Newsletter 2021-07-08



Overcoming community-conservation conflict: Q&A with Dominique Bikaba by Rhett A. Butler [07/08/2021]

– Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is renowned for its biodiversity. The area is also home to the Batwa people, who are highly dependent on its forests for their livelihoods and cultural traditions.
– Efforts to protect these forests are challenged by conservation’s mixed record: Kahuzi-Biega’s expansion in the 1970s forced the displacement of thousands of local people, turning them into conservation refugees and sowing distrust in conservation initiatives.
– One of the local organizations leading efforts to overcome these challenges is Strong Roots Congo, which was co-founded by Dominique Bikaba in 2009. Strong Roots Congo puts the needs of local people at the center of its strategy to protect endangered forests and wildlife in eastern DRC.
– “Strong Roots’ approach to conservation is bottom-up, collaborative, and inclusive,” Bikaba said during a recent conversation with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

Playing the long game: ExxonMobil gambles on algae biofuel by Carly Nairn [07/06/2021]

– Algae biofuel initially looked promising, but a few key problems have thwarted major research efforts, including development of a strain of algae able to produce plentiful cheap fuel, and scaling up to meet global energy demand.
– Other alternative energy solutions, including wind and solar power, are outpacing algae biofuel advances.
– Much more investment in money and time is needed for algae biofuel to become viable, even on an extended timeline out to mid-century. While big players like Shell and Chevron have abandoned the effort, ExxonMobil continues work.
– In 2017, ExxonMobil, with Synthetic Genomics, announced they had used CRISPR gene-editing technology to make an algal strain that could pave the way to a low-carbon fuel and a sustainable future. But many environmentalists met the claim with skepticism, suspecting greenwashing.

Biofuel in Mexico: Uphill battle against bureaucracy, organized crime by Sandra Weiss [07/02/2021]

– Biofuels based on pressed plant oils, and made especially from used cooking oil, could help Mexico’s public transport sector transition to a cleaner and climate-friendly energy era, according to researchers and industry entrepreneurs.
– But there is a lack of government regulatory support, while the nation’s new president is betting on fossil fuels and neglecting biodiesel options and nature-based climate solutions.
– As a result, small biodiesel producers have to operate in a legal gray zone, while industry entrepreneurs are held back in the development of the technology and the market.
– Mexico isn’t alone: Many nations large and small are struggling with hurdles imposed by fossil fuel-friendly governments and a lack of supportive regulations to create a level playing field for the rapid development and deployment of biodiesel and other climate-friendly alternative energy solutions.

Myanmar’s warring military and rebels find common ground in corrupt jade trade by Andrew Nachemson and Kyaw Hsan Hlaing [07/02/2021]

– A new investigation from watchdog group Global Witness reports that jade mining is a major source of income for both the Myanmar military and armed ethnic groups, fueling conflict in the country.
– While conflicts between the military and armed groups escalate elsewhere in Myanmar, Global Witness reports that major armed groups and the military work side by side in jade mines in Hpakant in the ethnic-minority state of Kachin.
– Armed groups and individual officers have earned fortunes from the jade trade, while Kachin state’s environment, and the communities who depend on it, have paid the price.

Carving up the Cardamoms: Conservationists fear massive land grab in Cambodia by Gerald Flynn, Andrew Ball, Phoung Vantha [07/01/2021]

– Conservationists have expressed concern over a recently published regulation that makes nearly 127,000 hectares (313,800 acres) of previously protected land potentially available for sale or rent to politically connected businesses.
– Known as Sub-decree No. 30, the order is ostensibly meant to redistribute land to communities that had previously lost control of it after it was taken over by the Ministry of Environment and conservation NGOs to manage as protected areas.
– But activists and experts point to several features of the regulation — the proximity of some of the requisitioned land to concessions held by powerful magnates; the inclusion of uninhabited primary forest; the opacity of the land-titling process promised to local communities — that suggest it’s another form of land grabbing.



For Norway salmon farms giving up deforestation-linked soy, Cargill proves a roadblock by Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [07 Jul 2021]
– Two major salmon producers in Norway have eliminated all links to deforestation in their soy supply chains, according to new analysis from eco-watchdog Rainforest Foundation Norway.
– This is due in large part to a ripple effect down the value chain, after Brazilian soy suppliers to the European salmon industry made no-deforestation commitments earlier this year.
– However, at least seven of the biggest salmon producers in Norway have yet to become fully deforestation-free, according to the report.
– This is because they buy feed from Cargill Aqua Nutrition, whose parent company, U.S.-based Cargill, has been linked to deforestation in South America.

Billions in fishing subsidies finance social, ecological harm, report finds by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [07 Jul 2021]
– A new report found that the world’s top 10 fishing nations are spending billions of dollars on harmful fishing subsidies to not only exploit their own domestic waters, but to fish in the high seas and the waters of other nations.
– Experts say these subsidies are propping up fishing industries that would not be viable without financial support, and contributing to overcapacity, overfishing, and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
– The report also found that harmful fishing subsidies could also be leading to food security issues in some of the world’s least-developed countries where foreign fleets surpass domestic fleets in terms of subsidies and catches.
– The issue of harmful fishing subsidies will be addressed at an upcoming meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that will take place online on July 15.

Tiger habitat threatened by Malaysian royals’ mining plans by Rachel Donald [07 Jul 2021]
– A company owned by members of Pahang state’s royal family plans to mine iron ore in a forest reserve that is home to 15 threatened species, including tigers, elephants, tapirs, sun bears and leopards.
– The area, which was until June 2019 listed as a permanent forest reserve, is part of a wildlife corridor connecting key forest complexes in Peninsular Malaysia’s Central Forest Spine.
– The planned iron mine, which came to light after the project’s environmental impact assessment was made public, is one of a spate of extractive projects recently found to be linked to Malaysian royalty.

Activists take Indonesia’s mining law to court, but don’t expect much by Hans Nicholas Jong [07 Jul 2021]
– Activists have filed suit to revoke what they say are problematic articles from a controversial mining law that has been criticized as pandering to mining companies at the expense of the environment and local communities.
– Among the stipulations the plaintiffs are seeking to have annulled are the centralization of the mining authority with the national government rather than local authorities; and criminal charges for disruptive protests against mining activity.
– Another controversial issue in the law is guaranteed contract renewals for coal miners, along with bigger concessions and reduced environmental obligations.
– The plaintiffs say they’re not optimistic about the court approving their lawsuit, citing the government’s recent gifting of civilian honors, longer terms and an extended retirement age for the six Constitutional Court justices hearing the case.

Former dam executive found guilty in the killing of Berta Cáceres by [06 Jul 2021]
– The alleged ringleader of the 2016 killing of environmental and Indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres was convicted of murder by a Honduran court on Monday.
– Roberto David Castillo Mejía, the ex-head of the dam company Desa, was found guilty of participating in the assassination of Cáceres. The court decision was unanimous.
– Cáceres was gunned down in her home on March 2, 2016 at the age of 44 after leading opposition to the Agua Zarca dam on the Rio Galcarque, a river that holds spiritual significance for the Lenca people.
– Cáceres was recognized for her activism in 2015 when she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

Wildfires turn up the heat on farmers growing Indonesia’s ‘hottest’ pepper by M Rahim Arza [06 Jul 2021]
– Farmers in the south of Indonesian Borneo have built up a reputation and a lucrative industry around their Hiyung chili pepper, said to be the hottest in the country.
– The pepper grows well in the swampy peat soil of the region; farmers here began planting it after their rice crops failed in the same acidic soil.
– But the chili peppers, which local officials say have elevated farmers’ income to six times the local average, are under threat from the perennial fires that sweep across Indonesia’s drained peatlands.

In DRC, community ownership of forests helps guard the Grauer’s gorilla by Marlowe Starling [06 Jul 2021]
– The Congolese government has officially recognized community ownership of a conservation area linking two national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, giving hope for the survival of the Grauer’s gorilla, a critically endangered species.
– The gorilla, found only in DRC, faces threats from habitat loss, poaching for bushmeat, and the effects of lingering civil unrest in the region.
– The Nkuba Conservation Area is co-managed by local communities and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, with the latter providing jobs and training initiatives for women.
– The years-long effort to develop the conservation area and now to maintain it points to the importance of engaging local communities in conservation.

The true environmental cost of the Internet (commentary) by Enrique Ortiz [05 Jul 2021]
– Most people do not realize how much the internet requires in energy, physical space, and its carbon footprint.
– Enrique Ortiz, Senior Program Director at the Andes Amazon Fund, offers up some tips on what we can do, individually, to reduce it.
– The Spanish version of this piece originally appeared in RPP.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Naming of new ant species from Ecuador breaks with binary gender conventions by Jansen Baier [05 Jul 2021]
– The trap-jaw ant was named after the late artist and human rights activist Jeremy Ayers, a friend of study co-author Douglas Booher.
– When naming a species after an individual, scientific tradition has dictated ending the species name with an “i” for males or “ae” for females; Strumigenys ayersthey is the first species to break with this tradition.
– The ant is found in the Chocó region of Ecuador, a biologically rich and diverse coastal rainforest that is both understudied and under human threat due to mining, oil palm plantations, and logging.

Amid historic heat, a climate scientist’s mountain love story (commentary) by Heidi Steltzer [05 Jul 2021]
– Amid the record heatwaves hitting North America, no community is being spared, whether they are coastal, interior, floodplain or montane.
– A lead author on the High Mountain Areas part of a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shares a love story for these high places that are, she writes, changing rapidly.
– “As a scientist who studies the mountains, there are many tales I could tell in a year when snow melts early, and June is unnaturally hot. I choose this one of a place I love and the people who live here.”
– This article is a commentary, and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

In the Brazilian Amazon, a road project drives the threat of deforestation by Jennifer Ann Thomas [05 Jul 2021]
– Plans to pave a 400-kilometer (249-mile) stretch of road in the Brazilian Amazon could lead to 170,000 square kilometers (65,600 square miles) of deforestation by 2050, researchers warn.
– A new study shows forest loss around the BR-319 highway in Amazonas state is already by by 25% since the government expressed interest in restarting the road works.
– Experts say the argument that the road is needed to boost the region’s economy and improve connectivity is not valid.

‘Abnormally high’ turtle deaths after acid-laden ship sinks off Sri Lanka by Malaka Rodrigo [04 Jul 2021]
– As many as 176 turtles and 24 marine mammals have reportedly washed up dead along Sri Lanka’s coasts over during the past four weeks, since the sinking of the X-Press Pearl cargo ship triggered concerns about chemical pollution.
– The deaths coincide with the peak of the monsoon period, which typically sees a high number of turtle deaths, but conservation experts say the toll this time around is “abnormally high” and have called for necropsies to determine the cause of death.
– Government officials say the necropsies carried out so far have not been conclusive, and have commissioned further tests.
– Some experts are also cautioning against evidence-free speculation and theorizing, noting that the high number of reported deaths may be due to increased awareness among the public prompted by the sinking of the ship.

Deforestation soars 40% in Xingu River Basin in Brazilian Amazon by Fernanda Wenzel [02 Jul 2021]
– An area of forest twice the size of New York City was cleared in Brazil’s Xingu River Basin between March and April this year, a rate of deforestation 40% higher than in the same period last year, a new report shows.
– The highest rates of forest loss were recorded along the path of the BR-163 “soy highway,” a major trucking route that cuts through one of the most ecologically important parts of the Amazon Rainforest.
– Deforestation was recorded in protected areas, including conservation units and Indigenous reserves, which points to a failure by the government to fight environmental crimes, according to an author of the report.
– The main driver of deforestation in Indigenous reserves is illegal mining, which activists say has been encouraged by the rhetoric and legislative initiatives of President Jair Bolsonaro.

Nauru’s intention to mine the seabed prompts alarm among conservationists by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [02 Jul 2021]
– Nauru has notified the International Seabed Authority (ISA) that its sponsored entity, Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (NORI), plans to commence deep-sea mining in two years’ time, triggering a two-year rule embedded in the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
– The ISA has yet to generate a mining code that would set out rules and regulations for deep-sea mining activities.
– Experts are concerned that the ISA will prematurely approve Nauru’s application and that deep-sea mining will commence before we fully understand the damage it could cause to biodiversity and ecosystems.

Blind spot in palm policy raises deforestation risk in Malaysia, report says by Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [02 Jul 2021]
– A blind spot in the sustainable production policies of major palm oil companies is allowing plantation owners clearing rainforest in Malaysia to continue feeding the former’s “deforestation-free” supply chains.
– In Indonesia, forests can only be cleared if they are explicitly linked to a particular project; in Malaysia, companies can obtain permits for the sole purpose of clear-felling, making it more difficult to link oil palm growers and plantation owners to deforestation activities.
– Researchers have called on palm oil traders and refiners to trace deforestation beyond the mills in their supply chains, to the plantations the mills are buying from.

In the Colombian Andes, a forest corridor staves off species extinction by Veronika Perkova [02 Jul 2021]
– Recognized as one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, the tropical Andes host more than 10% of the planet’s biodiversity — roughly two million species of plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms — of which only 10% have been identified.
– This precious ecosystem is in peril because, in the past few decades, 75% of natural habitat has been lost largely to agricultural expansion.
– La Mesenia-Paramillo Nature Reserve in the Colombian Andes is attempting to stave off the threat by restoring 3,500 hectares (8,650 acres) of degraded land and connecting about 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of intact forest with the main Andean chain as a habitat corridor.

‘We are intimately connected with nature’: Q&A with oceanographer Kim McCoy by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [01 Jul 2021]
– The third edition of Waves and Beaches, published in March 2021 by Patagonia, examines the dynamic relationship between the sea and coast, blending lyrical prose with the theoretical study of beaches, waves and other oceanographic features.
– This new version of the book, which was published 57 years after the first edition, includes a discussion of how human-induced climate change is altering the dynamics between the sea and land, as well as the possible solutions to protecting coastlines against rising sea levels.
– The book was published as a collaboration between oceanographer Kim McCoy and the late Willard Bascom, the author of the first two editions, who acted as McCoy’s mentor in the years before his death in 2000.

Mining exposes Indigenous women in Latin America to high mercury levels by Nicolás Bustamante Hernández [01 Jul 2021]
– A study carried out by the International Pollutant Elimination Network (IPEN) and the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) analyzed the levels of mercury in the bodies of 163 Indigenous women of childbearing age.
– The study authors found considerably high levels of mercury in women from two Indigenous groups in Bolivia who base their diet mainly on fish they obtain from rivers near gold mines.
– According to the researchers, mercury in the mother’s body can put their health and that of their fetuses at risk.
– Communities evaluated in Brazil and Venezuela also had mercury in their bodies; in Colombia, Indigenous groups without nearby gold mining and with non-fish-based diets had the lowest levels of mercury.



The conservation gains we’ve made are still fragile, says Aileen Lee of the Moore Foundation by Rhett A. Butler [07/01/2021]
‘I am Indigenous, not pardo’: Push for self-declaration in Brazil’s census by Karla Mendes [06/30/2021]
Podcast: Connecting kids and ourselves to nature by Mike Gaworecki [06/30/2021]
In Rio de Janeiro, Indigenous people fight to undo centuries of erasure by Karla Mendes [06/30/2021]
In Boa Vista, Indigenous Brazilians retake their identity through education by Nayra Wladimila [06/29/2021]
Reckoning with elitism and racism in conservation: Q&A with Colleen Begg by Rhett A. Butler [06/28/2021]