Newsletter 2018-07-19


Cracks appear in Malaysia’s building spree, once a model for development by Keith Schneider [07/17/2018]

– Mongabay is launching a six-part series on infrastructure projects in peninsular Malaysia. The series will explore the magnitude and environmental consequences of massive infrastructure projects undertaken in the name of modernizing Malaysia.
– We discovered that while the concerns about the security of air, water and land are justified, this program produced unexpected economic gains, as well as considerable financial and political challenges.
– Surprise election results in May brought in a new government, placing into question the future of several planned projects.

Pushing Vietnam’s shrimp industry toward sustainability by Zoe Osborne [07/17/2018]

– Shrimp farming is one of the biggest industries in Vietnam, and the government is pushing to expand it, having announced plans last year to boost exports from $3 billion in 2016 to $10 billion by 2025.
– But there are significant environmental problems associated with current farming methods, which contribute to deforestation, erosion, land subsidence and rising salinity levels that are threatening the stability of the entire Mekong region.
– The Vietnamese government and a range of international development partners are working to improve the way the country farms shrimp, with an emphasis on small-scale operators.
– However, the reality is that most farmers are reluctant to change.

Bold initiative aims to protect coral reefs in the Dominican Republic by Greg Asner and Clare LeDuff [07/16/2018]

– Coral reefs of the northern Caribbean have undergone widespread change over the past century, driven by coastal development, pollution, over-fishing, the introduction of invasive species, and increasing ocean temperatures.
– A new and unique marine protected area, the Southeast Marine Sanctuary, has recently been declared, covering 786,300 hectares of reef environment, thus making it one of the largest protected areas in the Caribbean.
– The marine sanctuary will be divided into two zones, each to be co-managed by a diverse group of stakeholders organized into a nonprofit. The structure of its oversight – a collaboration among numerous stakeholders, from the federal government to local fishermen and from environmental groups to hotel associations – makes this new marine sanctuary remarkable.


Securing a future for Grevy’s zebras and the cultures of northern Kenya (commentary) by Alex Dudley [07/19/2018]

– Grevy’s zebras were once widespread across the Horn of Africa, but their numbers were decimated by poaching and civil unrest during the 1970s and 80s. Fewer than 3,000 endangered Grevy’s zebras remain worldwide today.
– Habitat loss and competition with people and livestock for water and pasture pose a bigger threat than poaching to the species’ survival today.
– Conservation initiatives devised and implemented at the grassroots level hold the key to the species’ future. Local efforts by the Grevy’s Zebra Trust (GZT) seek to promote sustainable grazing practices and employ local communities in monitoring zebra movements, thereby safeguarding both the area’s natural and cultural heritage.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Plant communities roar back after rat removal from Pacific islands by [07/19/2018]

– In a multi-year study, scientists found that tree seedlings were more than 5,000 percent more abundant after rats were eradicated from Palmyra Atoll, a group of 25 small islands in the Pacific Ocean.
– Invasive rats, brought by ships over the past few centuries, eat tree seedlings and vegetation, in addition to driving down seabird numbers.
– Managers eradicated the islands’ rats in 2011, and within a month, seedling densities had increased.

India’s pre-election changes to green laws draw criticism by Mayank Aggarwal [07/19/2018]

– In the final year of its tenure, the Indian government is making a dash to revamp the country’s major environmental laws meant to protect forests, coasts and wildlife, and tackle air pollution.
– Environmentalists say that the hasty changes seem to have been proposed in quick succession to avoid wider and detailed consultations with all concerned stakeholders.
– They also allege that the proposed changes to existing environmental laws are not focused on protecting and conserving the environment, but aim to ease the growth of industries — a promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi just before the 2014 general elections.

Cross-border camera trap research puts wild Amur leopard number at 84 by [07/19/2018]

– Scientists working in Russia and China have used camera traps to estimate that 84 Amur leopards remain in the wild.
– Previous studies tracked the cats using their footprints in snow, but the camera trap photographs allowed the researchers to identify individual animals by their unique spot patterns.
– The team found that 20 percent of the Amur leopards appeared on both sides of the border between China and Russia, highlighting the importance of cross-border collaboration.

First fern genomes sequenced — and they hold a lot of promise by Shreya Dasgupta [07/18/2018]

– Despite being one of the most diverse groups of plants on the planet, ferns were until recently the only major plant group to not have their genomes sequenced.
– Now, for the first time ever, biologists have sequenced the genomes of two tiny ferns, Azolla filiculoides and Salvinia cucullata, and their findings have some major implications for agriculture.
– The fern experts now hope to sequence other fern genomes and unravel more fern secrets.

Grasslands may trump forests at carbon storage in a warming world by Morgan Erickson-Davis [07/18/2018]

– A new study finds grasslands can be more effective than forests at storing carbon in places prone to drought and wildfire – a condition likely to worsen in many parts of the world.
– This is because grass stores much of its carbon underground in its root mass, which makes it less likely to be released in the event of a fire.
– Its authors say their findings highlight the important role grasslands can play in mitigating global warming. They urge grasslands in semi-arid areas be included in carbon offset schemes and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets

RSPO walks back suspension of Nestlé by [07/18/2018]

– The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil announced this week it would reinstate the membership of Nestlé.
– Nestlé was suspended from the RSPO last month after failing to pay dues and submit progress reports.
– “Nestlé has pledged to step up their efforts in working actively on solutions within the RSPO system, via active participation,” RSPO chief Darrel Webber said in a statement announcing the decision.

Southeast Asian deforestation more extensive than thought, study finds by Sue Palminteri [07/18/2018]

– Researchers analyzed a suite of satellite imagery products and found much greater deforestation than expected since 2000 in the highlands of Southeast Asia.
– Much of the 82,000 square kilometers (31,700 square miles) they estimate to have been developed into croplands in the region’s highlands reflects previously undocumented conversion of forest, including primary and protected forests, to agriculture.
– Through a sample-based verification process, the authors found that 93 percent of the pixels from areas allocated to areas of net forest loss by the authors’ model were confirmed as net forest loss, and 99 percent of the pixels delineated as other areas were accurately labelled as non-net forest loss.
– The findings contrast with previous assumptions about land-cover trends currently used in projections of global climate change and future environmental conditions in Southeast Asia.

How a better understanding of psychopathology in captive primates can aid in conservation efforts by Mike Gaworecki [07/18/2018]

– Maya Kummrow, a doctor of veterinary medicine, writes in a paper recently published in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine that non-human primates have been used as models of human psychopathology — the study of mental illness — for decades. But, she notes, “the acquired knowledge has only hesitantly been applied to primates themselves.”
– In the paper, Kummrow states that she is seeking to raise awareness among her fellow veterinarians about the wealth of information on NHP psychopathology that is available in human medicine and anthropology literature and calls for “mental health assessments and professionally structured treatment approaches” in NHP medicine, as well.
– In this Q&A, Mongabay spoke with Kummrow about how her review of the literature on NHP psychopathology and treatment might apply to primate conservation efforts.

Red flags abound as a warming Arctic opens up to shipping by Basten Gokkon [07/18/2018]

– Ship traffic through the Arctic is expected to increase dramatically as global warming renders a growing proportion of the region ice-free.
– Conservationists warn that the higher number of vessels raises the risks of pollution, oil spills, and disturbances to marine mammals from propeller noise.
– They propose a slate of regulatory measures that could help mitigate the anticipated impacts, which could then be extended to other vulnerable maritime regions.

New report spotlights financiers of palm oil giant clearing Liberia’s forests by Daniel Pye [07/17/2018]

– A new report by Friends of the Earth highlights deforestation by Golden Veroleum Liberia, an arm of the billionaire Widjaja family’s conglomerate.
– The largest financiers of Golden Veroleum’s parent company include U.S. financial firms Vanguard, BlackRock, Kopernik Global Investors, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Northern Trust and CitiGroup; Dutch firms Robeco and Rabobank; and Asian firms China Merchants Bank, Maybank Indonesia and Bank Mandiri.
– Golden Veroleum cleared some 150 square kilometers of land between 2010 and 2016, according to the report.

Indigenous peoples control one-quarter of world’s land surface, two-thirds of that land is ‘essentially natural’ by [07/17/2018]

– A new study makes a significant contribution to the growing body of research showing that recognizing the land rights of and partnering with indigenous peoples can greatly benefit conservation efforts.
– An international team of researchers produced a map of the terrestrial lands managed or owned by indigenous peoples across the globe, which in turn allowed them to assess “the extent to which Indigenous Peoples’ stewardship and global conservation values intersect.”
– The researchers determined that indigenous peoples have ownership and use or management rights over more than a quarter of the world’s land surface — close to 38 million square kilometers or 14.6 million square miles — spread across 87 countries and overlapping with about 40 percent of all terrestrial protected areas on Earth.

New species of venomous snake discovered by accident in Australia by [07/17/2018]

– While researching sea snakes in the mining town of Weipa in Australia’s remote Cape York Peninsula, a team of biologists chanced upon a black and white snake that’s new to science.
– The venomous snake, now named Vermicella parscauda, belongs to a group of snakes called bandy bandies that live in burrows and feed on a specialized diet of blindsnakes.
– So far, the team has found only six individuals of the new species in the Weipa area, a site with large-scale bauxite mining, which could suggest that the burrowing snake might be in trouble.

Peru: A decade-long quest to protect the world’s largest tropical glacier by Vanessa Romo [07/17/2018]

– The Quelccaya Ice Cap in Peru’s Canchis province is the world’s largest tropical glacier, but it has been melting steadily — a harbinger of climate change.
– The ice cap is part of the proposed 810-square kilometer (310-square-mile) Regional Conservation Area of Ausangate, which is intended to preserve water sources, wetlands, and vulnerable species like the vicuña.
– After a decade in development, in part due to a prolonged consultation process with the area’s indigenous Quechua communities, the conservation area will be presented for government approval in August.

EU demand siphons illicit timber from Ukraine, investigation finds by John C. Cannon [07/17/2018]

– Corrupt management of Ukraine’s timber sector is supplying the EU with large amounts of wood from the country’s dense forests.
– The London-based investigative nonprofit Earthsight found evidence that forestry officials have taken bribes to supply major European firms with Ukrainian wood that may have been harvested illegally.
– Earthsight argues that EU-based companies are not carrying out the due diligence that the EU Timber Regulation requires when buying from “high-risk” sources of timber.

‘Single-minded determination’: China’s global infrastructure spree rings alarm bells by Basten Gokkon [07/17/2018]

– Governments across Southeast Asia have embraced billions of dollars in construction projects backed by China as they rely on infrastructure-building to drive their economic growth.
– But there are worries that this building spree, under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), makes no concessions for environmental protections, and even deliberately targets host countries with a weak regulatory climate.
– Beijing has also been accused of going on a debt-driven grab for natural resources and geopolitical clout, through the terms under which it lends money to other governments for the infrastructure projects.
– In parallel, China is also building up its green finance system, potentially as a means to channel more funding into its Belt and Road Initiative.

Pay more attention to forests to avert global water crisis, researchers urge by [07/16/2018]

– According to a new report, the growing human population and climate change are exacerbating a looming global water crisis that has already hit home in places like Australia’s Murray Darling basin — but the crisis could potentially be averted if humans paid more attention to the links between forests and water.
– Despite the links between the global climate, forests, people, and water, international bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have tended to view carbon sequestration as the chief role of forests and trees.
– Report co-editor Meine van Noordwijk, chief scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Indonesia and a professor of agroforestry at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, warns that we ignore the importance of water in the climate debate at our own peril.

Protecting PNG’s oceans: Q&A with marine activist John Aini by Basten Gokkon [07/16/2018]

– 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.
– In a recent speech Aini outlined a number of threats to the country’s environment and indigenous peoples, including logging, mining, palm oil plantations and, most recently, the world’s first underwater mining operation, which is slated to begin production next year.
– This is the second of Mongabay’s two-part interview with Aini at the recent International Marine Conservation Congress in Malaysia.

Soy giant Louis Dreyfus pledges deforestation-free supply chain by Anna Sophie Gross [07/16/2018]

– The Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), a global commodities trader, has announced a plan to eliminate the destruction of native vegetation from its soy supply chain in Brazil and across Latin America. Particularly important to environmentalists, LDC pledges to avoid buying soy from producers who have caused new deforestation in the Cerrado biome.
– The Amazon Soy Moratorium, instituted in 2006 via an agreement between Greenpeace and global commodities companies, has been credited with vastly reducing the cutting of forests to make way for soy planting there. But the companies, until now, have resisted making a similar commitment in the Cerrado, where soy-caused deforestation is rampant.
– Many environmentalists are hailing LDC’s new deforestation commitment, though they note that the pledge has yet to be backed by implementation and timeline details.
– Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket chain, has also just announced the planned launch this year of a certification system that will only source soy from areas that have been certified as deforestation-free. From 2025 onward, the company also plans to transition to sourcing only from “zero deforestation areas.”

Mangroves and their deforestation may emit more methane than we thought by Morgan Erickson-Davis [07/13/2018]

– A recently published study finds mangroves release more methane than previously estimated.
– Methane packs much more of a global warming punch than carbon dioxide, and the study indicates this methane could be offsetting around 20 percent of a mangrove’s soil carbon storage rate.
– Deforestation of mangroves releases much of the carbon stored by mangroves, including methane.

New research proposes solutions for reducing environmental costs of feeding Earth’s 7.6-billion human population by [07/13/2018]

– Researchers at Oxford University in the UK and Agroscope, a Swiss agricultural research institute, have compiled an extensive database on food production around the world in order to determine the best means of reducing the environmental impacts of what we eat.
– To pinpoint possible solutions for reducing the impact of food production on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and the global climate that would be effective for the large and diverse range of food producers across the globe, the researchers compiled a database covering five different indicators of the environmental impacts of 38,700 farms and 1,600 processors, packaging types, and retailers.
– They found that environmental impacts can vary widely — by as much as 50-fold — even among producers of the same food product. These discrepancies in the environmental tolls exacted by the same foods when grown in different geographies and under different production practices present a number of opportunities to mitigate those impacts.

Angry farmers set fire to offices of Madagascar eco group, gov’t agency by Rowan Moore Gerety [07/13/2018]

– Large swaths of forest inside northwestern Madagascar’s Bongolava Forest Corridor, a protected area, have been burned to make way for commercial corn farming, raising the fortunes of many residents accustomed to living on the edge of subsistence.
– Last month, angry farmers armed with sticks and machetes stormed into the northwestern city of Boriziny, also known as Port–Bergé, to demand the release of people arrested for illegally clearing farmland inside the protected area.
– The group destroyed the offices of the local nonprofit that manages the protected area and set fire to the building it shares with an outpost of the environment ministry, as well as to the homes of the group’s coordinator and the government administrator for the area.
– The episode highlights the difficulty of achieving meaningful conservation in an area where the populace largely views ecological goals as conflicting with an important source of income.

Scientists urge Indonesian president to nix dam in orangutan habitat by Hans Nicholas Jong [07/13/2018]

– Twenty-five of the world’s top environmental scientists have sent a letter to Indonesia’s president, seeking a halt to a planned hydroelectric dam in the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan, the rarest species of great ape on Earth.
– The scientists also slammed the Chinese government for funding the project as a part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, saying it has disregarded the environmental consequences of building and operating the dam.
– The developers of the project have dismissed the criticism, saying they will enforce strong environmental safeguards to protect the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, July 13, 2018 by John C. Cannon [07/13/2018]

– 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.

After devastating floods in 2013, an Indian state ignores the lessons by Mayank Aggarwal, Video by Kartik Chandramouli [07/13/2018]

– In 2013, the state of Uttarakhand in northern India witnessed one of the biggest natural disasters in independent India’s history when heavy rains and flash floods resulted in the destruction of thousands of lives and property.
– According to experts, the disaster’s impacts were exacerbated by unabated illegal construction on river floodplains and the government’s relentless pursuit of hydropower projects.
– Five years since the floods, the state is continuing to push for hydropower projects, which has residents and experts worried.
– Mongabay-India staff writer Mayank Aggarwal and video editor Kartik Chandramouli traveled to Uttarakhand to see how the state has dealt with the disaster’s aftermath.

Another Cecil? Secrecy surrounds June trophy lion hunt by Jeremy Hance [07/13/2018]

– A U.S. trophy hunter baited and killed a male lion on June 7th in Umbabat Private Nature Reserve, a part of Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa. Suspicions are that the animal shot was Skye, a beloved lion in the region.
– U.S. citizen Jared Whitworth allegedly paid nearly $80,000 for the hunt. Authorities say the animal killed wasn’t Skye, but have offered no proof. Skye hasn’t been seen since the day Whitworth made his kill, and one of the lion’s cubs was found dead, which often happens when other males take over a pride.
– If the killed lion was Skye, this would be a breach of South African regulations, because the lion was too young to be legally hunted. Authorities also say that if it is confirmed that the lion was baited, that could violate South African laws.
– In response, the U.S. Humane Society and Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking it to reject importation of the mystery lion’s body. In March, the Trump administration’s USFWS announced a new policy to consider African trophy import permits on a case-by-case basis.

Latam Eco Review: Spectacled bears in the spotlight by [07/13/2018]

Among the most read stories at our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, this past week were articles about camera traps providing new insights into the spectacled bear’s natural habitat in Peru, and in Ecuador both private and governmental initiatives which are successfully fighting to protect the dry forest ecosystem in the southern part of the country. The […]

Madagascar’s native fauna defenseless against toxic invasive toads by Joshua Parfitt [07/13/2018]

– Toxic Asian common toads (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) have spread rapidly around the port city of Toamasina on Madagascar’s east coast, raising concerns that the invasive amphibians could take a severe toll on the island’s unique wildlife species.
– A recent paper vindicates those concerns: through a genetic analysis of 77 endemic species, scientists found that just one demonstrated clear resistance to toad toxins.
– A separate estimate published last month suggests there are now over 7 million Asian common toads in Madagascar. Reports suggest they arrived accidentally with mine construction equipment prior to 2010.

Salamanders have ‘tricks up their sleeves’ for weathering climate change by Morgan Erickson-Davis [07/12/2018]

– North America is the world’s salamander diversity hotspot, and the Appalachian Mountains are home to around 10 percent of all species.
– Salamanders play a big role in forest ecosystems, both as predators and prey, as well as helping keep carbon in the ground.
– Previous research found that global warming stands to make a large portion of the Appalachians unsuitable for salamanders by the end of the century.
– But a new study reveals Appalachian salamanders may be better able to acclimate to warmer, drier conditions than previously believed.

Extractive industries threaten a million square kilometers of intact tropical forests around the globe by Mike Gaworecki [07/12/2018]

– According to a recent report, mining companies currently have claims on 11 percent of all intact rainforests left in the world, meaning 590,000 square kilometers (227,800 square miles) of pristine tropical forest ecosystems are at risk. That’s an area larger than France.
– Oil and gas concessions, meanwhile, cover 8 percent of tropical intact forest landscapes (IFLs). That’s another 408,000 square kilometers (157,529 square miles), roughly the size of the US state of California.
– The report, issued by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) last month, assesses the threats from extractive industries to the 5.2 million square kilometers, or just over 2 million square miles, of tropical IFLs left in the world. In total, nearly one million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of those intact tropical forests are potentially threatened by extractive activities.


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

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

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

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