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  PlanetArk 12 Sep 07
Malaysia Looks at Tougher Rules to Save Coastal Birds
Story by Clarence Fernandez

Yahoo News 5 Sep 07
Development said destroying birds' homes
By Arthur Max, Associated Press Writer

The spread of farms and towns on Malaysia's coasts has destroyed some of the world's most important winter homes for migrating birds, said a report released Wednesday.

Wetlands International, a global monitor of coastal areas and their wildlife, said the number of shore birds wintering in Malaysia had plunged by 22 percent over the past 20 years as the country aggressively developed its coastline for new housing, shrimp farms, industry and recreation.

The shrinking habitat means a loss of food and a break in the chain of wetland rest stops for migrating birds, the group said. "A larger number of young will starve. Slowly, the number born every year is declining," Wetlands spokesman Alex Kaat said.

Climate change also may be a factor. The report cited the construction of sea walls to protect against storm surges and rising sea levels as contributing to the changing coast line.

Mud flats ideal for wading birds were being eroded or reclaimed for human use.

Kaat said the organization was careful about drawing a link to global warming, though he said other studies have blamed climate change for shifting migration patterns.

The destruction of mangrove forests heightened the threat to rare birds, Wetlands said. Traditional prawn ponds were being converted to deep pools for adding crabs. Hunters also have taken a toll on shore birds, the report said.

"The region is undergoing rapid economic development, but conservation policies are lagging behind," Kaat said.

The coast of Malaysia's peninsula is one of the most important wintering grounds for several endangered species, including the Nordmann's Greenshank and the Chinese egret, the report said.

Estimates by Birdlife International say the global population of the greenshank, which breeds on the coast of Siberia, may number fewer that 1,000. The Chinese egret also probably numbers no more than the low thousands. Especially hit hard was the Perak coast, north of the capital Kuala Lumpur.

A two-year survey ending in 2006 found an 86 percent decline from a similar survey in the 1980s.

The Selangor area around the capital also showed dramatic losses of bird life, as did the wet coast of Johor, said the report. Wetlands volunteers surveyed 134 sites in Malaysia.

At the peak time, the survey recorded 105,000 water birds, with Selangor and Sarawak the most important sites. Wetlands International is based in Wageningen, Netherlands.

On the Net: http://www.wetlands.org

PlanetArk 12 Sep 07
Malaysia Looks at Tougher Rules to Save Coastal Birds
Story by Clarence Fernandez

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia vowed on Tuesday to toughen environmental rules for coastal development projects after a study showed a drop in bird numbers following reclamation that destroyed their homes in mangroves and wetlands.

Farms, homes and industry have sprung up along Malaysia's coasts, depriving migratory birds of key winter homes, leading to a 22 percent fall in the number of shorebirds recorded in the two decades to 2006, conservation group Wetlands International said.

Malaysia will tighten environmental regulations to avoid similar future mistakes, Environment Minister Azmi Khalid said.

"Of course, wetlands, people have turned that into prawn farms, fish farms, without regard," he said at a function in the Malaysian capital. "But today we are aware, my god, we have done the wrong thing. So now governments are very aware of this. All approvals are now being looked at very seriously by all state governments."

The state of Malaysia's vanishing wetlands mirrored the situation with its 189 river basins, just half of which were still intact, while another five percent were too polluted for even a fish to survive, Azmi said.

"In the process of development we have overlooked these issues," he added.

The move for closer scrutiny was part of a growing government consensus that environmental policy needed to be overhauled, Azmi said. He also said there were concerns the environment ministry did not have enough say in projects from highways to town planning.

"I'm told that inputs from the environment ministry are minimal, up to only the environmental impact assessments (EIAs), which is not enough. We don't have enough enforcement powers."

The format of Malaysia's environmental impact assessments dated to the 1970s and the ministry would consider revising it if necessary, Azmi added.

Environmentalists welcomed the move for closer scrutiny, but said that unless Malaysia identified and protected critical biodiversity areas in its development plans, wetlands would still be at risk from property developers who saw them as a bargain.

"Some people doing development like to go and grab the cheap areas which may be state land, or where they drain wetlands, because they feel they can get them for free or cheaply," Faizal Parish of the Global Environment Centre, a Malaysian non-profit group, told Reuters.

Wetlands International said Malaysian coasts were key wintering grounds for endangered species such as the Nordmann's Greenshank, which numbers between 500 and 1,000 birds, and the Chinese egret, whose population ranges from 2,600 to 3,400.

The group's two-year survey, ending in 2006, studied 134 sites in Malaysia, recording more than 105,000 birds. The worst-hit region was the coast of the northern state of Perak, which saw an 86 percent decline from a similar survey in the 1980s. There were also dramatic falls on the west coast of Johor and in Selangor, the area around the Malaysian capital.

Related articles in Singapore: wildshores
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