Newsletter 2019-04-04


Panamanian indigenous people act to protect the forest from invading loggers by Guido Bilbao [04/02/2019]

– The Darién Gap between Panama and Colombia has long been known as an impregnable stretch of rainforest, rivers and swamps inhabited by indigenous peoples as well as guerrillas, drug traffickers and paramilitaries.
– Today the area is undergoing steady deforestation as timber colonists and oil palm entrepreneurs advance across the region, bringing strife and violence to the area’s indigenous residents.
– In Panama, some of the Darién’s indigenous communities are working to reverse this situation. Mappers, a drone pilot, a lawyer, bird-watchers, a journalist and reforesters are carrying out ambitious projects to stop the degradation of the Darién Gap.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, grassroots opposition stalls another hydropower project by Jordan Salama [04/03/2019]

– Residents of a small Bosnian village kept watch day and night for years so that construction vehicles could not access the site of a proposed dam just upstream that would threaten their river’s health.
– Protests like it have become common here and in other Balkan nations such as Albania, Macedonia, and Serbia, where a growing trend of hydroelectric power projects aims to capitalize on the region’s having many of the last free-flowing rivers in Europe.
– Plans have been laid for nearly 3,000 new hydro dams across the Balkans, a 300% increase in the past two years.
– The people of Kruščica are celebrating a recent win: a judge revoked the dam’s construction permits in December, citing a lack of community consultation.

Indigenous groups in Ecuador convene to talk resistance in the Amazon by Kimberley Brown [04/01/2019]

– The meeting was the first time the three groups met in their own territory.
– The assembly was called in response to an announcement by Ecuador’s Minister of Energy and Non-renewable Resources in 2018, who said Blocks 86 and 87 in Ecuador’s eastern Amazon are for sale and “there will be no problems because the communities are in other blocks.”
– In response, the three nations, whose territories overlap with Blocks 86 and 87, are demanding the free, prior and informed consent process and a stop to all oil, mining and hydroelectric projects in the Amazon.

Questions remain as Vietnam reaches major REDD+ milestone by Michael Tatarski [04/01/2019]

– Technically this means results-based payments for forest-related carbon reductions can be rolled out, but there is no framework for such a system yet.
– Some forestry experts remain skeptical of REDD+ and its approach to forest management.


Farming communities abused at troubled DRC mega-farm, campaigners say by Ashoka Mukpo [04/04/2019]
– The Bukanga Lonzo agro-industrial park, located nearly 300 kilometers (186 miles) east of Kinshasa, was conceived as a way to boost mechanized food production in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
– But now, the park is in shambles, and a new report by the Oakland Institute says that community members were misled and abused during its construction.
– The primary investor in the park, Africom Commodities, is currently seeking nearly $20 million in damages from the Congolese government for non-payment of expenses at the park.

New species of skink from Angola has waited over 70 years to be described by Shreya Dasgupta [04/03/2019]
– In the 1950s and 60s, two Belgian herpetologists suspected the occurrence of a new-to-science species of skink based on specimens from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But neither of them got around to describing the species in their lifetimes.
– Now, a team of researchers surveying amphibians and reptiles in Cagandala National Park in Angola have formally described the long-tailed skink in a new study.
– Named Trachylepis raymondlaurenti or Laurent’s long tailed skink in honor of Raymond Laurent, the researchers suggest a conservation status of Least Concern for the skink for now.

Conceived in a dream, new solar canoe will serve Amazon tribes by Gabriela Balarezo [04/03/2019]
– A solar-powered canoe, just the second of its kind, is scheduled for launch around April 20 in the village of Sharamentsa on the Pastaza River in the Ecuadorean Amazon.
– The canoe is part of a project that aims to connect nine remote indigenous communities through an alternative transportation system powered by the sun and channeled by Amazon rivers.
– The launch coincides with the comeback of the first canoe, which has been grounded by technical problems, and the opening of a solar community center in Sharamentsa that will function as a canoe-recharging station and will eventually provide power to the village.
– Project leaders intend to build similar solar centers in other villages that, along with the canoes, will ultimately form a large energy and transportation network powered by sunlight.

Brazil soy trade linked to widespread deforestation, carbon emissions by Claire Asher [04/03/2019]
– Recent data released by the Brazilian government’s Prodes deforestation satellite monitoring system found that 220,000 square kilometers in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes were deforested between 2006 and 2017.
– Roughly 10 percent of that land was then used to grow soy, a native vegetation conversion of at least 21,000 square kilometres (with over 17,000 of that in the Cerrado), according to the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Global Canopy’s Trase platform, which analyze commodities supply chains.
– Clearing native vegetation releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, while crop plantations store less CO2 – a one-two punch hindering efforts to curb climate change. About 140,000 square kilometers of Cerrado were lost from 2006-2017, releasing 210 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e).
– The majority of Brazil’s soy is produced for export. So experts say the best way to protect the Cerrado under the Bolsonaro administration will be for commodities companies and NGOs to create market incentives. Plans now under consideration suggest momentum is building to protect Brazil’s most vulnerable ecoregion.

‘Plastic Soup:’ Photos and Q&A with author of new book documenting plastic pollution and solutions by Mike Gaworecki [04/03/2019]
– Earth’s oceans are drowning in plastic. Humans created 311 million metric tons of the stuff in 2014, and it is expected that we’ll be making four times as much by 2050 — yet only about 5 percent of plastic is currently recycled. It’s been estimated that 8 million metric tons of the plastic that goes to waste — the equivalent of a full garbage truck — is dumped into our oceans every minute.
– In a series of stunning photos and informative graphics, new book Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution documents the plastic pollution crisis engulfing Earth’s seas, the impacts of that pollution on wildlife and people, and initiatives that have been created to tackle the problem.
– The book, set to be published tomorrow by Island Press, was written by Michiel Roscam Abbing, a political scientist who reports on the latest scientific research around plastics for the Plastic Soup Foundation. Mongabay spoke with Abbing via email to get a sneak peek at what’s in the book, including a handful of its most compelling images and graphics.

Audio: Debunking myths about sloths is crucial to stopping the sloth crisis by Mike Gaworecki [04/02/2019]
– On today’s episode, we talk with zoologist Rebecca Cliffe about why the popular perception of sloths as lazy creatures is completely unwarranted — and why debunking myths like this about the animals is especially important right now.
– The increasing global popularity sloths have enjoyed in recent years has not translated into an increase in protection. That’s why Cliffe sought to debunk some persistent myths about sloths in her 2017 book — myths that she says still need debunking today.
– Cliffe tells us all about how moving slow is actually a survival strategy that has been so successful that sloths are some of the oldest mammals on our planet, the current “sloth crisis” driven by forest fragmentation and people taking “sloth selfies,” and what you can do to help protect sloths.

To stop extinctions, start with these 169 islands, new study finds by [04/02/2019]
– New research shows that culling invasive, non-native animals on just 169 islands around the world over roughly the next decade could help save almost 10 percent of island-dwelling animals at risk of extinction.
– A team of scientists surveyed nearly 1,300 islands where 1,184 threatened native animals have collided with 184 invasive mammals.
– Their analyses gave them a list of 107 islands where conservationists could start eradication projects by 2020, potentially keeping 80 threatened species from sliding closer to extinction.

Environmental issues among top priorities of urban Indian voters: Report by Mayank Aggarwal [04/02/2019]
– With India just a few weeks away from the general elections, a new survey has found that clean drinking water and agriculture-related governance issues feature prominently in the Indian voters’ list of priorities.
– High levels of water and air pollution, which have been plaguing Indian cities over the past few years, were not a top priority nationally but were of importance to the urban voters.
– Some other environment-related concerns that found a place in the overall list of the voters’ priorities include sand and stone quarrying, traffic congestion, river and lake pollution, and noise pollution.

Solomon Islands: Oil stops spilling but environmental toll still being calculated by Catherine Wilson [04/02/2019]
– On Feb. 5, a Hong Kong-based bulk carrier, the MV Solomon Trader, ran aground off a remote island in the Solomon Islands. It spilled heavy fuel across coastal waters, beaches and a sensitive coral reef system not far from a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
– On March 18, the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office reported that salvage experts have finally stabilized the beleaguered ship and stopped the fuel leak.
– An estimated 80 metric tons (88 tons) of heavy fuel oil escaped from the ship, but the government maintains that the full environmental impact of the spill remains to be determined.
– The Solomon Islands government, aided by Australia, began a cleanup operation in early March that continues.

Crab season to be cut short in California to protect whales and turtles by [04/01/2019]
– A settlement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will close California’s Dungeness crab fishery three months early in 2019 to reduce the chances that whales and other sea life will become entangled in fishing gear.
– The crabbing season in 2020 and 2021 will also be shuttered early in places where high concentrations of whales come to feed in the spring, such as Monterey Bay.
– Conservationists applauded the changes, saying that they will save animals’ lives.
– The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations was also involved in hammering out the settlement, and its representative said that the new rules, while “challenging,” would help the industry move toward a “resilient, prosperous, and protective fishery.”

Sarawak can invest in or give away its future (commentary) by Daniel Kammen [04/01/2019]
– In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report outlining strategies the world can pursue to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and maintain healthy economies and ecosystems. But unless we are smart about how we implement that blueprint, it could cause irreparable damage to the world’s great rivers.
– This may sound like a luxury for the richest nations, but it is key to building a prosperous Sarawak. The panel’s report urges a rapid transition to low-carbon, renewable sources of electricity. That call to action could trigger expanded investment in hydropower, but if development follows the pattern of earlier dam-building, it could accelerate an alarming loss of rivers and their resources.
– There’s no need to continue accepting tragic trade-offs between healthy rivers and low-cost, reliable, and renewable electricity. The renewable revolution provides an opportunity to have both. Governments, funders, developers, and scientists should seize it.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Deadly fungal disease has devastated more than 500 amphibian species by [04/01/2019]
– In 2007, the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or Bd, was implicated in the decline or extinction of up to 200 species of frogs.
– Now, by scanning through evidence, researchers have found that in all, chytrid fungus-linked deaths have contributed to the decline of at least 501 amphibian species — that’s 6.5 percent of all amphibian species described by science so far.
– Of these, some 90 species are presumably extinct and another 124 are suffering severe declines, researchers say.

Virtual reality tool gives viewers the vision of a nocturnal primate by Sue Palminteri [03/29/2019]
– Researchers teamed up with a student-based tech lab to develop an interactive virtual reality tool that gives users entry into the vision of another species–a tiny nocturnal primate with huge eyes that must catch prey in the dark.
– Tarsier Goggles can simulate human and tarsier vision under varying ambient lighting conditions.
– By simulating the tarsier’s superior night vision relative to humans, the interactive educational tool integrates anatomy with natural selection, an important connection, given how visual properties affect the ways animals forage.
– Participating students expressed a preference for the interactive learning features – “Instead of hearing what life is like, you [can] actually experience it.”

Cargill pledges to stop forest to farmland conversions, but no results yet for the Cerrado by Sarah Sax [03/29/2019]
– Cargill has announced new and updated policies to achieve deforestation-free supply chains by 2030, including more transparency in supply chains for soy – a crop that is a major cause of large-scale deforestation in Brazil’s Cerrado.
– The announcement came just days after the Soft Commodities Forum announced a new framework for transparency and traceability in “high-risk” soy supply chains in Brazil, and two years after an investigation shed light on large-scale forest-clearing by Bolivian and Brazilian soy farmers selling to Cargill.
– A newly released report shows that not a single company will achieve their 2020 deforestation-free pledges, and recent research questions the effectiveness of such commitments.

Video: Scientists surprised to discover tiny toadlets can glow by Morgan Erickson-Davis [03/29/2019]
– Pumpkin toadlets (Brachycephalus ephippium) inhabit Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, where they crawl through the leaf litter in search of mates.
– However, researchers found that they can’t hear their own high-frequency mating calls.
– While investigating how they communicate to find mates, the researchers unexpectedly discovered that the frogs fluoresce when exposed to UV light.
– The researchers aren’t sure why they do this, but say it could be a way to avoid predation or attract mates.

Suspected totoaba poachers shot by authorities in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez by Mike Gaworecki [03/29/2019]
– Three suspected totoaba poachers were reportedly shot yesterday by Mexican marines following a confrontation over illegal gillnets that had been confiscated.
– According to local news outlet Fronteras, the governor of the Mexican state of Baja California, Francisco Vega, has confirmed that three people were injured in a shootout between suspected poachers and Mexican marines early Thursday morning in San Felipe, a small fishing town on the coast of the Sea of Cortez.
– Gillnets are a piece of fishing tackle that have been banned in the Sea of Cortez because vaquita, a small porpoise considered the most endangered mammal on the planet, become entangled in them and drown. It is believed there are only 10 vaquita left in the Sea of Cortez, also known as the Upper Gulf of California, the vaquita’s only known range.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, March 29, 2018 by [03/29/2019]
– 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.

Dust and blood: Climate-induced conflict fuels migration, study finds by Nina Finley [03/29/2019]
– The Arab Spring, was largely political in nature, and fueled an exodus of migrants from across the swath of affected countries into Europe. Now, a study published in Global Environmental Change finds evidence that a changing climate was also a factor.
– The researchers hypothesized that abnormal and extreme climate events worsen conflicts, which in turn lead to migration.
– They say their results add evidence to the intensely debated narrative that links drought, at least in part, to the political unrest of the Arab Spring and subsequent Syrian civil war.

Global analysis of coral bleaching finds equatorial reefs less impacted by ocean warming by [03/28/2019]
– As rising sea surface temperatures drive more frequent and more intense coral bleaching episodes around the world, global models have often predicted that few healthy coral reefs will remain in tropical oceans a century from now. But a new study finds that coral reefs at or near Earth’s equator are actually impacted less by ocean warming than other corals.
– The global coral survey that informed the study included more than 3,300 study sites in 81 countries and was performed by U.S.-based NGO Reef Check between 1998 and 2017.
– The researchers’ results show that coral bleaching was most common in areas that experienced anomalously high water temperatures most frequently. They also showed that coral bleaching was much less common in areas with high variability in sea surface temperatures, and that, over the last decade, coral bleaching has occurred at temperatures about 0.5 ° Celsius higher than in the previous decade.


How land grabbers co-opt indigenous ritual traditions in Papua: Q&A with anthropologist Sophie Chao by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [03/28/2019]
In Indonesia, a company intimidates, evicts and plants oil palm without permits by Ian Morse [03/26/2019]
Brazil fails to give adequate public access to Amazon land title data, study finds by Liz Kimbrough [03/25/2019]
Madeira River dams may spell doom for Amazon’s marathon catfish: Studies by Gustavo Faleiros and Marcio Isensee e Sá [03/25/2019]
Nepal reckons with the dark side of its rhino conservation success by Abhaya Raj Joshi [03/25/2019]
Liberia’s new land rights law hailed as victory, but critics say it’s not enough by Jennifer O’Mahony [03/22/2019]