Newsletter 2018-11-08


China increasingly involved in Brazil’s ambitious Amazon rail network by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [11/08/2018]

– Brazilian commodities producers have long dreamed of a railroad network crisscrossing Amazonia and the Cerrado, able to cheaply move crops and minerals from the nation’s interior to South America’s coasts. But factors, including lack of investment, political instability and difficult terrain, have foiled those hopes – until now.
– In recent years, Brazil and China have developed mutual interests: Brazil produces soy and other food crops that China needs to feed its 1.3 billion population. As a result, China has increasingly gotten involved in potentially investing in and helping build a number of Brazilian railroads. And Brazil is actively seeking that help.
– Today, China has moved actively toward including Brazil in its global Belt and Road initiative, a plan to improve worldwide transportation and other infrastructure, in order to provide the Chinese with needed commodities.
– However, railroad construction has so far been slow to get underway. How last month’s election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro will impact Brazil-China relations is yet to be seen. While Bolsonaro has at times come out strongly against Chinese influence in Brazil, others within his administration may seek to actively court the Chinese.

Timor-Leste: With sacrifice and ceremony, tribe sets eco rules by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [11/08/2018]

– On an August morning in 2012, about 150 men, women and children gathered at a sacred spot in the village of Biacou, in northern Timor-Leste. With sacrifices of a goat and a pig and the blessing of the land and sea spirits, the community inaugurated the village’s tara bandu, a customary law of the indigenous Maubere that governs how people interact with the environment.
– Tara bandu was outlawed under the Indonesian occupation that lasted from 1975 until 1999. Since then, Maubere communities across the country have been bringing tara bandu back to life as a way to guide more sustainable use of their local natural resources.
– In Biacou, at least, the tradition appears to be resonating with residents as there has been just one violation of the tara bandu in the six years since its inauguration.
– This is the third story in Mongabay’s three-part profile of the Maubere’s revival of tara bandu.

Evicted for a showpiece project, this PNG community fights for justice by Lucy EJ Woods [11/08/2018]

– Papua New Guinea has embarked on a surge of building projects in Port Moresby as the capital city prepares to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
– In the buildup to the summit, thousands of people were evicted from a settlement in Paga Hill, which is next to the conference hall where the APEC Leaders’ Summit will be held.
– Former residents of Paga Hill say their experiences of eviction, demolition and resettlement are a cautionary tale for others in the country who face relocation in the name of development.

Cerrado farm community fights for life against dam and eucalyptus growers by Anna Sophie Gross [11/07/2018]

– A wealth of great rivers caused Brazil in recent years to pursue a frenzy of mega-dam construction in the Amazon and Cerrado, work that enthusiasts claimed would benefit Brazilians with cheap energy. Critics say otherwise, however, noting much of the power produced goes to large mining company operations.
– Analysts also point to completed projects, such as the Belo Monte, Teles Pires, Santo Antonio, Jirau and other dams, that have resulted in significant environmental harm, the displacement of rural indigenous and traditional populations, and to generating massive corruption.
– A case in point can be found in the small town of Formosa in Tocantins state. The building of the Estreito mega-dam, completed in 2008, flooded fields, pastures and homes. The most impacted half of the community was relocated by the consortium of companies that constructed the dam.
– The rest remained and were denied the social and economic benefits they’d been promised by either the government or the dam building consortium, which includes two mining giants, Alcoa and Vale, and Suez Energy and Camargo Corrêa Energia. Many Brazilian mega-dams were planned to offer energy to large mines.


Four of six black rhinos translocated to Chad are now dead by [11/08/2018]

– Four of the six black rhinos reintroduced to Chad’s Zakouma National Park from South Africa in May are now dead, authorities say.
– Two of the rhinos were found dead recently, following from the deaths of two other rhinos in October.
– Authorities say the rhinos were not poached, and suggest they may have been having trouble adapting to their new habitat. More tests will be needed to determine the cause of death.
– The deaths in Zakouma come just months after 11 black rhinos died within days of being reintroduced into Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park in July.

Hackathon enlightens coders and conservationists alike by David Klinges [11/08/2018]

– In late October, 125 computer science students from across the United States gathered at JP Morgan Chase’s Jersey City office for the Code for Good hackathon.
– At this competition, a panel of environmental non-profits presented issues, such as promoting sustainable behavior and tracking park visitor patterns, as prompts for teams of students to construct digital prototypes.
– Creating software to address resource use and conservation challenges can both inspire computer engineers to engage in social and environmental activism and provide instrumental products for conservation.

Roads divide opinions along with forests, study finds by John C. Cannon [11/08/2018]

– A team of researchers found that support for new road construction was split among indigenous communities living in Malaysia.
– In general, people living in communities near an existing highway were more likely to support roads than those living in villages farther away from the highway.
– The authors write that the findings lend support to the need for comprehensive social impact assessments before and during the construction of new roads.

Troika of trouble for Bolivia’s Cordillera de Sama Reserve by Mongabay Latam [11/08/2018]

– Overgrazing and the construction of a highway, in addition to more severe and extreme droughts and cold spells, have significantly impacted the delicate ecosystem of Bolivia’s Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve.
– Water is the most affected resource, even though the reserve is protected and an internationally important wetland.
– Concerns remain that the changes could irreversibly alter the ecosystem.

For Javan rhinos, the last holdout may also be a deadly disease hotspot by Katy Waters [11/08/2018]

– The Critically Endangered Javan rhino survives in just a single population in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park.
– In addition to environmental threats such as volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, the rhino is threatened by diseases that could be transmitted from both domestic livestock and native wild cattle living in and near the park.
– Zoonotic diseases that pose a potential threat include trypanosomiasis and hemorrhagic septicemia.

Evicted for a showpiece project, this PNG community fights for justice by Lucy EJ Woods [11/08/2018]

– Papua New Guinea has embarked on a surge of building projects in Port Moresby as the capital city prepares to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
– In the buildup to the summit, thousands of people were evicted from a settlement in Paga Hill, which is next to the conference hall where the APEC Leaders’ Summit will be held.
– Former residents of Paga Hill say their experiences of eviction, demolition and resettlement are a cautionary tale for others in the country who face relocation in the name of development.

Congo Basin rainforest may be gone by 2100, study finds by Morgan Erickson-Davis [11/07/2018]

– Satellite data indicate the Congo Basin lost an area of forest larger than Bangladesh between 2000 and 2014.
– Researchers found that small-scale farming was the biggest driver, contributing to around 84 percent of deforestation.
– This kind of farming is primarily done for subsistence by families that have no other livelihood options.
– The study finds that at current trends, all primary rainforest in the Congo Basin could be cleared by the end of the century.

Researchers say orangutans are declining, despite Indonesian government’s claims by Mike Gaworecki [11/07/2018]

Researchers say a recent Indonesian government report inaccurately claims that the orangutan population in the country is increasing, which could have significant implications for future conservation plans. The report, issued by Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry with support from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization and Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, states that […]

In funding palm oil giants, banks may share in ‘sins of the companies’ by Tessa Toumbourou [11/07/2018]

– The recently signed moratorium on new oil palm plantation permits mandates a review of all current licenses.
– In a sector rife with illegality, this may have far-reaching implications, including for financiers of palm oil companies.
– For the banking sector, a major palm oil investor, this highlights the need to improve due diligence and sustainability policies, experts suggest.

Invisible plant-enemy interactions drive diversity in forest fragments by Shreya Dasgupta [11/07/2018]

– The constant tussle between plants and their “natural enemies”, like fungi and insects, play an important role in determining diversity of seedlings in fragmented forests, a new study has found.
– When the natural enemies were knocked off, the diversity of seedlings inside forest fragments reduced drastically, while diversity closer to the edge did not change much. This suggests that the effect of fungi and insects in maintaining plant diversity could be weakening at forest edges.
– The study hints at how cryptic plant-enemy interactions are important considerations when thinking about conservation of plant communities in fragmented forests.

Are deep sea reefs really a lifeboat for our vanishing corals? by Emily Clark [11/07/2018]

– Mesophotic reefs are little-known ecosystems that range from 30 to 150 meters (100 to 500 feet) below the ocean’s surface.
– A new study has cast doubt on the extent to which mesophotic reefs may be a refuge for shallower species hit by overfishing, warming waters and extreme weather.
– It finds that mesophotic reefs are just as vulnerable as shallower reefs to warming seas and ocean acidification — both impacts of climate change — and storm damage.
– Climate change remains the gravest threat to coral ecosystems, both shallow and mesophotic.

Protection flip-flop leaves rare Indonesian shrikethrush in harm’s way by Petrus Riski, Rahmadi Rahmad, and Themmy Doaly [11/07/2018]

– The Sangihe shrikethrush is an elusive songbird found only on a single remote island in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province.
– The species, which numbers less than 300 in the wild, was one of hundreds granted protected status by the Indonesian government earlier this year.
– But the government inexplicably struck it from the list soon after, leaving wildlife activists concerned that the lack of protection will harm efforts to conserve the species.
– Activists say one workaround would be to push for protective measures by local authorities.

Parrotfish, critical to reef health, now protected under Mexican law by John C. Cannon [11/07/2018]

– The government of Mexico added 10 species of parrotfish to its national registry of protected species in October.
– In a letter to the government, the environmental NGO AIDA argued that parrotfish and other herbivorous fish, whose numbers have been declining due to fishing, are necessary to maintain the health of coral reefs.
– AIDA has embarked on a three-year project to work with policymakers to protect herbivorous fish in Mexico and five other Latin American countries.

The ongoing trade in conflict timber (commentary) by Arthur Blundell and Jade Saunders [11/06/2018]

– Last year, the 28 Member States of the European Union imported €260 million-worth (about $296 million-worth) of timber from countries that the World Bank considers to be fragile and conflict-affected, according to those countries’ own statistics. That’s an increase of almost 20 percent in reported trade since 2014.
– While there is no doubt that countries in these desperate states are in need of income and investment, there is also an extremely high risk that the revenues associated with the sale and export of natural resources, including timber, are used to finance and exacerbate conflict.
– In an attempt to take responsibility for the role of European companies in the cycle of conflict in many forest countries, the European Commission has recently published a Guidance Document for importers that is designed to ensure that companies are mitigating the risk of buying illegal timber in conflict situations and of exacerbating conflict in their day-to-day business. Let’s hope that the new EUTR Guidance Document can help push companies to meet this responsibility.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Deforestation-linked Brazilian beef still flowing into international markets: report by Claire Asher [11/06/2018]

– More than 200 million cattle live and graze in Brazil, bringing US $123 billion into the country’s economy annually. However, 80 percent of new deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is caused by the conversion of forest to cattle pasture.
– While international beef retailers have worked to decouple their markets from cattle-driven deforestation, a recent report shows that a lack of traceability and transparency of the cattle supply chain continues to thwart their efforts.
– A major loophole: cattle are owned over their lifetimes by several ranches. But current policies only require slaughterhouses to assure that no deforestation occurred on the ranch from which the livestock was purchased. So ranchers who cause illegal deforestation “launder” cattle, by selling them to ranchers who don’t.
– Experts say that Brazil needs to adopt Uruguay’s digital traceability system whereby every cow is electronically tagged at birth and tracked along the entire supply chain. But they say Brazil lacks the political will to establish a similar system, primarily because the government is dominated by the agribusiness lobby.

Research finds humans across the globe have microplastics in their stool by Mike Gaworecki [11/06/2018]

– Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria monitored eight people in eight different countries and found that every single stool sample collected tested positive for the presence of microplastics.
– Food processing and plastic food packaging are major sources of microplastics in human diets. Microplastics can also enter the human food chain via marine animals that people consume — significant amounts of microplastics have been found in lobster, shrimp, and tuna, for instance.
– The researchers found 9 different types of plastic in the human stools they tested — shipped to Vienna in plastic-free containers to be screened at the Environment Agency Austria — with an average of 20 microplastic particles ranging in size from 50 to 500 micrometres found in every 10 grams of stool.

Savanna fires, a boon to grazers, cast rhinos into a ‘food desert’ by Shreya Dasgupta [11/06/2018]

– Fire is a common tool used in conservation areas across Africa to help regenerate grass for grazers, reduce encroachment of bushes, and control ticks and diseases. But how fire affects rhinos and their food has remained unclear.
– Researchers have found that black rhinos in Serengeti National Park prefer to graze in spots that burn just once in 10 years, and actively avoid areas that are burned frequently. The park’s managers carry out controlled burns at least once a year.
– The study found that fires reduce the availability of the plants that the black rhinos prefer to eat.
– The researchers have called for an adaptable fire strategy that allows burning in some areas to benefit grazers such as wildebeest and zebra, and avoids fires in rhinos’ preferred habitats.

AI simplifies statewide study of leopards in south India by Vasudevan Sridharan [11/05/2018]

– A six-year study of leopards in the wildlife-rich southern Indian state of Karnataka, using grids of motion-sensor camera traps across the state, suggests the big cats are thriving in a variety of habitats and land uses.
– The researchers’ use of machine-learning algorithms significantly reduced the workload needed to identify 363 individual leopards from the sample’s 1.5 million camera-trap images. The figure indicates there are an estimated 2,500 leopards living in Karnataka.
– Although a forest department official said the state was unlikely to expand its protected forests in the foreseeable future, the researchers said such a policy was necessary for leopard conservation, stressing that the proximity of natural landscapes to agricultural fields allows leopards to use those unprotected areas.

Local fishers oppose $2.7 billion deal opening Madagascar to Chinese fishing by Edward Carver [11/05/2018]

– Two months ago, a little-known private Malagasy association signed a 10-year, $2.7 billion fishing deal — the largest in the country’s history — with a group of Chinese companies that plans to send 330 fishing vessels to Madagascar.
– Critics of the deal include the country’s fisheries minister, who said he learned about it in the newspaper; environmental and government watchdog groups; and local fishers, who are already struggling with foreign competition for Madagascar’s dwindling marine stocks.
– Critics say no draft of the deal has been made public and the association that signed it did not conduct an environmental impact assessment or any public consultation.
– The issue has drawn media attention in the run-up to the presidential election on Wednesday. The incumbent and a leading candidate, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, was present at the fisheries deal’s signing, although he later claimed not to be familiar with it.

Bear-human conflict risks pinpointed amid resurgent bear population by [11/05/2018]

– New research maps out the potential risk “hotspots” for black bear-human conflict based on an analysis of conditions that led to nearly 400 bear deaths between 1997 and 2013.
– The study area covered the Lake Tahoe Basin and the Great Basin Desert in western Nevada.
– The methods used to predict risks based on environmental variables could help wildlife managers identify and mitigate human-carnivore conflict in other parts of the world, the authors write.

Ongoing rise in sea levels will increase threats to World Heritage Sites by [11/02/2018]

– New research finds that rising sea levels due to climate change will put dozens of World Heritage Sites in the Mediterranean region at increased risk of flooding and erosion — threats many of the sites are already facing.
– 47 of the 49 cultural World Heritage Sites studied were found to be potentially threatened by coastal erosion or storm surges by the end of the century.
– The study also showed that 93 percent of the sites at risk from a 100-year flooding and 91 percent of the sites at risk from coastal erosion are already at risk under current conditions, “which stresses the urgency of adaptation in these locations,” according to the researchers.

How porpoise sounds helped researchers test acoustic devices by Sue Palminteri [11/02/2018]

– A team of scientists used playbacks of recorded and artificial porpoise clicks to develop an adaptable method to assess the area in which acoustic monitoring devices can reliably detect these sounds
– Researchers need to know how far away they can expect acoustic data loggers to capture the sounds of target animals to estimate the density of those animals from the recordings.
– The cetacean data loggers could reliably detect the click signals up to nearly 200 meters (656 feet), which translated to a circular sampling area of 11 hectares (27 acres) per device.
– The data logger algorithms could correctly classify the clicks as porpoise sounds only up to 72 meters (236 feet), representing a reliable sampling areas of just 1.6 hectares (4 acres) that could be used to estimate the density of a specific species, an issue affecting researchers working with more than one echolocating species.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, November 2, 2018 by [11/02/2018]

– 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.

Latam Eco Review: Killing jaguars for arthritis creams and wine by [11/02/2018]

– The top stories last week from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam, followed the fate of Suriname’s hunted jaguars, Bogota’s urban forest preserve, and Chile’s Humboldt Archipelago. Suriname’s jaguars killed for arthritis creams and wine Suriname’s jaguar population is being decimated for the Asian market in arthritis cream, soap, aphrodisiacs and even wine, according to an […]

Call to protect dwindling wilderness ‘before it disappears forever’ by John C. Cannon [11/01/2018]

– Just 23 percent of wilderness on land and 13 percent of wilderness at sea remains, according to new maps of global human impacts.
– Five countries — Russia, Canada, Australia, the United States and Brazil — contain 70 percent of the remaining wilderness.
– The authors of the suite of studies argue that wilderness protection should move to the forefront of the conservation agenda.

Colombia: Dying of thirst, Wayuu blame mine, dam, drought for water woes by Lucy Sherriff [11/01/2018]

– The struggle for access to safe and sufficient water for drinking and irrigation defines life for the indigenous Wayuu of La Guajira, Colombia’s northernmost department.
– Activists have described the Wayuu as being in the throes of a humanitarian crisis, with Wayuu children suffering high rates of malnutrition and death as a result of water and food scarcity.
– The Wayuu blame their thirst mainly on the Cerrejón coal mine, which they say drains water from the local river and groundwater and pollutes what’s left. A dam built by the government to provide water in times of drought has only made matters worse, they say.
– However, Cerrejón disputes the notion that it is seriously affecting the tribe, while the government defends decisions that have compromised the Wayuu’s water access.


Colombia: Dying of thirst, Wayuu blame mine, dam, drought for water woes by Lucy Sherriff [11/01/2018]

In the Peruvian Amazon, the prized shihuahuaco tree faces a grim future by Leslie Moreno Custodio (Ojo Público) [10/31/2018]

Will trade bans stop a deadly salamander plague from invading the US? by Jeremy Hance [10/30/2018]

The Brazilian government’s land war against rebel slave descendants by Anna Sophie Gross [10/29/2018]

Timor-Leste: Maubere tribes revive customary law to protect the ocean by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [10/26/2018]