Newsletter 2018-09-20


1984: the meeting that changed everything for Sumatran rhinos by Jeremy Hance [09/20/2018]

– A 1984 agreement between zoos, conservationists and government officials marked the formal beginning of an international program that brought 40 Sumatran rhinos into captivity in an attempt to ward off extinction. Within 11 years, the program collapsed.
– The program was long viewed as an epic failure due to high mortality rates and the lack of live births for over a decade; it also paved the way for later breeding successes that just may offer the Sumatran rhino hope for the future.
– As conservationists mull a new plan to capture more rhinos, what lessons do past efforts offer?

Connect the dots: Cerrado soy drives inequality to provide EU with chicken by Anna Sophie Gross [09/19/2018]

– For nearly a century, traditional communities in the Brazilian Cerrado raised small livestock herds and planted sustainably on lands to which they lacked deeds. The savanna was largely ignored by industrial agribusiness, which lacked the technology to farm and water the semi-arid land.
– That changed about 30 years ago, when agricultural advances made large-scale soy production possible there. Wealthy entrepreneurs flocked to the Cerrado and began laying claim to the lands worked by traditional communities. Deprived of their livelihoods, and sometimes forced from their homes, many people moved to cities newly built to service the soy boom.
– Campos Lindos was one of those new cities. While many large-scale soy growers say they’ve brought prosperity to the Cerrado, Campos Lindos has poverty levels far higher than the Brazilian average, lacks many basic social services such as clean water and basic healthcare, and suffers high infant and maternal mortality rates.
– Some blame these worsening social problems on the soy growers, whose crops analysts have traced to transnational commodities companies like Cargill and Bunge, and on to soy-fed chicken in the U.K., retailers like McDonalds, Tesco and Morrisons, and ultimately to consumers in the developed world.

Brazilian elections and the environment: where top candidates stand by Jenny Gonzales [09/17/2018]

– The Brazilian elections are just weeks away, scheduled for 7 October. The five leading candidates are Jair Bolsonaro, Marina Silva, Ciro Gomes, Geraldo Alckmin, and Fernando Haddad, though none appears to have sufficient voter backing to win on election-day. A runoff with the top two will occur on 28 October.
– This story offers an overview of the environmental stance of the top five. Jair Bolsonaro, leader in the polls, would pull Brazil out of the Paris Climate Agreement, abolish the Ministry of the Environment, and open the Amazon and indigenous lands for economic exploitation.
– Marina Silva, a former environmental minister, established policies that reduced Amazon deforestation. She would keep Brazil in the Paris Agreement and use it as a means of shifting the nation’s agribusiness sector to be more sustainable, competitive and equitable. Ciro Gomes supports hydroelectric dams and the Paris Agreement.
– Geraldo Alckmin supports agribusiness over environmental. Little is known of Fernando Haddad’s environmental positions, though he’s a strong proponent of bicycling to reduce car use. As important for the environment: the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby looks poised to grow stronger in congress in the coming election.

How a national reserve stopped the extinction of the Peruvian vicuña by Vanessa Romo [09/17/2018]

– In the 1960s, the total number of vicuñas in Peru was approximately 5,000.
– The community of Lucanas was able to overcome violence from internal armed conflicts, and now those in the community use vicuña fur from Pampa Galeras National Reserve.
– Every year, the Lucanas community exports 1,000 kilograms (about 2,200 pounds) of vicuña fur.
– The National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP) will give a “green seal” to the fur sheared off the vicuñas by the community for their outstanding conservation practices.

On the hunt for a silent salamander-killer by Benji Jones [09/13/2018]

– Sometime around 2008, a mysterious disease started killing off the Netherlands’ fire salamanders. Three years later, 96 percent were dead.
– The disease turned out to be Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal), a relative of the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) that has been implicated in the decline or extinction of some 200 frog species around the world.
– Scientists think Bsal originated in Asia and spread to Europe through the pet trade. And they believe it’s only matter of time before it gets to the U.S. – the world’s hotspot of salamander diversity, where nearly half of all species may be susceptible.
– Now, scientists are in a race against time to find the fungus as soon as possible after it gets here in the hopes that quickly enacted quarantines may stop, or at least slow, its spread.


Global wildlife trafficking still a ‘lucrative criminal activity,’ expert says by Genevieve Belmaker [09/20/2018]

– Around the world, wildlife trafficking in animals and natural resources is a major security threat and environmental risk.
– Jessica Graham is a former contract expert for Interpol, and currently president of JG Global Advisory, an environmental security consultancy in Washington, D.C.
– Mongabay talked with Graham recently to get her perspective on the threat convergence of wildlife trafficking and organized crime.

Wildlife detectives link smuggled African elephant ivory to 3 major cartels by Shreya Dasgupta [09/20/2018]

– By matching DNA from elephant tusks found in major illegal ivory shipments, and using information on the ports of origin of the shipments, researchers have pinpointed three major cartels that moved most of Africa’s large illegal ivory shipments between 2011 and 2014.
– These three cartels operated from Entebbe in Uganda, Mombasa in Kenya, and Lomé in Togo.
– The researchers hope that links established in the study will help tie ivory-trafficking kingpins to multiple large ivory seizures, and strengthen the case against them.

Indonesian president signs 3-year freeze on new oil palm licenses by [09/20/2018]

– The moratorium has been in the works for a long time. President Jokowi first announced it more than two years ago, in the wake of the 2015 Southeast Asian haze crisis.
– The moratorium will remain in place for three years. Environmentalists had called for there to be no limit on its duration.
– The policy also mandates as sweeping review of oil palm licenses across the country.

Indonesia’s Teater Potlot takes on the plight of the Sumatran tiger by Taufik Wijaya [09/19/2018]

– A seventh-century Srivijaya king, Srijayanasa, believed progress should bring merit to man and creature alike.
– “Puyang,” a play by a South Sumatra theater group, explores the undoing of this pact through the eyes of a mythical tiger.
– Today, there are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers believed to be living in the wild, as plantation and mining interests raze their forest homes.

Deep reefs were not spared by 2016 mass bleaching event on Great Barrier Reef by [09/19/2018]

– New research finds that the mass bleaching event that led to the death of 30 percent of shallow-water corals on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 also had a substantial impact on deep reefs.
– Occurring at depths lower than 30 to 40 meters below the surface of the sea, deep coral reefs, also known as mesophotic reefs, were previously thought to be “ecological refuges from mass bleaching” thanks to cold water rising up from deeper in the ocean, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications this month.
– But researchers determined that deep reefs’ ability to offer “ecological refuge” to coral has some important limitations, and that both shallow and deep reefs are at risk of mass bleaching in the future.

As turtles go, so go their ecosystems by [09/19/2018]

– Turtles are among the most threatened of the major groups of vertebrates in the world, a new review paper says, perhaps even more so than birds, mammals, fish or amphibians.
– Of the 356 species of turtles recognized today, about 61 percent are either threatened or have become extinct in modern times.
– Turtles contribute to the health of a variety of environments, including desert, wetland, freshwater and marine ecosystems, and losing these animals could have serious ecological consequences, researchers say.

Indonesian province calls time-out on mining by Ebed de Rosary [09/19/2018]

– The new government of East Nusa Tenggara, a mineral-rich province in eastern Indonesia, has pledged to reform its mining sector as officials and environmentalists cite the lack of benefits from the extractive industry.
– The administration said it would not accept new mining license applications, and that those awaiting approval would be rejected.
– Some environmental groups have praised the new government’s plan to reform the mining sector, calling it a positive step for sustainability.

Crop losses to insects will accelerate as the globe warms: study by [09/18/2018]

– Insects already eat between 5 and 20 percent of the most important grain crops produced around the world — and new research finds that they could be responsible for even more crop damage in the near future as global temperatures continue to rise.
– Insect-driven losses of wheat, rice, and maize — the three major grain crops, which together provide more than 40 percent of calories consumed by humans worldwide — will increase 10 to 25 percent for every degree Celsius the average surface temperature of planet Earth rises, according to a study published in Science late last month.
– While bug populations may actually decline in some tropical areas, major grain-producing regions in northern climates are projected to be among the hardest-hit.

Audio: How the social sciences can help conservationists save species by Mike Gaworecki [09/18/2018]

– On this episode, we take a look at how the social sciences can boost conservation efforts.
– Our guest is Diogo Verissimo, a Postdoctoral Fellow with the University of Oxford in the UK and the Institute for Conservation Research at the US-based San Diego Zoo Global. Verissimo designs and evaluates programs that aim to change human behavior as a means of combating the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.
– While we all come in contact with marketing campaigns nearly every single day of our lives, conservationists have been much slower to employ marketing principles in the interest of influencing human behaviors that are harmful to the planet. We discuss with Verissimo the intersection of social marketing and conservation science — in other words, how the social sciences can provide us with a better understanding of human motivation and behavior and help create a more sustainable world.

Agroforestry ‘a good investment’: Mongabay’s Washington Post op-ed (commentary) by [09/18/2018]

– Mongabay’s Erik Hoffner is editing a series on agroforestry, the practice of growing useful trees with shrubs, crops, and herbs in a system that produces food, supports biodiversity, builds soil horizons and water tables, and captures carbon from the atmosphere.
– Using what he’s learned from editing the series so far, he wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post’s global edition.
– Below is an excerpt of the feature, arguing for greater investment in and deployment of agroforestry globally to benefit both people and planet.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Slave labor found at Starbucks-certified Brazil coffee plantation by Daniela Penha contributor for Repórter BrasilRoberto Cataldo — translator [09/18/2018]

– Brazil Labor Ministry investigators have raided the Córrego das Almas farm in Piumhi, in rural Minas Gerais state, and rescued 18 workers who were laboring on coffee plantations in conditions analogous to slavery.
– The Córrego das Almas farm holds the C.A.F.E. Practices certification, owned by Starbucks in partnership with SCS Global Services. After hearing of the raid, the two companies responsible for issuing the seal said they would review the farm’s quality certificate. Starbucks says it hasn’t bought coffee from the farm in recent years.
– The farm also holds the UTZ seal, a Netherlands-based sustainable farming certificate prized by the coffee industry. That seal of approval was suspended after the certifier was questioned by Repórter Brasil regarding the Ministry of Justice investigation.
– Another inspection in Minas Gerais, in the town of Muzambinho, rescued 15 workers in conditions analogous to slavery from a farm owned by Maria Júlia Pereira, the sister-in-law of a state deputy, Emidinho Madeira.

Study games out oil palm development scenarios in Borneo by Loren Bell [09/17/2018]

– The study authors quantify what will happen under a business as usual (BAU) approach, a strict conservation plan (CON), and expansion guided by sustainable intensification (SUS-INT).
– Under a BAU scenario, all land currently zoned for corporate oil palm concessions are utilized to their maximum capacity.
– At the other end of the spectrum, the CON scenario considers what will happen if Indonesia’s 2011 forest moratorium preventing new concessions on primary forest and peatland is applied to all currently undeveloped land, and companies adhere to zero-deforestation commitments.
– In between the two, the SUS-INT option considers what would happen if plantations are expanded only in non-forested and non-peat areas, while yields are increased through improved cultivars and intensive management.

As India’s Ganges runs out of water, a potential food shortage looms by Sahana Ghosh [09/17/2018]

– In the last three decades, the groundwater input to the Ganges River in India has declined by 50 percent during the summer, a new study has found, leading to the river losing water during those dry months.
– The dwindling of the river’s water flow could severely affect the availability of water for surface water irrigation, with potential declines in food production in the future.
– The low river flows could also prevent effective dilution of pollutants in the Ganges, which is already one of the most contaminated transboundary rivers in the world, the researchers say.

Satellites and citizen science pinpoint migratory bird refueling stops by Sue Palminteri [09/17/2018]

– Researchers used satellite images to assess the effectiveness of financial incentive programs for farmers in creating habitat for waterbirds, including ducks, geese, and shorebirds, in California’s Central Valley, where nearly all natural wetlands have been converted to agriculture.
– Observations of 25 waterbird species by hundreds of citizen scientists helped to identify the target zones for water management and to verify the birds’ use of managed areas.
– The satellite data indicated that a severe drought substantially reduced the birds’ open-water habitat and that the incentive programs created more than 60 percent of available habitat on specific days during the migrations.
– The researchers state that remotely sensed data can be used effectively to track water availability and regularly update water and wetland managers on how much habitat is available and where, so they can coordinate water management activities.

Putting the action in the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco by Justin Catanoso [09/14/2018]

– The second day of California Governor Jerry Brown’s three-day Global Climate Action Summit on September 13 put a hard emphasis on action. There was discernible disgust with national leaders whose words have not resulted in greater ambition to drive down carbon emissions, protect forests and oceans, or provide the promised billions to developing nations who must adapt to or recover their losses from the ravages of global warming.
– The tone for the summit stood in stark contrast to the ritual year-end United Nations climate summits that are routinely cautious and invariably disappointing gatherings, with one exception in Paris in 2015. Year after year, the world’s largest polluters water down agreements for aggressive climate action and push decisions off to the next set of negotiations.
– All of this ambition, enthusiasm, and real climate action can leave observers with a distorted sense of optimism in the face of steadily deteriorating climate conditions. Speakers rightly noted that more money is still being spent annually to destroy nature than to protect it.

What’s causing deforestation? New study reveals global drivers by Rachel Fritts [09/14/2018]

– Recent advances in satellite-based forest monitoring technology have helped conservationists locate where deforestation may be happening. However, limitations in knowing the causes behind canopy loss have hindered efforts to stop it.
– A new study released this week provides a step forward toward this goal, identifying the major drivers of tree cover loss around the world.
– Overall, it finds 27 percent of all forest loss — 50,000 square kilometers per year — is caused by permanent commodity-driven deforestation. In other words, an area of forest a quarter of the size of India was felled to grow commodity crops over 15 years. The next-biggest driver of forest loss worldwide is forestry at 26 percent; wildfire and shifting agriculture amounting to 23 percent and 24 percent, respectively. The study finds less than 1 percent of global forest loss was attributable to urbanization.
– The study’s authors found commodity-driven deforestation remained constant throughout their 15-year study period, which they say indicates corporate zero-deforestation agreements may not be working in many places. They hope their findings will help increase accountability and transparency in global supply chains.

Common ground on the prairie (commentary) by Martha Kauffman and Laura Nowlin [09/14/2018]

– Good stewardship of our native grasslands is one of the best ways to survive the next weather event. Grasses are rooted in the ground, which enables the soil to absorb and retain more water. That, in turn, prevents sediment, fertilizer, pesticides, and other compounds in the soil from running off into nearby water ways. And by absorbing and storing more water, the land better withstands flood and drought alike.
– Healthy grasslands also serve as a check against climate change, pulling heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the air and storing it in the soil. Research shows that improving grazing management practices on just one acre of grassland can pull an average of 419 extra pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere each year.
– This is an important message for the governors, mayors, CEOs and producers gathering in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS). There, they will demonstrate the progress the public and private sectors have made in reducing carbon emissions and they’ll set ambitious new goals. Land stewardship will be high on the agenda, as it should be.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Latam Eco Review: Gold fever in Peru and cryptic fish from the deep by [09/14/2018]

The most popular stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay-Latam, followed new deforestation from gold mining in Peru, new fish species deep in Chile’s sea, mining on Ecuador’s beaches, and hundreds of dead turtles in Mexico. Gold mining tears through Peru’s Amazon A new study shows that gold mining in Peru’s Madre de Dios region has […]

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, September 14, 2018 by [09/14/2018]

– 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.

How much plastic is too much plastic for sea turtles? by Shreya Dasgupta [09/14/2018]

– Researchers in Australia examined the digestive tracts of 246 dead sea turtles collected from along the coast of the state of Queensland and counted up to 329 pieces of plastic.
– Younger turtles were found to have consumed considerably higher amounts of plastic pieces than adult turtles, the study found, possibly because they are less selective about what they eat. The young turtles also drift with ocean currents, just like plastic debris tends to do, and both might end up aggregating in the same places.
– The higher the number of plastic pieces a turtle has inside its gut, the higher the chance of it being killed by the plastic. For an average-sized turtle, ingesting more than 14 pieces of plastic translates into a 50 percent likelihood of death.

California targets fossil fuel-free electricity by 2045 by [09/13/2018]

– On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 100, which sets a goal of generating 100 percent of the state’s electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. The same day, Governor Brown issued an executive order committing California to full, economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045.
– California was already known as a leader in climate action prior to SB 100, but the new law significantly accelerates its emissions-reduction timeline by requiring the state to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and 60 percent by 2030 — the latter target being 10 percent higher than California’s previous clean energy commitments.
– Electricity generation is only responsible for 16 percent of California’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, however. That’s why Governor Brown issued the executive order, as well, committing the state to achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 and net negative greenhouse gas emissions thereafter.

Indonesian mine watchdog sues government for concession maps by Indra Nugraha [09/13/2018]

– The Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) filed the freedom-of-information lawsuit after failing to get a response to its earlier requests to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.
– The group contends that it needs the mapping data, in the shapefile (SHP) digital mapping format, to monitor whether mining concessions overlap onto conservation areas or farmland.
– Jatam has previously successfully sued to obtain the release of similar records at the provincial level, and says the ministry’s refusal to comply is a violation of transparency provisions in both the freedom of information and mining laws.

Tagging and tracking the Tour de Turtles by Catherine Morris [09/13/2018]

– The Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Tour de Turtles kicked off last month, tagging and tracking 17 sea turtles during a marathon migration.
– Turtles wear small transmitters during the annual event as they travel thousands of miles to from their nesting beaches to feeding grounds.
– Data collected from satellite telemetry help scientists gain a clearer understanding of how four species of turtles behave at sea, furthering efforts to protect endangered species.


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

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

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

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