Newsletter 2018-10-18


Jair Bolsonaro: looming threat to the Amazon and global climate? by Jenny Gonzales [10/18/2018]

– Jair Bolsonaro is poised to win the Brazilian presidential runoff on 28 October – currently polling with 58 percent of the vote. He holds strong policy positions in opposition to the environment, indigenous rights and traditional land claims.
– Bolsonaro has pledged to open the Amazon to economic exploitation, greatly expand energy production, abolish Brazil’s environmental ministry, relax environmental licensing and regulation, open indigenous reserves to mining, and back out of the Paris climate accord.
– Moreover, Bolsonaro’s once tiny PSL Party elected 52 new federal deputies and four senators in the 7 October election. It is very likely that these ultra-right PSL representatives will caucus with the right-wing bancada ruralista agribusiness and mining bloc in Congress, giving them a majority.
– As a result, analysts say that if Bolsonaro is elected president, he will probably have the full support of Congress in fulfilling his agenda, with only the Supreme Court likely standing in the way of significant Amazon deforestation and other environmental harm.

Watching the wildlife return: Q&A with a rural Senegalese river monitor by Jennifer O’Mahony [10/15/2018]

– In the mid-2000s, villagers from the Jola ethnic group in the Casamance region of Senegal noticed a decline in local fish stocks and forest cover, and an increase in water salinity, all of which threatened their food supply and way of life.
– They formed a fishing association in 2006 that grew into a community-wide conservation group known as the Kawawana ICCA in 2010, and have since turned their dire situation around by reviving traditional fishing and forestry methods.
– As part of that effort, the Kawawana ICCA established a team to check up on the state of the river and forest, counting birds, fish, crocodiles, otters and dolphins, whose presence indicates healthy fish stocks, and monitoring rainfall and river salinity.
– Bassirou Sambou, 53, a fisherman by trade, heads that effort. Mongabay interviewed him as part of a larger reporting project about the Kawawana ICCA.

Top Madagascar shrimp co. moved millions among tax-haven shell companies by Edward CarverWill Fitzgibbon [10/11/2018]

– Aziz Ismail, 85, a French citizen born in Madagascar, bought into Madagascar’s shrimp business in 1973. His empire, known generally as Unima, now includes at least eight privately held companies in Europe and Africa that are mainly involved in seafood from Madagascar, where operations are centered.
– Ismail has also owned a British Virgin Islands-based shell company called Ergia Limited since 2000. In the last decade, Ergia appears to have had financial transactions totaling several million dollars with another apparent shell company in Mauritius that has close ties to Unima, and with Unima companies in Europe.
– Although owning and using offshore companies is generally legal, tax and law enforcement officials are increasingly scrutinizing transactions through tax havens like the British Virgin Islands and Mauritius. Tax inspectors from Madagascar and other experts said Unima’s use of multiple offshore companies raises the risk of lost taxes for one of the world’s poorest countries.
– Files obtained from the now-defunct Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca as part of the “Panama Papers” were the basis for this investigation by Mongabay and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.


Vietnamese environmental blogger ‘Mother Mushroom’ suddenly released from prison by Michael Tatarski [10/18/2018]

– Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was released from prison in Vietnam this week without warning and expelled to Houston, Texas with her family. She was at the start of a 10-year prison sentence.
– Quynh gained international fame for blogging about the Formosa environmental disaster in 2016, and was imprisoned for speaking out against the government’s lackluster response to the related death of thousands of fish and other massive impacts.
– Also known by her blogging moniker ‘Mother Mushroom,’ Quynh is just one of a number of other environmental activists and bloggers who remain imprisoned for speaking out about the same disaster.

Audio: Racing to save the world’s amazing frogs with Jonathan Kolby by Mike Gaworecki [10/18/2018]

– On this episode, we discuss the global outbreak of the chytrid fungus, which might have already driven as many as 200 species of frogs to extinction.
– Our guest is biologist and National Geographic explorer Jonathan Kolby, who founded the Honduras Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Center, or HARCC for short, to study and rescue frogs affected by the chytrid fungus. Tree frogs in Cusuco National Park in Honduras, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth, are being decimated by the aquatic fungal pathogen.
– In this Field Notes segment, Kolby plays for us some recordings of the frog species he’s working to save from the deadly fungal infection in Honduras and says that there might be hope that frogs and other amphibians affected by chytrid can successfully cope with the disease.

Politics and peace: The fate of Colombia’s forests (commentary) by Haley Wiebel [10/18/2018]

– Juan Manuel Santos will be forever remembered as the president who ended one of the world’s longest armed conflicts, establishing a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016.
– While the peace accords have shaped his image at home and abroad, they do not represent his entire presidential legacy. In addition to lowering the domestic poverty, unemployment, and murder rates, Santos advanced the country’s environmental agenda during his two terms. This should not be undervalued.
– Deforestation in the post-conflict era has grown at an alarming rate. Rather than a policy solution, Santos’ environmental legacy should be viewed as an initial step in securing the fate of Colombia’s forests.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Cambodia accuses Vietnam of complicity in illegal cross-border logging by Chris Humphrey [10/18/2018]

– Cambodia has accused neighboring Vietnam of systemically accepting fraudulent permits for rare, illegally trafficked rosewood timber.
– Siamese rosewood (Dalbergia Conchinchinensis) is one of the most valuable species of tree in the world and has been destructively logged in Cambodia.
– Items made from rosewood have been known to sell for millions of dollars in markets like China.

In a first, DRC communities gain legal rights to forests by [10/18/2018]

– Provincial authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have approved forest concessions for five communities.
– Following the implementation of a new community forest strategy in June, this is the first time the government has given communities control of forests.
– Sustainable use of the forest is seen by conservation and development organizations as a way to both combat rural poverty and fight deforestation.

Real-time plantation map aims to throttle deforestation in Papua by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/18/2018]

– The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) plans to roll out an interactive map showing the spread of plantations and roads in Indonesia’s Papua region.
– The region is home to some of the last expanses of pristine tropical forest left in the world, but now faces an influx of plantation companies that have already deforested much of Sumatra and Borneo.
– The Papua Atlas is designed to monitor the spread of plantations and road networks in the region, and builds on CIFOR’s earlier Borneo Atlas.
– Crucially this time, the developers are pitching the Papua Atlas to local officials to help inform their policymaking and planning for the region to minimize adverse impacts on the environment and indigenous communities.

Myanmar expands protected area for rare Irrawaddy dolphin by [10/17/2018]

– The Myanmar government has expanded the Irrawaddy Dolphin Protected Area, initially spanning 74 kilometers (46 miles) of the Irrawaddy River, to include a 100-kilometer (62-mile) stretch of the river.
– Use of gillnets is restricted within the new protected area, and damaging activities such as electric or dynamite fishing and gold mining are strictly prohibited.
– An additional 100-kilometer stretch has been designated as a buffer zone, with milder restrictions.
– A survey this year put the number of critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins in the Irrawaddy River at 78.

Fate of the Amazon is on the ballot in Brazil’s presidential election (commentary) by Aline C. Soterroni; Fernando M. Ramos; Michael Obersteiner; and Stephen Polasky [10/17/2018]

– In the late 20th and early 21st century, Brazil set policies that made it a world leader in reducing deforestation, helping safeguard the Amazon.
– However, the gains made over those years are now at risk due to the proposed environmental policies of far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who analysts say is highly likely to become Brazil’s president in a runoff election on 28 October.
– Bolsonaro has pledged to shut down Brazil’s environmental ministry, relax environmental law enforcement and licensing, open indigenous reserves to mining, ban international environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF from the country, and back out of the Paris climate accord.
– A study by this commentary’s authors estimates that Brazilian deforestation and carbon emissions under Bolsonaro’s policies would cause unprecedented Amazon forest loss, and contribute to destabilizing the global climate. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

5 bird species lose protections, more at risk in new Indonesia decree by Basten Gokkon [10/17/2018]

– Five bird species in Indonesia have lost their protected status under a new ministerial decree, issued last month in response to complaints from songbird collectors.
– The decree also establishes additional guidelines for birds to be granted protected status, which effectively sets the stage for any species to be dropped from the list if it is deemed of high economic value to the songbird fan community.
– Scientists and wildlife experts have criticized the removal of the five species from the protected list, and the new criteria for granting protected status.
– Indonesia is home to the largest number of threatened bird species in Asia, but their populations in the wild are severely threatened by overexploitation.

Scientists map the impact of trawling using satellite vessel tracking by John C. Cannon [10/17/2018]

– Using satellite tracking data, researchers have come up with new maps showing the impact of trawling in 24 regions around the world.
– Trawling produces a sizable portion of the world’s seafood but is also seen as destructive and indiscriminate.
– The team found that trawlers fished 14 percent of the ocean in the areas they studied, leaving 86 percent untouched.
– But the study did not include parts of the world known to have high levels of trawling activity, leading one researcher to question whether the authors “over-interpreted” their results.

Can social media save great apes? by Tina Deines [10/16/2018]

– Bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees face a fight for survival, and social media offers a new tool to help people connect with these endangered great apes.
– Conservation groups say that, handled correctly, social media can help raise awareness — and funds.
– What’s good for social media isn’t always good for apes. Experts caution that posts featuring interactions between humans and animals or unusual animal behavior should be accompanied by explanations that put the images into context.

Is S&P Dow Jones greenwashing conflict palm oil? (commentary) by Gaurav Madan [10/16/2018]

– In its annual listing of sustainable companies released last month, S&P Dow Jones Indices included Golden Agri-Resources, a palm oil company financing operations in Liberia.
– However, reports and complaints about the company’s practices are leading some conservation and human rights organizations to question whether Golden Agri-Resources is operating in a sustainable manner. Accusations include widespread deforestation in Indonesia and Liberia, land grabbing, and violations of international sustainability principles.
– The company’s Liberian arm, Golden Veroleum Liberia, is no longer a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, after the certification body found ongoing violations including the use of coercion and intimidation to pressure villagers to sign agreements with the company, destruction of community sacred sites, and continued development on disputed lands.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

One-two punch of habitat loss, capture hammers Southeast Asian birds by Basten Gokkon [10/16/2018]

– The combined impact of habitat loss and exploitation has been underestimated in the assessment of dangers to bird populations in Southeast Asia, a new report says.
– Of the 308 species studied by researchers, up to 90 could go extinct by the end of this century.
– The researchers have called for urgent policy intervention to curb deforestation and throttle the caged-bird trade, warning that dozens of species could otherwise be lost.

As climate change takes its toll, world leaders call for adaptation by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/16/2018]

– A new global initiative led by former U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon aims to help the world adapt to the fallout from a changing climate.
– The Global Commission on Adaptation differs from current climate initiatives, which focus largely on mitigation, i.e. efforts to slow the emissions of greenhouse gases.
– The launch of the commission comes in the shadow of a new U.N. report warning of dire consequences from climate change affecting hundreds of millions of people around the world unless the global temperature rise is kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
– But even if this is achieved, Ban says, irreversible changes have been made that are already manifesting as unseasonal heat waves, more destructive storms, and other extreme weather events — which will require adaptation rather than mitigation by countries worldwide.

Land rights, forests, food systems central to limiting global warming: report by Justin Catanoso [10/15/2018]

– In the wake of the dire, just released UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, a climate advocacy group known as CLARA (Climate, Land, Ambition and Rights Alliance) has published a separate report proposing that the world’s nations put far more effort into land sector measures to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
– They suggest that these nature-oriented, land-based approaches could be far more effective, and more rapidly implemented, than relying on costly or largely untested high tech solutions such as bioenergy, carbon capture-and-storage, and geoengineering.
– Among the approaches CLARA proposes are the establishment of far stronger land rights for indigenous peoples (who are among the world’s best forest stewards), as well as a serious reduction in deforestation and the restoration of forest ecosystems worldwide.
– The CLARA report also calls for the transformation of agriculture (less tilling, less fertilizers, more support for small farms), and a global revolution in dietary habits, including a reduction in meat consumption and less food waste.

For an Amazon tribe, phone cameras shine a light on their wildlife by Sue Palminteri [10/15/2018]

– Armed with smartphone cameras, teams of indigenous Matsés people have partnered with North American herpetologists to inventory the reptiles and amphibians of their territory along the remote divide between Peru and Brazil.
– The easy-to-use cameras are robust, small enough to carry while climbing a tree or crossing a stream, store thousands of images, and can be recharged with low-cost solar panels.
– The teams have built a database of more than 2,000 photos, including several new species, and they have expanded the known distributions of other species.
– The long-term project complements rapid ecological assessments of a poorly studied region and empowers Matsés elders to pass on their knowledge of the region’s forests to both their families and the outside world.

Landless movement leader assassinated in Brazilian Amazon by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [10/15/2018]

– Landless movement leader Aluisio Sampaio, known as Alenquer, was murdered last Thursday in his home in Castelo de Sonhos in Pará state – an area that has become increasingly violent as land grabbers take over, clear forest, and sell the land for high profits to cattle ranchers.
– When Mongabay interviewed Alenquer late in 2016, he was helping defend the land rights of a peasant settlement along the BR-163 highway. At the time, he had been receiving death threats, and wore a bullet-proof vest provided to him by the government. The peasant settlement was later visited by armed gunman.
– Following that confrontation, Alenquer published a Youtube video accusing two prominent local citizens of threatening to kill him. Authorities have so far arrested two suspects in relation to Alenquer’s murder, while another man was killed in a police shootout on Saturday. The police investigation is on going.
– Alenquer’s murder comes as Brazil sees an uptick in violence that some analysts tie to the strong showing on 7 October of Brazilian far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, projected to win a 28 October runoff. Bolsonaro, a law-and-order candidate, has made inflammatory statements regarding violence.

$25m in funding to help African gov’ts prosecute poachers, traffickers by [10/15/2018]

– The African Wildlife Foundation has pledged $25 million to projects aimed at combating the illegal wildlife trade across the continent over the next four years.
– The Nairobi-based NGO invests in outfitting wildlife rangers, training sniffer dogs to detect illicit shipments, and community-based development.
– AWF president Kaddu Sebunya emphasized the need to invest in homegrown solutions to the crisis when he announced the funding at the Illegal Wildlife Trade conference, held Oct. 11-12 in London.

Can we buy our way out of the sixth extinction? by Nora Ward [10/15/2018]

– A new study finds that conservation spending has lessened the environmental impacts of ongoing development around the world.
– The researchers developed a model that any policymaker can use to see how much money is required to offset the environmental damage done by development, population growth and economic growth.
– However, some researchers believe the relentless focus on economic expansion could hurt our efforts to achieve sustainability in the long term.

123 baby giant tortoises stolen from Galápagos breeding center by [10/15/2018]

– Authorities in Ecuador have confirmed that 123 baby giant turtles were stolen from the Arnaldo Tupiza breeding center on Isabela, the largest island of the Galápagos, on the night of Sept. 24.
– The hatchlings belonged to two species, the Cerro Azul giant tortoise (Chelonoidis vicina) and Sierra Negra giant tortoise (Chelonoidis guntheri), both listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
– Provincial lawmaker Washington Paredes Torres said the breeding center did not have surveillance systems, security cameras or light sensors, and had only one guard. He added: “If somebody wants to go in by night and steal, they can.”

Latam Eco Review: Millennial trees and Pacific coral larvae by [10/12/2018]

Top recent stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam, include a multi-country series on illegal logging, traveling coral larvae, and a treaty to protect environmental defenders. Peru’s millennial trees could disappear in 10 years Peru’s Shihuahuaco trees (Dipteryx micrantha) take hundreds of years to grow but could be lost in a decade. Listed as critically […]

Amazonia and the setbacks of Brazil’s political moment (commentary) by Philip Fearnside [10/12/2018]

– In the October 7 Brazilian election, far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote, not enough to earn the presidency, but triggering a runoff election October 28 with Fernando Haddad who came in second with 29 percent. Analysts say that, barring surprises, Bolsonaro could be Brazil’s next leader.
– Bolsonaro was elected based on several issues, including reaction to government corruption and his stance on crime. However, says analyst Philip Fearnside, Jair’s most lasting impacts will likely be on the environment, especially the Amazon, indigenous and traditional peoples, and destabilization of the global climate.
– The candidate has promised to abolish Brazil’s environmental ministry, expel NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF from the country, slash science and technology budgets, “sell” indigenous lands, and “relax” licensing for major infrastructure projects such as dams, industrial waterways, roads and railways.
– But his most impactful act could be a pledge to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, ending Brazil’s global commitment to reduce deforestation, triggering massive Amazon forest loss, and possibly runaway climate change. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Fire fundamentally alters carbon dynamics in the Amazon by John C. Cannon [10/12/2018]

– With higher temperatures and increasingly severe droughts resulting from climate change, fires are becoming a more frequent phenomenon in the Amazon.
– New research finds that fires fundamentally change the structure of the forest, leading it to stockpile less carbon even decades after a burn.
– The research also shows that the burning of dead organic matter in the understory can release far more carbon into the atmosphere than previously thought.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, October 12, 2018 by [10/12/2018]

– There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
– Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
– If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.

Scientists, conservationists: Give Nobel Peace Prize to Jane Goodall by [10/11/2018]

– Scientists and conservationists argue that primatologist Jane Goodall should receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
– Goodall’s groundbreaking research uncovered startling revelations, including tool use by chimpanzees, that blurred the lines between humans and animals.
– Goodall, a U.N. Messenger of Peace, now travels around the world to encourage living in harmony with the natural world.


Fire and agroforestry revive California indigenous groups’ traditions by Jane Braxton Little [10/11/2018]

In a Colombian sanctuary, once-trafficked birds fly again by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [10/11/2018]

Senegal: After reviving fish and forests, Jola villages tackle new threats by Jennifer O’Mahony [10/10/2018]

Business and biodiversity benefit from Kyrgyz agroforestry systems by Cholpon Uzakbaeva [10/05/2018]