Newsletter 2019-01-10


Protecting India’s fishing villages: Q&A with ‘maptivist’ Saravanan by Mahima Jain[01/10/2019]

– Fishing communities across the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu are fighting to protect their traditional lands as the sea rises on one side and residential and industrial development encroaches on the others.
– To support these communities, a 35-year-old local fisherman is helping them create maps that document how they use their land.
– By creating their own maps, the communities are taking control of a tool that has always belonged to the powerful.
– Their maps allow them to speak the language of the state so they can resolve disputes and mount legal challenges against industries and government projects encroaching on their land and fishing grounds.

Community-based conservation offers hope for Amazon’s giant South American turtle by Jenny Gonzales [01/09/2019]

– Rural communities began protecting the threatened giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa) along a 1,500-kilometer (932-mile) stretch of the remote Juruá River in Brazil’s Amazonas state back in 1977 – becoming the largest community-based conservation management initiative ever conducted in the Brazilian Amazon.
– A new study shows that these community stewards – who protect turtle nests and receive payment only in food baskets – have had incredible success not only in preserving endangered turtle species, but also in conserving riverine invertebrate and vertebrate species, including migratory birds, large catfish, caiman, river dolphins and manatees.
– Today, the Middle Juruá River community-protected beaches are “true islands of biodiversity, while other unprotected beaches are inhabited by few species. They are empty of life,” say study authors. On the protected beaches, turtle egg predation is a mere 2 percent. On unprotected beaches on the same river, predation rates are as high as 99 percent.
– The study also helps debunk a Brazilian and international policy that proposed the eviction of local traditional communities from newly instituted conservation units because they would be detrimental to conservation goals. Instead, researchers agree, traditional communities should be allowed to keep their homes and recruited as environmental stewards.

Habitat loss, pigs, disease: U.S. salamanders face a ‘tough situation’ by Morgan Erickson-Davis [01/03/2019]

– A pandemic is on the horizon. A fungal pathogen called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) almost completely wiped out several fire salamander populations in Europe and biologists think it may be only a matter of time until it gets to North America.
– North America is the world’s hotspot of salamander diversity, with around half the world’s species. The U.S. in particular has more salamander species than any other country. But more than 40 percent of U.S. species are threatened.
– Habitat loss is the main reason behind declines of U.S. salamanders. Invasive species like pigs are also a growing threat to many species, and researchers think global declines in insect abundance may also be greatly affecting them.
– Studies indicate many, if not most, U.S. salamanders are susceptible to Bsal – including many threatened species. Biologists worry the disease will be the nail in the coffin for salamander species already weakened by other pressures, and are trying to figure out how they stand to be affected and how best to rescue them.


Rapid population drop weakened the Grauer’s gorilla gene pool by John C. Cannon [01/10/2019]
– The loss of 80 percent of all Grauer’s gorillas, or Grauer’s gorillas, in the past two decades has led to a severe reduction in the subspecies’ genetic diversity, new research has found.
– That slide could make it more difficult for the fewer than 4,000 remaining Grauer’s gorillas to adapt to changes in their environment.
– Scientists look for signs of hope in the animal’s sister subspecies, the mountain gorilla, which, studies suggest, has adapted to its own low levels of genetic diversity.

Why are fewer monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico? by[01/09/2019]
– Fewer and fewer monarch butterflies are reaching their overwintering grounds in Mexico every year, and new research might shed light on why.
– A 2016 study found that the monarch population in Mexican overwintering colonies has declined by approximately 80 percent over the past two decades. Pinpointing the causes of this decline has proven difficult, however.
– A study published in the journal Animal Migration last month suggests a possible cause: The monarchs are simply finding places other than Mexico to spend the winter months, and possibly even giving up their migratory ways altogether, in order to survive.

Start them young: Uganda targets children for conservation awareness by Nangayi Guyson [01/09/2019]
– Uganda is home to a wide variety of primates, including chimpanzees and mountain gorillas. Deforestation, hunting and rapid population growth are among the threats facing the country’s wildlife.
– Aiming to inspire future generations to protect the country’s wildlife, Uganda has made conservation education part of its national curriculum.
– Conservation education centers, which give children first-hand introductions to chimpanzees and other wildlife, are a key part of the education effort.
– The Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Center in Entebbe is the country’s busiest, receiving more than 260,000 guests each year.

George, the last known Hawaiian snail of his kind, dies at 14 by[01/09/2019]
– George, the last known member of the Hawaiian snail species Achatinella apexfulva, died on the first day of 2019.
– In 1997, researchers collected the last 10 known A. apexfulva specimens from the island of O‘ahu in a last-gasp bid to save the species through captive breeding. A few offspring did result from the program, but none survived, except George.
– George, who was 14 years old when he died, was emblematic of the plight of the Hawaiian land snails, which are threatened by habitat loss and the introduction of predatory species.

Audio: Rhett Butler on how sound can save forests and top rainforest storylines to watch in 2019 by Mike Gaworecki [01/08/2019]
– On today’s episode, we welcome Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett Butler to discuss the biggest rainforest news stories of 2018 and what storylines to watch in 2019. He also discusses a new peer-reviewed paper he co-authored that looks at how bioacoustics can help us monitor forests and the wildlife that call forests home.
– This year marks the 20th anniversary since Rhett Butler founded Mongabay. Subscribers to our new Insider Content Program already know the story of how he founded two decades ago in his pajamas. At first, Mongabay was a labor of love that Rhett pursued in his spare time, after coming home from his day job.
– Mongabay has come a long way since then, with more than 350 contributors covering 50 countries and bureaus now open in India, Indonesia, and Latin America. Overseeing this global environmental news empire provides Rhett with a wealth of insight into the science and trends that are shaping conservation.

Hazy figures cloud Indonesia’s peat restoration as fire season looms by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/08/2019]
– An El Niño weather system in the early months of 2019 could see forest fires flare up once again in Indonesia.
– The government rolled out a slate of measures following disastrous fires in 2015, centering on the restoration of degraded peatlands that had been rendered highly combustible by draining for agriculture.
– While the number and extent of fires since then have declined significantly, activists attribute this more to milder weather in the intervening years, rather than the government’s peatland management and restoration measures.
– Activists have also questioned figures that suggest the target of restoring 24,000 square kilometers (9,300 square miles) of peatland by the end of 2020 has been almost achieved, saying there’s little transparency about the bulk of the required restoration, being carried out by pulpwood and plantation companies.

Flashing lights ward off livestock-hunting pumas in northern Chile by John C. Cannon [01/07/2019]
– A new paper reports that Foxlights, a brand of portable, intermittently flashing lights, kept pumas away from herds of alpacas and llamas during a recent calving season in northern Chile.
– Herds without the lights nearby lost seven animals during the four-month study period.
– The research used a “crossover” design, in which the herds without the lights at the beginning of the experiment had them installed halfway through, removing the possibility that the herds were protected by their locations and not the lights themselves.

New species of tree frog from Ecuador has a mysterious claw by[01/07/2019]
– A team of biologists surveying a remote and largely unexplored part of the Andes in Ecuador have described a new species of tree frog that’s dark brown in color, with bright orange flecks dotting its body.
– The researchers have named the tree frog Hyloscirtus hillisi, after David Hillis, a U.S. evolutionary biologist known for his work on the Hyloscirtus genus of tree frogs.
– While the researchers don’t have an estimate of the frog’s population, they think its numbers are likely low.
– The species’ small habitat also lies near a large-scale mining operation, putting the frog at immediate risk of extinction.

‘Everything’s moving’: Indonesia seeks global pushback on illegal fishing by Basten Gokkon [01/06/2019]
– Officials in Indonesia, home to one of the world’s biggest fisheries, say their fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing continues to be stymied by the complex web of offshore holdings that own much of the illegal fishing fleet.
– Enforcement efforts have failed to net the owners of these vessels, instead only going as far as punishing the crew caught on board the boats.
– Indonesia’s fisheries minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, has long called for an international consensus to recognize IUU fishing as a transnational crime, putting it in the same bracket as drug trafficking and human smuggling, which would enable greater international cooperation to identify and prosecute owners of illegal fishing boats.

Indonesia confiscated some 200 pet cockatoos. What happened to them? by Nadine Freischlad [01/04/2019]
– As Indonesia cracks down on the illegal wildlife trade, it is struggling to deal with the influx of animals confiscated from traffickers.
– Birds are among the most trafficked creatures. Due to a lack of rehabilitation centers, where they would slowly be prepared for life in the wild, many birds are released prematurely.
– That seems to have been the case with a group of cockatoos that were handed into the state after the infamous “water bottle bust” of 2015, in which a smuggler was caught with 23 yellow-crested cockatoos stuffed into plastic water bottles in his luggage.

Policymakers are not adequately factoring land use and human diets into climate mitigation strategies: Study by [01/04/2019]
– A recent study finds that governments and researchers routinely underestimate the potential for changes to land use and human diets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of global warming.
– Published in Nature last month, the research suggests that policymakers are not adequately accounting for the amount of carbon that could be stored in forests and other natural vegetation if those lands weren’t used for producing food, and are also failing to recognize the carbon emissions that will result from increased agricultural production.
– According to the study’s lead author, Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University and a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, these oversights on the part of climate policymakers are particularly crucial because successfully mitigating climate change will require more carbon be stored in forests and other native vegetation, even while the world will have to produce as much as 50 percent more food every year in order to feed the growing global population.

Journalists reporting on the environment faced increased dangers in 2018 by Kaamil Ahmed [01/04/2019]
– Journalists describe some of the threats and dangers they faced in 2018.
– These range from intimidation to legal threats to outright violence.
– At least 10 journalists covering the environment were killed between 2010 and 2016, according to Reporters without Borders — all but two of them in Asia.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, January 4, 2019 by [01/04/2019]
– 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.

Eavesdrop on forest sounds to effectively monitor biodiversity, researchers say by Shreya Dasgupta [01/03/2019]
– Recording and analyzing forest soundscapes can be an effective way of monitoring changes in animal communities in tropical forests and human presence, researchers say in a new commentary published in Science.
– Bioacoustics, which can be used to cover a vast range of animal groups over large landscapes, can also fill the gap between the bird’s-eye view of satellites and the finer focus of on-the-ground surveys, to give a clearer picture of animal population trends over large landscapes.
– Moreover, bioacoustics has the potential to be an important tool in assessing what’s working and what’s not working in conservation, such as to monitor forests maintained by companies under certification or zero-deforestation commitments.
– The researchers have called for improvements in processing and analysis of huge acoustic data sets, which at the moment are the major bottlenecks in soundscape research.

Machine learning tool helps prioritize plants for conservation by Sue Palminteri[01/03/2019]
– In a first global plant conservation assessment, a multi-institutional research team used the power of open-access databases and machine learning to predict the conservation status of more than 150,000 plants.
– They paired geographic, environmental, climatic, and morphological trait information of plant species of known risk of extinction from the IUCN Red List with information on plants of unknown risk in a machine learning model. The model calculated the likelihood that a given unassessed plant species was actually at risk of extinction and identified the variables that best predicted conservation risk.
– More than 15,000 of the species–roughly 10 percent of the total assessed by the team—had characteristics similar to those already categorized as at least near-threatened by IUCN and thus at a high likelihood of extinction.
– The protocol could provide a first cut in identifying unassessed species likely at risk of extinction and suggest how to allocate scarce conservation resources.

Our most popular stories of 2018 by [01/03/2019]
– 2018 was a record-setting traffic year for Mongabay, topping 100 million views in direct readership and video watches for the first time.
– Overall we produced 1,495 articles for the main news section; 1,672 in Indonesian; 815 in Spanish; 338 in English by the India bureau; 116 in Portuguese; 92 in Italian; 72 in French, 36 in Chinese; 23 in German; and 2 in Japanese.
– Below are lists of our most popular articles published in 2018.

Brazil’s indigenous agency acts to protect isolated Kawahiva people by Sue Branford [01/03/2019]
– On 14 December, FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous agency, supported by law enforcement, launched an operation to clear invaders – land thieves, illegal loggers, miners and ranchers – from the Pardo River indigenous reserve in Mato Grosso state. They did so possibly because FUNAI expects President Bolsonaro to curtail such raids in future.
– The reserve was established in 2016, after a 15-year effort by FUNAI to get it recognized. The territory covers 411,848 hectares (1,590 square miles) and is meant to protect the ancestral lands of the Kawahiva, a small beleaguered indigenous band that still lives there.
– Giving the Kawahiva a reserve was controversial from the start, and strongly opposed by loggers and agribusiness who denied the Kawahiva existed. FUNAI expeditions have since filmed the Kawahiva, proving that they do in fact continue to inhabit the territory.
– FUNAI officials fear that the Bolsonaro administration will refuse to demarcate the Pardo River Kawahiva reserve, and possibly even try to abolish it. Indigenous groups across Brazil say that if the government refuses to conclude the demarcation process for numerous indigenous reserves, and tries to dissolve some territories, they will resist.

Worst mass extinction event in Earth’s history was caused by global warming analogous to current climate crisis by Mike Gaworecki [01/03/2019]
– The Permian period ended about 250 million years ago with the largest recorded mass extinction in Earth’s history, when a series of massive volcanic eruptions is believed to have triggered global climate change that ultimately wiped out 96 percent of marine species in an event known as the “Great Dying.”
– According to Justin Penn, a doctoral student at the University of Washington (UW), the Permian extinction can help us understand the impacts of climate change in our own current era.
– Penn led a team of researchers that combined models of ocean conditions and animal metabolism with paleoceanographic records to show that the Permian mass extinction was caused by rising ocean temperatures, which in turn forced the metabolism of marine animals to speed up. Increased metabolism meant increased need for oxygen, but the warmer waters could not hold enough oxygen to meet those needs, and ocean life was left gasping for breath.

Cyclone harmed Fijian crab fishery in 2016, research finds by[01/03/2019]
– Research published in the journal Climate and Development demonstrates that Tropical Cyclone Winston damaged mud-crab fisheries in Fiji in 2016.
– Surveys of the mostly women crab fishers in Bua province before and after Winston, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, revealed that mud crabs were smaller and less numerous following the cyclone.
– The research could help government agencies address the lingering impacts of natural disasters to community fisheries.


As a pandemic looms, researchers rush to test salamander vulnerability by Morgan Erickson-Davis [12/31/2018]
Top 10 happy environmental stories of 2018 by Basten Gokkon [12/31/2018]
The biggest rainforest news stories in 2018 by Rhett A. Butler [12/30/2018]
Cocaine blamed for rising deforestation in Peru’s Bahuaja-Sonene National Parkby Vanessa Romo [12/30/2018]
Devastating Laos dam collapse leads to deforestation of protected forests by Chris Humphrey [12/28/2018]
‘Conservation never ends’: 40 years in the kingdom of gorillas by Giannella M. Garrett [12/28/2018]
Brazil: Bolsonaro supporter works to imprison Dorothy Stang’s successor by Daniel Camargos [12/28/2018]
Disappearing salamanders: New research aims to solve a decades-old mystery by Morgan Erickson-Davis [12/27/2018]
With no oil cleanup in sight, Amazon tribes harvest rain for clean water by Dan Collyns [12/27/2018]