Newsletter 2018-06-28


The world lost an area of tropical forest the size of Bangladesh in 2017 by Hans Nicholas Jong [06/27/2018]

– According to new data, tropical countries lost 158,000 square kilometers (39 million acres) of tree cover in 2017 – an area the size of Bangladesh. The 2017 number is the second highest since the dataset began in 2001, and only a bit lower than the record high in 2016.
– Brazil came out on top for the most tree cover lost of any tropical country, a reversal from the country’s deforestation reductions over the past 14 years. Tree cover loss also rose dramatically in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia. However, Indonesia’s numbers dropped by nearly half between 2016 and 2017.
– Experts attribute the upward trend in tree cover loss primarily to continued land clearing for agricultural purposes.
– The new dataset was discussed at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum, which is taking place this week in Norway.

Rwandan people and mountain gorillas face changing climate together by Elham Shabahat [06/27/2018]

– The Critically Endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), has been brought back from extinction’s brink in Rwanda, with numbers in the Virunga Mountains around Volcanoes National Park estimated at 604 individuals in 2016, up from 480 in 2010. But long-time observers say climate change is bringing new survival challenges to the area.
– Longer and deeper droughts in recent years have caused serious water shortages, which impact both local farmers and the mountain gorillas. People now must often go deep into the park to find clean water, which increases the likelihood of contact with the great apes, which increases the likelihood for the transfer of human diseases to the animals.
– Hotter temps and dryer conditions could also pressure farmers to move into gorilla habitat in future, as they seek more productive cropland at higher altitudes. Also, as the climate changes, bamboo availability may be decreasing, depriving gorillas of a favorite food. This could force troops to forage outside the park in croplands, possibly leading to conflict.
– Forced changes in diet could impact gorilla nutrition, making the great apes more susceptible to disease. A major disease outbreak could be disastrous due to low population numbers. Scientists urge more research to understand how climate change affects human behavior, which then affects gorillas, and how the fate of the two primates intertwines.

Uncertainty around Madagascar mine in wake of cyclone by Laurence SoustrasRiana Raymonde Randrianarisoa [06/27/2018]

– The Ambatovy mine complex near Madagascar’s eastern city of Toamasina is a massive operation to extract nickel and cobalt from the country’s rich soil.
– The $8 billion complex represents the largest-ever foreign investment in the country.
– Over the years, local residents have suspected the mine of causing environmental and health problems, including air and water pollution.
– Locals now fear that Tropical Cyclone Ava, which hit Toamasina hard in January, may have exacerbated these problems — fears that Ambatovy and local officials assert are unfounded.

Papua New Guinea landowners take up arms against natural gas project by Lucy EJ Woods [06/26/2018]

– On June 21, heavily armed civilian groups set fire to construction equipment at the ExxonMobil-led PNG LNG project in the Papua New Guinea highlands.
– One landowner told Mongabay the people of Hela had “decided to take up arms” because they hadn’t seen the benefits from the project.
– On June 26, landowners were scheduled to meet at the National Parliament in Port Moresby to negotiate resolutions with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

Could El Niño and climate change spell the end for tropical forests? by Claire Salisbury [06/25/2018]

– NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) allowed scientists to study the response of the world’s tropical rainforests to the 2015-16 El Niño in more detail than every before, potentially providing insight into the longer-term response of tropical forests to escalating climate change.
– During the El Niño, OCO-2 recorded a sudden global surge in CO2 emissions (above 400 ppm for a full year, the highest in modern history), an effect significantly enhanced by tropical forest emissions in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia – all responded to the El Niño by temporarily shifting from carbon sink to carbon source.
– However, each region responded differently: El Niño brought extreme drought to South America, and trees there stopped absorbing CO2. In Southeast Asia, major forest fires raged in extremely dry conditions, quickly releasing stored carbon. In Africa, rainfall was normal, but high temperatures drove increased ecosystem respiration.
– Scientists worry that a tipping point could be reached where tropical forests collapse, but more study is needed. Given the great uncertainties as to how tropical forests will respond to a warming world, taking action now to keep forests standing and healthy may offer the single best hope for mitigating negative impacts, say researchers.

US/China trade war could boost Brazil soy export, Amazon deforestation by Zoe Sullivan [06/21/2018]

– President Donald Trump is pressing hard for a trade war with China. So far, he has imposed $50 billion in tariffs on the Chinese, and threatened another $200 billion; the Chinese are retaliating. An all-out U.S./China trade war could have serious unforeseen repercussions on the Brazilian Amazon, including increased deforestation, intensified pressures on indigenous groups, and escalated climate change.
– The concern is that China will shift its commodities purchases, including beef and soy, away from the U.S. to Brazil. The Amazon and Cerrado biomes are already major exporters of both commodities, and are creating a boom in infrastructure construction to bring those products to market. Even without a trade war, experts expect Brazil to edge out the U.S. this year as the world´s largest soy producer.
– The U.S. tariffs may already be prompting a shift in trade. Trump first threatened China with tariffs in January. By April, U.S. soy sales to China were down 70,000 metric tons compared to the same period last year. Data also shows a surge in Brazilian Amazon deforestation between February and April of 2018, compared to 2017, a possible response by Brazil soy growers eager to profit from a trade war.
– If the U.S./China trade war results in a significant surge in Brazilian commodities production, deforestation rates there could soar. Scientists worry that Amazon deforestation, now at 17 percent, could be pushed past a 20-25 percent climate tipping point, converting rainforest to savanna, greatly swelling carbon emissions, and potentially destabilizing the regional and even global climate.


The plastic crisis sinks to a new low in the deep sea by Bhanu Sridharan [06/28/2018]

– Plastic water bottles and snack-food packaging can be found in the deepest parts of the oceans, a new study has found.
– By poring over the three decades of deep-sea videos, researchers have found that fragments of plastic made up one-third of the debris, of which, 89 percent were single-use items such as plastic bags and water bottles.
– However, how all that plastic reaches the deep sea and affects deep sea creatures is still unclear.

On India’s Kerala coast, a man-made solution exacerbates a natural problem by Haritha John [06/28/2018]

– Coastal erosion in the southern Indian state of Kerala has destroyed hundreds of homes, forcing families into temporary shelters, many of whom have been stuck there for several years now.
– Experts say a major factor for the erosion is, ironically, the series of seawalls built by authorities along the coastline to prevent the problem.
– The cyclical nature of the erosion has traditionally meant that sediment swept out to sea is later deposited back on land. But the seawalls prevent the latter from happening.
– Other factors have also been cited, including a cyclone that struck the region last year, as well as intensive sand mining along the coast.

PepsiCo to probe deforestation in palm oil supplier’s Leuser Ecosystem concession by Hans Nicholas Jong [06/27/2018]

– PepsiCo has launched an investigation into reports of deforestation in one of its supplier’s oil palm plantations, located in the Leuser Ecosystem, a biodiversity hotspot that is home to some of the last Sumatran tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants left on Earth.
– The investigation comes in response to a complaint from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which says the company has failed to act since the deforestation allegations were first reported four years ago.
– For its part, the supplier alleges that the deforestation was carried out by local villagers encroaching into its concession, and that it is in discussions with them on resolving the long-running dispute over the land tenure.
– Separately, PepsiCo has also recently updated and expanded its policy on sustainable palm oil, which has been criticized by RAN for failing to ensure the elimination of labor rights violations and forest destruction from the company’s extensive supply chain.

Nature retention, not just protection, crucial to maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems: Scientists by Mike Gaworecki [06/27/2018]

– In a paper published last week in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, a team of Australian researchers argue that we need to shift conservation goals to focus on diverse and ambitious “nature retention targets” if we’re to truly safeguard the environment, biodiversity, and humanity.
– The researchers, who are affiliated with Australia’s University of Queensland (UQ) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), make a distinction between targets aimed at retaining natural systems and the current model that seeks to achieve targets for setting aside land as protected areas.
– Rather than simply setting a certain amount of the planet’s land and seas aside, nature retention targets would establish the baseline levels of natural system functions that we need to preserve in order to ensure the health of ecosystems and the services they provide.

Uncertainty around Madagascar mine in wake of cyclone by Laurence SoustrasRiana Raymonde Randrianarisoa [06/27/2018]

– The Ambatovy mine complex near Madagascar’s eastern city of Toamasina is a massive operation to extract nickel and cobalt from the country’s rich soil.
– The $8 billion complex represents the largest-ever foreign investment in the country.
– Over the years, local residents have suspected the mine of causing environmental and health problems, including air and water pollution.
– Locals now fear that Tropical Cyclone Ava, which hit Toamasina hard in January, may have exacerbated these problems — fears that Ambatovy and local officials assert are unfounded.

Logging roads drive loss of intact forest in FSC-certified logging concessions by John C. Cannon [06/27/2018]

– Logging roads in Central Africa cause greater loss of intact forest landscapes, or IFLs, on certified timber concessions compared to non-certified concessions, an analysis shows.
– Certified timber companies typically build more robust road networks that are more apt to show up on satellite imagery than non-certified companies.
– The findings highlight an apparent contradiction between certification for logging and the protection of IFLs, leading some critics to argue that IFL protection should not be part of the Forest Stewardship Council’s standards.

Audio: The dialogue between science and indigenous knowledge by Mike Gaworecki [06/26/2018]

– On today’s episode, we discuss traditional indigenous knowledge and climate change with Snowchange Cooperative director Tero Mustonen.
– Through Snowchange, which is based in Finland, Mustonen works with indigenous communities around the world on projects related to climate change. He will also be one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s next assessment report, due out in the early 2020s. We were interested to hear how Mustonen thinks traditional indigenous knowledge can inform climate science.
– We also speak with Mustonen about Snowchange’s work with indigenous communities, from ecological restoration to solar initiatives, the latter of which are specifically designed to empower women in remote indigenous communities.

Government regulation is the missing ingredient in efforts to end deforestation driven by agriculture (commentary) by Nicole Polsterer [06/26/2018]

– Despite countless corporate commitments, tropical deforestation for agriculture remains rampant.
– New research reveals that we need government regulation to achieve meaningful results.
– The European Union, a top importer of products that drive deforestation, must take the opportunity to make a difference, writes Nicole Polsterer, Sustainable consumption campaigner at the NGO Fern.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

For Madagascar’s park managers, the science literature is out of reach by Shreya Dasgupta [06/26/2018]

– The park directors and conservation managers responsible for managing Madagascar’s protected areas tend not to rely on scientific research to make on-the-ground decisions, opting instead for experience and advice from others, a new study has found.
– Several managers, for instance, felt there was “limited research of relevance to them and their needs.”
– Others complained that even when relevant research was carried out, researchers often did not share the results with them.
– Overall, Madagascar’s protected area managers need better access to research, and more relevant research, to help them manage the country’s parks more efficiently and effectively, the study’s authors write.

Let there be light — but be mindful of the wildlife by Sue Palminteri [06/26/2018]

– Artificial lights affect biological processes, such as plant photosynthesis, animals’ orientation and migrations, and human circadian rhythms. As communities replace older lights with energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, they must weigh the needs of people with damage to local wildlife.
– Researchers have developed an tool that categorizes LED lamps by their output, energy efficiency and predicted impacts on wildlife, people and the darkness of the night sky.
– The researchers predict that filtered yellow-green and amber LEDs should have lower effects on wildlife than high-pressure sodium lamps, and that blue-toned light will affect wildlife — including birds, insects, fish, and sea turtles — more than orange- and yellow-toned light.
– Their results are presented on an updatable website to guide lighting designers and local government officials in installing lighting technologies that are both energy-efficient and less likely to harm wildlife.

‘Screen, not just green’ infrastructure projects to help economies and the environment by John C. Cannon [06/26/2018]

– Bill Laurance, a tropical ecologist at Australia’s James Cook University, argues that scientists should work to slow the pace of infrastructure development around the world.
– ‘Delaying’ the process of development will allow time for the merits — and the potential dangers to the environment, communities and economies — to be debated publicly.
– While many of these projects are viewed as wholly positive because they’re intended to connect markets and create jobs, a lot of them ‘should not happen,’ Laurance said.

Dutch pension fund divests from Posco Daewoo over deforestation in Indonesia by [06/25/2018]

– APB, the Dutch pension fund for government and education employees, announced it would divest 300,000 euros from Posco Daewoo over deforestation in Indonesian Papua.
– Norway’s pension fund divested from Posco Daewoo, and its parent company, Posco, in 2015. APB is still invested in Posco.
– Posco Daewoo is owned by one of South Korean’s largest conglomerates.

Honduras: Indigenous Garifuna use radio to fight for their land by Christopher Clark [06/25/2018]

– The Garifuna, an Afro-indigenous ethnic group, have inhabited eastern Honduras since the late 18th century, collectively owning and conserving large tracts of Honduras’s rich coastal ecosystems.
– In recent decades both their way of life and their ancestral lands have been increasingly threatened by the relentless encroachment of powerful private interests in Honduras’s burgeoning tourism and biofuel industries.
– The Garifuna have been mounting a resistance, aided in part by a network of community radio stations.
– In addition to serving up traditional music and shows on health and nutrition, domestic violence, substance abuse, and other topics, the stations have helped raise the profile of people struggling to protect indigenous lands and ways of life and serve as a strong means of mobilization, according to local activists.

Indonesia turns to green finance for development projects by Basten Gokkon [06/25/2018]

– Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, is turning to green finance markets to fund new development projects it promises will be both environmentally and socially friendly.
– In issuing these ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ bonds, Indonesia joins a growing number of developing countries seeking to appeal to ecologically and socially conscious international investors.
– But critics question just how green and sustainable these bonds really are, highlighting concerns about greenwashing.

In Indonesia’s coal heartland, jaded voters weigh the ‘same old’ candidates by Tommy Apriando [06/25/2018]

– Years of rampant natural resources exploitation and mismanagement in East Kalimantan, the coal-mining heartland of Indonesia, have resulted in voter apathy as the province goes to the polls for a new governor this week.
– All the candidates are veteran local officials, most implicated in corruption cases, fueling a sense that there will be little improvement in the management of the province’s mines, regardless of who wins.
– Environmental activists say none of the candidates appear to be concerned about the environment, with no definitive programs on environmental conservation in any of their stated campaign platforms.

DRC adopts a strategy that will bolster community forestry, conservation group says by John C. Cannon [06/25/2018]

– A new community forestry strategy in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could help provide Congolese communities with a say in the management of the country’s forests.
– A group of local and international organizations, government agencies and community groups developed the strategy to strengthen the capacity of provincial authorities and ensure that the country’s community forestry laws do in fact include and benefit communities.
– The plan calls for an “experimental phase” over the next five years to gradually provide access to areas of the roughly 700,000 square kilometers (more than 270,000 square miles) of available forest through community management permits.

Winning farmer support to reduce deforestation (commentary) by Daniel NepstadJoão Shimada [06/24/2018]

– It is critical to win farmer support for strategies to address deforestation if they are to succeed; in Brazil, farmers are economically powerful, increasingly sophisticated as a political block, and they own or control half of Brazil’s native vegetation.
– They have grown weary of being vilified as criminals, of unmet promises of positive incentives for shifting to sustainable production systems, and of the chronic challenges of changing and inefficient regulations. To gain the support of conservation-minded, responsible farmers for the deforestation agenda, a new narrative and set of actions is needed that recognizes, applauds and rewards them for their efforts as it effectively includes them in dialogues.
– A shared agenda is needed between environmental groups and farm sectors in Brazil to help restore collaboration; there is strong potential to build that collaboration around core issues faced by the farm sector–transportation infrastructure and inefficient and changing licensing procedures.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Latam Eco Review: Ports imperil Colombian crocodiles by [06/23/2018]

Below are summaries of the most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of June 11 – 17. Among the top articles: Port projects in northern Colombia threaten the mangrove habitats of American crocodiles. In other news, the Waorani people of Ecuador use camera traps to record an astonishing diversity […]

Cool birds don’t sing: Study automates acoustic monitoring of songbird migration by Sue Palminteri [06/22/2018]

– Researchers have developed machine learning techniques to identify bird song from thousands of hours of field recordings, using the information to uncover variations in migratory songbirds’ arrival to their Arctic breeding grounds.
– They deployed automated listening devices during spring over five years, analyzed vocal activity to estimate when birds arrived at their breeding sites, and assessed relationships between vocal activity and environmental conditions.
– They found that the acoustically derived estimates of the birds’ arrival dates were similar to those determined using standard field surveys.
– Temperature and presence of snow affected the birds’ calling patterns, suggesting that collecting corresponding weather data could help avoid bias in using acoustic monitoring to assess population dynamics.

Last Glimpses of a Cambodian Paradise? Documenting an area on the eve of its likely destruction (commentary) by Gregory McCann [06/22/2018]

– The sheer scale of the logging operations in Cambodia’s Virachey National Park makes it a wonder that there’s anything left of the forest, especially as the timber just keeps flowing into Vietnam unabated. In fact, Cambodia has one of the world’s highest deforestation rates.
– Yet there is still plenty of wildlife, at least in Virachey National Park, where I have been part of a team that has been conducting a wildlife survey for four years now.
– All hope could well be lost — man/progress must be served. But are the nails firmly placed in the biodiversity coffin and awaiting final pounding? Perhaps not.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, June 22, 2018 by [06/22/2018]

– 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.

Coral reef ‘oases’ that thrive amid threats give hope for conservation by Shreya Dasgupta [06/22/2018]

– Scientists have identified 38 coral reef “oases” in the Pacific and western Atlantic that have either “escaped,” “resisted” or “rebounded” from declines in coral cover, even as neighboring reefs have not.
– While these success stories do not discount reports that many coral reefs across the world are under grave threat, they do offer examples of places where corals are doing better, or not as bad, as coral communities elsewhere, scientists say in a new study.
– The researchers are hopeful that the framework they’ve developed to identify the coral reef oases will be helpful in pinpointing oases across other ecosystems as well.

New ‘goblin spiders’ from Sri Lanka named after Enid Blyton characters by Shreya Dasgupta [06/22/2018]

– Scientists have discovered nine new species of “goblin spiders” in Sri Lanka, of which they’ve named six after popular goblin characters from Enid Blyton’s children’s books.
– Two of the nine newly described species belong to genera (Cavisternum and Grymeus) that have never been recorded outside of Australia before.
– Most of the newly described goblin spider species seem to occur only in a few sites, or just a single forest patch, and may all be critically endangered, the authors of the study think.

As Colombia expands its palm oil sector, scientists worry about wildlife by Taran Volckhausen [06/21/2018]

– Colombia’s aims to overtake Thailand to become the world’s third largest supplier of palm oil, a popular plant-based oil used in many products around the world.
– Studies have shown that oil palm plantations provide poor habitat for wildlife, supporting a fraction of the species as neighboring forest.
– Researchers say Colombia’s palm oil expansion could have minimal impacts on the country’s biodiversity if it takes places on already-degraded land, such as cattle pasture. They caution that development should not happen in areas that provide habitat for threatened species, or regions that are ecologically important. They say smaller plantations will have less of an impact, and recommend planting understory vegetation.
– Biologists are also concerned the most common species of oil palm, called African oil palm, could hybridize with native palm plants and degrade the species’ genetic integrity.

New study provides blueprint to translate satellite data into conservation action by Sue Palminteri [06/21/2018]

– A new paper offers a protocol to help conservation practitioners integrate forest-monitoring technology with policy to reduce illegal deforestation.
– Public and private entities can more easily access the latest satellite-based remote-sensing technology to rapidly detect new deforestation, prioritize areas for action, identify the causes, and get the information to policymakers without delay.
– The study calls for increased use of satellite technology to improve the monitoring, understanding and communication of deforestation events, as well as increase engagement between government institutions and civil society.

Scientists find surprising genetic differences between Brazil’s mangroves by Morgan Erickson-Davis [06/21/2018]

– Mangrove forests occupy tropical costal areas and provide important habitat for wildlife, as well as ecosystem services for human communities. They’re also carbon storage powerhouses, pound-for-pound capable of sequestering four times more carbon than a rainforest.
– Researchers analyzed the genes of mangrove forests along the coast of Brazil. They found that trees in different forests show “dramatic” differences from one another, even when they belong to the same species.
– They think these differences arose because an ocean current separates mangroves in northern and southern Brazil, making it so they can’t exchange genes.
– The researchers suspect the genetic distinctiveness of mangrove populations extends beyond Brazil. They say their results highlight the importance of enacting conservation plans that give a higher priority to the preservation of genetic diversity – an endeavor they say is becoming more and more critical for mangroves as they continue to disappear and climate change ramps up.


Abdon Nababan: ‘North Sumatran land mafia offered me $21m to win election — and then hand over control of government’ by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [06/21/2018]

Orangutan forest school in Indonesia takes on its first eight students by Jim Tan [06/21/2018]

Illegal mining creeps into southern Bahuaja-Sonene National Park by VANESSA ROMO [06/20/2018]

Peru’s Bahuaja-Sonene National Park at risk over illegal mining by VANESSA ROMO [06/19/2018]

Madagascar: Yet another anti-trafficking activist convicted by Edward Carver [06/19/2018]

‘Not all doom and gloom’: Q&A with conservation job market researchers by Jeremy Hance [06/18/2018]

In Peru, coca puts one of the world’s best coffee crops at risk by VANESSA ROMO [06/18/2018]