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News articles on latin america
Mongabay.com news articles on latin america in blog format. Updated regularly.
(03/11/2011) The highest coastal mountain on the planet rises 18,942 feet (5,775-meters) above the Caribbean Sea; it’s snow-capped peaks piercing through the clouds some 24 miles from an idyllic tropical beach. But to the casual visitor, the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta in Colombia does not seem so grandiose. It slopes up and down until it disappears into the clouds, jealously concealing its tropical glacier. Somewhere up there, shrouded in mystery, like an ancient treasure, hides the most impressive summit in the Caribbean. People living along this part of the coastline say the snows of the Sierra are visible from some beaches, but to me they remain elusive even after many trips to the region. To catch a glimpse of the snows from the Caribbean would be a welcoming gift, but I have really come here to experience the Sierra, whatever it would reveal.
Critically endangered capuchins make tools to gather termites
(03/10/2011) Less than 200 blond capuchins (Cebus falvius) survive in the highly-fragmented habitat of Brazil's Atlantic Forest. But this tiny group of monkeys, only rediscovered in 2006, is surprising scientists with its adept tool-using abilities. Displaying similar behavior to that which made the chimpanzees of Gombe famous worldwide, the blond capuchins modify sticks to gather termites from trees; however, according to the study published in Biology Letters the blond capuchins use two techniques never witnessed before: twisting the stick when inside the termite nest and tapping the nest before inserting the stick.
Photos: two new freshwater stingrays discovered in the Amazon
(03/09/2011) Few people probably realize that in the rivers and lakes of the Amazon rainforest large stingrays glide, searching for crustaceans and small fish. Equipped with a powerful barbed tail they are often feared by locals. However, even as big as these fish are, new species continue to be described. Recently, scientists have identified two new species of Amazonian freshwater stingray near Iquitos, Peru. The new stingrays are unique enough to be placed in a new genus (the taxonomic level above species) called Heliotrygon, the first new Amazonian stingray genus to be described in nearly 25 years.
World's most controversial dam, Brazil's Belo Monte, back on
(03/06/2011) A recent injunction against controversial dam, Belo Monte, in Brazil has been overturned, allowing the first phase of construction to go ahead. The ruling by a higher court argued that not all environmental conditions must be met on the dam in order for construction to start.
Report: 90 oil spills in Peruvian Amazon over 3 years
(03/03/2011) A new report has uncovered 90 oil spills by Pluspetrol in northern Peru's Amazon rainforest over the past 3 years. Covering two oil blocs—1-AB and 8—the report, complied by the Federation of Indigenous Communities of the Corrientes River (FECONACO), recorded 18 major oil spills in just the last year. "A week after the landmark ruling against Chevron in Ecuador for $9 billion of damage from operations in the 1970's and 80's, this new report highlights the ongoing devastation caused by the oil industry on the fragile Amazon ecosystem and the people that live there," said Atossa Soltani, Executive Director at Amazon Watch, in a press release.
New species of zombie-creating fungi discovered
(03/02/2011) As everyone knows, human zombies are created when an uninfected human is bitten by a member of the brain-craving undead. But what about ant zombies? Yes, that's right: ant zombies.
Indigenous leaders take fight over Amazon dams to Europe
(03/02/2011) Three indigenous Amazonian leaders spent this week touring Europe to raise awareness about the threat that a number of proposed monster dams pose to their people and the Amazon forest. Culminating in a press conference and protests in London, the international trip hopes to build pressure to stop three current hydroelectric projects, one in Peru, including six dams, and two in Brazil, the Madeira basin industrial complex and the massive Belo Monte dam. The indigenous leaders made the trip with the NGO Rainforest Foundation UK, including support from Amazon Watch, International Rivers, and Rainforest Concern.
Judge suspends Brazil's monster dam: contractor 'imposing' its interests
(02/27/2011) Construction on Brazil's planned mega-dam, the Belo Monte, has been ordered suspended by a federal judge, citing unmet environmental and social conditions. Just last month, the hugely controversial dam, was handed a partial license from Brazil's Environmental Agency (IBAMA). However, the judge, Ronaldo Destêrro, found that the partial license, the first of its kind in Brazil, was granted under pressure from the dam's contractor, Norte Energia or NESA.
First strike against illegal gold mining in Peru: military destroys miners' boats
(02/21/2011) Around a thousand Peruvian soldiers and police officers destroyed seven and seized thirteen boats used by illegal gold miners in the Peruvian Amazon, reports the AFP. The move is seen as a first strike against the environmentally destructive mining. Used to pump silt up from the river-bed, the boats are essential tools of the illegal gold mining trade which is booming in parts of the Amazon.
Researchers rediscover one of the world's most sought-after lost frogs
(02/17/2011) The Search for Lost Frogs, a global expedition to uncover amphibian species not seen for decades, has uncovered one of the expedition's most sought-after species: the Pescado stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios). The discovery in Ecuador was one bright spot in a search that revealed more about the crisis and extinctions of frogs than it did about the hopefulness of finding cryptic communities. In total the expedition rediscovered 4 of its 100 targeted species.
Worldwide search for 'lost frogs' ends with 4% success, but some surprises
(02/16/2011) Last August, a group of conservation agencies launched the Search for Lost Frogs, which employed 126 researchers to scour 21 countries for 100 amphibian species, some of which have not been seen for decades. After five months, expeditions found 4 amphibians out of the 100 targets, highlighting the likelihood that most of the remaining species are in fact extinct; however the global expedition also uncovered some happy surprises. Amphibians have been devastated over the last few decades; highly sensitive to environmental impacts, species have been hard hit by deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, agricultural chemicals, overexploitation for food, climate change, and a devastating fungal disease, chytridiomycosis. Researchers say that in the past 30 years, its likely 120 amphibians have been lost forever.
Half a million people sign petition against Belo Monte, Brazilian mega-dam
(02/08/2011) In a protest today in Brasilia, Brazil, indigenous people delivered a petition to authorities signed by 500,000 people calling on them to cancel the controversial Belo Monte dam. They hope the petition, organized by online activist group Avaaz, will help convince Brazil's new president, Dilma Rousseff, to cancel the project. However, actions by Brazil's first female president have pushed the dam forward.
Monitoring deforestation: an interview with Gilberto Camara, head of Brazil's space agency INPE
(02/08/2011) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the world's best deforestation tracking system is found in the country with the most rainforest: Brazil. Following international outcry over immense forest loss in the 1980s, Brazil in the 1990s set in motion a plan to develop a satellite-based system for tracking changes in forest cover. In 2003 Brazil made the system available to the world via its web site, providing transparency on an issue that was until then seen as a badge of shame by some. Since then Brazil has become recognized as the standard-bearer for deforestation tracking and reporting—no other country offers the kind of data Brazil provides. Space engineer Gilberto Camara has overseen much of INPE's earth sensing work and during his watch, INPE has released several new exciting capabilities.
Chief financier of Belo Monte dam ties social and environmental requirements to controversial project
(02/04/2011) The Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) has announced it will not grant a $640 million loan for the hugely controversial Belo Monte dam until 40 social and environmental conditions are met. In response, the company contracted to build the dam, Norte Energia, S.A. (NESA), has stated it may drop the bank's loan altogether and seek less discriminating private funding to start construction. Last week the Brazilian government's environmental agency IBAMA announced that the dam had been granted a partial license, an aberration in Brazilian law, to jumpstart construction. But BNDES also says it will not hand out the loan until a full license is granted.
Two massive droughts evidence that climate change is 'playing Russian roulette' with Amazon
(02/03/2011) In 2005 the Amazon rainforest underwent a massive drought that was labeled a one-in-100 year event. The subsequent die-off of trees from the drought released 5 billion tons of CO2. Just five years later another major drought struck. The 2010 drought, which desiccated entire rivers, may have been even worse according to a new study in Science, adding on-the-ground evidence to fears that climate change may inevitably transform the world's greatest rainforest.
Brazilian mining giant buys Amazon palm oil company
(02/03/2011) Vale, a Brazilian mining giant, will buy palm oil producer Biopalma da Amazonia SA Reflorestamento Industria & Comercio, reports Bloomberg.
Paradise & Paradox: a semester in Ecuador
(02/02/2011) A semester abroad is an opportunity to live a sort of compacted life. In a few short months you seem to gain the experience of a much longer time and make enough memories to fill years. I recall a weeklong trip to the Alvord Desert with a field biology class from Portland Community College: the adventure of living out of a van, conducting research, and experiencing a place with classmates turned colleagues and professors turned friends who knew the desert like the backs of their hands. In that regard, it had a lot in common with my semester in Ecuador, but I can't think of anything that could have prepared me for a four month stay in a small South American country that I knew very little about.
Incredible new photos of uncontacted tribe in the Amazon
(01/31/2011) Taken by Brazil's Indian Affairs Department and released by indigenous-rights group, Survival International, new aerial photos show an uncontacted tribe on the border of Brazil and Peru in detail. According to a press release by Survival International, the photos "reveal a thriving, healthy community with baskets full of manioc and papaya fresh from their gardens", but a community that is also threatened by illegal loggers from Peru.
Despite fierce opposition, work begins on Belo Monte dam
(01/27/2011) Arguably the most opposed dam project in the world received the go-ahead this week, reports the BBC. Brazil's environmental agency, IBAMA, has approved the first step of the massive hydroelectric project: clearing 588 acres of rainforest in the Amazon, although the dam would flood nearly 200 square miles (500 square kilometers) of forest.
Cocaine production killing Colombia's rainforests
(01/24/2011) Researchers have found that coca cultivation is associated with high rates of forest loss, at least in the southern forests of Colombia. According to a new paper just published in Environmental Science and Technology, areas near new coca plots are significantly more likely to suffer from forest loss. Politicians, environmental groups, and others have long attributed deforestation to coca production. But these researchers are the first to quantity the effect of coca cultivation while controlling for other factors.
Brazil's environment chief resigns over controversial Amazon dam
(01/14/2011) The president of Brazil's environmental agency IBAMA has resigned over pressure to grant a license for the Belo Monte dam, a hydroelectric project on the Xingu River that faces strong opposition from environmental groups and indigenous tribes, reports O Globo.
Renewed conflict between tribes and oil companies looms in Peru
(01/06/2011) Indigenous peoples and their allies have intensified their fight against two oil companies over contamination in the Peruvian Amazon. Last week, a group of indigenous protesters blockaded portions of the Marañon and Corrientes Rivers in the province of Loreto in northeastern Peru. The protesters were demanding that Pluspetrol, an Argentinean oil company, compensate them for a recent oil spill. As of December 28th, after eight days, the blockade remained unbroken.
Environmental atlas highlights human impact in Latin America and Caribbean
(12/28/2010) A new atlas produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) combines striking satellite images and rigorous data to present a unique and complex view of environmental changes taking place in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Agricultural lending jumps in Brazil, will Amazon deforestation follow?
(12/27/2010) With commodity prices surging, lending to Brazilian farmers for tractors, harvesters and plows reached 8.2 billion reais ($4.8 billion) for the July through November 2010 period, a 64 percent increase since the same period last year and the fastest pace since 2004, reports Bloomberg.
Climate change could cut premontane forests of Argentina and Bolivia in half
(12/19/2010) A new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that the premontane forests of Argentina and Bolivia are susceptible to large-scale shifts due to climate change, losing over half of the ecosystem to warmer temperatures. Apart of the Yungas tropical forests, premontane forests are the lowest in the Andes, covering hills and flatland; these forests harbor significant biodiversity, yet many of those species may become threatened as the world warms.
Lack of schools, trade drive exodus from remote parts of the Amazon
(12/17/2010) Lack of school access and higher costs of trade are driving an exodus from remote areas in the Amazon, a new study published in Population & Environment reveals. The research sheds light on to why people are leaving remote forest areas. It follows an earlier publication indicating that migration away from remote rural areas may have repercussions on deforestation.
Amazon tribe establishes first indigenous forest carbon fund
(12/04/2010) A half-century ago, Brazil's Suruí people knew little of the world beyond their cluster of villages – and nothing of the European settlers who dominated their continent. By 2006, that world beyond had engulfed them – a fact their young chief, Almir Narayamoga Suruí, saw all too clearly the first time he logged onto Google Earth.
2,700 sq km of Brazil's most endangered rainforest destroyed in 8 years
(12/03/2010) 270,000 hectares of the Mata Atlântica, Brazil's most threatened ecosystem, was cleared between 2002 and 2008, reports a new assessment by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA). Less than 8 percent of the Atlantic forest—famed for its biodiversity—remains.
Brazil's largest national bank signs zero deforestation pact for Amazon soy
(12/03/2010) Banco do Brasil, Brazil's largest state-owned bank, announced it has joined a zero deforestation pact for soy grown in the Amazon. The bank will now require farmers applying for credit to certify the origin of their soybeans.
'Environmental and social aggression': oil exploration threatens award-winning marine protected area
(12/01/2010) The Seaflower Marine Protected Area (MPA), which recently won top honors at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Japan, is now under threat by planned oil exploration in the region, according to the Providence Foundation which is devoted to protecting the area. Proposed blocs for exploration by the Colombian government lie in the North Cays adjacent to the park, and perhaps even inside MPA boundaries. Spreading over 65,000 square kilometers (6.5 million hectares), Seaflower MPA lies within the Colombian Caribbean department known as the Archipelago of San Andres, Old Providence and Santa Catalina. This richly diverse Archipelago is home to a known 57 coral species, over 400 fish, and some 150 birds, as well as the ethnic and cultural minority: the Raizal people. The prospect of massive infrastructure or, even worse, oil spills in the area could devastate the park and locals' livelihoods.
Brazil's Amazon deforestation rate falls to lowest on record
(12/01/2010) Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell to the lowest rate on record, putting Brazil well on track to meet its targets for reducing rainforest destruction. Analysis of satellite imagery by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows that 6,450 square kilometers of rainforest were cleared in the Amazon in the 12 months ended July 31, 2010, a 14 percent drop from the year earlier period.
Good stewards of forests at home outsource deforestation abroad
(11/24/2010) As more nations adopt better laws and policies to save and restore forests at home, they may, in fact, be outsourcing deforestation to other parts of the world, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Looking at six developing nations where forests are recovering—instead of receding—the study found only one of them did not outsource deforestation to meet local demand for wood-products and food, a process known as 'leakage'.
Record number of nations hit all time temperature highs
(11/23/2010) To date, nineteen nations have hit or matched record high temperatures this year, according to Jeff Master's Wunder Blog, making 2010 the only year to have so many national records. In contrast, no nation this year has hit a record cold temperature.
Oil, indigenous people, and Ecuador's big idea
(11/23/2010) Ecuador's big idea—potentially Earth-rattling—goes something like this: the international community pays the small South American nation not to drill for nearly a billion barrels of oil in a massive block of Yasuni National Park. While Ecuador receives hundred of millions in an UN-backed fund, what does the international community receive? Arguably the world's most biodiverse rainforest is saved from oil extraction, two indigenous tribes' requests to be left uncontacted are respected, and some 400 million metric tons of CO2 is not emitted from burning the oil. In other words, the international community is being asked to put money where its mouth is on climate change, indigenous rights, and biodiversity loss. David Romo Vallejo, professor at the University of San Francisco Quito and co-director of Tiputini research station in Yasuni, recently told mongabay.com in an interview that this is "the best proposal so far made to ensure the protection of this incredible site."
New population of Critically Endangered monkey discovered
(11/22/2010) Classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, listed among the Top 25 Most Endangered primates in the world, and rated number 71 on the EDGE's list of world's most endangered and unique mammals, the yellow-tailed woolly monkey needed some good news—and this week it got it. The conservation organization, Neotropical Primate Conservation (NPC), has announced the discovery of an unknown population of the yellow-tailed woolly monkey (Oreonax flavicauda), buttressing hopes that the species will survive in the long-term.
50 NGOS tell big oil to get out of uncontacted natives' territory
(11/21/2010) A letter signed by over 50 NGOs is calling on three big oil companies—Perenco, Repsol-YPF, and ConocoPhillips—to withdraw from Peruvian territory inhabited by uncontacted indigenous tribes. The letter states that the oil companies' presence in the area threatens the uncontacted tribe with diseases, for which they have little immunity, and puts the lives of oil company workers in jeopardy, since past encounters have ended in violence.
Pictures: 'Mr. Burns' frog discovered in Colombia along with 2 other new species
(11/15/2010) Three previously undocumented species of frog have been discovered in Colombia, reports Conservation International.
Ecotourism brings home the bacon in the Peruvian Amazon
(11/15/2010) Ecotourism is one of the most profitable uses of tropical forest in the Tambopata area of the Peruvian Amazon, according to a study released on 29 September in the journal PLoS ONE. In 2002 Peru’s government passed legislation to allow ecotourism-controlled zones in the Tambopata region of southeastern Peru. Policymakers hoped such zones would preserve spectacular rainforest habitats while bringing in steady money. Critics have wondered, though, whether the strategy can succeed in the face of other profitable―yet destructive―ventures on pristine forested land.
Evo Morales for the Nobel Prize?
(11/11/2010) Does Evo Morales merit a Nobel peace prize for his admirable work on climate justice? Former prize winners, as well as the Bolivian Congress, believe he deserves it and both have launched an international campaign on behalf of Bolivia’s indigenous president. In April of this year, Morales helped to organize the First World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which drew a whopping 35,000 people to the Bolivian city of Cochabamba. Designed as a kind of counter summit to the official Copenhagen conference of 2009, which proved a debacle in terms of reining in climate change, Cochabamba represented a milestone in social mobilization.
Brazil's development bank announces $588m fund to reduce agricultural emissions
(11/11/2010) Brazil's national development bank launched a 1 billion reais ($588 million) fund that will finance projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture, reports Reuters.
Mato Grosso moves to strip protection of the Amazon rainforest
(11/07/2010) The Mato Grosso state assembly passed a bill that would substantially reduce protections for the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal, a biologically-rich wetland, according to a statement signed by 27 organizations. The bill, which was approved 19 votes to one, would replace the ecological zoning system proposed by the state's former governor, Blairo Maggi, after three years of consultations with a wide range of stakeholders. The bill reduces areas set aside for conservation by 73 percent and calls for a 67 percent increase in the area zoned for agriculture intensification.
Deforestation falls, but rainforest damage surges in Brazil in Sept
(11/06/2010) Despite the worst drought on record in the region, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon during September fell by 20 percent relative to September 2009, reports Imazon, a research institute that provides monthly updates on forest clearing.
Epidemic hits Amazonian indigenous group
(10/31/2010) An epidemic, suspected to be malaria, has struck down dozens of people of the Yanomami tribe in the Venezuelan Amazon, reports the Associated Press. Leaders of the three impacted village told health workers that approximately 50 people have died so far, many of them children.
Brazil to impose levy on oil profits to fund climate change adaption, mitigation
(10/26/2010) Brazil will fund climate change mitigation and adaption projects through a levy on domestic oil production, reports Reuters.
Brazil's national development bank found guilty of driving Amazon deforestation
(10/25/2010) BNDES, Brazil's national development bank, contributed to Amazon deforestation by lending billions of dollars to commercial meatpackers, driving expansion of cattle ranching across the world's largest rainforest, ruled an audit by the Federal Audit Court.
Amazon suffers worst drought in decades
(10/24/2010) The worst drought since 1963 has created a regional disaster in the Brazilian Amazon. Severely low water levels have isolated communities dependent on river transport. Given a worsening situation, Brazil announced on Friday an emergency package of $13.5 million for water purification, tents, and food airdrops.
Colombian marine reserve receives top honors at global biodiversity meeting
(10/20/2010) Coralina, a Colombian government agency that established the Seaflower Marine Protected Area (MPA) with local community involvement, is being heralded today by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan. Proving that conservation and sustainable economic opportunities can go hand-in-hand, Coralina was instrumental in creating a marine park that protects nearly 200 endangered species while providing sustainable jobs for local people in the Western Caribbean Colombian department of Archipelago of San Andrés, Old Providence and Santa Catalina. Coralina was one of over 1,000 agencies and organizations that are apart of the Countdown 2010 program, which highlights effective action to save species at the CBD.
Walmart takes on Amazon deforestation
(10/18/2010) The world's largest retailer last week announced new sourcing criteria for commodities closely associated with deforestation: palm oil and beef from the Amazon.
NGO warns oil exploration in Peru may 'decimate' uncontacted tribes
(10/17/2010) Survival International has warned that oil exploration in northern Peru threatens two uncontacted tribes. The organization, devoted to indigenous rights, has sent a letter to the UN’s Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples, James Anaya, alleging that Peru is "violating international law" by allowing oil companies to explore a region home to uncontacted people, who are especially vulnerable to disease.
The ultimate bike trip: the Amazon rainforest
(10/17/2010) Like all commercial roads through rainforests, the 5,300 kilometer long Rodovia Transamazonica (in English, the Trans-Amazonia), brought two things: people and environmental destruction. Opening once-remote areas of the Amazon to both legal and illegal development, farmers, loggers, and miners cut swathes into the forest now easily visible from satellite. But the road has also brought little prosperity: many who live there are far from infrastructure and eek out an impoverished existence in a harsh lonely wilderness. This is not a place even the most adventurous travelers go, yet Doug Gunzelmann not only traveled the entirety of the Transamazonica in 2009, he cycled it. A self-described adventurer, Gunzelmann chose to bike the Transamazonica as a way to test his endurance on a road which only a few before have completed. But Gunzelmann wasn't just out for adrenaline-rushes, he was also deeply interested in the environmental issues related to the Transamazonica. What he found was a story without villains, but only humans—and the Amazon itself—trying to survive in a complex, confusing world.
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