Newsletter 2018-03-01


Norsk Hydro accused of Amazon toxic spill, admits ‘clandestine pipeline’ by Max Nathanson [02/27/2018]

– Norsk Hydro’s Alunorte aluminum refining facility in Barcarena municipality, Pará state, has been accused by Brazilian authorities of contaminating the local waters of several communities with toxic waste that overflowed earlier this month from a holding basin.
– The firm denied the allegation, but has agreed to provide water to local residents, and is investigating.
– The government also accused the company of having a “clandestine pipeline to discharge untreated effluent,” an allegation that the Norwegian state firm has since admitted to being true.
– Officials have yet to determine the full cause, scope or consequence of the spill, while locals complain that this isn’t the first time. According to IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, Norsk Hydro has not paid fines set at R $17 million to date (US $5.27 million), after a toxic overflow in 2009 put the local Barcarena population at risk.

Belo Monte legacy: harm from Amazon dam didn’t end with construction by Maximo Anderson and Aaron Vincent Elkaim [02/26/2018]

– The controversial Belo Monte dam, operational in 2016 and the world’s third biggest, was forced on the people of Altamira, Pará state, and is now believed to have been built largely as payback to Brazil’s construction industry by the nation’s then ruling Workers’ Party for campaign contributions received.
– The dam was opposed by an alliance of indigenous and traditional communities, and international environmentalists, all to no avail. Today, the media coverage that once turned the world’s eyes toward Belo Monte, has gone away. But that hasn’t ended the suffering and harm resulting from the project.
– Tens of thousands of indigenous and traditional people were forced from their homes, and had to give up their fishing livelihoods. Meanwhile, the city of Altamira endured boom and bust, as workers flooded in, then abandoned it. The Belo Sun goldmine, if ever built, also continues to be a potential threat.
– In this story, Mongabay contributor Maximo Anderson and photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim document the ongoing harm being done by the giant dam. Belo Monte, today, stands as a warning regarding the urgent need to properly assess and plan for mega-infrastructure projects in Amazonia.


Brazil high court Forest Code ruling largely bad for environment, Amazon: NGOs by Sue Branford [03/01/2018]

– In a tight decision, the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) upheld the constitutionality of much of Brazil’s 2012 New Forest Code, that had been created under the powerful influence of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby. The upheld 2012 New Forest Code is a weaker body of environmental regulations than the 1965 code created under Brazil’s military government.
– The court ruling made constitutional a declared amnesty for those who illegally cleared their Legal Reserves (lands, by law, they must not clear) before 22 July 2008, eliminating required fines and tree replantings. It allows for the reduction of Legal Reserves in states or municipalities largely occupied by indigenous reserves or protected areas.
– The STF decision also allows for the reduction in size of APAs (Areas of Permanent Protection), even when considered fundamental by environmentalists for maintaining water supplies and preventing climate disasters such as floods and mudslides.
– The ruling allows farmers who have already illegally cleared protected APAs, to get authorization to clear even more land, and approves farming activities on steep slopes and hilltops. Environmentalists were critical of the high court decision, while agribusiness praised it.

Pepsi cuts off Indonesian palm oil supplier over labor, sustainability concerns by Hans Nicholas Jong [03/01/2018]

– PepsiCo has announced the suspension since January 2017 of its business ties with IndoAgri, one of Indonesia’s biggest palm oil producers, citing concerns over the company’s labor rights and sustainability practices.
– IndoAgri has been criticized for alleged abuses of workers’ rights in some of its plantations in North Sumatra province.
– PepsiCo has demanded that IndoAgri resolve these outstanding issues before its considers resuming their business partnership.

‘S.O.S.’ carved out of former plantation shines a light on palm oil-driven deforestation by [03/01/2018]

– A dramatic S.O.S. sign has been carved out of a stand of oil palms on a former plantation in Sumatra, serving to highlight the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests.
– The work is part of a campaign by a Lithuanian artist, a conservation group and a cosmetics firm to raise awareness about palm oil-driven deforestation in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of the commodity.
– Extensive deforestation has for decades threatened the lives of the island’s native wildlife and the people who depend on the forests for a living.

Javan rhino population holds steady amid ever-present peril by Basten Gokkon [03/01/2018]

– The latest survey from the Indonesian government shows the population of the Javan rhino, one of the world’s most endangered large mammals, holding steady in its last remaining habitat.
– While the findings indicate a healthy and breeding rhino population, wildlife experts warn of the dangers looming over the animal’s existence, including human encroachment into its habitat and the ever-present threat of a volcanic eruption and tsunami.
– The Javan rhino is one of the last three Asian rhino species — alongside the Sumatran and Indian rhinos — all of which have been pushed to the brink of extinction.

Watch: James Watt, the farmer who challenged a palm oil fiefdom by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [03/01/2018]

– “The palm oil fiefdom” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight.
– The article reveals how Darwan Ali, the former head of Indonesia’s Seruyan district, presided over an elaborate scheme to use shell companies as vehicles to sell plantation licenses to major palm oil firms.
– Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of those affected by Darwan’s licensing spree, including an Indonesian farmer named James Watt.

Andes dams twice as numerous as thought are fragmenting the Amazon by Claire Asher [02/28/2018]

– A new study identified 142 dams currently in operation or under construction in the Andes headwaters of the Amazon, twice the number previously estimated. An additional 160 are in the planning stages.
– If proposed Andes dams go ahead, sediment transport to the Amazon floodplains could cease, blocking freshwater fish migratory routes, disrupting flow and flood regimes, and threatening food security for downstream communities, impacting up to 30 million people.
– Most dams to date are on the tributary networks of Andean river main stems. But new dams are planned for five out of eight major Andean Amazon main stems, bringing connectivity reductions on the Marañón, Ucayali and Beni rivers of more than 50 percent; and on the Madre de Dios and Mamoré rivers of over 35 percent.
– Researchers conclude that proposed dams should be required to complete cumulative effects assessments at a basin-wide scale, and account for synergistic impacts of existing dams, utilizing the UN Watercourses Convention as a legal basis for international cooperation for sustainable water management between Amazon nations.

Five-year sentences for elephant poachers in Republic of Congo by [02/28/2018]

– A court in the Republic of Congo has convicted three men of killing elephants for their tusks. They were handed five-year prison sentences and fined $10,000 each.
– The three men were part of a six-member poaching gang that managed to escape an ambush set up by park authorities, but not before leaving behind some 70 kilograms of ivory as well as an AK-47 rifle, according to the WCS.
– The gang is believed to have links to some of northern Congo’s most notorious elephant poachers and ivory traffickers, including two who were jailed in the last two years.

New study: Radar reveals bats are a bellwether of climate change by [02/28/2018]

– New research indicates that bats could signal seasonal shifts due to climate change.
– The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, is the first to use radar to track an animal migration.
– The scientists found that bats that migrate between Mexico and a cave in Texas are now arriving about two weeks earlier than they did in 1995.

Vanishing species deserve our few cents (commentary) by Katarzyna Nowak [02/27/2018]

– By simply paying their taxes, Americans are helping protect some of Earth’s most threatened and charismatic animals. But these vital funds are in jeopardy due to President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, which includes deep cuts to species conservation programs.
– Elephants, tigers, rhinos, great apes, and marine turtles are all protected by Acts of Congress, from which came grant programs administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
– Trump’s proposed budget would slash the funding for these programs by nearly half, from $12 million to $7 million. For African elephants, this would mean $1.5 million in 2019, down from this year’s $2.5 million, which was already spread thin.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Peru: Law prioritizes highway construction that could threaten indigenous communities by Yvette Sierra Praeli [02/27/2018]

– Experts and indigenous leaders say that Law 30723 would affect protected natural areas and indigenous reserves inhabited by communities who choose to stay isolated.
– According to experts, the law would allow the construction of the Puerto Esperanza-Iñapari Highway, which would affect 275,000 hectares of primary forest.

African Parks to manage gorges, rock art and crocodiles of Chad’s Ennedi by [02/27/2018]

– African Parks will manage the 40,000-square-kilometer (15,444-square-mile) Ennedi Natural and Cultural Reserve in Chad.
– The reserve is home to unique rock formations, ancient human art, and wildlife, including a small population of crocodiles.
– Two semi-nomadic groups currently depend on the oases found in the Ennedi Reserve.

Detecting disasters on community lands in the Amazon: film highlights indigenous struggle by Sue Palminteri [02/27/2018]

– For decades, indigenous communities across the western Amazon have protested the contamination of their water, soil and other natural resources by oil companies.
– A short film, “Detecting Disasters,” explores the use by the Kukama Kukamiria and other indigenous groups of small drones to strengthen their case to officials and reduce future damage to their health and that of their forest resources.
– The successful, consistent use of drones and other new technologies by remote communities requires overcoming several basic challenges, including adequate electricity, training time, and availability of parts to make repairs.

Cambodia’s banteng-eating leopards edge closer to extinction, new study finds by Shreya Dasgupta [02/27/2018]

– In just five years, the population density of Indochinese leopards within a protected area in eastern Cambodia has fallen from about 3 leopards per 100 square kilometers in 2009 to 1 leopard per 100 square kilometers in 2014, a new study has found.
– This is one of the lowest densities of leopards reported in Asia, researchers say.
– This statistic is worrying because the eastern Cambodian population is the last remaining breeding leopard population within a huge region spanning southeastern China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
– Eastern Cambodia’s leopards are also part of the only leopard population in the world to prey predominantly on an animal weighing more than 500 kilograms — the banteng.

Easter Island votes for world’s newest marine reserve by Jack Elliot Marley [02/27/2018]

– The Rapa Nui Marine Protected Area encompasses 740,000 square kilometers (286,000 square miles) of Pacific Ocean surrounding Easter Island, or Rapa Nui. The reserve was approved by a 73 percent majority in a September 2017 referendum of islanders.
– The MPA is intended to eliminate the pressures of commercial fishing and mining on the unique and isolated ecosystem of Rapa Nui. Supporters of the project cite public support and participation as an encouraging sign of the reserve’s long-term potential.
– The Rapa Nui people and government of Chile are currently planning how the reserve will be enforced and monitored, prior to the official signing ceremony on February 27. Many in and outside Rapa Nui believe the reserve will aid relations between the island and the mainland, although there is lingering distrust among some islanders toward Chile.

On an island of plenty, a community tempered by waves braces for rising seas by Ridzki R. Sigit [02/27/2018]

– For generations, the indigenous Papuans on Indonesia’s Auki Island have depended on rich coastal ecosystem around them for sustenance and livelihoods.
– But when an earthquake and a tsunami struck the area in 1996, they realized they needed to do more to protect these resources to sustain their way of life.
– A decade later, they enshrined practices such as sustainable fishing in a local regulation, which to date has already shown positive results for the islanders and the environment.
– But the threat of another disaster — rising sea levels as a result of global warming — looms over the community. This time, they’re preparing through mitigation programs, including protecting mangroves.

Intact forests are critically important, say scientists by Morgan Erickson-Davis [02/26/2018]

– Overall, the world lost more than 7 percent of its intact forest landscapes in just over a decade, a trend that appears to be accelerating.
– A new study discusses how intact forests are critically important for mitigating climate change, maintaining water supplies, safeguarding biodiversity and even protecting human health.
– However, it warns that global policies aimed at reducing deforestation are not putting enough emphasis on the preservation of the world’s dwindling intact forests, instead relying on a one-size-fits-all approach that may end up doing more harm than good.
– The researchers urge more inclusion and prioritization of intact forests in global commitments and policies aimed at curbing deforestation.

Scientists aim to give engineers the tools for ecologically sensitive development by John C. Cannon [02/26/2018]

– EIAs, or environmental impact assessments, are notoriously flawed and don’t always provide an accurate assessment of the risks of development projects.
– A recent article by a team of scientists is part of a larger effort to give planners and engineers the data for more environmentally sensitive development.
– The article appears in the February issue of Jurutera: The Journal of Malaysian Engineers.

Indonesia braces for return of fire season as hotspots flare up by Hans Nicholas Jong [02/26/2018]

– Indonesia’s annual forest fire season has started, with reports of blazes in four peat-rich provinces, all of which have declared a state of emergency.
– The stake is high for Indonesia to prevent the fires and resultant haze this year, as it prepares to host tens of thousands of athletes and visitors for the Asian Games. One of the host cities is in South Sumatra province, a perennial tinderbox.
– The Indonesian government rolled out extensive measures to prevent fires in the wake of the 2015 blazes, focusing on restoring drained peatland, but questions remain over the effectiveness of those efforts.


Moment of truth: Study reveals high percentage of illegal Peruvian timber exports by Yvette Sierra Praeli [02/13/2018]

Rewriting biological history: Trump border wall puts wildlife at risk by Rebecca Kessler [02/12/2018]

Scientists discover 18 new spider-hunting spiders from Madagascar by Morgan Erickson-Davis [02/09/2018]

Scorched earth: Colombia’s ‘refugee farmers’ returning to land by Maximo Anderson [02/09/2018]


  • Mongabay CEO speaks about conservation April 10th in San Francisco [02/28/2018]