Newsletter 2017-12-15


Building a refuge where trawlers now ravage Cambodia’s marine life by Matt Blomberg [12/14/2017]

– In Cambodia’s Kep Archipelago, fleets of trawlers dragging weighted, electrified nets have reduced the area’s once sprawling seagrass meadows to a sludgy underwater wasteland and sent fisheries into a tailspin.
– Here and around the world, seagrass meadows are in decline. But these critical habitats serve as nurseries and feeding grounds for many marine organisms, as well as bulwarks against climate change and ocean acidification by capturing carbon dioxide.
– In the Kep Archipelago a small NGO is working to establish a marine refuge that will keep the trawlers at bay so seagrass meadows can recover and depleted fish stocks can return to life.

Mining concessions in Ecuador stalled over compliance with indigenous rights by Kimberley Brown [12/13/2017]

– The announcement is especially meaningful for indigenous groups that are directly impacted by extractive projects.
– By law, indigenous groups have the right to free and prior consultation before extractive projects take place near their land.
– Over 3,000 indigenous peoples from across the country marched to the presidential palace in Quito to demand action.

Brazil / UK push offshore oil pact, a potential climate change disaster by Jenny Gonzales [12/13/2017]

– This month, as Brazil ratified the Paris Agreement, President Michel Temer and the Congress pressed forward with Provisional Measure 795, which must be approved by Friday or it will expire. PM 795 would offer billions in tax breaks to transnational oil companies seeking to tap into Brazil’s 176 billion barrel offshore oil reserve.
– In November, Britain reaffirmed its Paris Climate Agreement commitments, but diplomatic telegrams released by Greenpeace show the UK was in clandestine talks with Brazil in 2017 to smooth the way for offshore drilling, massive tax incentives and relaxation of environmental licenses for transnational oil and gas companies, including British Petroleum (BP).
– Brazil has also announced major auctions for oil and gas exploration blocks in its offshore pre-salt region. Ten rounds of bids have been authorized to occur between 2017 and 2019. The September and October auctions counted BP, Shell, Exxon, and Brazil’s Petrobras among the big winners.
– Exploitation of Brazil’s offshore oil reserves could release 74.8 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, compromising the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. UPDATE: Late on Dec. 13 Brazil’s House passed PM 795 in its original form. Now the bill goes to Pres. Temer. Court challenges may follow.

CITES rejects Madagascar’s bid to sell rosewood and ebony stockpiles by Edward Carver [12/12/2017]

– The standing committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) had its annual meeting in Geneva November 27 through December 1.
– The committee rejected Madagascar’s petition to sell its stockpiles of seized rosewood and ebony that had been illegally cut from the country’s rainforests.
– CITES delegates agreed that while a future sale of the stockpiles might be possible, Madagascar was not yet ready for such a risky undertaking, which could allow newly chopped logs to be laundered and traded overseas.
– Other notable outcomes of the CITES meeting dealt with the sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), pangolins, and the critically endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus).

As 2017 hurricane season ends, scientists assess tropical forest harm by Claire Salisbury [12/11/2017]

– This year’s Atlantic hurricane season – one for the record books – ended on 30 November, seeing six Category 3 to 5 storms wreaking massive destruction across the Caribbean, in the U.S. and Mexico. While damage to the built environment is fairly easy to assess, harm to conserved areas and species is more difficult to determine.
– Satellite images show extensive damage to the 28,400-acre El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, the United States’ only national tropical rainforest. However, observers on the ground say the forest is showing signs of a quick recovery.
– More serious is harm to already stressed, endangered species with small populations. El Yunque’s Critically Endangered Puerto Rican parrot was hard hit: out of 50 endemic wild parrots, 16 are known dead. Likewise, the Endangered imperial parrot endemic to Dominica, spotted just three times since Hurricane Maria.
– Ecosystems and species need time to recover between storms. If the intensity of hurricanes continues to increase due to escalating global warming as predicted, tropical ecosystem and species resilience may be seriously tested.

Abandoned by their sponsors, Madagascar’s orphaned parks struggle on by Rowan Moore Gerety [12/08/2017]

– A dozen protected areas that were created amid the rapid buildup of Madagascar’s conservation sector in the aughts were later abandoned by their NGO sponsors after the political crisis of 2009.
– Among these so-called orphan protected areas is the 606-square-kilometer (234-square-mile) Bongolava Forest Corridor in the country’s northwest. The U.S.-based NGO Conservation International spent 15 years spearheading Bongolava’s creation, then abandoned the project in 2012.
– A year ago, a scrappy group of locals returned to Bongolava to resuscitate the protected area. Working with a slim budget, they are confronting both intense pressure for farmland inside the protected area and widespread corruption.
– This is the eighth story in Mongabay’s multi-part series “Conservation in Madagascar.”


‘A vicious cycle towards extinction:’ Hunting and trade can push even abundant wildlife populations to the brink by Mike Gaworecki [12/15/2017]

– Researchers at the University of Queensland looked at something called the anthropogenic Allee effect (AAE), a theory that proposes a critical population level threshold below which the likelihood of a species going extinct increases substantially due to rising prices for rare animals incentivizing more hunting.
– Using mathematical models to determine how quickly wildlife populations can decrease as prices for animal products rise in response to animal scarcity, the researchers found that the population thresholds proposed by AAE theory can drastically underestimate extinction risks.
– While these findings would appear to call into question the biological sustainability of trophy hunting, the debate over trophy hunting is typically centered on social and economic outcomes.

Colombian community leader allegedly murdered for standing up to palm oil by Taran Volckhausen [12/15/2017]

– Colombian community leader Hernan Bedoya, who defended collective land rights for Afro-Colombian farmers as well as local biodiversity in the face of palm oil and industrial agriculture expansion, was allegedly assassinated by a neo-paramilitary group on Friday, Dec. 5.
– Bedoya was owner of the “Mi Tierra” Biodiversity Zone, located in the collective Afro-Colombian territory of Pedeguita-Mancilla. The land rights activist stood up to palm oil, banana and ranching companies who are accused of engaging in illegal land grabbing and deforestation in his Afro-Colombian community’s collective territory in Riosucio, Chocó.
– According to the Intercelestial Commission for Justice and Peace in Colombia (CIJP), a Colombian human rights group, Bedoya was heading home on horseback when two members of the neo-paramilitary Gaitánista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) intercepted him on a bridge and shot him 14 times, immediately killing him.
– According to Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation (PARES), 137 social leaders have been killed across Colombia in 2017. Other observers have found lower numbers, but most track over 100 killed over the course of the year.

Recognition of Mentawai tribes marks Indonesia’s latest piecemeal concession to indigenous groups by Basten Gokkon [12/15/2017]

– The Mentawai district legislature last month passed a regulation that recognizes the region’s indigenous communities.
– The regulation is the latest in a series of district-level policy moves in the wake of a landmark 2013 Constitutional Court ruling that ended state control over customary lands.
– The move has been hailed as a positive development by advocates for indigenous empowerment, although the pace of progress at the national level remains sluggish.

DNA analysis shows Sumatran rhinos peaked during last Ice Age, never recovered by Basten Gokkon [12/14/2017]

– Genome analysis shows that the Sumatran rhino has been on the path toward extinction for almost 12,000 years, as the end of the last Ice Age cut off much of its former territory, a new report says.
– Habitat loss from deforestation and overhunting further devastated the species’ population, and it has never recovered.
– Scientists continue to make the case for captive breeding as the best effort to boost the rhino population and stave off extinction.

Top Argentine glacier scientist charged over cyanide mine spill by Max Nathanson [12/14/2017]

– Argentina has filed indictments against Ricardo Villalba, former Director of the Argentinean Institute of Snow, Ice, and Environmental Research (IANIGLA), and three former Environment Secretaries (Omar Judis, Sergio Lorusso, and Juan José Mussi), for their roles in overseeing the National Glacier Inventory (NGI).
– Villalba, a renowned glacial researcher, is charged with negligence and failure to properly inventory the nation’s glaciers, allegedly resulting in a toxic cyanide spill at the Valadero gold mine, contaminating the Jáchal River in Argentina’s San Juan province. The accusation was made by Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca, an NGO.
– Barrick Gold, a Canadian mining company, operates the Veladero open-pit gold mine, while China’s Shandong Gold Mining Company is part owner. The Veladero mine has had three serious spills since 2015, with the most recent in March 2017.
– Villalba helped draft Argentina’s law creating “mining no go zones” in Argentina’s glacial areas. Fellow scientists have come to the researcher’s defense, saying he is being used as “a scapegoat,” with the mining companies failing to take responsibility for their spills. A federal court is expected to rule this week on the charges.

Locals fear for their lives over planned dam in Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem by Junaidi Hanafiah [12/14/2017]

– Plans to build a hydroelectric power plant in northern Sumatra call for the flooding of large swath of the Leuser Ecosystem, an ecological hotspot home to critically endangered tigers, rhinos and orangutans.
– For residents, the fear is that the dam, to be built in a geologically unstable area, will collapse.
– Local communities reliant on fishing also worry that the damming of rivers to fill the reservoir will hurt their livelihoods.

Land reclamation threatens extremely rare spoon-billed sandpipers in China by Shreya Dasgupta [12/14/2017]

– Every year, the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper makes a crucial three-month stopover at Tiaozini mudflats in Jiangsu province on China’s eastern coast.
– The Jiangsu government, however, has already converted 67.5 square kilometers of Tiaozini’s coastal waters into land and plans to reclaim another 599.5 square kilometers of Tiaozini by 2020.
– Conservationists say that virtually all spoon-billed sandpipers that currently use Tiaozini could disappear if the reclamation goes ahead as planned, pushing the species to extinction.

African Parks backs marine reserve brimming with wildlife in Mozambique by [12/14/2017]

– The conservation NGO African Parks signed an agreement to manage Bazaruto Archipelago National Park in Mozambique.
– Leaders established the park in 1971, but recent illegal fishing and unregulated tourism has threatened the ecosystem and its economic value, African Parks said.
– The park is home to 2,000 species of fish and hundreds of species of birds, reptiles and mammals, including some of the last dugongs in the western Indian Ocean.

For Papuan villagers practicing conservation, a bid to formalize the familiar by Christopel Paino [12/14/2017]

– Indigenous Papuans of Saubeba village last month gave their support for a government-backed program to designate Tambrauw district, rich in biodiversity, a conservation zone.
– The villagers already practice sustainable management of the district’s lush forests and its resources, on which their lives depend.
– The discussion also sought to find solutions for land conflicts that often put legally vulnerable ethnic groups in peril as Tambrauw district pushes for the passage of an indigenous rights bill.
– One anticipated outcome of all this is the prospect of developing an ecotourism industry centered on the region’s natural riches, including its birds-of-paradise.

Bees for trees: testing a potential tool for reducing human-elephant conflict by Sue Palminteri [12/13/2017]

– A study in South Africa’s Kruger National Park found that hanging pairs of beehives—one active, the other inactive—from tree branches was more effective than wrapping trunks with wire netting at protecting the trees from damage by hungry elephants.
– Elephants damaged 2% of 50 bee-protected trees, 28% of wire-netted trees, and 54% of unprotected “control” trees, but even bees did not keep elephants from impacting neighboring trees.
– Installing and maintaining beehives in tree branches is far more expensive than installing wire netting and requires more maintenance, but it offers reserves with sufficient resources an effective way to protect large, valuable trees from elephant impact.

How will Trump Admin policy rollbacks impact efforts to combat climate change? by Mike Gaworecki [12/13/2017]

– A new analysis from the World Resources Institute (WRI) looks at seven different studies that estimate what the US’ annual emissions levels will be in 2025 under a range of possible scenarios based on Trump’s policies versus what would happen if Obama’s policies were left intact.
– While Trump’s policies will lead to far more emissions than Obama’s would have, the authors of the analysis, WRI’s Taryn Fransen and Kelly Levin, found that all scenarios considered in the studies lead to US emissions being higher than the 2025 target the US committed to when it ratified the Paris Climate Agreement.
– Can sub-national efforts led by cities, states, and businesses actually make up the difference between the US Paris Agreemen targets and the current trajectory of US emissions? Fransen and Levin looked at two different studies that explore this question, as well, and discovered that it is indeed possible.

Light pollution lures nighttime pollinators away from plants by Annie Roth [12/13/2017]

– Over the last two decades, nighttime light emissions in North America and Europe have increased by more than 70 percent.
– This artificial light lures moths and other insect pollinators away from plants, a new study shows.
– This effect may also make daytime pollinators less efficient, posing a further threat to plants and global food security.

Companies still not doing enough to cut deforestation from commodities supply chains: report by Mike Gaworecki [12/12/2017]

– The latest “Forest 500” rankings are out from the Global Canopy Programme (GCP), and the main takeaway is that the global companies with the most influence over forests still aren’t doing enough to cut tropical deforestation out of their supply chains.
– Just five companies improved their policies enough over the last year to score a perfect five out of five in the 2017 rankings. Commitments to root deforestation out of timber and palm oil supply chains did increase, according to the report, but less than one-fourth of the Forest 500 companies have adopted policies to cover all of the commodities in their supply chains.
– Progress among financial institutions also continues to be sluggish, the GCP’s researchers found, with just 13 financial institutions scoring four out of five and 65 scoring zero. No financial institutions have received the maximum possible score.

Latin America-Europe trade pact to include historic indigenous rights clause by Lucy EJ Woods [12/12/2017]

– The Mercosur trade bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the European Union are expected to conclude trade negotiations and put finishing touches on a trade agreement by the end of this year.
– That pact will include landmark indigenous human rights clauses meant to protect indigenous groups from violence, land theft and other civil rights violations.
– The human rights guarantees institutionalized in the trade agreement, if violated, could potentially lead to major trade boycotts, and are particularly important to indigenous groups in Brazil, where the agribusiness lobby known as the bancada ruralista wields tremendous political power.
– Brazil’s ruralist elite has been engaged in a decades-long effort to deny indigenous groups rights to their ancestral lands. Violence by large scale farmers and land thieves has seriously escalated under the Temer administration, which strongly backs the ruralist agenda.

Saving Sumatran orchids from deforestation, one plant at a time by Sean Mowbray [12/12/2017]

– Conversion of forest for agriculture is an ever-present threat in Sumatra, even in protected areas like Kerinci Seblat National Park. Palm oil, acacia, rubber and other plantation crops pressure the park from the outside, while poaching endangers the fauna within.
– Scientists estimate there are between 25,000 and 30,000 species of orchid in the world, with many yet to be discovered. Around 1,000 species are listed as threatened by the IUCN. Sumatra is one of the world’s orchid hot spots.
– Conservationist Pungky Nanda Pratama is trying to save at-risk orchids by transplanting them from threatened areas in and around Kerinci Seblat to a nursery where he is aiming propagate them and re-plant them in nearby protected areas.
– Pratama is also hoping to start an educational center where people can learn about Sumatra’s native plants.

Audio: Amazon tribe’s traditional medicine encyclopedia gets an update, and conservation effectiveness in Madagascar examined by Mike Gaworecki [12/12/2017]

– On today’s episode, we’ll get an update on an ambitious effort to document traditional indigenous healing and medicinal practices in the Amazon and speak with the reporter behind Mongabay’s popular new series on conservation efforts in Madagascar.
– Our first guest on today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast is Christopher Herndon, who, as co-founder and president of the group Acaté Amazon Conservation, has supported the Matsés people in planting healing gardens, which are basically living pharmacies as well as classrooms, and to document their traditional healing and plant knowledge in an encyclopedia.
– Our second guest is Mongabay contributor Rowan Moore Gerety, the writer behind our recent series on the effectiveness of conservation interventions in Madagascar.

Study: RSPO certification prunes deforestation in Indonesia — but not by much by John C. Cannon [12/12/2017]

– Oil palm plantations certified as sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil had less deforestation than non-certified plantations, according to a new analysis.
– Certification’s effect on the incidence of fires and the clearing of forest from peatlands was not statistically significant.
– The research demonstrates that while certification does reduce deforestation, it has not protected very much standing forest from being cut down.

Monkey business: Building a global database of primate conservation studies (commentary) by Claire Wordley [12/12/2017]

– While one primate — Homo sapiens — has flourished and spread across the planet, about 60 percent of non-human primate species are threatened with extinction. Conservation of these intelligent, complex creatures can be challenging on many levels.
– Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, together with researchers at the University of Cambridge (where I work), have just published the results of a three-year project gathering the data on how well primate conservation initiatives have worked to conserve species from lemurs to chimpanzees.
– The idea is simple: to present the current evidence for every intervention people might do to conserve primates, so that primate conservationists can learn from the best available data at the click of a mouse. This global database on primate conservation interventions is available to view for free.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Global tropical peatland center to be established in Indonesia by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/12/2017]

– A tropical peatland center will be established in Indonesia’s city of Bogor soon.
– The Indonesian government will discuss the detail of the establishment next year.
– Indonesia said other countries could learn much from its experiences in managing peatlands and dealing with recurring peat fires.

As 2017 hurricane season ends, scientists assess tropical forest harm by Claire Salisbury [12/11/2017]

– This year’s Atlantic hurricane season – one for the record books – ended on 30 November, seeing six Category 3 to 5 storms wreaking massive destruction across the Caribbean, in the U.S. and Mexico. While damage to the built environment is fairly easy to assess, harm to conserved areas and species is more difficult to determine.
– Satellite images show extensive damage to the 28,400-acre El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, the United States’ only national tropical rainforest. However, observers on the ground say the forest is showing signs of a quick recovery.
– More serious is harm to already stressed, endangered species with small populations. El Yunque’s Critically Endangered Puerto Rican parrot was hard hit: out of 50 endemic wild parrots, 16 are known dead. Likewise, the Endangered imperial parrot endemic to Dominica, spotted just three times since Hurricane Maria.
– Ecosystems and species need time to recover between storms. If the intensity of hurricanes continues to increase due to escalating global warming as predicted, tropical ecosystem and species resilience may be seriously tested.

Scientists call for cheetahs to be listed as Endangered by [12/11/2017]

– Only about 3,577 adult cheetahs remain in southern Africa, a new study has found.
– More than 50 percent of these animals live on unprotected lands, where they are sometimes persecuted due to conflict with local farmers.
– Revising the status of the cheetah from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List could help conservationists create more awareness about the species and “open more avenues to fund conservation and population monitoring efforts,” researchers say.

Climate scientists see silver lining in Bali volcano’s ash cloud by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/11/2017]

– Scientists are monitoring the emission of sulfur dioxide from the ongoing eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Agung to better understand the climate-cooling effects of the particulate’s dispersal in the stratosphere.
– They hope that by artificially recreating the phenomenon, they can block the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface, and thereby “geoengineer” a cooler climate.
– However, progress in geoengineering is tempered by worries that the prospect of an easy solution could leave policymakers even more reluctant to make meaningful efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

New study: Gorillas fare better in logged forests than chimps by John C. Cannon [12/11/2017]

– A study in the northern Republic of Congo found that gorillas and chimpanzees both became scarcer at the onset of logging.
– However, gorillas move backed into logged areas more readily, while chimpanzees were more likely to stay away.
– The researchers believe that gorillas are better able to cope with logging because they’re not as territorial as chimps and they seem to be more flexible in their eating habits.

Tanzania used as case study for quickly and cheaply identifying wildlife corridors in need of conservation by Mike Gaworecki [12/08/2017]

– Researchers at the University of California, Davis have developed a methodology that they say can help identify the most important wildlife corridors to keep open in a cost-effective and timely manner.
– In a study summarizing their results published in the journal PloS one, the authors note that wildlife populations that are isolated due to not having access to corridors that allow them to move between protected areas can suffer from compromised genetic variability and are less able to shift their range in response to global climate change.
– The researchers used what they describe as “least-cost methods” to develop a methodology for assessing wildlife corridors at a national scale, which they then applied to Tanzania as a case study.

Counting tigers on smartphones by Deepa Padmanabhan [12/08/2017]

– India’s 2018 national tiger estimation will use an Android-based mobile application to streamline collection of field data on tigers and prey, add photos and GPS coordinates, record poaching and human-wildlife conflict, and reduce error in data entry.
– The M-STrIPES app uploads field data automatically to a remote central server for rapid analysis or stores the data on the user’s mobile phone until internet access is available.
– The app has been tested successfully in a few tiger reserves, made more user friendly, and is now being rolled out on a national scale, but can it help resolve discrepancies in survey results?

Papua New Guinea gets its largest-ever conservation area by Morgan Erickson-Davis [12/08/2017]

– On November 29, government officials declared the establishment of the Managalas Conservation Area. It is Papua New Guinea’s largest conservation area, encompassing 3,600 square kilometers of rainforest.
– Local communities, with the support of governments and non-profit organizations, have been working towards its incorporation as a protected area for 32 years.
– Managalas Conservation Area will be protected from large-scale agricultural and logging operations while allowing the communities that live there to use forest resources and grow crops in a sustainable manner.
– But stakeholders say mining is not officially excluded from the Conservation Arena’s management plan, and are worried about future encroachment by mining companies.

Labor abuses persist in RSPO-certified palm plantations, report finds by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/08/2017]

– A new report exposes labor abuses on three plantations owned by Indofood, a subsidiary of the Salim Group conglomerate.
– The report reveals how workers are routinely exposed to hazardous pesticides, paid less than the minimum wage, illegally kept in a temporary work status to fill core jobs, and deterred from forming independent labor unions.
– Each of the three plantations has been certified as “sustainable” by the RSPO, which bans labor abuses by its members, but is often criticized for failing to enforce its own standards.
– Advocates have been pushing for the RSPO to improve its handling of labor issues.


Militarization and mining a dangerous mix in Venezuelan Amazon by Bram Ebus [12/07/2017]

Ferrogrão grain railway threatens Amazon indigenous groups, forest by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [12/04/2017]

Forced out or killed: rare chimps go missing from Cameroon mountain forest by Eugene N. Nforngwa [12/01/2017]


  • Mongabay in the news, November 2017 [12/14/2017]
  • Mongabay welcomes new board member, Holt Thrasher [12/08/2017]