Newsletter 2018-07-26


In Malaysia, an island drowns in its own development by Keith Schneider [07/26/2018]

– Malaysia’s Penang Island has undergone massive development since the 1960s, a process that continues today with plans for transit and land-reclamation megaprojects.
– The island is increasingly facing floods and landslides, problems environmentalists link to paving land and building on steep slopes.
– This is the second in a six-part series of articles on infrastructure projects in Peninsular Malaysia.


Global marine wilderness has dwindled to 13 percent, new map reveals by John C. Cannon [07/26/2018]

– New research examining the effects of 19 human stressors on the marine environment shows that only 13 percent of oceans can still be considered wilderness.
– Of the remaining wilderness, much of which is located in the high seas and at the poles, less than 5 percent falls under protection, and climate change and advances in technology could threaten it.
– The authors of the study call for international cooperation to protect the ocean’s wilderness areas, including a “Paris Agreement for the Ocean,” which they hope will be signed in 2020.

Why mangroves matter: Experts respond on International Mangrove Day by Shreya Dasgupta [07/26/2018]

– July 26 is International Mangrove Day, dedicated to the unique forests that survive at the interface of land, river and sea.
– Mangroves protect coastlines from storm surges, filter out pollutants, and are home to a wide array of diverse life.
– However, mangroves have declined rapidly around the world, losing out to shrimp farms, tourist resorts, agricultural and urban land over the past decades.
– What does the disappearance of this special forest ecosystem mean for our planet? Experts respond.

Videos: spectacled bear’s home in the dry forests of Peru revealed by Yvette Sierra Praeli [07/26/2018]

– Laura, an Andean spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), is the first bear to wear a GPS collar in Peru’s Batán Grande Archaeological Complex, an ecosystem offers greater visibility than cloud forests, where the bears typically live.
– Laura and about 50 other bears have been monitored for ten years by the Spectacled Bear Conservation Peru (SBC) after they were discovered in the unique Peruvian dry forest ecosystem.
– Over an area of 15,000 hectares (over 37,000 acres), the SBC program uses camera traps, GPS collars and direct field observation to study the bears.

Peru park’s biodiversity at risk from illegal mining, drug production by Mongabay Latam [07/26/2018]

– Illegal logging and cocaine production and trafficking have for years blighted Bahuaja-Sonene National Park in the Peruvian Amazon.
– An area nearly one and a half times the size of Central Park has been deforested inside the protected area as a result of coca cultivation and trafficking. The park also has the world’s highest amount of illegally cultivated coca within a protected area.
– Illegal mining has also taken a toll, with at least 5 square kilometers (1.9 square miles) of indigenous land cleared along a river that’s home to the endangered giant otter.
– Officials blame the prevalence of illegal mining on a crackdown in other areas that has pushed the miners into the vicinity of the park.

New tagging tech for great white shark tracking in New York waters by [07/25/2018]

– Mongabay editor Erik Hoffner joined a research team studying juvenile great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) just offshore of Long Island, New York, an area that has been identified as a great white ‘nursery.’
– Some of the technology being deployed via tags on sharks for this study will return unprecedented information on the species.
– Here we present a series of images from the program and of this particular shark’s capture and release.

Number of murdered environmental activists rose once again in 2017 by [07/25/2018]

– According to a new report by London-based NGO Global Witness, 207 activists were killed in 2017, the highest total number since the group started tracking violence against “land and environmental defenders” around the world. Previous reports documented 185 murdered activists in 2015 and 200 in 2016.
– Latin America is still the most dangerous place on Earth to protest the destruction of the environment and violations of land rights, with 60 percent of the killings in 2017 occurring there. In particular, Mexico saw a large increase in murders last year, from three to 15. And Brazil alone was the site of 57 murdered activists — the most deaths Global Witness has ever recorded over the course of one year in a single country.
– But Latin America is hardly alone: every region of Earth saw a growing number of attacks against activists in 2017.

2700 scientists issue call to action on border wall wildlife threat by Morgan Erickson-Davis [07/25/2018]

– A recently published study finds that more than 1,500 species stand to be affected by the completion of a border wall along the U.S. – Mexico border.
– Overall, they found that a continuous border wall would disconnect more than 34 percent of native, nonflying U.S. species – 346 in total – from at least half of their range. Of these 346 species, 17 percent – including jaguars and ocelots – would have remnant U.S. populations covering less than 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles), which the researchers write would elevate their risk of local extinction.
– The authors say that to reduce risk to wildlife, the U.S. Congress should ensure that the DHS follows the scientific and legal framework of environmental protection laws such as the ESA and NEPA. They also implore the DHS to strengthen research and monitoring along the border, consider and mitigate environmental harm imposed on particularly sensitive ecosystems and species by wall construction, and train Border Patrol agents to be more sensitive to the presence of researchers.
– As of press time, 2,723 scientists and 674 general supporters had signed the study in support.

Deforestation skyrockets in the Amazon rainforest by [07/25/2018]

– Deforestation is mushrooming in the Brazilian Amazon, according to Imazon.
– Imazon’s data shows deforestation hit 1,169 square kilometers in June 2018, the highest level since the NGO began monthly tracking in April 2007.
– While month-to-month data from short-term deforestation tracking systems is notoriously variable, June’s number comes on the heels of 634 square kilometers of forest loss in May.
– Scientists have warned that Brazil seems to be reversing course after a historic drop in deforestation.

Forest communities pay the price for conservation in Madagascar by John C. Cannon [07/25/2018]

– In a two-year investigation of a REDD+ pilot project, a team of researchers spoke with more than 450 households affected by the establishment of a large protected area called the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, a 3,820-square-kilometer (1,475-square-mile) tract of rainforest in eastern Madagascar.
– The REDD+ project, supported by Conservation International and the World Bank, was aimed at supporting communities by providing support for alternative livelihoods to those communities near the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor protected area.
– They found that the REDD+ project’s preliminary studies identified less than half of those negatively affected by the Corridor’s designation.
– The team also discovered that the value of the one-off compensation, in the form of support to pursue other livelihoods, fell far short of the opportunity costs that the communities are likely to face as a result of losing access to the forest in the coming decades.

Indigenous stewardship is critical to success of protected areas (commentary) by Michael Painter | David Wilkie | James Watson [07/25/2018]

– A recent article in Science reports that, while the portion of the world’s terrestrial surface allocated to protected areas has grown to around one-sixth of the area available, a significant number of these areas are so compromised by human pressures that they may be unable to meet their conservation goals.
– What we increasingly understand is that if we are to address the threats posed by activities ranging from logging and mining to agriculture and urbanization effectively, we must seek out local solutions where possible. That means drawing on the knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and safeguarding their rights.
– In case after case, the world’s remaining strongholds of biodiversity remain intact thanks to the stewardship of the people living there. That is why conservation organizations have supported Indigenous Peoples and local communities as they negotiate with governments to win recognition of resource rights.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazil’s plant biodiversity still not fully present in its seed banks by Ignacio Amigo [07/25/2018]

– Seed banks are a cheap and effective way of protecting species against extinction and securing genetic diversity.
– The most important seed banks in Brazil are devoted to agricultural species and varieties. Seeds from native species and species that are threatened of extinction are still a minority.
– The Global Strategy for Plan Conservation, a program from the Convention on Biological Diversity, establishes that every country should keep 75 percent of its endangered plant species in off-site collections, such as seed banks, by 2020.
– Brazil will not meet the target and experts argue for the need of a national policy.

New flash-flood warning system in India could be life-saving by Karthikeyan HemalathaMayank Aggarwal [07/24/2018]

– To improve preparedness for flash floods, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) is working on a guidance system that will predict the possibility of flash floods up to six hours in advance and alert disaster relief forces as well as residents.
– The Flash Flood Guidance System (FFGS) will use existing satellites and on-ground equipment to track real-time rainfall in any part of the country.
– Since the soil’s ability to absorb rainwater influences the probability of flash floods, the early-warning system will use data like soil moisture, temperature, saturation, and the topography of the land, to assess the likelihood of flash floods ahead of time.

In Vietnam, cable car plans continue to threaten important cave system by Chris Humphrey [07/24/2018]

– Once construction is finished, the cable car could carry thousands of tourists to Son Doong cave every day.
– Currently, fewer than 800 people visit the caves every year through sustainable eco-tourism company Oxalis.
– There is also growing concern that a cable car could irreparably damage the area’s primary forests.
– An online petition that’s part of the campaign against the development has garnered about 170,000 signatures.

Audio: Shadow companies and the Indonesian land crisis by Mike Gaworecki [07/24/2018]

– On today’s episode, new revelations about “shadow companies” and how they factor into Mongabay’s ongoing investigation into the corruption fueling Indonesia’s deforestation and land rights crisis.
– Our guest today is Mongabay’s Indonesia-based editor Phil Jacobson, who recently uncovered evidence that one of the biggest pulp and paper companies in the world might be using “shadow companies” to hide its connections to deforestation.
– Phil previously appeared on the Newscast back in October 2017 to discuss “Indonesia For Sale,” an investigative series Mongabay is publishing in partnership with The Gecko Project. He explains how these new revelations fit into the larger corruption issues tracked by “Indonesia For Sale,” how Indonesia’s forests are being impacted, and why everyone should be paying attention to these stories, whether they’re in Indonesia or not.

Trump Admin unveils plan to weaken the US Endangered Species Act by [07/24/2018]

– The Trump Administration has unveiled a plan to revise regulations that implement portions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), which conservationists say would cripple the law adopted in 1973 to protect imperiled species and critical habitat.
– A proposal announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) last week would, for the first time ever, allow economic impacts to be considered when determining how to protect plant and animal species under the ESA.
– Further components of the proposal would make it easier to delist an endangered species, impose “a non-exhaustive list of circumstances” in which the designation of critical habitat can be rejected because it “would not be prudent,” and change the parameters under which federal agencies are required to consult with the USFWS and NOAA Fisheries before taking any action that might impact a listed species or cause the “destruction or adverse modification” of habitat.
– The ESA is credited with having been instrumental in the recovery of bald eagles, gray whales, grizzly bears, and a number of other species.

Temer’s deforestation policies put Paris goals at risk, scientists warn by Sue Branford [07/24/2018]

– A letter in the journal Nature Climate Change penned by ten prominent Brazilian scientists is making a splash in major Brazilian media outlets. They warn that weak environmental governance by the Temer administration and the bancada ruralista, agribusiness and mining lobby, is resulting in policies that are increasing deforestation.
– The scientists especially singled out Temer, noting that: “the President of Brazil has signed provisional acts and decrees lowering environmental licensing requirements, suspending the ratification of indigenous lands, reducing the size of protected areas and facilitating land grabbers to obtain the deeds of illegally deforested areas.”
– The scientists say that these policies are undermining attempts to reduce deforestation and the CO2 emissions that clear cutting causes. As a result, Brazil may need to spend US$2-5 trillion additionally to curb its carbon emissions by other means in order to hit the nation’s Paris Climate Agreement targets.
– The warning comes as Brazil gears up for October national elections. Environmental issues rarely have a great influence on Brazilian voters, but the scientists hope that knowledge of the severe and costly consequences of the current government’s policies could help better inform Brazilians as they go to the polls.

A warmer climate tinkers with Arctic spider’s choice of prey by [07/24/2018]

– A team of researchers found that higher temperatures led Arctic wolf spiders to eat fewer insect-like springtails in study plots.
– Springtails eat fungus, an essential decomposer in the Arctic ecosystem, so with more springtails around in the warmer study plots, there was less decomposition.
– The scientists suggest that this change in prey preference could modulate the effects of a warming climate on the carbon that’s released from the thawing tundra.

Colombia pledges to produce deforestation-free chocolate by [07/23/2018]

– On July 17, Colombia signed up to the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, an effort that aims to achieve deforestation-free cocoa production, becoming the first Latin American country to make this commitment.
– One of the country’s largest chocolate manufacturing companies, Casa Luker, and the members of the National Cocoa Federation have also joined Colombia in this pledge.
– The Colombian government has been working to boost cocoa production to improve the country’s competitiveness as a cocoa producer internationally and is looking at cocoa as a potential replacement for crops like coca, the plant used to make cocaine.

Study finds elephants plant trees, play big role in forest structure by Morgan Erickson-Davis [07/23/2018]

– Many large animals – collectively called “megafauna” – eat the fruit of Platymitra macrocarpa trees, including Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), sambar deer (Rusa unicolor), bears and gibbons.
– When researchers examined the fruit consumption, seed dispersal, and seed germination trends of P macrocarpa, they discovered that elephants were responsible for the lion’s share of successful seedling germination – 37 percent – despite consuming only 3 percent of available fruit.
– They also noticed a decline in P macrocarpa, which they say may be due to extirpated rhinos or reductions in local elephant populations.
– They say their results highlight the important role large herbivores play in forest structure, and that losses of these animals might significantly change tree composition and even a forest’s ability to store carbon.

As planned excise flops, Indonesia ponders how to give up plastic bags by Basten Gokkon [07/23/2018]

– The proliferation of free plastic shopping bags, coupled with a lack of recycling infrastructure and a general disregard for waste management have turned Indonesia into one of the major contributors to the global plastic waste crisis.
– The government has backed down from imposing an excise on plastic shopping bags, planned for this month, following opposition from manufacturers and the Industry Ministry.
– The plan is the second to fall through, after a pilot program to charge consumers for plastic bags was abandoned by retailers in 2016.
– Plastics producers say the main problem is the inadequate waste management system to deal with all the waste.

One-third of global fisheries operating at biologically unsustainable levels by [07/20/2018]

– About 3.2 billion people around the world currently rely on fish for nearly 20 percent of their animal protein. That means that humans eat more than 150 million metric tons of fish every year — and as the global population increases by a couple billion over the next few decades, that number will surely rise.
– The fishing industry is eager to capitalize on this growth and boost profits, of course, but overfishing is already threatening the global supply of fish and there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that this growth can and will be achieved sustainably.
– According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations’ latest report on the state of the world’s fisheries and aquaculture, however, that doesn’t mean we’re approaching “peak fish” — though it will require that fisheries management be strengthened and loss and waste reduced, while problems like climate change, illegal fishing, and pollution must also be dealt with.

Peru: Marañón dry forests protected as a regional conservation area by Vanessa Romo [07/20/2018]

– Peru has formalized the creation of the Regional Conservation Area of Seasonally Dry Tropical Forests of the Marañón through a Supreme Decree.
– The new regional conservation area will ensure the conservation of a representative sample of this ecosystem, which is home to 143 plant species, 22 bird species and 14 reptile species that live nowhere else in the world.
– A second Supreme Decree, passed on the same day, has formalized the creation of the Regional Conservation Area of the Vista Alegre Omia. These conservation areas are the first of their kind in the Amazonas region.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, July 20, 2018 by [07/20/2018]

– 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.

New species of shark named after pioneering ‘Shark Lady’ Eugenie Clark by [07/20/2018]

– Scientists have just described a new species of shark from the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean.
– The new species was formally named Squalus clarkae or Genie’s Dogfish, in honor of the late marine biologist Eugenie Clark, best known for her pioneering work on sharks, which earned her the nickname of “Shark Lady.”
– The newly described big-eyed shark belongs to the dogfish family, a group of small sharks that live primarily in deep waters and reproduce slowly.

Latam Eco Review: Ecuadoran court demands Chevron pay $9.5 billion in damages by [07/20/2018]

Among the most read stories at our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, this past week were articles about the legal victory of communities in Ecuador’s Amazon against Chevron; the animals in a dry forest on a private protected area in Peru; discoveries by camera traps in a jaguar refuge in Bolivia; the threat of extinction to the […]

DRC set to reclassify national parks for oil, open rainforest to logging by John Vidal [07/19/2018]

– An investigation by Greenpeace finds that since February, DRC’s environment ministry has handed over control of three logging concessions in Congo Basin rainforest to Chinese-owned logging companies. Two of these concessions are located in a massive peatland – the largest in the tropics – that was discovered last year.
– Fourteen more concessions are expected to be awarded to companies in the coming months.
– The DRC government is also reportedly planning to declassify large portions of Salonga and Virunga national parks to allow oil exploration. Virunga is one of the last bastions of critically endangered mountain gorillas.
– These moves threaten a long-standing logging moratorium in the country, as well as forest protection agreements between the DRC and other countries.


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

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

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