA reminded travellers not to import live animals, birds and insects illegally.

Anyone found guilty of doing so can be fined up to S$10,000 and jailed for up to a year.

Source: CNA/ad/(gs)

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Malaysia: Sabah imposes short-term ban on log exports

Kristy Inus New Straits Times 23 May 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah will stop exporting logs temporarily to ensure there is enough to meet domestic needs.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said this was decided today following a briefing with state-sanctioned organisation Yayasan Sabah Group (YSG).

“I will instruct Sabah Forestry (Department) and authorities for the export of logs to be banned until further instruction from the state government.”

He said YSG would review its investments and not get involved in high-risk areas where it lacked expertise, but did not elaborate.

Shafie gave assurances that YSG would continue to provide scholarships as this was pledged during the election campaign.

Asked whether YSG would go on handing out cash bonuses, Shafie stressed that it would be better to provide jobs and educational assistance rather than cash handouts.

Asked to comment on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the fact that he was one of the few to speak out about the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) case, Shafie said he did it for the country.

“I told the previous prime ministerwhat needed to be done. It was up to him.

“For me it was not a problem as I did it for my country. All the rest, like the position of minister, are not important,” he said.

“If there is a need for advice, then we will advise.”

Yesterday , former MACC deputy chief commissioner Datuk Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull pointed out that only three former cabinet ministers – Shafie, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah – had dared to speak out about the 1MDB case and it had cost them their jobs.

‘Logging to benefit Sabah first’
stephanie lee The Star 24 May 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Sabah will stop the export of its logs overseas so that local industries get priority to timber.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said he would direct for the ban to be implemented immediately after instructing the Forestry Department.

“This ban will be on until further notice,” he said after a briefing at Yayasan Sabah here yesterday.

This move, he said, was to ensure logging activities benefited Saba­hans first.

Annually, the state exports between 200,000 and 300,000 tonnes of logs to countries such as China, Japan, the Philippines and India.

Shafie said the meeting at Yayasan Sabah was to brief the officials on the new state government’s policies and direction.

Being an entity, which had helped Sabahans in terms of employment, education and business opportunities, Yayasan Sabah, said Shafie, would continue to play a huge role in the state’s socio-economic development.

However, he said, he was not satisfied with its current condition.

“Our direction now is to focus on strengthening existing programmes so that these may benefit Sabah to the fullest,” he said.

Shafie said ventures in grey areas or those with uncertain financial viability would cease.

The state government, he added, would also focus on providing sustainable assistance such as scholarships and job opportunities and not handouts to staff and its partners.

On claims by some Barisan Nasional leaders that “someone” had tried to sell Yayasan Sabah in the past, Shafie declined comment.

“However, I will be investigating where the plots of land allegedly meant to be sold are and who manages these,” he said.

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Hitting toughest climate target will save world $30tn in damages, analysis shows

Almost all nations would benefit economically from keeping global warming to 1.5C, a new study indicates

Damian Carrington The Guardian 23 May 18;

Achieving the toughest climate change target set in the global Paris agreement will save the world about $30tn in damages, far more than the costs of cutting carbon emissions, according to a new economic analysis.

Most nations, representing 90% of global population, would benefit economically from keeping global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the research indicates. This includes almost all the world’s poorest countries, as well as the three biggest economies – the US, China and Japan – contradicting the claim of US president, Donald Trump, that climate action is too costly.

Australia and South Africa would also benefit, with the biggest winners being Middle East nations, which are threatened with extreme heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival.

However, some cold countries – particularly Russia, Canada and Scandinavian nations – are likely to have their growth restricted if the 1.5C target is met, the study suggests. This is because a small amount of additional warming to 2C would be beneficial to their economies. The UK and Ireland could also see some restriction, though the estimates span a wide range of outcomes.

The research, published the journal Nature, is among the first to assess the economic impact of meeting the Paris climate goals. Data from the last 50 years shows clearly that when temperatures rise, GDP and other economic measures fall in most nations, due to impacts on factors including labour productivity, agricultural output and health.

The scientists used this relationship and 40 global climate models to estimate the future economic impact of meeting the 1.5C target - a tough goal given the world has already experienced 1C of man-made warming. They also assessed the long-standing 2C target and the impact of 3C of warming, which is the level expected unless current plans for action are increased.

“By the end of the century, we find the world will be about 3% wealthier if we actually achieve the 1.5C target relative to 2C target,” said Marshall Burke, assistant professor at Stanford University in the US, who led the new work. “In dollar terms, this represents about $30tn in cumulative benefits.”

The estimated cost of meeting the 1.5C target is about $0.5tn over the next 30 years,” he said: “So our evidence suggest the benefits of meeting the targets vastly outweigh the costs.”

“We also calculated what’s going to be the additional economic cost if we hit 3C instead of 2C. This will cost the globe an additional 5-10% of GDP, relative to 2C; that is tens of trillions of dollars. These are very large numbers,” he said.

The researchers acknowledge there are significant uncertainties in their economic modelling, but said they are confident that keeping climate change to 1.5C is very likely to benefit the vast majority of the world’s people.

The exact size of the benefit will depend, for example, on whether new technologies are created that help societies adapt to global warming, such as clean, cheap air conditioning, or whether climate tipping points are passed, bringing more severe damage such as rapid sea level rise. “The caveats apply to both the impacts and the adaptation,” said Prof Noah Diffenbaugh, also at Stanford University.

The economic analysis did not include the impacts of climate change on areas that are harder to quantify, such as the natural ecosystems that are vital for clean air and water and fertile soils, or the health benefits of burning less fossil fuel. Including these would make the benefits of action even greater.

Prof Maximilian Auffhammer, at the University of California Berkeley, US, and not part of the research team said: “Translating the impacts of climate change into economic damages is challenging. Pinning down just how large the effects of climate will be on the long-term growth of GDP needs to be a high priority for future work.”

“I think the authors of this study are doing the best job possible, by basing their estimates on a rigorous analysis and clearly stating their assumptions,” said Prof Wolfram Schlenker, at Columbia University, US.

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Best of our wild blogs: 23 May 18

Singapore Bird Report – April 2018
Singapore Bird Group

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Smart technology key to zero waste economy: Masagos

Michelle Sim Straits Times 22 May 18;

SINGAPORE - Smart technology will be the key to achieving Singapore's goal of becoming a "zero waste" society by 2030 - and create new jobs in the process, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said on Tuesday (May 22).

Speaking in his first Facebook Live panel discussion, which was broadcast worldwide, Mr Masagos emphasised the importance of a "circular economy", in which smart technology helps to extract value from waste.

He believes 30,000 jobs could be created from this environmental revolution.

For example, jobs in the waste management sector could move towards a system maintained by data technicians or analysts.

"It will transform the waste management industry from a cleaning industry to a clean industry," he said at the event, held at the Environment Building in Scotts Road. "Workers will contribute to innovations as technology solution providers."

The global smart waste technology collection market is expected to be worth $223.6 million in 2025, up from $57.6 million in 2016.

The technologies contributing to a circular economy also serve as an opportunity for building a new start-up culture, said Professor Seeram Ramakrishna, chair of the Circular Economy task force at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

"In nurturing a start-up culture, we need to invest in research to develop technology solutions specific to Singapore and countries in the region," he added at the event to promote this year's CleanEnviro Summit Singapore (CESS) in July.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has so far pumped $10.8 million into the Environmental Robotics Programme, which will encourage innovation in the environmental sector, according to Mr Dalson Chung, the NEA's director of industry development and promotion.

Mr Chung added that enterprising innovators are welcome to pitch their environmental solutions to venture capitalists during this year's CESS, which will be held here from July 8 to 12.

The fourth biennial summit is being organised by the NEA and brings together international delegates to discuss new technologies that tackle global environmental issues.

About 20,000 visitors are expected for the event, which will be themed "Optimising smart technologies for novel environment solutions" and held in conjunction with the Singapore International Water Week and the World Cities Summit at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

"This year there will be more exhibitors showcasing their environmental solutions and conferences where experts and policymakers come together to look for solutions," Mr Masagos said.

"When you solve your pollution problems, you solve your environmental problems, and inevitably, your economic problems."

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Fighting fires on Indonesia’s peatlands

UNEP 22 May 18;

The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 the International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. As one of the world’s most valuable ecosystems, peatlands support diverse species, including orangutans. Yet until recently, peatlands were drained and set ablaze for agriculture, producing an ecological catastrophe that sparked the need for change.

It’s now been three years since massive fires ravaged Indonesia in one of the worst environmental disasters of our century.

The blazes in 2015 scorched 2.6 million hectares across the archipelago, and produced toxic haze that blanketed neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia. Thousands fell ill, and the Indonesian government suffered $16 billion in economic losses – more than double the sum spent on rebuilding Aceh after the 2004 tsunami, according to the World Bank.

What ignited this catastrophe? More importantly, what is being done to prevent it from reoccurring?

Community champions

Beads of sweat trickled down Udeng’s face as he hauled a heavy hose across the field during a practice drill with his fellow firefighters.

The 45-year-old father of four is from Tumbang Nusa, a village located in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan Province on Borneo that was an epicenter of the 2015 disaster.

“The fires were very bad,” he said. “I’m here to do my part to make sure they don’t happen again.” At the time, Udeng’s kids fell ill with asthma and his wife evacuated them to a neighboring village for almost a month because their home became inhospitable.

Spurred to action, Udeng joined Indonesia’s network of district-level volunteer firefighting brigades, known as “Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA)”, which are formed by local village heads. Although Indonesia’s Ministry of Forestry established a Forest Fire Brigade at the national level called the “Manggala Agni (MA)”, its capacity is frequently overextended given its vast mandate. This makes the volunteers invaluable. Yet many of them lack proper training and equipment given the informal nature of their units.

To remedy this, in May, intensive training was conducted for 66 volunteer firefighters from six of Central Kalimantan’s most fire-prone villages under the UN Environment project “Generating Anticipatory Measures for Better Utilization of Tropical Peatlands (GAMBUT)”, which is funded by USAID and operated by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

The training was facilitated by highly experienced South African firefighters from the Working on Fire Program who first came to Indonesia in 2015 to assist with the disaster, and have since been collaborating with the UN Environment project as a key partner to increase knowledge exchange and sharing between the two Southern Hemisphere countries.

“Teaching the technical skills is the easy part,” said Trevor Wilson, Executive Director of Working on Fire. “The biggest challenge is changing the way local people think about fire, so the course stresses 80 per cent fire prevention and only 20 per cent fire suppression, because the best fires are the ones that never happen.”

Peat as tinderboxes

For decades, Indonesia's smallholder farmers have been using fire to clear land for crops to produce commodities like palm oil, of which Indonesia is now the world’s biggest producer. But intentional fires often spiral out of control, particularly during the annual dry season.

Particularly problematic is when these fires ignite on peatland. Peat is comprised of 90 per cent water and 10 per cent organic matter (decaying plants underwater). Peat fires can thus smolder underground for weeks. They are nearly impossible to put out without heavy rains.

“Peatlands need to remain underwater. If you drain them, you are left with a pile of organic materials like leaves and branches, which are extremely flammable,” said Johan Kieft, Lead Technical Advisor for the UN-REDD Programme in Indonesia, an initiative by UN Environment, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to support developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Of the 2.6 million hectares that burned between June-October 2015, 33 per cent occurred on peatlands. When the wildfires broke out, they were exacerbated by an El NiƱo year that caused an unusually severe dry spell. In normal circumstances, the wildfires would have abated after a few weeks, but in 2015, they raged for months.

Peat and climate change

After the 2015 crisis put a global spotlight on peatlands, Indonesia responded by banning the use of fire in clearing peatlands, establishing a national Peatlands Restoration Agency (BRG), as well as pledging to restore 2 million hectares of peatlands by 2020.

The UN-REDD Programme is working closely with Indonesia to raise awareness about peatlands, given that the country is home to half of the world’s tropical peatlands.

Peat is one of nature's most effective ways of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and stocking it underground, making it crucial to the fight against climate change. On the flip side, when drained and set ablaze, they can release 10 times more carbon than forest fires.

“By preserving peat, we preserve precious carbon because peat is the largest terrestrial carbon stock in the world,” said Kieft.

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