Newsletter 2018-12-27


New roads for PNG: Path to progress or to environmental devastation? by Camilo Mejia Giraldo [12/27/2018]

– The Papua New Guinea government plans to build more than 3,000 kilometers in new roads in the next five years, with a focus on connecting remote rural areas.
– New roads can help improve services in rural areas and enable farmers bring their crops to market. But some critics say the government’s road-building plans are more focused on allowing extractive industries into remote areas.
– Illegal logging is already a serious problem in PNG, and experts fear that poorly planned roads could increase deforestation in ecologically significant tracts of rainforest.
– China’s growing role in financing infrastructure projects in PNG has also raised concerns.

In India, indigenous youths are filming their own forests and communities by Shreya Dasgupta [12/27/2018]

– In India’s northeast, the Greenhub project is empowering indigenous youths to use video as a tool to forward forest conservation and social change.
– Tallo Anthony, from the project’s first batch, has been one of the most successful participants, winning several awards.
– The project strives to empower people living in remote areas of India’s northeast region, who don’t have access to technology and can’t afford to but are interested in and committed to using video as a tool for conservation.
– Greenhub also encourages women to participate, with two out of 20 seats in every batch reserved for women, and more female candidates welcome.

Māori community reconnects youth with their ancestral forests by Monica Evans [12/26/2018]

– Māori have urbanized rapidly over the last century, undergoing a general disconnection from the environment.
– To buck that trend, members of the Tūhoe tribe in the community of Ruatāhuna, New Zealand, have been teaching their young people about their traditional culture and forest knowledge.
– They’re changing the format of their local schools to reflect a Tūhoe worldview, and have set up a “forest academy” for teenagers.
– This is the third part of Mongabay’s three-part profile of the Ruatāhuna community’s effort to restore their ancestral forest.

Is captive breeding the answer to Indonesia’s songbird crisis? by Nadine Freischlad [12/25/2018]

– In Indonesia, singing contests for songbirds have skyrocketed in popularity. Even the president is a fan.
– Demand for some species has made them extremely valuable. Poaching has risen accordingly, and some birds have been driven to the brink of extinction.
– The government is pushing captive breeding as a solution to the crisis. But some conservationists warn the policy may do more harm than good.
– A prime concern is that breeding licenses are easily exploited by “wildlife launderers” who pass of wild-caught animals as captive-bred. This only increases poaching.

Copper mine destroying forests in Panama’s Mesoamerican Biological Corridor by José Arcia [12/24/2018]

– A copper mine owned by Minera Panama is being developed in part of Panama’s portion of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, which connects wildlife habitat in seven countries of Central America and southern Mexico.
– Conservationists say forest has been severely affected by mining-caused deforestation that began 10 years ago. Community members say mine development has affected their crops and water supplies.
– The Environmental Advocacy Center of Panama, an environmental non-governmental organization, alleges that the company operates under an illegal contract. Panama’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled in favor of the Center’s complaint in September 2018.
– Despite the ruling, construction is continuing and the mine is expected to begin operation in early 2019. Satellite images taken between September 8 and November 24 show recent expansion of deforestation in the mine’s area of influence.

Critically endangered Philippine eagle hangs on despite horde of threats by Brad Miller [12/24/2018]

– Once inhabiting every island in the Philippines, the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) – the world’s longest eagle – now occupies a fraction of its former range and is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.
– Habitat loss is the eagle’s biggest threat. More than 70 percent of the Philippine’s forests have been cleared since the 1970s to make room for urban and agricultural expansion, pushing the eagles higher into the mountains and fragmenting their available habitat.
– Satellite data show recent encroachment into primary forest in several areas of remaining eagle habitat. Conservationists say one of these areas – a protected watershed area on the island of Mindanao – is controlled by armed groups, which reap profits from illegal logging enterprises. Eagle habitat further north on the island of Luzon was recently affected a strong typhoon, which hit the east coast of the island in September and which the World Meteorological Association attributed to human-caused climate change.
– Conservationists worry a national ban on open-pit mining will be overturned, leading to more habitat loss as mining companies rush to exploit gold and copper deposits, and that hydroelectric projects will further reduce nesting sites for the eagles.

Two Indian tribes help reconstruct a forest’s history, in war and in peace by Shreya Dasgupta [12/24/2018]

– A researcher-illustrator team has traced the emotional and personal links of two of India’s indigenous tribes to what is now a protected area via their memories.
– By interviewing more than 200 community members, most of them from the Bugun and Shertukpen tribes living near Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh state, the duo have created an 86-page book and a web repository called “The Eaglenest Memory Project” containing illustrations and notes based on the tribes’ recollections.
– The team pieced together the tribes’ memories into five main themes, including how they remember Eaglenest during and after the 1962 India-China war, the annual migration of the Shertukpen tribes through Eaglenest to Assam state, and how the Dalai Lama’s visit changed hunting practices among the Buguns.

Investigation reveals illegal cattle ranching in Paraguay’s vanishing Chaco by Aldo Benítez [12/22/2018]

– In the buffer zone around the Defensores del Chaco National Park– the largest forest reserve in the country – new areas have been cleared to make way for livestock, while long-established cattle ranches are operating without environmental licenses.
– According to official data from the Ministry of the Environment, more than a million hectares (10,000 square kilometers) were cleared in Paraguay’s Chaco ecosystem between January 2014 and January 2018.
– The Ministry of the Environment has just 12 inspectors to deal with all the environmental complaints across the country.

‘Snot otters’ threatened by disease and stress by Liz Kimbrough [12/21/2018]

– Growing more than two feet in length, the hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is the largest salamander species in North America.
– Hellbenders have been on the decline for at least 30 years, and in some parts of their range have disappeared completely. Researchers think this may be because they require cool, clean water, and much of their habitat has been degraded by human activity.
– There’s another cause of alarm for hellbender researchers: a pathogenic fungus that stands to devastate salamander populations if it gets to North America.
– So far, research indicates hellbenders can survive this fungus. But they are less able to if they’re already stressed by environmental degradation.

What makes a forest healthy? Māori knowledge has some answers. by Monica Evans [12/21/2018]

– Working with its elders and other traditional knowledge holders, the Māori community of Ruatāhuna, New Zealand, has articulated its own, culturally relevant system for monitoring the health of the ancient Te Urewera temperate rainforest it calls home.
– For instance, the community regards the size of flocks of kererū or wood pigeon (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) as a key indicator of forest health, and assesses it by the amount of awe an observer feels when witnessing a large flock at close range.
– The community feels a sense of urgency to document this kind of traditional knowledge before the elders who hold much of it pass on.
– This is the second part of Mongabay’s three-part profile of the Ruatāhuna community’s effort to restore its ancestral forest.

Ten years on, Amazon Fund receives applause, criticism, faces new tests by Fabíola Ortiz [12/21/2018]

– Launched in 2008, the Amazon Fund became one of the first UN REDD+ initiatives, funneling money from developed nations (with Norway as the major donor) to forest sustainability projects in Brazil, a developing nation in the Amazon basin.
– By creating a national framework to garner international resources based on results, the Amazon Fund established REDD+ as a legitimate way of achieving global cooperation to curtail greenhouse gas emissions through rainforest conservation.
– With the Fund now 10 years old, Mongabay spoke to experts about its accomplishments, shortfalls and suggestions for the future. Analysts share the view that future projects could become more innovative, encouraging not only limits to deforestation, but offering economic incentives for local communities to create a sustainable forest driven economy.
– The problem to date, say analysts, is that while the Fund has done good work, it has become the only major economic resource available for curbing deforestation in a nation where the government of Michel Temer has turned away from sustainable forestry goals, while Jair Bolsonaro, taking office in January, seems far less inclined to conserve Amazon forests.

Amazon soy boom poses urgent existential threat to landless movement by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [12/20/2018]

– Brazil’s 1988 constitution and other laws established the right of landless peasants to claim unused and underutilized lands. Thousands, with the support of the landless movement, occupied tracts. At times, they even succeeded in getting authorities to set up agrarian reform settlements.
– Big landowners always opposed giving large tracts of land to the landless but, until roads began penetrating the Amazon making transport of commodities such as soy far cheaper, conflict over land was less intense.
– As new Amazon transportation projects are proposed – like the planned Ferrogrāo (Grainrail), or the BR-163 and BR-319 highway improvements – land thieves increasingly move in to steal the land, with hired thugs often threatening peasant communities, and murdering leaders.
– An example: a landless community leader named Carlos Antônio da Silva, known as Carlão, was assassinated by armed gunmen last April in Mato Grosso state. The rise of Jair Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly threatened the landless movement with violence, has residents of Amazon agrarian reform settlements deeply worried.


Environment and rights founder in the wake of Chinese funding in Bolivia by Yvette Sierra Praeli [12/27/2018]
– Allegations of environmental damage and indigenous-rights abuses by a Chinese-backed oil company in the Bolivian Amazon have put a spotlight on the fallout from Chinese funding and involvement in major infrastructure projects in the country.
– The Nueva Esperanza project was carried out in territory belonging to the indigenous village of Tacana and encroached into the space of another, uncontacted, tribe, according to indigenous monitors.
– Critics say they have been silenced through criminal charges brought by the company against them for opposing the project.

Japan leaving IWC, to resume commercial whaling by [12/26/2018]
– The government of Japan confirmed today that it is withdrawing from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and will resume commercial whaling operations in the North Pacific.
– The IWC, an inter-governmental organization founded in 1946 focused on whale conservation and management of the whaling industry, adopted a moratorium on hunting whales in 1982.
– The moratorium allows for IWC member nations to issue whaling permits for scientific research purposes. Japan has openly flouted the moratorium by issuing such permits and selling the harvested whale meat ever since the moratorium took effect in 1986.

Gardens with too many nonnative plants threaten populations of insect-eating birds, study finds by Hannah Hagemann [12/26/2018]
– Researchers teamed up with community scientists to explore how nonnative plants in yards and gardens affect the breeding success of chickadees, a common insect-eating bird in the U.S.
– In gardens with less than 70% of native plants by biomass, chickadee populations crashed, because the insects they usually eat cannot live on nonnative trees and flowers.
– Landscaping with native plants helps resident animals thrive by sustaining balanced populations of their prey.

Audio: The best wildlife calls featured on the Mongabay Newscast in 2018 by Mike Gaworecki [12/26/2018]
– The Mongabay Newscast featured a lot of big names in conservation and environmental science in 2018, from E.O. Wilson and Thomas Lovejoy to David Suzuki and Sylvia Earle. (We even had a rock star, Grammy-winning guitarist James Valentine of Maroon 5, on the podcast to discuss why he’s doing his part to help stop illegal logging).
– We strive to make scientific research accessible to everyone by having these luminaries of the field on the show to explain their work and share their thoughts on the latest trends. Another way we provide our listeners with an up-close look at what’s going on in the conservation science world is through our Field Notes segments, which feature recordings of wildlife calls captured by research scientists in the field.
– The growing fields of bioacoustics and soundscape ecology are shedding light on animal behavior, how wildlife react to human pressures on their habitat, and how ecosystems evolve and change over time. Here are the very best Field Notes we featured on the Mongabay Newscast in 2018 so you can dive into this exciting new method of examining the natural world and the creatures with whom we share planet Earth.

After the loss of a ship, deep sea mining plans for PNG founder by David Hutt [12/26/2018]
– In 2011, Nautilus Minerals was granted a license to mine precious minerals from the seabed off the coast of Papua New Guinea, the first project in the world to gain deep-sea mining rights.
– Nautilus said the project would be less destructive than land-based mining, but met with protests due to the potential impact on the complex deep-sea ecosystems as well as coastal communities.
– A year ago, Nautilus failed to make a payment on a specialized ship being built for the project. Now the ship has been sold to another company, making it unlikely Nautilus will be able to fulfill its mining ambitions.

Chile renews contract with lithium company criticized for damaging wetland by Michelle Carrere [12/26/2018]
– A lithium company operating in the Atacama salt flats in northern Chile has been cited for environmental impacts related to over-extraction of the mineral-rich brine.
– The region contains more than half the world’s lithium reserves, a crucial component in energy storage technologies, with widespread applications in the automotive and electronics industries.
– Situated in the heart of the driest desert in the world, the salt flats support a unique wetland environment home to multiple flamingo species.

Adapt to a changing Amazon now, or pay far higher price later, experts say by Claire Asher [12/25/2018]
– A new study estimates the costs of delaying adaptation to a hotter, dryer Amazon would be orders of magnitude higher than acting now, despite uncertainties.
– The study is the first comprehensive impact analysis of the Amazon Forest Dieback hypothesis, which posits that there exists a definitive climate-driven deforestation tipping point beyond which large swaths of the rainforest would be rapidly replaced with savanna.
– The study’s authors estimate the costs of such a catastrophic loss of forest could be as high as $3.6 trillion over a 30-year period.
– They also estimate that the cost of a series of adaptation measures taken now would be $122 billion, a fraction of the economic losses estimated if no actions were taken.

The 10 most intriguing forest stories of 2018 by Genevieve BelmakerJoseph Charpentier [12/25/2018]
– Forest issues are probably Mongabay’s most regular kind of news coverage.
– Here’s what our forests editors chose as the most intriguing stories of the past year, from Bangladesh to Brazil.
– Leave your own top forests stories of the past year in the comments section.

A development project in a Bali mangrove bay gets a new lease on life by Basten Gokkon [12/25/2018]
– A controversial plan to reclaim land in Bali’s Benoa Bay for a commercial and entertainment development project was thought to have ended in August when its permit expired.
– In late November, Indonesia’s maritime ministry issued the developer a new permit that effectively revives the plan.
– Reclamation can only proceed, however, if the developer can obtain approval for its environmental impact assessment from the environment ministry. Its failure to do so earlier this year was what led to its initial permit expiring.
– Activists say they will continue to oppose the project, which they fear will destroy the mangrove-rich ecosystem and harm the livelihoods of thousands of local fishermen.

Photos: Top 10 new species of 2018 by Shreya Dasgupta [12/25/2018]
– Every year, researchers describe new species of animals and plants, from forests and oceans, after months, or even several years, of trials and tribulations.
– In 2018, Mongabay covered many of these new discoveries and descriptions, some a result of chance encounters.
– In no particular order, we present our 10 top picks.

For embattled environmental defenders, a reprieve of sorts in 2018 by Taran Volckhausen [12/24/2018]
Berta Cáceres, a high-profile environmental activist in Honduras, was assassinated in 2016. While seven men were convicted for her murder less than a month ago, her death is a reminder of the dire conditions that front-line environmental defenders still face around the world. Throughout 2018, environmental defenders in the tropics continued to endure harassment and […]

2018’s top 10 ocean news stories (commentary) by Douglas McCauley and Francis Joyce [12/24/2018]
– Marine scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara, share their list of the top 10 ocean news stories from 2018.
– Hopeful developments included international efforts to curb plastic pollution and negotiate an international treaty to protect the high seas.
– Meanwhile, research documenting unprecedented ocean warming, acidification, and oxygen decline spotlighted the real-time unfolding of climate change.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Land trafficking in Peru: officials arrested for falsifying documents by Yvette Sierra Praeli [12/21/2018]
– The anti-corruption police and the criminal prosecutor in Ucayali, Peru raided the office of the Regional Directorate of Agriculture of Ucayali and arrested two of its officials for alleged criminal activity related to the illegal issuance of land ownership titles.
– The land trafficking problem in the Ucayali region involves officials, judges, and business owners.
– Mongabay Latam flew over the areas of Nueva Requena and Curimaná and found out how this illegal activity has increased deforestation.

Every sea turtle in global study found to have synthetic fibers and microplastics in their guts by Mike Gaworecki [12/21/2018]
– A recent study found microplastics in the intestines of humans around the globe, and new research has now done the same for sea turtles.
– Researchers studied 102 sea turtles in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea. According to a paper published in the journal Global Change Biology earlier this month detailing their findings, synthetic particles less than 5 millimeters in length, including microplastics, were found in every single turtle studied.
– More than 800 synthetic particles were found in the 102 turtles included in the study, with the most common being fibers that are shed by things like clothing, car tires, cigarette filters, ropes, and fishing nets as they break down after finding their way into the sea.

Essential ubiquity: How one tiny salamander species has a huge impact by Emily Clark [12/21/2018]
– Red-backed salamanders are little lungless salamanders that live in the deciduous forests of eastern and central U.S. and up into Canada. They have one of the biggest distributions of any North American salamander.
– Their secretive nature means they can be hard to find. However, they’re some of the most abundant leaf-litter organisms in the forests within their range.
– Research indicates that because of their abundance, red-backed salamanders hold pivotal roles in their ecosystems, influencing a forest’s fungal communities. Fungi break down organic matter like fallen leaves, logs, and dead organisms. If nothing were to rot, the forest would soon starve. Red-backed salamanders feed on a wide variety of invertebrates like ants, spiders, centipedes, beetles, snails, and termites — many of which graze on fungus.
– But while red-backed salamanders are still relatively common, they are facing a number of threats. Logging in the southern Appalachian Mountains has reduced their numbers an estimated 9 percent (representing a loss of around 250 million individuals). And a salamander-eating fungus may soon invade North America, which researchers are worried could decimate salamander populations across the continent.

Social media, e-commerce sites facilitate illegal orchid trade by Stephanie Parker [12/21/2018]
– Wild orchids are collected for their beauty and are also used in traditional foods and medicines. This demand has left the plants prone to illegal trafficking.
– Despite having some of the best legal protections afforded to plants, wild orchids remain under immense threat globally for the illegal trade.
– While many orchids sold online are grown in greenhouses and have proper documentation, wild orchid traffickers are increasingly poaching the plants from protected forests, posing grave risks to the impacted species.
– There is often an overlap between legal and illegal online orchid sales, sometimes involving the same platforms, buyers and sellers, and little enforcement to prevent illegal transactions.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, December 21, 2018 by [12/21/2018]
– 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.
– Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.

DNA test helps officials spot dodgy shark shipments by Sue Palminteri [12/21/2018]
– Researchers have developed a rapid DNA testing method to detect the presence of nine trade-restricted shark species in shipments of wildlife products.
– When tested on shark fins collected from retail markets in Hong Kong, the protocol reliably detected the presence of these species in less than four hours, at a cost of less than $1 per sample.
– The protocol doesn’t determine which specific CITES-listed species is illegally present, only that at least one is, which is sufficient to justify customs officials holding a shipment for more detailed inspection.
– The approach enables amplification and detection of long DNA fragments, which ultimately allows customization to detect for other types of wildlife that cannot be visually identified.

The female park rangers protecting turtles from traffickers in Nicaragua by Monica Pelliccia [12/21/2018]
– The female park rangers in Nicaragua’s San Juan del Sur area patrol the beaches against the theft of eggs from endangered sea turtles that nest there.
– Species like the leatherback turtle have dwindled to less than 3 percent of their population in the eastern Pacific in the last three generations.
– In Nicaragua, an estimated more than 6,000 dozen turtle eggs are sold every month, with restaurants by the coast offering them in dishes as part of their menus.
– The NGO that hires the rangers say they manage to preserve 90 percent of turtle nests on the beaches they patrol, compared to 40 percent on government-patrolled beaches.

Conservation officers forced online in fight against bird trafficking by Ian Morse [12/20/2018]
– Law enforcers in the Indonesian port city of Makassar are trying to keep up with wildlife traffickers who are increasingly using the internet to connect with buyers.
– Officers have tried infiltrating online networks of traders and considered working with the police’s cybercrimes unit to trace phone numbers.
– The government conservation agency has also started hosting a weekly radio program to spread awareness about the laws around protected plants and animals.

Illegal mining in the Amazon ‘not comparable to any other period of its history’ by Kimberley Brown [12/20/2018]
– A new study produced jointly by six Amazonian countries calls illegal mining in protected areas and indigenous territories of the Amazon rainforest “epidemic” due to its rapid expansion across the basin and lack of government planning to contain it.
– The report features an interactive map, produced from satellite imagery and a suite of experts and published materials, showing more than 2,300 mining sites and 30 rivers destroyed or contaminated by illegal mining activities.
– The vast majority of mining sites in the report were in Venezuela, followed by Brazil and Ecuador; the Madre de Dios department in southeastern Peru experienced the Amazon’s highest degradation caused by gold mining.

Indonesia attack shines a light on controversial road project by Loren Bell [12/20/2018]
– Construction on a section of Indonesia’s Trans-Papua highway was suspended after at least 17 people were killed; conflicting reports state the victims were either contract laborers or Indonesian soldiers.
– In a recent paper, researchers warned the highway threatens to increase social conflict in Indonesia’s restive Papua region, while also degrading New Guinea Island’s ecosystems and the health of its residents.
– The Indonesian government bills the project as a lifeline of economic development for an impoverished region, but many indigenous Papuans see the project as a means to facilitate troop movements and resource exploitation.

Investors told to wise up over cost of environmental crime by James Fair [12/20/2018]
– Lack of knowledge of environmental crimes doesn’t protect companies or financial investors from prosecution, warns a new Climate Advisers report.
– The case of U.S. hardwood flooring company Lumber Liquidators is a salutary reminder to others of the pitfalls of ignoring where timber products are sourced from.
– The report also calls for U.S. authorities to use a greater range of laws to tackle forest crimes.


‘Death by a thousand holes’: Scientists race to avert a salamander crisis by Benji Jones [12/19/2018]
Pressure mounting for the home of wild coffee and Ethiopian wolves by Nathan Siegel [12/18/2018]
Bolsonaro shapes administration: Amazon, indigenous and landless at risk by Sue Branford; Thais Borges; and Mauricio Torres [12/18/2018]
Bird business: The man who taught his tribe to profit from conservation by Shreya Dasgupta [12/18/2018]
A Māori community leans on tradition to restore its forest by Monica Evans [12/17/2018]
COP24: Summit a step forward, but fails to address climate urgency by Justin Catanoso [12/17/2018]
Purus-Madeira: Amazon parks and extraordinary biodiversity at risk now by Gustavo Faleiros; images by Marcio Isensee e Sá [12/17/2018]
‘Amazon Besieged’: Q&A with Mongabay contributor Sue Branford about new book by Mike Gaworecki [12/14/2018]
Super-spreaders: How the curious life of a newt could ignite a pandemic by Rachel Fritts [12/13/2018]
COP24: Nations complicit in ignoring bioenergy climate bomb, experts say by Justin Catanoso [12/13/2018]