Newsletter 2018-07-12


Coral reefs thrive next to rat-free islands, new study finds by John C. Cannon [07/11/2018]

– A team of ecologists examined the impacts that invasive rats on tropical islands have on coral reef ecosystems.
– Because rats eat seabird eggs and young, they can decimate seabird populations.
– With fewer seabirds depositing their guano on islands, coral reef ecosystems near rat-infested islands can’t support as much life.
– The findings suggest that eradicating rats from tropical islands could be a straightforward way of bolstering the health of coral reefs.

Revealed: Paper giant’s ex-staff say it used their names for secret company in Borneo by Philip Jacobson [07/10/2018]

– Last December, it came to light that a plantation company clearing forest in Indonesia was owned by two employees of Asia Pulp & Paper, a giant firm that has promised to stop deforesting.
– APP claimed the employees had set up the company on their own, without management knowing. But an investigation by Mongabay provides evidence that contradicts APP’s story.
– The findings place APP squarely in the middle of an emerging debate about the presence of “shadow companies” among the holdings of the conglomerates that dominate Indonesia’s plantation sector.

Brazil’s political storm driving Amazon deforestation higher by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [07/09/2018]

– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was dramatically reduced between 2005 and 2015, surged in 2016, then fell in 2017. Preliminary figures from IMAZON suggest the trend has now reversed, with deforestation up 22 percent between August 2017 and May 2018, compared to the same period the prior year. But, so far, official confirmation from INPE of this surge is lacking.
– Experts say the source of the uptick lies with land-grabbers emboldened by the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, which has won many recent legislative and administrative victories, drastically cutting environmental and indigenous agency budgets, and pushing bills to shrink conservation units and erode indigenous land rights.
– A recent Forest Code Supreme Court ruling may have further encouraged wealthy land-grabbers, when it granted billions in amnesty, forgiving fines against many guilty of illegal deforestation. Today, Pará’s Triunfo Xingu Area of Environmental Protection and the Indigenous Territory of Apyterewa are especially threatened by land-grabbing.
– So is Pará’s Jamanxim National Forest; land thieves there hope congress will pass a bill to dismember the preserve, along with other Brazilian conservation units. Environmentalists worry that the election of right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro as president, dubbed “Brazil’s Trump,” in October could send deforestation rates soaring.

Peru: How chocolate saved a community and a protected area from the drug trade by Vanessa Romo [07/06/2018]

– In the forests surrounding Río Abiseo National Park, in the Peruvian Amazon region of San Martín, a burgeoning chocolate industry is gaining traction.
– After dedicating more than twenty years to the cultivation of coca to supply cocaine trafficking, today the community of Mariscal Cáceres is committed to legal production of cacao that allows them to protect more than 300,000 hectares of forest.
– Cacao growers in the community are partnering with Swiss dairy farmer to produce high-quality chocolate for markets in Europe and the U.S.


‘Decolonizing conservation’: Q&A with PNG marine activist John Aini by Basten Gokkon [07/12/2018]

– John Aini is a prominent indigenous leader in his native Papua New Guinea who has won multiple awards for his grassroots activism in marine conservation.
– One of the defining points of his activism is the push to “decolonialize” conservation by engaging local and indigenous communities to a greater degree than typically practiced by large international NGOs.
– This is the first of Mongabay’s two-part interview with Aini at the recent International Marine Conservation Congress in Malaysia.

Solution to ocean’s plastic waste problem ‘starts with product design’ by John C. Cannon [07/12/2018]

– Solutions aimed at tackling the problem of plastic in the ocean need to focus on the design of plastic products, a group of researchers said at the ESOF18 conference in Toulouse, France.
– Some of the proposed solutions, such as those aimed at gathering plastic rubbish at sea with nets, are “concerning,” chemist Alexandra Ter Halle said, as they could also harm marine life.
– Though plastics themselves do pose significant dangers to marine life, plastic products can also help to limit our environmental footprint, marine biologist Richard Thompson said, so we should find ways to make them reusable and easily recyclable.

Krill fishing companies pledge to protect key food of Antarctic animals by Shreya Dasgupta [07/12/2018]

– A majority of krill fishing companies have announced their commitment to voluntarily stop harvesting the tiny crustaceans from vast areas of the Antarctic Peninsula, including around important breeding penguin colonies.
– These companies are all members of the Association of Responsible Krill harvesting companies (ARK), representing 85 percent of the krill fishing industry in the Antarctic.
– The companies have also pledged to support the creation of a network of large-scale marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Antarctic, the details of which will be finalized by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) at a conference in Australia later this year.

Species evolve more than twice as fast at poles as in tropics: study by Gloria Dickie [07/12/2018]

– Considering the swarming biodiversity at the equator, and the lack of diversity near the poles, scientists have long assumed that species evolve more rapidly in warm waters. But a new study of the evolutionary development of 30,000 fish species has turned that idea on its head.
– Biologists found that a fish species in the tropics split into a new species on average every 10 to 20 million years. But near the poles, that average rate is roughly every four million years – more than twice as fast.
– The reason may be the far more extreme and less stable climatic conditions found near the poles. This results in more frequent extinctions, which clears out species diversity and empties ecological niches, setting the stage for the next new burst of species formation in other groups of organisms.
– But if species form faster at the poles than in the tropics, why isn’t there greater biodiversity in the Arctic and Antarctic than at the equator? One possibility: while speciation is more rapid at the poles, extinctions may be more numerous too. But this still isn’t clear, and more research will be needed to find out.

Online mapping tool tracks land-use changes down to the farm by Sue Palminteri [07/12/2018]

– The online mapping platform MapHubs stores maps and spatial data and makes them available to user groups for viewing, analyzing, and sharing with stakeholders.
– Users purchase a portal on the platform that allows the group to combine various public and private data sets in one secure place, produce maps, customize how the portal presents information, and receive support when needed.
– Groups have used the platform to identify deforestation from oil palm and cacao plantations and generate products such as time-lapse videos to show how regional deforestation can shift and expand.

Rhino poop gives villagers in India a conservation incentive by Moushumi Basu [07/11/2018]

– Elrhino company uses the fiber from rhino dung, along with other locally available products, to produce high-end paper products.
– The founders of the company aim to help preserve India’s greater one-horned rhinos by giving villagers a financial incentive to help protect the species.
– The company employs local residents to collect rhino waste, to work in the paper factory, and to produce decorations for its paper products.

Nestlé suspended from RSPO for failing to pay dues, submit progress reports by Daniel Pye [07/11/2018]

– In the wake of Nestlé’s suspension from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, activists said the food giant must do more to prevent palm oil linked to deforestation and other abuses from entering its supply chain.
– They also called on the RSPO to take stricter action against companies flouting its standards. “Companies are increasingly aware that RSPO, in its current form is not providing them with deforestation-free palm oil. This is an existential threat to RSPO’s future,” said Robin Averbeck of the Rainforest Action Network.
– “Nestlé decided a few years ago not to waste time going down the RSPO route,” Averbeck said. “RSPO is clearly terrified of that feeling spreading. So it’s trying to make an example out of Nestlé.”

Vietnam’s bear bile farms are collapsing — but it may not be good news by Shreya Dasgupta [07/11/2018]

– Consumer interest in farmed bear bile seems to be declining in Vietnam, according to a new study, but this raises concerns for both captive and wild bears.
– Farmers are now spending very little on food for the bears, for instance, and often kill the bears after seven to eight years of extensive bile extraction.
– Moreover, bear farming appears to be less lucrative than illegal hunting of wild bears because of both high consumer demand for wild-sourced products and underresourced law enforcement, the authors write.

RSPO fails to deliver on environmental and social sustainability, study finds by Hans Nicholas Jong [07/11/2018]

– The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is widely considered the strongest certification scheme for the commodity, which is grown largely on plantations hacked out of tropical forests that are home to critically endangered species such as orangutans.
– A new study has found that RSPO-certified plantations perform no better than non-RSPO estates on a series of sustainability metrics, including species and habitat conservation, as well as social benefits to local communities.
– The researchers attributed the scheme’s shortcomings to a lack of clarity on its central objectives, as well as weak environmental safeguards.
– For its part, the RSPO has disputed the study’s findings, citing other reports that it says highlight a net positive impact to the environment and communities from certification.

How blockchain gaming could benefit wildlife conservation by Rhett A. Butler [07/10/2018]

– Blockchain has been one of the hottest sectors in tech over the past couple of years, but blockchain has applications well beyond underpinning cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, including gaming and art.
– A new initiative aims to raise money and awareness for conservation by leveraging the popularity of CryptoKitties, one of the world’s first blockchain games.
– Seeking to capitalize on this interest, Axiom Zen, the company behind CryptoKitties, is auctioning off a sea turtle-inspired CryptoKitty called “Honu”. Proceeds will go to sea turtle conservation in the Caribbean.
– In an interview with Mongabay, Axiom Zen’s Cassidy Robertson discussed how blockchain games could help conservation efforts.

Audio: How to use drones without stressing wildlife by Mike Gaworecki [07/10/2018]

– On today’s episode, we discuss the increasing use of drones by wildlife lovers, researchers, and businesses, how that might be stressing animals out, and how drone hobbyists can actually make a meaningful contribution to science while avoiding the harassment of wildlife.
– Our guest is Alicia Amerson, a marine biologist, drone pilot, and science communicator. She tells us why it’s critical that we have best practices for drones in place before we allow companies like Amazon and Uber to deploy fleets of drones in our skies.
– “I want to hit the panic button and create policy” before we have drone-based delivery services by companies like Amazon and Uber “and look and collect data to make sure that we understand what populations are using the skies before we release all of these drones into our world. And so you have to create best practices and policies before all this really gets out of control.”

Zimbabwe’s chiefs revive tradition to save the country’s last pangolins by Andrew Mambondiyani [07/10/2018]

– Asian pangolins are fast dwindling for the illegal international trade, and traffickers are now targeting African pangolins for new supply, raising fears in Zimbabwe that they could wipe out the country’s last pangolins.
– However, traditional leaders, with the support of the Zimbabwean government, are playing a strong role in protecting the country’s remaining pangolins.
– They are reminding their communities of age-old myths and beliefs about pangolins, as well as imposing heavy fines on those who harm them, to instill a sense of collective responsibility among the people.

Backfire: How misinformation about wildfire harms climate activism (commentary) by Douglas Bevington [07/10/2018]

– In this commentary, Douglas Bevington argues that climate activists may be inadvertently hurting their cause when they repeat erroneous claims about forest fires in the American West.
– Bevington says that fire suppression has caused an ecologically harmful shortage of fire in western forests.
– He adds that forest fire policy is being used as a pretext for logging and biomass energy production.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Tiger, clouded leopard skins among illegal wildlife parts seized in Malaysia by [07/09/2018]

– Malaysian authorities have seized wildlife parts worth 500,000 ringgit ($124,000) during a raid in the town of Kuala Lipis, outside Taman Negara, the country’s oldest national park.
– Officials also arrested six Vietnamese nationals — four men and two women — alleged to be part of a larger tiger-poaching gang.
– The confiscated animal parts include two entire tiger pelts suspected to have come from critically endangered Malayan tigers. Each of those pelts is estimated to be worth 200,000 Ringgit ($50,000) on the black market.

Palm oil firms using ‘shadow companies’ to hide their links to deforestation: report by Daniel Pye [07/09/2018]

– A new report highlights the use of opaque corporate structures by some of the world’s largest palm oil firms, allegedly to conceal their ties to destructive practices such as rainforest and peatland clearance.
– The report focuses on Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. The firms it flags include Sawit Sumbermas Sarana, Gama, Bintang Harapan Desa, and the Fangiono, Tee, and Salim family business groups.
– Also last week, Martua Sitorus, co-founder of palm oil giant Wilmar International, resigned from the firm after he was shown to be running a second firm, Gama, with his brother that has cleared an area of rainforest twice the size of Paris since 2013. Wilmar promised to stop deforesting that same year.
– “We are particularly concerned about this ‘shadow company’ issue as it really threatens NDPE policies, by allowing growers to continue to deforest, and allowing them to still find a market with companies with [zero-deforestation] policies,” said a researcher who worked on the report.

Investigation reveals illegal trade cartels decimating vaquita porpoises by [07/09/2018]

– An investigation has exposed new details of the illegal trade in the totoaba fish’s swim bladder.
– Totoaba swim bladders are used in traditional medicine and can fetch thousands of dollars per kilogram in Chinese markets.
– Illegal fishing for totoaba is the primary reason vaquita porpoises are headed toward extinction.
– Elephant Action League’s investigation has identified the people involved and the routes they use to smuggle the bladders to buyers in China.

Ice-free passage for ships through the Arctic could cause problems for marine mammals by [07/09/2018]

– A new study suggests that increased ship traffic in the Arctic, as ice there melts due to climate change, could disturb marine mammal species.
– In their assessment of 80 subpopulations living along the Northwest Passage and Russia’s Northern Sea Route, 42 are likely to be affected by a greater number of commercial ships, researchers found.
– The team suggests that mitigation measures, such as those employed in other parts of the world to protect North Atlantic right whales, could be effective.

‘Better and better’: Thermal cameras turn up the heat on poachers by Sue Palminteri [07/09/2018]

– The annual Serengeti-Maasai Mara wildebeest migration attracts not just tourists, but also bushmeat poachers, who kill between 40,000 and 100,000 animals along the way.
– In 2016, the Mara Conservancy began using FLIR thermal cameras, which detect heat instead of light, to find and capture poachers at night, when they are most active.
– Thermal imaging, together with a motivated team using high-quality digital radios, has led to the capture of over 100 people and left poachers at a loss as to how they’re being detected.

Latam Eco Review: Five newly described snakes named by auction in Ecuador by [07/06/2018]

Among the top stories published by our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, this past week were features about five newly described snake species being named by auction in Ecuador, and news that Bolivia’s Madidi Park could possibly be the most biodiverse park on Earth. The banner image above shows one of the newly described snakes, a Bob […]

And then there were 12: Why don’t we hear about extinction until it’s too late? (commentary) by Sam Turvey [07/06/2018]

– Species threatened with extinction often don’t get the public’s attention until they no longer exist.
– The author, zoologist Sam Turvey, argues that more attention to these critical cases is required.
– Ahead of International Save the Vaquita Day on July 7, Turvey points out that the world’s most endangered marine mammal is dangerously close to extinction, and it’s not alone.
– 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, July 6, 2018 by [07/06/2018]

– 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.

Scientists reveal yet another reason fig trees are titans of biodiversity by Mike Shanahan [07/06/2018]

– Biologist David Mackay got a surprise when he began studying the birds visiting fig trees in his native Australia: While he expected to see plenty of species coming to eat the figs, he didn’t expect the insect eaters to outnumber them two-to-one.
– Mackay already knew that figs feed more bird species than any other fruit. His research, published in June, would show that fig trees are disproportionately important for insect-eaters, too. It adds to growing evidence that fig trees are titans of biodiversity with important roles to play in conservation.
– Altogether, Mackay recorded 55 bird species visiting Ficus rubiginosa fig trees to feed on insects. They included ten species — such as the superb fairy-wren and the shining bronze-cuckoo —whose recent declines in numbers have concerned conservationists.


Lab-grown embryos raise hope of saving near-extinct rhino by Shreya Dasgupta [07/05/2018]

After logging, activists hope to extend protections for Bialowieza Forest by Jeremy Hance [06/28/2018]

In its fight against rhino poachers, India lets the dogs out by Moushumi Basu [06/28/2018]