Newsletter 2018-02-08


Trumping Colombia’s peace: U.S. drug war threatens fragile accord, forests by Sean Mowbray [02/05/2018]

– President Donald Trump has brought new tension to U.S.-Colombian relations, threatening to cut crucial funding at a pivotal moment in Colombia’s peace process and to decertify that agreement for a perceived failure to tackle the drug trade.
– According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Colombian coca production has risen to an all-time high, with around 90 percent of cocaine entering the U.S. coming from that Latin American country.
– U.S. officials blame the cocaine resurgence on Colombia’s decision to halt aerial spraying of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide – a controversial tactic considered to have serious health and environmental impacts by some, but rejected by others.
– Now, with Colombia’s fragile internal truce taking hold, the Trump administration’s stance – reminiscent of the War on Drugs strategy of the 80s and 90s – could be a great hindrance to peace, with knock-on negative effects for Colombia’s rural population and world-renowned biodiversity.

Safe spaces: Tackling sexual harassment in science by Carinya Sharples [02/05/2018]

– Through this 3-month long investigation, Mongabay examined a variety of common situations in sciences where people are victimized by uneven power dynamics and abuses of authority in the sciences across the Americas.
– Most of those who spoke to Mongabay for this story asked to remain anonymous for fear of serious repercussions for their career.
– Though those interviewed were based throughout the Americas, Mongabay has received other tips from around the world describing a wide variety of abuses of power.

Maps tease apart complex relationship between agriculture and deforestation in DRC by John C. Cannon [02/02/2018]

– A team from the University of Maryland’s GLAD laboratory has analyzed satellite images of the Democratic Republic of Congo to identify different elements of the “rural complex” — where many of the DRC’s subsistence farmers live.
– Their new maps and visualizations allow scientists and land-use planners to pinpoint areas where the cycle of shifting cultivation is contained, and where it is causing new deforestation.
– The team and many experts believe that enhanced understanding of the rural complex could help establish baselines that further inform multi-pronged approaches to forest conservation and development, such as REDD+.


Whale of a tale: Protecting Panama’s humpbacks from ship collisions by Andrew J. Wight [02/08/2018]

– The key to alleviating whale strikes in the Panama Canal ended up being inspired by a solution used on land — and led to a years-long struggle for a Panama Canal pilot and a whale biologist to help reduce whale strikes in the Gulf of Panama, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
– Similar to how roads are now sometimes built to curve around the natural habitats of land creatures, Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS) create shipping lanes that restrict marine traffic to certain areas.
– But in order to get all shipping to abide by this system, countries need the approval of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN body that regulates shipping safety and navigation around the world.

Code for cod and tech for tuna at the 2018 Fishackthon by Colleen O’Brien [02/08/2018]

– The 4th annual Fishackathon begins this weekend (February 11-12), with events taking place in 40 cities in over 30 countries.
– Fishackathon brings together computer programmers, designers and fisheries experts to develop tech-based solutions to unsustainable and illegal fishing and aquaculture practices.
– This year’s teams will develop their solutions to help fisheries keep their supply chains clean and better enforce catch quotas.
– Visit to learn how to participate at an event near you.

14-year sentence for Vietnamese activist over chemical spill protests by Mongabay [02/08/2018]

– On Tuesday, a Vietnamese court sentenced Hoang Duc Binh to 14 years in prison for activism related to a chemical spill that resulted in a massive fish kill in 2016.
– The sentence appears to be the harshest so far in a series of punitive measures the Vietnamese government has taken against citizens protesting or writing about the spill.
– At the same trial another activist, Nguyen Nam Phong, was sentenced to two years in prison.

Faith in the forest helps Indonesia’s Dayaks keep plantations, loggers at bay by Hans Nicholas JongIndra Nugraha [02/08/2018]

– Indigenous Dayak tribes of Borneo have longstanding traditions of performing various rituals throughout the agricultural cycle.
– These rituals keep communities united in protecting their forests, with which the Dayak maintain a reverential relationship — not just as a resource for food and livelihood, but also for spiritual fulfillment.
– The rituals also help ensure that the bounty of harvests is shared among all members of the community, even those who have experienced a poor yield.

Demand for sand leads to global ecological crisis by Alexandra Popescu [02/08/2018]

– Demand for sand has risen rapidly in recent decades, leading to overexploitation in some areas. The resource is particularly vulnerable to illegal mining given its seeming abundance.
– Extraction of sand can make local communities more vulnerable to storm surges, destroy wildlife habitat and agricultural land, and lead to a loss of groundwater resources.
– Scientists recommend developing a global sand budget and enforcing local laws to protect people and ecosystems from overexploitation of this resource.

Ecuador announces a new national park in the Andes by Valeria Sorgato [02/07/2018]

– The new Río Negro-Sopladora National Park comprises more than 30,000 hectares of almost-intact alpine plateaus and forests in Ecuador’s Andes and will protect an estimated 546 species of plants and animals.
– In July 2017, after just 12 days of exploring the area, investigators found three new species of amphibians. Scientists think more species await discovery in the forests and alpine plateaus of the new park.

A tale of two otters: settling in Singapore, suffering in China by Joshua Parfitt [02/07/2018]

– New research shows a massive decline in China’s otter populations, including the possible local extinction of the smooth-coated otter.
– But otters have recolonized Singapore, even appearing near the city center due to the island-nation’s campaign to clean up its rivers.
– If China can successfully tackle fur trading and rampant river pollution, could otters one day make a comeback there?

Orangutan shot 130 times in Indonesia, in second killing reported this year by [02/07/2018]

– A second Bornean orangutan has been killed in Indonesia this year after being shot multiple times with an air gun.
– An autopsy revealed 130 pellets in the animal’s body, most of them in its head. Authorities managed to recover 48 of them.
– Wildlife conservation activists have called on the authorities to launch an investigation into the killing of the critically endangered ape.

Earthquake triggers spawning in world’s rarest fish a few thousand miles away by Shreya Dasgupta [02/07/2018]

– An earthquake that struck Alaska, U.S., on Jan. 23 caused more than 1-foot high waves in Devils Hole, a small water-filled limestone cave in the Death Valley National Park in Nevada, more than 2,000 miles away.
– Devils Hole is the only known natural habitat of the incredibly rare Devils Hole pupfish.
– Immediately after the waves hit the pool, the pupfish started spawning, indicated by the females turning a drab olive brown, which made the brilliant blue males stand out.

Audio: The cutting-edge technologies allowing us to monitor ecosystems like never before by Mike Gaworecki [02/06/2018]

– On today’s episode, we discuss the cutting-edge remote sensing technologies used to monitor ecosystems like rainforests and coral reefs. We also listen to a few ecoacoustic recordings that are used to analyze species richness in tropical forests.
– Our first guest today is Greg Asner, who leads the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) at Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution for Science. Asner invented a technique he calls “airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy” that utilizes imaging spectrometers mounted on the Carnegie Airborne Observatory airplane to produce highly detailed data on large and complex ecosystems like tropical forests.
– Our second guest is Mitch Aide, the principal investigator at the University of Puerto Rico’s Tropical Community Ecology Lab. In this Field Notes segment, Aide will play us a few of the audio recordings he’s uploaded to Arbimon as part of his recent research and will explain how these recordings are used to examine species richness in tropical forests.

Fishing with insecticide-laced mosquito nets is a global phenomenon by Benjamin Graham [02/06/2018]

– In regions of the world threatened by malaria, bed nets treated with insecticides are an increasingly common public health tool to fend off mosquitos.
– But there is growing evidence that the nets, often provided for free or at a subsidized price by hospitals and aid organizations, are being put to other uses, including fishing.
– A new study is the first to document just how common fishing with mosquito nets may be, finding that people in countries around the world are doing it.
– The practice could have significant environmental and socioeconomic implications.

2018 Tyler Prize awarded to two US-based biological oceanographers by [02/06/2018]

– The 2018 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement will go to two biological oceanographers based in the United States: Paul Falkowski, a professor of Geological and Marine Science at Rutgers University in the U.S. state of New Jersey; and James J. McCarthy, professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University in the state of Massachusetts.
– Julia Marton-Lefèvre, chair of the Tyler Prize Committee, said that the two scientists were receiving the award in recognition of their pioneering work aimed at understanding and communicating the impacts of human activities on the global climate.
– “Climate change poses a great challenge to global communities. We are recognizing these two great scientists for their enormous contributions to fighting climate change through increasing our scientific understanding of how Earth’s climate works, as well as bringing together that knowledge for the purpose of policy change,” Marton-Lefèvre said in a statement.

Robbery or retribution? Police investigate death of prominent conservationist in Kenya by [02/06/2018]

– Esmond Bradley Martin, a 76-year-old American, was found stabbed to death in the home he shared with his wife in a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday.
– Martin had been working in Africa and around the world since the 1970s to stop the slaughter of rhinos and elephants for their horns and tusks.
– Colleagues credit Martin with increasing the conservation community’s understanding of the trade of wildlife parts through his often-undercover investigations.

Mountain lions often lose to wolves and bears, study finds by Shreya Dasgupta [02/06/2018]

– When the hunting grounds of pumas overlap with those of other top predators, such as wolves, bears and jaguars, pumas are often the losers, a new study has found.
– The findings from the study, a review of existing scientific literature, are especially important given how pumas are still being intensively hunted over much of their range in a bid to reduce conflicts with people and livestock, researchers say.
– In some puma habitats where wolves and brown bears are recolonizing and recovering, wildlife managers need to be cautious about hunting limits for pumas, the authors write.

Scientists find ‘surprising’ connections between tropical forests by Morgan Erickson-Davis [02/05/2018]

– For a new study, researchers genetically analyzed the evolutionary relatedness of tree species that live in tropical and sub-tropical forests around the world.
– Their results indicate the world’s tropical forests are divided into two main “floristic regions,” one that comprises most of Africa and the Americas and another in the Indo-Pacific region.
– The analysis also indicates dry tropical forests around the world – from Madagascar and India to Africa and South America – are unexpectedly similar to one another.
– The findings go against traditional assumptions about the relationships between tropical forests, and the researchers believe they could aid the development of more region-appropriate responses to climate change.

Scientists deploy DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating in latest salvo against ivory trafficking by Sue Palminteri [02/05/2018]

– Scientists are analyzing ivory samples confiscated from the U.S. retail market to help reduce elephant poaching.
– Two teams of scientists will use radiocarbon dating to determine when each elephant was killed and DNA analyses to locate where it came from in Africa.
– Determining the location and year an elephant that produced a tusk was killed establishes if the ivory being sold is legal, helps assess the current extent of poaching, and assists law enforcement in targeting the poachers responsible.

Carbon pricing could save millions of hectares of tropical forest: new study by John C. Cannon [02/05/2018]

– Recently published research in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that setting a price of $20 per metric ton (about $18/short ton) of carbon dioxide could diminish deforestation by nearly 16 percent and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by nearly 25 percent.
– The pair of economists calculated that, as things currently stand, the world stands to lose an India-size chunk of tropical forest by 2050.
– In addition to carbon pricing, stricter policies to halt deforestation, such as those that helped Brazil cut its deforestation rate by 80 percent in the early 2000s, could save nearly 1 million square kilometers (386,000 square miles).

Deforestation wanes in Indonesia’s Aceh and Leuser Ecosystem, but threats remain, NGO says by Hans Nicholas JongJunaidi Hanafiah [02/05/2018]

– Deforestation in Indonesia’s Aceh province last year fell 18 percent from 2016 — a trend activists attribute to better law enforcement and intensified campaigning about the importance of protecting the unique Leuser Ecosystem.
– Another factor is a government moratorium on oil palm planters clearing peatlands, but this hasn’t stopped many such operators from acting with impunity.
– Activists worry that future threats will come from road projects and planned hydropower and geothermal plants.

Meet the winners of Mongabay’s best intern articles awards by [02/05/2018]

– Hosting over 50 interns to date, Mongabay’s Environmental Journalism Internship program has gained and nurtured many talented writers from around the world.
– To highlight and reward our interns’ outstanding work, we have offered another end-of-the-year article award.
– Mongabay will start accepting applications for the upcoming six-month summer term in April 2018.

Amazon rainforest hit by surge in small-scale deforestation, study finds by Morgan Erickson-Davis [02/02/2018]

– A recent study used high-resolution satellite imagery to analyze deforestation events in Amazonia, uncovering a shift from large- to small-scale deforestation events across the region. Protected areas also appear to be affected.
– The results indicate big new deforestation hotspots are opening up in Peru and Bolivia, likely caused by industrial agriculture.
– The researchers found 34 percent of forest loss patches in the Brazilian Amazon were smaller than 6.25 hectares, which is the smallest size detectable by the Brazilian government’s deforestation monitoring system.
– The researchers say higher-resolution monitoring systems are needed to combat the rising tide of small-scale deforestation.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, February 2, 2018 by [02/02/2018]

– 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.

Indonesian palm, pulp companies commit to peatland restoration by Hans Nicholas Jong [02/02/2018]

– Some 125 palm oil and pulp companies have committed to restoring a combined 14,000 square kilometers (5,400 square miles) of degraded peatlands that fall within their leases over the next eight years.
– The move is part of government-driven efforts to prevent a repeat of the massive land and forest fires that flared up in 2015, largely as a result of peatlands being drained for planting and rendered highly combustible.
– At the heart of the rehabilitation work is the extensive blocking of drainage canals, which aims to restore moisture to the peat soil.

Indonesian rubber farmers charged in gruesome killing of Bornean orangutan by Basten Gokkon [02/02/2018]

– Police in Indonesia have arrested two rubber farmers for allegedly shooting and beheading a Bornean orangutan whose body was discovered last month in a river.
– The suspects claimed they killed the animal in self-defense, saying it attacked them after encroaching on their farm.
– Wildlife conservation activists have lauded the police’s determination to catch the perpetrators and have called on the courts to be just as strict in trying them.
– Warning: Some photos may be disturbing or graphic.


Venezuela: can a failing state protect its environment and its people? by Glenn Scherer [02/01/2018]

Corals thrive on remotest islands in the Galápagos by Greg Asner and Clare LeDuff [01/31/2018]

Mega developments set to transform a tranquil Cambodian bay by Matt Blomberg [01/31/2018]

Fang trafficking to China is putting Bolivia’s jaguars in jeopardy by Roberto Navia [01/26/2018]