Newsletter 2018-01-04


Rainforests: the year in review 2017 by Rhett A. Butler [01/04/2018]

Between America’s abandonment of leadership on conservation and environmental policy, Brazil’s backtracking on forest conservation, massive forest fires worldwide, and the revelation of a sharp increase in global forest loss in 2016, 2017 was a rough year for tropical rainforests. Still, there were bright spots, including the establishment of new protected areas, better forest monitoring […]

Brazil announces end to Amazon mega-dam building policy by Sue Branford [01/03/2018]

– Brazil’s government this week announced a major shift away from its policy of building mega-dams in the Brazilian Amazon – a strategy born during the country’s military dictatorship (1964-1985) and vigorously carried forward down to the present day.
– The Temer government claims the decision is a response to intense resistance from environmentalists and indigenous groups, but while that may be part of the reason, experts see other causes as well.
– The decline in political influence of Brazil’s gigantic construction companies caused by the Lava Jato (Car Wash) corruption investigation is likely a major cause of the change in policy. So is the current depressed state of Brazil’s economy, which makes it unlikely that Brazil’s huge development bank (BNDES) will invest in such multi-billion dollar projects.
– While environmentalists and indigenous groups will likely celebrate the shift away from the mega-dam policy, experts warn that many threats to the Amazon remain, including pressure by Brazil’s ruralist lobby to open up conserved areas and indigenous lands to agribusiness, along with threats posed by new road, rail, waterway and mining projects.

Reefscape: A global reef survey to build better satellites for coral conservation by Greg Asner and Clare LeDuff [01/02/2018]

– While science has fully documented only a small portion of reef species that occur around our planet, we know that human activities have taken an extensive toll on reef ecosystems worldwide.
– To gather a more comprehensive understanding of the condition of global reef ecosystems, we need a way to assess and monitor them on a large geographic scale.
– With our partners, we are planning a new satellite mission for global reef ecosystems, which will advance our ability not only to map reef extent, but also to monitor changes in coral reef health.
– This post is the first in a series that will chronicle field work ongoing for the next year to develop an understanding of reef characteristics that need to be monitored from Earth orbit.

Top 20 forest stories of 2017 by Mongabay [12/29/2017]

Mongabay published hundreds of stories on forests in 2017. Here are some of our favorites. 1. Rebel road expansion brings deforestation to remote Colombian Amazon With the demobilization of Colombia’s FARC militant group, the country is expanding agriculture and infrastructure in places in the country once too dangerous to develop. One of these areas is […]


Reef bleaching five times more frequent now than in the 1980s, study finds by [01/04/2018]

– Severe coral bleaching is now happening about every 6 years, whereas in the 1980s, it took place every 25 to 30 years.
– Severe bleaching can kill the reef’s constituent corals.
– It takes at least a decade for a reef to recover from bleaching.
– Unless humans act to halt the rise of global temperatures, scientists predict that we’re headed for a time when bleaching might be an annual occurrence.

Indonesia in 2017: A fighting chance for peat protection, but an infrastructure beatdown for indigenous communities by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/04/2018]

– 2017 brought a mix of good and bad news from Indonesia, pertaining primarily to its forest-protection efforts, its recognition of indigenous rights and its balancing of infrastructure needs with local livelihoods.
– Policies issued in the wake of the devastating 2015 forest fires led to a significant decrease in hotspots and burned area in 2017, but face opposition from industry, parliament and even government officials.
– The government is hopeful it can halve the number of annual hotspots by 2019 from business-as-usual levels, even as the weather agency warns of drier conditions this year.
– Efforts to recognize indigenous people’s rights continued at a glacial pace, and frequently clashed with the government’s ambitious infrastructure-building push.

New ‘ghost’ scorpion among several species recorded for the first time in Malaysian rainforest by Shreya Dasgupta [01/04/2018]

– For the first time ever, scientists have surveyed the rainforest of Penang Hill comprehensively. The 130-million-year old forest is believed to have never been cut before and has remained largely unexplored.
– Among the exciting discoveries is a potentially new species of “ghost” scorpion, and numerous first records for Penang Hill.
– With a more complete understanding of the forests of Penang Hill, the scientists hope to nominate Penang’s forest as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

Scientists say some climate change impacts already unavoidable, but worst can still be averted by Mike Gaworecki [01/03/2018]

– Researchers at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology recently looked at how the Brahmaputra River’s annual flood cycles will be impacted by global warming and determined that the more the world warms, the more common and severe Brahmaputra floods will become.
– The study was carried out as part of the HELIX project, which involves more than 50 scientists from 16 institutions in 13 countries who have spent the past four years examining the potential impacts of global temperatures rising an average of 1.5°C, 2°C, 4°C, and 6°C compared to pre-industrial levels.
– According to HELIX researchers, global temperatures have already risen about 1°C, and at least another 0.5°C of warming is likely given the amount of greenhouse gases we’ve already pumped into Earth’s atmosphere. That means that, even if we do manage to rapidly decarbonize the global economy, some impacts of climate change are probably still unavoidable.

In early push into Papua, palm oil firms set stage for massive forest plunder by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/03/2018]

– Large-scale deforestation and a high number of hotspots indicate that the arrival of the oil palm industry in Indonesia’s Papua region is wreaking the same kind of destruction wrought on forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
– A new report calls the scale of the problem alarming, with the potential for even greater losses as only a small fraction of the forests issued for oil palm plantations has been cleared.
– The palm oil industry’s push into the region, after nearly depleting forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan, has been helped by government programs to boost investment in Papua.

Rhino horn seizure taps into Southeast Asian trafficking ring by [01/03/2018]

– Officials confiscated 12.5 kilograms (27.6 pounds) of South African rhino horn on Dec. 12.
– The seizure led to the arrest of a member of the Bach family, which is suspected of running a wildlife trafficking syndicate from Thailand.
– The NGO Elephant Action League provided Thai authorities with information that led to the arrest, as well as that of another wildlife trafficking ‘kingpin’ in December.

Trees are much more than the lungs of the world (commentary) by Roger Leakey [01/02/2018]

– Agroforestry is a technique of growing trees and shrubs with crops, and is the focus of a new Mongabay series.
– Beside carbon sequestration, increased food security, biodiversity, topsoil depths, medicine and fiber production, plus other benefits accrue to agroforestry.
– Roger Leakey has studied, taught, and written about agroforestry techniques for decades and makes the point that trees are much more than ‘the lungs of the planet,’ but rather they also function like the skin, heart, kidneys, and intestines of the Earth, while acting as pharmacies, factories, and food pantries for humans.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

U.S. court ruling complicates Trump’s elephant and lion policy by Jeremy Hance [01/02/2018]

– A federal appeals court has found that the Obama administration did not follow proper procedures in 2014 when it banned importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe. The USFWS failed to seek public comment at the time, among other infractions.
– This new ruling puts the Trump administration decision, made in November, ending the ban and allowing elephant trophy hunting imports, into question.
– Further complicating matters is Trump’s dubbing of the November USFWS decision as a “horror show,” and his putting of the policy on hold awaiting his response. To date, Trump has said nothing further.
– The way things stand now, U.S. hunters can import elephant trophies from South Africa and Namibia. They can import lion body parts from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. But the legality of importing elephant trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe remains in limbo.

Former Mongabay intern, now pop star, launches Amazon-friendly perfume by Genevieve Belmaker [01/02/2018]

– Heather D’Angelo, a member of the pop band Au Revoir Simone, just introduced her fragrance line, Carta.
– Inspired by her love of mixing scents and conserving tropical rainforests, D’Angelo created an Amazon-friendly and inspired scent.
– The former tropical ecologist hopes to create an example for conservation success with her Peru-based NGO partner, Camino Verde.

In a Papuan district, tribes push to revive a legacy of sustainability by Christopel Paino [01/02/2018]

– Two tribes in the foothills of the Cyclops Mountains in eastern Indonesia have ratified a village regulation that aims to formalize their age-old traditions of sustainable forestry, farming and fishing.
– Though practiced for generations, the traditions have increasingly been abandoned in favor of higher-yield — but destructive — practices such as indiscriminate logging and blast fishing.
– The new regulation stipulates customary fines on top of those imposed under national legislation, which the tribes say the government must do more to enforce.

Ivory trade in China is now banned by [01/02/2018]

– China has shut its legal, domestic ivory markets and banned all commercial ivory trade.
– Conservationists have welcomed this ban, calling it “one of the most important days in the history of elephant conservation”.
– But for China’s ivory ban to work, neighboring countries must follow suit, conservationists say.

Our 10 most popular conservation stories of 2017 by [12/31/2017]

– In 2017 Mongabay published more than 1,300 stories in English (and over 4,100 across all languages).
– We averaged 2.7 million monthly visitors to our news content this year.
– Total readership amounted to 56 million pageviews.
– Each of our top 10 English stories published in 2017 was written by a different author. We had more than 250 authors during the year.

‘New’ giant octopus discovered in the Pacific by [12/29/2017]

– The world’s largest octopus — the giant Pacific octopus — is actually represented by more than one species.
– New research indicates there are at least two species of octopus housed under what is traditionally called the giant Pacific octopus.
– The new species is called the frilled giant Pacific octopus.
– The giant Pacific octopus can weigh up to 70 kilograms (150 pounds).

How a hunger for teeth is driving a bat toward extinction by Alex Fox [12/29/2017]

– Bat teeth are more valuable than paper money on the island of Makira, in the eastern Solomon Islands.
– The use of bat teeth as a currency means that bats on the island are commonly hunted. One species, the Makira flying fox, is found only on the island and is being threatened with extinction due to human pressures.
– In addition to direct hunting, human population growth and logging are also threatening the bats.
– To save the species, researchers recommend developing quotas for sustainable harvesting, as well as an outreach campaign connecting the survival of this key piece of Makiran culture with the need to conserve the bats.

Waterbirds flock to well-run countries, new study shows by [12/29/2017]

– A new study demonstrates that how a country is governed is the factor that has the most influence on waterbird populations.
– Governance plays a bigger role than climate change or human population booms.
– The authors suggest that waterbirds, which include ducks, flamingos and pelicans, could serve as indicators to demonstrate the impact that governance has on biodiversity in general.

Indonesia unveils plan to halve forest fires by 2019 by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/29/2017]

– The Indonesian government has launched a plan to cut down land and forest fire hotspots by nearly half, in part by protecting peat forests.
– The program, which calls for $2.73 billion in funding, aims to ensure that 121,000 square kilometers of land, a fifth of it peat forest, will be fire-free by 2019.
– The move comes as the government anticipates drier weather conditions than usual next year in perennial hotspot regions like West Kalimantan.


Top 10 HAPPY environmental stories of 2017 by Shreya Dasgupta [12/28/2017]

Photos: Top 20 new species of 2017 by Mike Gaworecki [12/28/2017]

Brazil 2017: environmental and indigenous rollbacks, rising violence by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [12/27/2017]

Chainsaws imperil an old-growth mangrove stronghold in southern Myanmar by Benjamin Graham [12/27/2017]

So long, UNESCO! What does U.S. withdrawal mean for the environment? by Giovanni Ortolani [12/26/2017]


  • On January 10th, 2018the Bay Area Tropical Forest Network is co-hosting an event with The Orangutan Project at The Foster art gallery in Palo Alto. The event will feature The Orangutan Project’s Founder and President Leif Cocks, who has worked with orangutans for over 30 years and has dedicated his life to re-introducing captive and orphaned orangutans into the wild.
  • Mongabay-India is hiring for three new positions [12/28/2017]