Newsletter 2018-09-13


Brazilian legislators break law, attack Amazon, trade freely with world: report by Sue Branford [09/11/2018]

– A new Amazon Watch report offers evidence showing that six prominent Brazilian politicians are charged with, and/or guilty of, a variety of environmental, social, and economic crimes. All six are active in the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby of congress, and all but one are up for election in October.
– According to the report, the six have been strident advocates of the ruralist policies that are slashing environmental protections, exacerbating Amazon deforestation, and rolling back indigenous land rights.
– Yet their agricultural commodities, and those of their political and business allies, are being sold to the U.S. and EU, with importers including soft drinks manufacturers Coca Cola (U.S) and Schweppes (Switzerland), the poultry producer Wiesenhof (Germany) and others.
– The report says that transnational companies and consumers are thus unwittingly empowering the ruralists’ drastic legislative environmental attacks, and it calls for importing countries and companies to take responsibility for their actions. Mongabay profiles two legislators featured in the report: Adilton Sachetti and Nelson Marquezelli.

Land hoarding: what Colombia’s new administration has inherited by Natalie Arenas [09/10/2018]

– Local authorities say that they are no longer as trusting of the actions suggested by the federal government.
– Humberto Sánchez, the mayor of San Vicente del Caguán, says that meetings carried out to stop the problem are completely useless.
– San Vicente del Caguán is the most deforested municipality in Colombia.

The search for survivors in a post-nuclear reefscape by Greg Asner and Clare LeDuff [09/10/2018]

– The United States tested its largest thermonuclear bomb in 1954 over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, generating radioactive fallout downwind, including over remote Rongelap Atoll.
– We surveyed protected reefs of Rongelap and neighboring Ailinginae Atoll, finding extremely variable coral condition and widespread evidence of recent ocean warming.
– Variation in reef condition underscored an increasing need to assist diver-based surveys with improved satellite and aircraft imaging to assess the health of the coral reefs.
– Climate change mitigation is paramount to coral reef survival, as increasing ocean temperature could trump earlier nuclear radiation as a driver of reef degradation in the Marshall Islands.

Criminal mafias take over Colombian forests by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [09/07/2018]

– Of this lost forest, 900 square kilometers (350 square miles) were in the environmental corridor that connects the national parks of La Macarena and Serranía del Chiribiquete.
– The government was late to arrive to the territories left by the now-disbanded FARC guerrilla group.
– New paramilitary groups, including former factions of the FARC, the ELN guerrillas, criminal gangs and drug-trafficking enterprises have taken control of the territory, causing immense environmental and social damage.
– The region is now facing an acceleration of what many have long feared: deforestation, land grabbing, expansion of the agricultural frontier, and an increase in illicit crop cultivation and illegal mining.


Humans reached Madagascar 6,000 years earlier than previously thought by [09/12/2018]

– New research suggests humans reached Madagascar far earlier than previously thought.
– The study, published today in the journal Science Advances, is based on analysis of giant elephant bird bones discovered in 2009.
– Those bones showed “chop marks, cut marks, and depression fractures consistent with immobilization and dismemberment” by prehistoric humans.
– Until now, the earliest documented evidence of humans in Madagascar dated to 2,400-4,000 years ago.

Forests and indigenous rights land $459M commitment by [09/12/2018]

– A group of 17 philanthropic foundations has committed nearly half a billion dollars in support of land-based solutions to climate change and the recognition of indigenous peoples’ and traditional communities’ collective land rights and resource management.
– The announcement is notable because it brings together a range of philanthropies that have often taken a siloed approach to tackling the world’s social and environmental problems.
– The pledge, which includes both previous commitments and new money, raises the profile of two often overlooked opportunities in climate change mitigation: forests, which could help meet up to a third of global emissions targets by 2030, and indigenous and local communities, whose lands comprise nearly a sixth of global forest cover.
– The foundations signed an agreement stating five shared priorities, ranging from the rights of indigenous communities to transitioning toward more sustainable food systems.

Why keep Africa’s dryland forests alive? by Sophie Mbugua [09/12/2018]

– Small holder farmers from 6,000 Malian households have restored 320 hectares of land through a combination of on-farm natural tree regeneration, water harvesting, moisture retention technologies, improved soil filtration, and enhanced soil humus.
– This is just one of many efforts currently underway to restore Africa’s dryland forests. There are many obstacles left to overcome, but as the Mali example clearly shows, there are successes to celebrate and build upon, as well.
– In sub-Saharan Africa, 80 percent of charcoal and firewood used by about 2.4 million people is harvested in woodlands found in the dryland areas. Experts say it’s time to start packaging these fragile yet rich and highly adaptive ecosystems into investment opportunities.

Runners’ woes at Asian Games highlight Jakarta’s air pollution problem by Hans Nicholas Jong [09/12/2018]

– Athletes competing in the just concluded Asian Games in Jakarta suffered from some of the worst air quality in a city hosting a major sports event in recent years.
– Levels of PM10 and PM2.5, classes of particles in the air, exceeded World Health Organization guidelines for the duration of the Games, despite vehicle restrictions imposed by the Jakarta government.
– Activists say officials are overlooking the fact that more than half the air pollution in Jakarta is caused by factors other than vehicle emissions, including several coal-fired power plants.
– Officials in the central government have denied that there’s an air pollution problem, but those in the city administration have acknowledged the issue and called for a holistic approach to tackling the range of factors.

Illegal wildlife trade on Facebook in Thailand open ‘for all to see’ by Shreya Dasgupta [09/12/2018]

– In a rapid assessment in 2016, carried out for just 30 minutes a day over a total of 23 days, wildlife trade watchdog TRAFFIC found 1,521 listings of live wild animals for sale on Facebook in Thailand.
– The animals on offer belonged to at least 200 species, of which about half are protected by the country’s laws, while the rest aren’t regulated at all.
– More than 500 individuals listed were mammals, with 139 listings of the Sunda slow loris, a threatened primate.
– The listings also included the critically endangered helmeted hornbill and Siamese crocodile.

Palm oil giant’s claim it can’t control Liberian subsidiary a ‘red herring,’ NGO says by Daniel Pye [09/12/2018]

– The Forest Peoples Programme, an NGO, recently filed five new complaints against palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources. The complaints were filed in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO, of which the company is a member.
– One of the complaints targets the company’s Liberian subsidiary, Golden Veroleum, which recently withdrew from the RSPO after losing an appeal against a different complaint filed against it.
– The Forest Peoples Programme says it is egregious for Golden Agri to stay in the RSPO while its own subsidiary violates the organization’s standards. A spokeswoman for Golden Agri-Resources said the company has “no management control” over its Liberian subsidiary.

Conservation groups herald protection of tiger habitat in Malaysia by [09/11/2018]

– The state government of Terengganu has set aside more than 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) for critically endangered Malayan tigers and other wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia.
– The state’s chief minister said the newly created Lawit-Cenana State Park’s high density of threatened species made the area a priority for protection.
– The park is home to 291 species of birds and 18 species of mammals, including elephants, tapirs and pangolins.

Criminalization and violence increasingly used to silence indigenous protest, according to UN report by Mike Gaworecki [09/11/2018]

– Indigenous peoples are facing criminalization and violence the world over, tactics employed by private businesses and governments seeking to use indigenous lands for their own gain through economic development projects, according to a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on August 27.
– UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said she has seen firsthand a sharp rise in instances of physical violence and legal prosecution against indigenous peoples in countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines since her appointment as Special Rapporteur in 2014.
– The Special Rapporteur identifies lack of official recognition of indigenous peoples’ land rights as one of the root causes of violence, sometimes even leading to indigenous communities being treated as trespassers on their own traditional territories.

World’s first indigenous REDD+ program suspended due to illegal mining by Max Nathanson [09/11/2018]

– In 2009, the Paiter-Suruí of Brazil became the first indigenous group in the world to design and implement a major forest conservation and carbon storage and offset project, a program financed by selling carbon-offset credits, and ultimately administered under the United Nations REDD+ program (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation).
– On Monday, the Paiter-Suruí announced the project is being suspended indefinitely due to an onslaught of diamond and gold miners and loggers which has caused a dramatic surge in deforestation within their 248,147 hectare (958 square mile) territory.
– In its early years, the program – designed to prevent at least five million tons of carbon emissions in 30 years – was incredibly successful. Illegal logging in the indigenous territory dropped to almost zero from 2009 to 2012, a period during which surrounding regions saw deforestation rates more than double.
– Analysts cite multiple reasons for the project suspension: the intrusion of external, powerful, self-interested actors; the lack of law enforcement in the indigenous territory; and the lack of state investment in indigenous education, health, and livelihood programs that could have alleviated individual economic and social pressures to secure short-term financial gain.

These Asian monkeys can’t taste the sweetness of natural sugars by Shreya Dasgupta [09/11/2018]

– Asian leaf-eating monkeys cannot taste natural sugars and show no preference for foods flavored with sugars, a new study has found.
– While these monkeys have the sweet-taste receptor genes needed to taste natural sugars, when the researchers expressed these genes in single cells, the cells did not show any response to maltose, sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose or sorbitol.
– The researchers also conducted a behavior test using sugar-flavored and non-sugar-flavored jellies, and found that colobine monkeys like the silvery lutung and the hanuman langur ate all of the jellies without preferring one over the other. On the other hand, Japanese macaques preferred sucrose and maltose-flavored jellies over bland ones.
– This lack of preference for sugary foods, along with a previously known inability to taste bitterness, means these monkeys are less likely to face competition from other species for food sources.

Climate mitigation has an ally in need of recognition and land rights: indigenous peoples in tropical countries by Justin Catanoso [09/10/2018]

– Researchers have released what they called “the most comprehensive assessment to date of carbon storage” on forested lands occupied by indigenous peoples and local communities in 64 tropical countries. One of the main findings of the research is that indigenous peoples are far better stewards of the land than their countries’ governments.
– The study, led by Rights and Resources International (RRI), found that indigenous peoples manage nearly 300 billion metric tons of carbon stored above and below ground on their lands. That sequestered carbon, the study found, is equal to 33 years’-worth of worldwide emissions, given a 2017 baseline.
– The study’s release is timed to coincide with the September 12 opening in San Francisco of the three-day Global Climate Action Summit hosted by California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The connection between indigenous rights and environmental protection is expected to be a summit highlight.

Plantations can produce more palm oil if they keep riverbanks forested by Rachel Fritts [09/10/2018]

– Conservationists have long known that keeping riverbanks forested in regions with heavy palm oil development helps protect wildlife and their habitat.
– Now, a recently published study finds there are economic benefits to palm oil producers, as well. It finds oil palm plantations that maintain buffers of forest along rivers can improve their yields because these buffers reduce erosion.
– The team found that a larger buffer has a bigger payoff in the long term, but a forest buffer of 10 to 20 meters could maximize yields even within a ten-year period. Meanwhile, buffers of 30 meters or more could maximize yields in the long term.
– The authors note that their calculations were conservative, meaning that the economic benefits of riparian forest buffers to oil palm plantations may be even higher than their estimates indicate.

Tracking elephant movements reveals transboundary wildlife corridors by Calistus Bosaletswe [09/10/2018]

– Data from satellite tracking tags on 120 elephants in southern Africa have identified a suite of wildlife movement corridors across five southern African countries, suggesting the importance of cross-border coordination.
– Wide-ranging movements of elephants include dispersal from northern Botswana north into Angola and south toward the Kalahari Desert.
– Research findings have suggested that open and unimpeded movement corridors can help reduce conflict with human residents while blocked corridors can push elephants and other wildlife into new developments or villages, resulting in increased conflict.

Aligning forces for tropical forests as a climate change solution (commentary) by Daniel Nepstad [09/08/2018]

– Tropical forest governments need help to achieve their commitments to slow deforestation and are not getting it fast enough; companies could deliver some of that help through strategic partnerships, especially if environmental advocacy strategies evolve to favor these partnerships. Aspiring governments also need a mechanism for registering and disseminating their commitments and for finding potential partners.
– Climate finance is reaching most jurisdictions, but not at the speed or scale that is needed. Tropical forest governments need help making their jurisdictions easier to do business in and more bankable; they are beginning to develop innovative ways to use verified emissions reductions, to create industries and institutions for low-carbon development, and to establish efficient, transparent mechanisms for companies to deliver finance for technical assistance to farmers.
– Partnerships between indigenous peoples and subnational governments have emerged as a promising new approach for both improving representation of forest communities in subnational governance and delivering greater support, unlocking climate finance in the process.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Latam Eco Review: Salmon escape, jungle drones, and a new biosphere reserve by [09/08/2018]

The most popular stories last week from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, followed farmed salmon escapes in Chile, a new biosphere reserve in Ecuador, and high-tech forest monitoring in Peru. Patagonia’s fragile marine ecosystem reels from influx of escaped farmed salmon A storm battered salmon cages in southern Chile, setting 690,000 of the fish loose into […]

Climate leadership means keeping fossil fuels in the ground in tropical forests and beyond (commentary) by Leila Salazar-López [09/07/2018]

– Ahead of next week’s Global Climate Action Summit, Amazon Watch’s Executive Director Leila Salazar-López argues that California Governor Jerry Brown can show true climate leadership by phasing out oil and gas production in the state.
– She notes that large volumes of crude oil from the Ecuadorian rainforest are processed in California, making the state complicit in the environmental problems plaguing indigenous communities in the Amazon and local communities living near refineries in the state.
– 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, September 7, 2018 by [09/07/2018]

– Of this lost forest, 90,000 hectares were in the environmental corridor that connects the national natural parks of La Macarena and Serranía del Chiribiquete.
– The government was late to arrive at the territories left by the now-extinct FARC guerrilla group.
– New paramilitary groups, including the ELN guerrillas, criminal gangs and drug trafficking enterprises have taken control of the territory, causing immense environmental and social damage.
– The region is now facing an acceleration of what many have long feared: deforestation, land grabbing, expansion of the agricultural frontier and an increase in illicit crops and illegal mining.

Indonesia gives in to bird traders, rescinds protection for 3 species by Basten Gokkon [09/07/2018]

– The Indonesian government has removed three popular songbirds from its newly updated list of protected species. They are the white-rumped shama, straw-headed bulbul and Javan pied starling — a critically endangered species.
– The move comes amid protests from songbird owners and breeders, who have raised concerns about loss of livelihoods.
– The owners and breeders now say they will push for more species to be removed from the list.
– Conservationists and scientists have blasted the ministry for backing down and called into question its assessment that protecting the three species would have had an adverse economic impact.

DNA database helps Nepal’s officials monitor tigers, punish poachers by Abhaya Raj Joshi [09/07/2018]

– Nepal’s Centre for Molecular Dynamics has developed a DNA reference database containing genetic and geographic information on 120 of the country’s estimated 200 wild tigers.
– Law enforcement officials used the database to identify the species, sex, and estimated geographic origin of confiscated animal parts suspected to be tigers, pinpointing most of them to individual national parks.
– Such databases have the potential to support not only forensics, but also disease research and monitoring population dynamics, particularly if countries can share genetic data.

8 species of birds have possibly gone extinct over past few decades by [09/06/2018]

– A new study has found that eight species of birds are likely to have completely disappeared in the past couple of decades.
– Researchers recommend that three species currently listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List be reclassified as extinct, while one be treated as extinct in the wild.
– Four more bird species are dangerously close to extinction, if not already there, and should be re-classified as critically endangered (possibly extinct), researchers say.

A Brazilian mourns what was lost in the National Museum fire by Peter Moon [09/06/2018]

– Last Sunday, the Brazilian National Museum burned, with an estimated 90 percent of its priceless collection destroyed. In this story, co-published by ((O))eco and Mongabay, noted Brazilian science writer and journalist Peter Moon enumerates those losses and what they mean to Brazil and the world.
– The museum’s Paleontology collection housed practically all fossils of plants and animals, vertebrates and invertebrates, discovered in Brazil from 1800 into the 20th century. The fire consumed the accumulated fossil record of tens of millions of years of evolution in Brazil and South America.
– The Anthropology collection was also burned, a heartbreaking, irreplaceable loss of Brazil’s indigenous legacy. Gone is the entire Ethnology collection, which kept masks, weapons, utensils and other artifacts documenting the cultures of numerous Brazilian indigenous peoples, collected over two centuries.
– Saved were the collections of invertebrates and vertebrates, and the botany collection, all installed 30 years ago in an annex. While the scientific value of those collections preserved is immense, Peter Moon laments the loss of the vast natural history archive: “Scientific collections, once lost, are forever.”

How land is stolen in Colombia by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [09/06/2018]

– Mongabay learned that the Superintendent of Notary and Registry has a record of empty lands being used illegally in seven Colombian departments.
– The illegally-used land is in the departments of Norte de Santander, Antioquia, Meta, Caquetá, Casanare, Cesar, and Vichada.
– The land makes up a total of 762,807 hectares (almost 1,885,000 acres).

‘Diaper Brigade’ fights a chemical crisis in Java’s rivers by Tommy Apriando [09/06/2018]

– Indonesian biologist Prigi Arisandi leads a movement to tackle the dumping of millions of disposable diapers into rivers across Indonesia’s Java Island every year.
– Used diapers contain a long list of chemical components that don’t degrade easily, contaminating river ecosystems.
– Fishing the diapers from the rivers is a quick solution. Over the long term, Prigi says, governments and diaper manufacturers must establish better waste management policies, and consumers must cut back on their use of disposable diapers.

Improving rural credit in Brazil: More production, better environment (commentary) by Juliano Assunção and Priscila Souza [09/06/2018]

– One of the biggest challenges for the global economy is to use natural resources more efficiently, increasing food and energy production while preserving the environment.
– Brazil is at the center of this process, since it has abundant natural resources and is one of the largest agricultural producers in the world—the fourth largest according to FAO (2016). Controlling deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening the agribusiness should occur together.
– The primary public policy for Brazilian agriculture is rural credit. A thorough analysis of the rural credit system shows the need to reform the policy, simplify the rules, improve distribution channels, and more closely align it with the Brazilian Forest Code.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Study sheds light on how seeds survive in tropical soils by Ignacio Amigo [09/05/2018]

– Researchers have identified three different strategies by which seeds from pioneer tree species avoid predators and await the right time to germinate.
– Pioneer tree species are the first to grow after a clearing is opened in the forest. The seeds from these species are also the most abundant within the soils.
– To avoid early germination, many seeds in the soil become ‘dormant’, an ability that allows them to survive for relatively long periods until the right conditions to germinate arise.
– A recent study suggests that the means by which tropical seeds from pioneer tree species keep away their predators and remain dormant are evolutionarily connected.

An anti-poaching technology for elephants that is always listening by Marianne Messina [09/05/2018]

– Summer 2018 marked the successful completion of the first of three test phases for a new anti-poaching technology elephants can wear on a tracking collar.
– Called WIPER by its development team, the device integrates with wildlife tracking collars and listens for the shockwave, or sonic boom, of a high-powered rifle, a common weapon in the industrial killing of elephants and other megafauna.
– WIPER’s design overcomes two key challenges for high-tech wildlife monitoring: power source (by creating a sleep mode) and cost (by putting designs in the public domain).
– WIPER provides real-time alerts and location data when a rifle is fired within 50 meters (50 yards) of the collared animal. WIPER may not protect the animal wearing it, but it helps security personnel close in on poachers, which may deter future poaching.

Audio: The ‘Godfather of Biodiversity’ on why it’s time to manage Earth as a system by Mike Gaworecki [09/05/2018]

– On this episode we welcome the godfather of biodiversity, Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, to discuss some of the most important environmental issues we’re currently facing and why he believes the next decade will be the “last decade of real opportunity” to address those issues.
– Lovejoy joined the Mongabay Newscast to talk about how deforestation and the impacts of climate change could trigger dieback in the Amazon and other tropical forests, causing them to shift into non-forest ecosystems, as well as the other trends impacting the world’s biodiversity he’s most concerned about.
– He says it’s time for a paradigmatic shift in how we approach the conservation of the natural world: “We really have got to the point now where we need to think about managing the entire planet as a combined physical and biological system.”

A civic outcry in Malaysia forces a Chinese builder to live up to its eco-friendly tag by Keith Schneider [09/05/2018]

– Forest City, a massive land reclamation project built by a Chinese developer and backed by the sultan of Johor state in Malaysia, was initially allowed to begin construction without a detailed environmental impact assessment.
– Facing public protests, and concern from neighboring Singapore, the government halted the project and required a laundry list of design changes to the city, which is projected to house 700,000 people upon completion.
– The project is marketed as an eco-friendly “future city,” but has been met with concern by environmentalists. China’s involvement has also caused political problems, including an announcement in August that Malaysia will not allow foreigners to purchase property in the development.
– This is the final installment in a six-part series on infrastructure development in Peninsular Malaysia.

Fires tear through East Java park, threatening leopard habitat by Eko Widianto [09/05/2018]

– Authorities in East Java, Indonesia, are trying to stop a wildfire from spreading into core zone of the Coban Wisula forest, home to Javan leopards.
– The fire is burning within Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, a major tourist attraction. An iconic landscape in the park, known as Teletubbies Hill, has already gone up in flames.
– A local NGO is monitoring the situation to make sure none of the leopards are flushed out of their habitat and into contact with humans, which could turn violent.

Diverse family of algae could help corals survive warming seas by [09/05/2018]

– Scientists have found that some algae that associate with corals are much more diverse and much older than previously thought.
– The origin of certain algae occurred at around the same time corals began building reefs on a grand scale around the world, the researchers showed.
– The diversity of these algae could boost corals’ resistance to higher ocean temperatures.

Delay in Hong Kong’s ivory ban endangers elephants and is ‘legally unnecessary’ by Shreya Dasgupta [09/05/2018]

– China implemented a full ivory ban at the end of 2017, while Hong Kong announced it would only completely phase out domestic ivory trade by 2021. This mismatch in the implementation of the bans could be shifting the ivory trade to Hong Kong, researchers say in a new paper.
– In addition to concerns about a growing ivory market in Hong Kong, the closure of China’s markets, combined with increased enforcement there, is also driving ivory to growing markets like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
– An immediate ban of the ivory trade in Hong Kong is technically possible, and the delay to 2021 is “legally unnecessary,” a legal expert says.

87 elephants found dead in Botswana, one of last safe havens for the species by [09/05/2018]

– At least 87 elephants were killed by poachers in recent months, conservation nonprofit Elephants Without Borders said based on an ongoing aerial survey in northern Botswana.
– Given that the current aerial survey is only halfway through, conservationists worry the final number of poached elephants will be much higher.
– The government of Botswana, however, has refuted the organization’s claims and called the figures “unsubstantiated,” in a statement published on Twitter.

Indonesia, a top plastic polluter, mobilizes 20,000 citizens to clean up the mess by Mongabay-indonesia [09/04/2018]

– On a Sunday last August, thousands of Indonesians gathered at 76 locations across the Southeast Asian country to participate in a massive cleanup of plastic trash.
– Government officials and NGO activists hoped the event would raise awareness about plastic pollution, especially among the youth.
– Indonesia is the world’s second-largest plastic polluter, with 10 billion plastic bags in the country alone dumped into the environment each year.


How land is stolen in Colombia by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [09/06/2018]

A civic outcry in Malaysia forces a Chinese builder to live up to its eco-friendly tag by Keith Schneider [09/05/2018]