Newsletter 2018-11-22


Tax havens and Brazilian Amazon deforestation linked: study by Giovanni Ortolani [11/21/2018]

– Tax havens are found in countries that demand no or low taxes for the transfer of foreign capital through their jurisdictions. Typically, tax havens, like those in the Cayman Islands, are very secretive and lack transparency.
– This secrecy protects institutional or individual investors from being in the public spotlight when making investments that are controversial, such as those in agribusiness companies in Brazil known to have caused significant Amazon deforestation, or those investing in illegal fishing.
– According to a recent study, between 2000 and 2011, 68 percent of all investigated foreign capital to 9 top companies in the soy and beef sectors in the Brazilian Amazon was transferred through tax havens. Soy and beef production cause major Amazon deforestation. Also, 70 percent of vessels known to be involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing were funded via tax havens.
– Better transparency is needed so that investments moved through tax havens can be tracked so as to determine their impacts on the environment and on indigenous and traditional communities. This improved transparency would likely result in greater public scrutiny and force greater responsibility on investors who today remain largely anonymous.

Fracking threatens Aboriginal land rights in Western Australia by Grace Dungey and Nick Rodway [11/21/2018]

– The Yawuru people’s ancestral lands lie in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Australia’s largest state.
– Over the Yawuru people’s strong objections, the Australian company Buru Energy has installed two shale-gas fracking wells on Yawuru land.
– Although the wells are currently inactive due to a state-wide moratorium on fracking, the moratorium could be lifted pending the results of an independent scientific inquiry due by the end of the year. If so, developers will have the potential to drop 40,000 wells across the Kimberley.
– The case illustrates the limitations of Aboriginal land rights under Australian law, which recognizes groups’ connection to their ancestral lands but does not grant them legal ownership or the ability to veto development.

Purus-Madeira: the Amazon arc of deforestation marches north by Gustavo Faleiros and Marcio Isensee e Sá [11/20/2018]

– For the past decade, the southern part of Amazonas state has seen some of the highest rates of deforestation increase in Brazil, threatening the unique moist forest ecosystem found on the divide between the Purus and Madeira river basins.
– The municipalities of Apuí and Lábrea, on the Transamazon highway (BR-230) lead this destructive trend. But now a variety of land users, including legal and illegal loggers, cattle ranchers, entrepreneurs and land grabbers are moving north along the currently unpaved BR-319 highway, causing major deforestation.
– Environmentalists warn that this new wave of Amazon destruction will continue sweeping northward, and intensify, if the Brazilian government continues investing in the BR-319, improving the 890-kilometer (550 mile) road linking the city of Porto Velho in Rondônia state with Manaus in Amazonas state and with the rest of Brazil.
– The new Bolsonaro government is expected to prioritize infrastructure investments in the region, likely weakening regulations governing environmental impact assessments. That could mean the fast tracking of full paving for the BR-319 soon. Among listed Bolsonaro goals is the opening of the Amazon to “new partnerships.”

Bolsonaro pledges government shakeup, deregulation, Amazon development by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [11/19/2018]

– Events are unfolding rapidly in Brazil, as president elect Jair Bolsonaro selects members of his administration and continues to propose what many analysts see as sweeping and draconian changes to the Brazilian government and environmental regulations.
– Bolsonaro, while stepping back from plans for a merger of the Environment Ministry with the Agriculture Ministry, still plans major government reorganization. Paulo Guedes, his chief economic advisor, for example, could lead a super ministry merging duties of the Finance, Planning, Industry and Foreign Trade ministries.
– During the presidential campaign, Amazon deforestation rates rose by nearly 50 percent, possibly as Bolsonaro supporters and land grabbers anticipate government retreat from environmental protections. Analysts worry Bolsonaro will criminalize social movements and end the demarcation of indigenous reserves assured by the 1988 Constitution.
– Bolsonaro also chose Tereza Cristina as Agriculture Minister. She is known for her intense support of pesticide deregulation, and for backing a bill to fast track socio-environmental licensing of large infrastructure projects such as dams, railways, roads, industrial waterways, and mines – a position Bolsonaro also supports.

RSPO adopts total ban on deforestation under sweeping new standards by Hans Nicholas Jong [11/16/2018]

– The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has adopted new standards that will prohibit its member companies from clearing any type of forest for palm plantations.
– RSPO-certified companies were previously permitted to clear secondary forests and peat forests with a peat layer no deeper than 3 meters (10 feet).
– The move comes amid a growing consumer backlash that has prompted companies to make zero-deforestation commitments.
– Environmental activists have welcomed the RSPO’s deforestation ban with cautious optimism, noting that enforcement of the certification body’s standards has historically been lax.


US could cut emissions more than one-fifth through ‘natural climate solutions’ like reforestation by [11/21/2018]

– A new study looks at the natural solutions that could help the US do its part to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (approximately 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the goal adopted by the 195 countries who signed the Paris Climate Agreement in December 2015.
– Researchers analyzed 21 natural climate solutions and found that all of them combined could reduce global warming emissions by an amount equivalent to about 21 percent of US net emissions in 2016.
– Of the 21 natural solutions the researchers studied, increased reforestation efforts had the largest carbon storage potential, equivalent to keeping 65 million passenger cars off the road.

Camera-wielding robot records effects of pesticide on bees’ behavior by Stephanie Parker [11/21/2018]

– Bee populations are on the decline, and studies have linked this to the use of pesticides containing neonicotinoid compounds, which can impact insect behavior.
– Researchers built a robotic platform that allowed them to observe the impacts of neonicotinoid compounds on bumblebee behavior inside bee colonies over a 12-day period.
– The robotic observation platform held computer-programmed movable cameras that could monitor up to 12 colonies at a time, which included foraging and nesting chambers with simulated “daytime” and “nighttime” conditions.
– The team found that bumblebees exposed to environmentally realistic amounts of neonicotinoid compounds reduced their nursing and caretaking activities at night and were less able to regulate the colony’s temperature, among other behavioral changes that may impact their population.

Rock icon Roger Waters denounces Chevron in Ecuador by Kimberley Brown [11/21/2018]

– During a tour in Latin America and Mexico, the Pink Floyd frontman stopped over in Ecuador to call for justice in a decades-long battle between the community and an oil giant.
– Nearly 25 years ago, 30,000 community plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Chevron for environmental damage by its subsidiary Texaco. The $9.5 billion award to plaintiffs in the case has not been paid.
– Waters, a longtime grassroots activist who is outspoken on a variety of political and human rights issues, says the Ecuador Chevron case has global significance.

New picture of coral reef health opens avenues for saving them by [11/21/2018]

– New research has identified five potential phases, or “regimes,” of coral reef health, helping scientists and ecosystem managers better assess the condition of reefs.
– The study also revealed that certain transitions from one phase to another were more likely to result from human-induced changes to the ocean.
– The authors of the study say the research could help identify new opportunities to save and improve the health of reefs.

Progress on jaguar conservation in Suriname by Mark J. Plotkin [11/20/2018]

– Dr. Mark J. Plotkin is the Co‑Founder & President of the Amazon Conservation Team, which partners with indigenous peoples to conserve forests and wildlife in Suriname, Colombia, and Brazil.
– In this post, Plotkin writes about a recent meeting in Suriname to discuss an emerging threat to jaguars across Latin America: poaching for traditional Chinese medicine.
– He notes that representatives who attended the meeting are now deeply engaged in designing an action plan for jaguar conservation in Suriname.

Restore wolves or slaughter deer to save Japanese forests? by Dan Zukowski [11/20/2018]

– Without wolves, an important apex predator, Japan faces a booming deer population that has upset the ecological balance of the country’s forests.
– The sika deer, which researchers say occupy two-thirds of Japanese national forests, pose a particular threat.

New dam set to spoil Sumatran wonderland (commentary) by Gregory McCann and Haray Sampurna Munthe [11/20/2018]

– Amid the tropical rainforest in the Hadabuan Hills Ecosystem, where Siamang and Agile gibbons cry out and where Rhinoceros hornbills and Black hornbills growl and cackle above the forest canopy, survey work by a Korean hydroelectric company has just wrapped up, and construction is slated to begin in 2020 on a dam called Siborpa Hydroelectric Power Plant.
– The Hadabuan Hills isn’t a national park or a wildlife sanctuary; about half of it is considered a hutan desa, or village forest. It is essentially a cluster of steep mountains that were too difficult to cultivate quickly and easily, and were thus spared wholesale conversion to oil palm plantations due to the challenging topography.
– So far we have confirmed the presence of tigers, clouded leopards, marbled cats, golden cats, Malayan tapirs, sun bears, leaf monkeys, the fast-disappearing Sumatran Laughingthrush, and a plethora of other wildlife. If this place isn’t a national treasure, we don’t know what is. To see it badly scarred by a hydroelectric dam of questionable use and value would be deeply disturbing.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

These 4,000-year-old termite mounds are visible from space and still in use by [11/20/2018]

– Some 200 million conical termite mounds rise from the ground in northeastern Brazil, each about 2 to 4 meters high and about 9 meters wide, visible on Google Earth.
– Researchers dated the soil from 11 of these mounds and found that the piles are up to about 4,000 years old, making them almost as ancient as the pyramids of Giza.
– The mounds are still inhabited by the termite species, Syntermes dirus, that first made them.
– The mounds themselves lack any definite internal architecture, but there are extensive networks of underground tunnels that the termites use to safely access fallen leaves on the forest floor.

Inspiration from frogs (insider) by Rhett A. Butler [11/20/2018]

– Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler explains how his love for frogs spurred his interest in tropical rainforests, eventually leading him to start the web site.
– Here he explains why frogs are important and what’s happening to them worldwide.
– This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.

Human activities are impeding population growth of North Atlantic right whales by [11/19/2018]

– New research finds that deaths caused by human activities are not just impacting individual North Atlantic right whales and their immediate family units, but actually impeding population growth and recovery of the species, which has been declining since 2010.
– Peter Corkeron, head of a whale research initiative at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, led an international team that studied the western North Atlantic population and three populations of southern right whales, in order to determine whether or not the slow growth rate of North Atlantic right whales is attributable to humans.
– More than 80 percent of North Atlantic right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once in their lives, and 59 percent have been entangled two or more times, the researchers found. The increased energy demands imposed on entangled whales can reduce the likelihood that a female will successfully give birth.

Could Brazil be on verge of one of world’s biggest conservation agreements? (commentary) by David Cleary [11/19/2018]

– The Brazilian Cerrado is a biodiverse mixed ecosystem – a mosaic of forests, savanna and grasslands. It is huge, almost three times bigger than Texas, but half of its natural habitat has been lost as it is converted to croplands and cattle pasture, and especially soy plantations.
– in 2016, Brazil’s soy industry (via its trade association ABIOVE), joined with Brazilian NGOs to create the Cerrado Work Group. In 2017, the NGOs published a Cerrado Manifesto, stressing the need for a biome-wide conservation agreement. Many companies in the soy supply chain, including Tesco, Marks & Spencer, McDonalds and Unilever signed on.
– But a roadblock to the Brazil biome-wide agreement loomed: who would pay for zero deforestation incentives with Cerrado farmers? A breakthrough may be near: a shared incentive fund created by the dozens of companies that have signed the Cerrado Manifesto, a coalition that could include ABIOVE members, and all major global soy traders, plus impact investors.
– This sweeping Cerrado Agreement, which could be negotiated before the end of the year, would be revolutionary in that it eliminates agricultural conversion for all habitats, not just forests. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Pod-cast: New app streams whale songs for web users in real time by Sue Palminteri [11/19/2018]

– Researchers have developed a web application to enable citizen scientists to listen for the sounds of a population of killer whales off North America’s northeast Pacific coast in real time.
– A network of underwater microphones will stream sounds from under the sea to citizen scientists, who can then report any unusual noises and help decode orca language.
– The researchers have found that human listeners can readily detect unusual sounds amid a stream of underwater noise, and their participation can complement machine-learning algorithms being developed.

Jaw-dropping footage: conservationists catch Javan rhino in mud wallow by Jeremy Hance [11/19/2018]

– With just 68 individuals surviving in a single site, the Javan rhino is one of the world’s rarest and most endangered animals.
– The species is so elusive that conservationists have studied it for years without meeting one in the flesh. Even images are rare.
– Now, newly released video and photos from a recent expedition by Global Wildlife Conservation and WWF show a Javan rhino wallowing in a mud bath.

Deforested, degraded land restoration a top priority for African leaders by [11/19/2018]

– African leaders met at a summit to discuss land restoration across the continent on Nov. 13, ahead of the U.N. Biodiversity Conference in Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt.
– Representatives from several African countries shared their countries’ pledges to restore hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of degraded and deforested land in the coming decades.
– The summit’s leaders said they hoped the deliberations during the day-long summit would help African countries in both their contributions to international targets and to the improvement of their natural ecosystems for the benefit of their citizens.

Panama, Namibia plan to reveal fishing fleet data via online map by Basten Gokkon [11/19/2018]

– Panama and Namibia have planned to publicly share information on their fishing fleet in their waters via the open-access mapping tool by Global Fishing Watch (GFW).
– Both nations say such a move would be crucial in improving transparency in fisheries management and protecting their oceans.
– GFW’s mapping platform provides both general data for the public and more detailed information seen only by authorities.
– The tool helps identify if a boat is fishing during the closed season of a particular species; if it enters an unauthorized area; or if it sails into a protected area.

California’s misguided plan to ‘save’ tropical forests (commentary) by Tom Goldtooth and Michelle Chan [11/16/2018]

– Indigenous leaders, environmental justice campaigners, academics, and left-leaning green groups have raised vocal opposition to an updated version of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) now known in California policy circles as the Tropical Forest Standard.
– The argument behind the TFS is that jurisdiction-wide policies to reduce deforestation implemented by state and provincial authorities will be different from scattershot private-sector-led REDD projects. But proponents leave out a key fact: the failures of REDD+ have often been driven by weak governance — that is to say, corruption, graft, neglect, and abuse of power — in tropical states.
– Intractable problems like these are why no state or country in the world accepts tropical forest carbon offsets into their cap and trade systems. Building long-term political infrastructure to lock in contracts in tropical forested countries puts Indigenous and forest dwelling peoples’ livelihoods at risk, while guaranteeing continued pollution that impacts communities of color in California.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazil could lose Nepal-size area of rainforest due to policy revision by Morgan Erickson-Davis [11/16/2018]

– Brazil’s Forest Act requires landowners living in the country’s Amazon region set aside 80 percent of their private land for native vegetation. But when the law was revised in 2012, a paragraph was added that says this 80 percent requirement can be relaxed to 50 percent if a state protects more than 65 percent of its public land.
– A new study finds that this revision means that an area of the Brazilian Amazon between 65,000 and 154,000 square kilometers in size could lose its protected status.
– Most of the area under threat is comprised of primary forest with high levels of biodiversity and massive stores of carbon. Researchers warn the legal deforestation of these private forest reserves could stand in the way of the country’s emissions reduction targets.
– The study’s authors recommend the paragraph be revised, adjusted or removed before it has a chance to take effect and result in deforestation.

Peru shares its fisheries surveillance data with the world by Yvette Sierra Praeli [11/16/2018]

– Late last month, the Peruvian government made public its satellite surveillance data on 1,300 commercial fishing vessels plying Peru’s waters via the open-access platform Global Fishing Watch.
– Only the Peruvian government and companies in the fishing sector had access to the data previously.
– With this move, Peru became the second country in the world, following Indonesia, to make public data from fishing vessels’ Vessel Monitoring Systems, a method of satellite surveillance.
– The country aims to use GFW as a tool to fight illegal fishing and overfishing.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, November 16, 2018 by [11/16/2018]

– 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: Rampant roadkill and shrinking seaweed stocks by [11/16/2018]

The top stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam, investigated Colombia’s roadkill rates; Chile’s marine forests; and Chinese energy projects in Ecuador. Mammals pay highest toll on Colombia’s highways Plans to double Colombia’s highway network by 2035 represent a major threat to wildlife conservation. A roadkill app and research have documented some 11,000 roadkill incidents, […]

Plan to ship gorillas from DRC to Zimbabwe raises alarm by Andrew Mambondiyani [11/16/2018]

– The head of Zimbabwe’s wildlife authority says the agency plans to receive a donation of gorillas and okapis from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), part of a wildlife exchange program that recently saw 10 white rhinos sent to the DRC from Zimbabwe.
– The plan, officials say, is still being worked out. But the prospect has raised alarm over the welfare of the animals, the impact on the local ecosystem, and the possibility that animals from the DRC could be infected with Ebola.
– Zimbabwe has previously sold wild animals for display in China, leading some activists to fear the gorillas and okapis could ultimately end up in that country — an allegation Zimbabwean authorities strongly deny.

For APEC’s poorest member, flashy cars point to another boondoggle by Lucy EJ Woods [11/16/2018]

– Papua New Guinea will host the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit this week.
– The PNG government says the summit will catalyze economic growth and development, but opposition leaders have criticized what they say is extravagant spending even as infrastructure and public services remain severely underfunded.
– The experience of the 2015 Pacific Games, the last time PNG hosted a major international event, could hint at the long-term legacy the APEC summit will leave behind.

Activists urge end to South Korean funding of Indonesia coal plants by Hans Nicholas Jong [11/16/2018]

– Activists in Indonesia have called on three South Korean financial institutions to withdraw their funding for new coal-fired power plants to be built in Java.
– The plants will be part of a complex that is already the biggest polluter in Southeast Asia, whose proximity to the metropolis of Jakarta could put the health of 30 million people at risk.
– The funding bucks a rising trend worldwide by governments and financial institutions to divest from coal projects and put their money in renewables instead.
– Building the new plants also makes little economic sense in light of dire warnings that the world must completely end coal-fired power generation by 2050 to avoid a global temperature rise of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Google searches reveal public interest in conservation is rising by Shreya Dasgupta [11/15/2018]

– The number of Google searches for conservation-related topics has been increasing since 2004, a new study has found.
– In fact, interest in both conservation and climate change-related topics seem to be tightly linked and rising similarly.
– While the rise in Google searches for conservation-related terms doesn’t necessarily translate to increased support for conservation, what it does suggest is that conservationists must continue to communicate their results to reach all the people interested in conservation and environmental issues, researchers say.
– The study’s co-author, Rhett A. Butler, is Mongabay’s founder and CEO, while lead author Zuzana Burivalova was also the lead researcher on Mongabay’s Conservation Effectiveness series published in 2017-18.

More than one-third of critically endangered plants cannot be conserved in seed banks by Mike Gaworecki [11/15/2018]

– New research finds that seed banking alone is not sufficient to conserve the world’s threatened plant and tree species.
– According to a paper published in the journal Nature Plants this month, researchers at the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew found that 36 percent of critically endangered species produce “recalcitrant seeds,” which means that they cannot tolerate being dried out and thus can’t be frozen at -20°C, the process required for them to be preserved in a seed bank.
– On the other hand, very few wild relatives of crop species and medicinal plants were found to be unsuitable for conventional seed banking.


Agroforestry saves soil and boosts livelihoods in Tajikistan by Daniyar Serikov [11/13/2018]

The last trees of the Amazon by Nelly Luna Amancio (OjoPúblico) [11/12/2018]

Haiti may lose all primary forest by 2035, mass extinction underway by Carinya Sharples & Morgan Erickson-Davis [11/09/2018]