Newsletter 2018-01-18


Venezuela’s Mining Arc boom sweeps up Indigenous people and cultures by Bram Ebus [01/15/2018]

– In 2016, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro declared the opening of the Arco Minero, which sprawls in an east-to-west crescent across 112,000 square kilometers (43,243 square miles) mostly in Bolívar state, south of the Orinoco River and in the Venezuelan Amazon.
– Indigenous communities within the Arco Minero were given no say in the development of mining in their region or near their territories, a clear violation of the International Labour Organization’s 169 Convention, an agreement to which Venezuela is a party.
– Mining is not only spreading in Bolivar’s Mining Arc, where armed gangs and the military compete for gold, diamond and coltan claims, but also into Venezuela’s Amazonas state to the south. Indigenous men and women leave their ancestral communities and small farms to do backbreaking and dangerous work in the mines for little money.
– Violence against, and conflicts with, indigenous communities can be expected to escalate as Venezuelan armed gangs and military organizations, and Colombian guerrilla groups continue to expand their presence in the region, and flex their muscles in the mining areas.

Peru declares a huge new national park in the Amazon by Yvette Sierra Praeli [01/12/2018]

– Yaguas National Park is located in the Loreto Region of northern Peru and covers more than 868,000 hectares of Amazonian rainforest – around the size of Yellowstone National Park in the U.S.
– Peru’s newest national park is home to more than 3,000 species of plants, 500 species of birds and 160 species of mammals.
– Yaguas National Park holds around 550 fish species, representing two-thirds of Peru’s freshwater fish diversity – more than any other place in the country, and one of the richest freshwater fish assemblages in the world.

Trump threatens NASA climate satellite missions as Congress stalls by Giovanni Ortolani [01/12/2018]

– Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would cut four NASA Earth Observation projects including three climate satellite missions: the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission; Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) pathfinder; and Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3).
– These missions are critical to ongoing climate change research, as well as to weather and air pollution forecasting. Without them, international scientists lose their “eyes in the sky” with potentially disastrous consequences for people not only in the United States, but the world round.
– The U.S. Congress has the final say on whether these satellite programs go forward or not. Their vote on the 2018 budget was delayed from September to December 2017, and now to 19 January, 2018. Whether the vote will occur then, or what the outcome might be, remains in question.
– As a result of Trump’s threatened cuts the international scientific community has been left in great uncertainty. It is currently scrambling to find a way to replace NASA’s planned Earth Observation missions and continue vital climate change, weather and pollution monitoring.

Natural World Heritage Sites in trouble, especially in the Tropics by Claire Asher [01/11/2018]

– From the Great Barrier Reef to the Galapagos Islands and the forests of central Africa, over a third of Natural World Heritage Sites designated by UNESCO are under threat from myriad problems.
– Of the seventeen locations with a critical conservation outlook, sixteen are in the Tropics, and the majority of those are in Africa. Less than half of African World Heritage sites received a “good” outlook. Lack of funding in developing nations is a major problem.
– Sites harboring rich biodiversity, such as Virunga and Garamba national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, are especially at risk.
– The most common threats to Natural World Heritage Sites are invasive non-native species, unsustainable tourism, poaching, hydroelectric dams, and logging, with climate change the fastest growing threat.


Camera traps confirm existence of ‘world’s ugliest pig’ in the wild, warts and all by Mike Gaworecki [01/18/2018]

– Researchers have used camera traps on the island of Java, Indonesia to capture what they say is the first-ever footage of the Javan warty pig in the wild.
– Sometimes referred to as “the world’s ugliest pig” because of the eponymous warts that grow on its face, the Javan warty pig (Sus verrucosus) has seen its numbers decline precipitously over the past few decades, leading to fears that it might be locally extinct in a number of locations and perhaps even on the brink of extinction as a species.
– The Javan warty pig is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List due to a drastic population decline, “estimated to be more than 50% over the last three generations (approximately 18 years).”

Myanmar to target illegal charcoal trade with China by [01/18/2018]

– A 2017 investigative report by Mongabay uncovered a booming illicit trade in charcoal to China from Myanmar.
– At least 14,000 soccer fields worth of Myanmar’s forests are destroyed a year to feed China’s appetite for the illegal product.
– Myanmar officials now say they have seized almost 5,000 tons of charcoal and will continue to crack down on the trade.

Record Amazon fires, intensified by forest degradation, burn indigenous lands by Zoe Sullivan [01/18/2018]

– As of September 2017, Brazil’s Pará state in the Amazon had seen a 229 percent increase in fires over 2016; in a single week in December the state saw 26,000 fire alerts. By year’s end, the Brazilian Amazon was on track for an all-time record fire season.
– But 2017 was not a record drought year, so experts have sought other causes. Analysts say most of the wildfires were human-caused, set by people seeking to convert forests to crop or grazing lands. Forest degradation by mining companies, logging and agribusiness added to the problem.
– Huge cuts made by the Temer administration in the budgets of Brazilian regulatory and enforcement agencies, such as FUNAI, the nation’s indigenous protection agency, and IBAMA, its environmental agency, which fights fires, added to the problem in 2017.
– The dramatic rise in wildfires has put indigenous communities and their territories at risk. For example, an area covering 24,000 hectares (59,305 acres), lost tree cover within the Kayapó Indigenous Territory from October to December, while the nearby Xikrin Indigenous Territory lost roughly 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) over the same period.

A saiga time bomb? Bad news for Central Asia’s beleaguered antelope by Morgan Erickson-Davis [01/17/2018]

– In May 2015, more than 200,000 saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica) suddenly died in Kazakhstan, reducing the global population of the critically endangered species by two-thirds.
– Research indicates the saigas were likely killed by hemorrhagic septicemia caused by a type of bacteria called Pasteurella multocida. But P. multocida generally exists harmlessly in healthy saigas and other animals, so the question remained: Why did so many saigas become infected so suddenly and severely by a normally benign type of bacteria?
– A new analysis may have solved part of this mystery, linking the spread of P. multocida to unusually high humidity levels and temperatures.
– The results indicate that saigas may be particularly sensitive to climate change, which stands to increase both temperature and humidity in Kazakhstan.

U.S. National Park Service advisory panel disintegrates by [01/17/2018]

– On Monday, 9 of 12 members of the advisory council resigned in a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, citing more than a year of waiting for meetings that are required by law.
– The board is responsible for National Parks stewardship, and they often interface with the public and scientific experts.
– Advisory councils generally for agencies and their board members are chosen or re-approved by the administration of the newly-elected leader.

A tale of two policies: climate change, Trump, and the U.S. military by Sean Mowbray [01/17/2018]

– The U.S. military is preparing for a changing climate, but not in order to protect the Earth’s environment. The Pentagon’s first and foremost concern is to respond to global warming only in so far as that response enhances the military’s “operational effectiveness” – its ability to fight.
– Jim Mattis, President Trump’s own Secretary of Defense, has spoken out about the dangers of climate change, running contrary to the commander-in-chief whose recently announced National Security Strategy omitted it as a threat. Analysts expect the military to continue with its climate change adaptation and preparedness programs, despite the President’s denialism.
– However, even as the U.S. military takes steps to make itself more fuel and energy efficient, the Department of Defense remains the world’s largest institutional fossil fuel guzzler.
– Critics say the greening of the military is positive, but not if its growth comes at the expense of U.S. climate programs at EPA and the State Department. Big increases in the military’s size, pushed by Trump and Congress, are only going to make the Pentagon’s and the world’s carbon emissions worse – which could ultimately impact national security and “operational effectiveness.”

Company to probe for minerals close to Mekong River dolphin habitat by [01/17/2018]

– The Phnom Penh Post reported today that Medusa Mining, an Australian company, plans to invest $3 million over four years in explorations for gold, copper, oil, gas and precious stones in tributaries of the Mekong River in Cambodia.
– Irrawaddy river dolphins, an endangered species of cetacean, live in the Mekong adjacent to the areas slated for exploration.
– Only about 80 dolphins remain in the Mekong River, and, although their numbers are on the rise, they face threats from gillnets, dams, boat traffic and water pollution, which could be exacerbated by mining activity.

Study reveals forests have yet another climate-protection superpower by Morgan Erickson-Davis [01/16/2018]

– Scientists looked at reactive gases emitted by trees and other vegetation, finding they have an overall cooling effect on the atmosphere globally.
– As forests are cleared, emissions of these cooling reactive gases are reduced. The researchers estimate the loss of this function this may contribute 14 percent towards deforestation-caused global warming.
– The authors write that effective climate policies will require a “robust understanding” of the relationship between land-use change like deforestation and climate, and urge more research be done toward this goal.

Ancient human sites may have distorted our understanding of the Amazon’s natural ecology by Kimber Price [01/16/2018]

– Scientists have traditionally based their knowledge of the Amazon rainforest on surveys from fewer than 1,000 plots of land, which they had assumed were representative of the rest of the forest.
– Research now shows that many of these sites were occupied and modified by ancient peoples, and the trees are still regrowing from those disturbances.
– These recovering trees absorb carbon at a faster rate than mature trees, so estimates of how well the rainforest can absorb carbon dioxide may be too high.

Orangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probe by [01/16/2018]

– The discovery of a headless orangutan body bearing signs of extensive physical abuse has prompted an investigation by authorities in Central Kalimantan, in Indonesian Borneo.
– Authorities, however, have drawn criticism for hastily burying the body before carrying out a necropsy, which could have helped determine the cause of death and aided in the investigation.
– Orangutans face a range of threats in the wild, including loss of habitat as their forests are razed for plantations and mines, and hunting for the illegal pet trade.
– Warning: Some photos may be disturbing or graphic.

Haiti’s most popular ecotourism destinations by [01/15/2018]

– Haiti has been described by experts as a locale of “one of the richest” stores of botanical diversity in the Caribbean.
– Home to some of the most pristine coral reef in the Caribbean, Haiti also boasts magical cascading natural pools and waterfalls that are also steeped in local lore and legend.
– Given its need for conservation coupled with being home to rare natural wonders, a possible boon for Haiti’s future might be found in ecotourism, a $600 billion a year global industry.

Indonesian villages see virtually zero progress in program to manage peatlands by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/15/2018]

– Only one out of nearly 3,000 villages located in Indonesia’s peatlands has received a government permit to manage the forest under the administration’s “social forestry” program.
– At the same time, 80 percent of peatlands in key areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan fall within plantation and mining concessions.
– Activists have called on the government to speed up the process of granting permits to villages, arguing that they make better forest stewards than plantation operators.
– The government has acknowledged the slow pace of progress and accordingly cut its target for the total area of forest reallocated to local communities to a third of the initial figure.

Belize imposes offshore oil moratorium to protect reefs by [01/15/2018]

– Belize stopped the exploration for oil in its waters as of Dec. 29, 2017.
– Environmentalists and local businesses opposed a 2016 plan to begin wider oil exploration around Belize, halting those plans within weeks.
– Tourism contributes about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to Quartz, and 50 percent of Belize’s 190,000 people depend on tourism or fishing for their livelihoods.
– Conversely, WWF estimated that an oil spill would cost $280 million in cleanup costs.

A Pacific bluefin tuna sold for $323,000. Can the species be saved? by Bonnie Waycott [01/12/2018]

– A single Pacific bluefin tuna sold for 36.45 million yen, or $323,111, during the famed New Year auction at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market last Friday, Jan. 5.
– The sale took place amid ongoing concerns over the dire status of stocks of the species, Thunnus orientalis, which are now at 2.6 percent of pre-fishing levels.
– An international agreement reached in September aims to rebuild Pacific bluefin populations to 20 percent of pre-fishing levels by 2034.
– Observers are urging countries to fulfill their commitments under the agreement in order to preserve the species.

Moth rediscovered in Malaysia mimics appearance and behavior of bees to escape predators by Mike Gaworecki [01/12/2018]

– The Oriental blue clearwing (Heterosphecia tawonoides) was rediscovered in Malaysia’s Taman Negara National Park by Marta Skowron Volponi, a Ph.D. student at Poland’s University of Gdansk and lead author of a paper about the moth recently published in the journal Tropical Conservation Science.
– The moths have legs like bees, bright blue bands on their abdomens (bees in Southeast Asia can be a variety of colors, including blue), and furry bodies that resemble those of bees — though the moths’ “fur” is actually elongated scales.
– While the conservation status of the moths is unknown, Skowron Volponi found that the Oriental blue clearwing’s preferred habitat seems to be the banks of clean watercourses flowing through the primary rainforests of Malaysia — a country with one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.

Indonesian parliament pushes for passage of palm oil legislation this year by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/12/2018]

– Indonesian legislators have prioritized deliberations of a bill regulating the country’s palm oil industry, hoping to have it passed this year.
– The bill in its current form conflicts with the government’s own recently adopted measures to protect peatlands, a point that legislators have acknowledged must be addressed.
– While its proponents say the bill is needed to protect the industry, citing a Western conspiracy against Indonesian palm oil, environmental activists say it will do little to address the ills attributed to the industry.

Indonesia’s Aceh extends moratorium on new mining sites by Junaidi Hanafiah [01/12/2018]

– The governor of Indonesia’s Aceh province has extended for another six months a moratorium on issuing new mining permits.
– The government says it will use the extended moratorium period to review and improve the management of the province’s mining sector.
– The freeze has been in place since 2014, and has been credited by activists with saving hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest in Aceh — home to critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants — from being cleared.

Nature’s frontline: Environmental news for the week of January 12, 2018 by [01/12/2018]

– There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
– Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
– If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.

Colombian pipeline bombed hours after end to ceasefire by Maximo Anderson [01/11/2018]

– As the clock ran out on a 3-month ceasefire with the government on January 10, Colombia’s second largest oil pipeline was bombed by the last remaining Marxist insurgent group in Colombia, the National Liberation Army (ELN).
– The ELN has targeted the 485-mile oil pipeline numerous times since the 1980s.
– Attacks on the pipeline have caused an estimated 1.5 million gallons of oil to be spilled, just since 2000.


Critically endangered monkeys found in Ghana forest slated for mining by Morgan Erickson-Davis [01/11/2018]

Chocó at epicenter of Colombia’s social, environmental conflicts by Maximo Anderson [01/10/2018]

Bangladeshi forests stripped bare as Rohingya refugees battle to survive by Kaamil Ahmed [01/09/2018]

Brazil 2018: Amazon under attack, resistance grows, courts to act, elections by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [01/09/2018]

IUCN, UN, global NGOs, likely to see major budget cuts under Trump by Sean Mowbray [01/08/2018]

U.S. zoos learn how to keep captive pangolins alive, helping wild ones by Linda Lombardi [01/05/2018]