Newsletter 2019-04-11


In Indonesia, an earthquake leaves devastation on land and under the sea by Ian Morse [04/09/2019]

– The earthquake and tsunami that hit Palu last year devastated the coral reefs off coast of the Indonesian city.
– Researchers have expressed concern that waste and sediment from sand and rock mining operations along the Palu Bay could prevent the coral from growing back.
– Local officials say more action is needed to restore the coral in the bay.

3 massacres in 12 days: Rural violence escalates in Brazilian Amazon by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [04/08/2019]

– The Amazon has seen 3 probable massacres in 12 days — likely a record for the region — as violence has exploded in areas of heavy deforestation where the building of large dams has brought a capital infusion, sent land prices soaring, and invited land speculation by land grabbers, loggers and ranchers.
– A Brazilian landless movement peasant leader and a leading dam activist are among those killed. The attacks have been concentrated in areas centered around the Belo Monte mega-dam; in the Madeira basin near the Jirau dam; and near the Tucuruí dam on the Tocantins River in Pará state.
– Investigations are ongoing, but early reports are that at least 9 people are dead, with some witnesses saying more have been killed, especially rural landless peasant workers. Before becoming president, Jair Bolsonaro expressed strong hostility against the landless peasant movement (Movimento dos Sem Terra, or MST).
– The Bolsonaro Administration has yet to condemn or comment significantly on the recent wave of killings. As of this article’s publication, the international community has taken little notice of the spike in violence.

Indigenous leaders decry Colombia’s deadly crackdown on land protesters by Taran Volckhausen [04/04/2019]

– Protesters have blocked the Pan-American Highway connecting Colombia to Ecuador. Duque has refused to travel to the department of Cauca to meet with indigenous organizations unless the blockade is first lifted.
– Indigenous protesters face a crackdown by the government and violent attacks from illegal right-wing paramilitary groups. The mass collective action now includes 20,000 people from Afro-Colombian communities, student groups, and campesino associations critical of the government’s environmental and social policies.
– Dialogue between the government and the indigenous organizations was temporarily suspended following a police crackdown aimed at breaking the blockades, during which an indigenous protester was reportedly killed.


Arctic in trouble: sea ice melt falls to record lows for early April by Gloria Dickie [04/11/2019]
– As of April 9, the Arctic had around 13.6 million square kilometers (5.3 million square miles) of ice cover, putting it firmly below any other year on record for the same time of year, and nearly two weeks ahead of previous early April records set in 2017 and 2018.
– The implications of such low sea ice extent for this time of year is concerning to scientists. However, predicting seasonal ice melt is very difficult, and changes in Arctic weather could cause the early melt to stall, or even reverse to some degree.
– Two new Arctic studies are also troubling. Researchers have found that between 1998 and 2017, seventeen percent less ice left shallow continental shelf seas — nurseries for sea ice — to reach the Central Arctic Ocean and Fram Strait. This loss in ice being transported could have serious implications for Arctic sea ice melt and impact biodiversity as well.
– A second study found that that rising Arctic air temperatures are driving change across the entire ecosystem. Hotter temperatures are impacting forest and tundra growing seasons, increasing wildfires, boosting rain and snowfall, and melting ice — shifting the region from its 20th Century condition into an unprecedented state.

30 percent by 2030? Study maps out how to protect the world’s oceans by Taran Volckhausen [04/11/2019]
– Scientists have mapped out an enormous network of potential marine protected areas that cover more than one-third of the world’s oceans and represent all marine ecosystem categories.
– The proposed network is part of a wider movement to get countries to commit to protecting 30 percent of the oceans by 2030. Governments are already working toward an international pledge to protect at least 10 percent by 2020.
– The scientists released their report outlining the network on April 4, a day before the conclusion of the second round of negotiations at the United Nations toward a landmark treaty to address the ongoing decline of marine biodiversity on the high seas.

EU consumption drives ‘import’ of tropical deforestation by Carinya Sharples [04/11/2019]
– A new study has calculated that one-sixth of the carbon footprint of the average diet in the EU can be directly linked to deforestation in tropical countries.
– Although many developed countries have achieved stable forest cover, researchers found that one-third of net forest gains in these “post-forest transition” countries were offset by imports of commodities causing deforestation elsewhere.
– In the face of growing criticism, the EU is preparing to launch a new initiative to tackle imported commodities directly linked to deforestation.

No rhino census this year as Nepal runs short of funds for survey by Abhaya Raj Joshi [04/11/2019]
– A planned census of Nepal’s greater one-horned rhinoceros will not take place this year due to a lack of funds.
– Revenue from ticket sales at national parks is divided between the government’s general budget and funds to support local communities, leaving wildlife officials dependent on donors to finance activities like the census.
– This year’s census was believed to be particularly critical because large numbers of Nepal’s rhinos are dying due to unexplained or natural causes, prompting questions about the carrying capacity of Chitwan National Park, the country’s rhino stronghold.
– Experts believe a census this year could reveal a decline in population, a politically unpalatable outcome in a country where rhino conservation is a matter of national prestige.

Indonesia’s threat to exit Paris accord over palm oil seen as cynical ploy by Hans Nicholas Jong [04/11/2019]
– A top Indonesian minister says the country may consider pulling out of the Paris climate agreement in retaliation for a European policy to phase out palm oil from biofuels by 2030.
– Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for maritime affairs, says Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, can follow in the footsteps of the United States, which has declared its withdrawal from the climate pact, and Brazil, which is considering doing the same.
– The threat is the latest escalation in a diplomatic spat that has also seen Indonesia and Malaysia, the No. 2 palm oil producer, threaten retaliatory trade measures against the European Union.
– The EU says its policy is driven by growing consumer concerns about the sustainability of palm oil, which in Indonesia is often grown on plantations for which vast swaths of rainforest have had to be cleared.

Peru: Get to know the diverse wildlife of the cloud forests of Pampa Hermosa | VIDEOS by Yvette Sierra Praeli [04/11/2019]
– Biologist Sean McHugh, along with filmmaker and photographer Jasmina McKibben, recently traveled to the Colibri cloud forest in Peru’s Pampa Hermosa district in search of the spectacled bear.
– At least 25 different species of mammals were observed in a rarely-investigated area of the Junín region of Peru.
– Two spectacled bears and a new population of yellow-tailed woolly monkeys were captured on video.

Experts warn: As G-20 tariffs drop, carbon emissions skyrocket by Ashoka Mukpo [04/10/2019]
– A study published by researchers in Japan shows that tariff reductions by G-20 countries will sharply increase global carbon dioxide emissions.
– In some countries, cheaper imports would lead to “embodied carbon emissions” rising by more than 100%.
– Experts say the findings demonstrate that trade arrangements have a heavy impact on emissions that outweighs the effect of national climate policies.

Kenya on the brink of acquitting ivory trafficker number four (commentary) by Chris Morris [04/10/2019]
– On April 11, Chief Magistrate Francis Kyambia is set to make judgement in a Mombasa, Kenya court on the ivory trafficking prosecution against Ephantus Mbare Gitonga. A not-guilty verdict, if rendered, will be the fourth consecutive acquittal in a major ivory case in the last fifteen months.
– There will be many who find this hard to believe: Surely the only acquittal was that against Feisal Mohamed Ali in August 2018? He had originally been convicted in July 2017 for being in possession of 2.2 metric tons of ivory and sentenced to 20 years in jail with a $200,000 fine to boot. The widely celebrated finding was overturned in August of last year when Lady Justice D.O. Chepkwony of the Kenya High Court reached the decision that the initial ruling was flawed on multiple grounds.
– There are, however, two other acquittals in major ivory cases that quietly came and went with nary a whisper of surprise, dismay, or disillusionment. And now clearing agent Ephantus Mbare Gitonga is on the verge of yet another acquittal.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Russia plans to release nearly 100 belugas, orcas from icy ‘whale jail’ by [04/10/2019]
– Russian authorities have announced that they will release all 97 whales currently being held captive in Russia’s Far East.
– The whales made news in November last year when an aerial drone video showed several of them cramped inside small, rectangular sea pens at Srednyaya Bay, which the local media labeled a “whale jail.”
– The initial video showed some 90 belugas and 11 killer whales or orcas in the pens, caught by four companies that allegedly planned to illegally sell the animals to Chinese aquariums and amusement parks. Experts believe some of the whales may have since died.

Indonesia creates three marine protected areas within Coral Triangle by Mahmud Ichi [04/10/2019]
– Indonesia has designated three new marine protected areas (MPAs) in the waters of eastern North Maluku province.
– The new protected zones are expected to improve the local fisheries sector and support national food security.
– The establishment of the areas is part of the government’s target to create 200,000 square kilometers (77,200 square miles) of MPAs by 2020; it has already achieved 96 percent of that goal.

There is no conservation justification for bringing the tapir back to Borneo (commentary) by Carl Traeholt [04/09/2019]
– The past few years there has been a dedicated lobbying/promotional campaign among local amateur naturalists, professional conservationists, and international researchers to bring back Malay tapirs, Tapirus indicus, to Borneo.
– A recent article in Mongabay is yet another push towards this intended goal. It is well-written and a welcome contribution to this important discussion. Unfortunately, it misses a few important points.
– The introduction of tapirs to Borneo is not needed at this point in time and — more importantly — it serves no real or perceived conservation needs at present or in the near future.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Madagascar: Rio Tinto mine breaches sensitive wetland by Edward Carver [04/09/2019]
– A large mineral sands mine in southeastern Madagascar has trespassed into a “sensitive zone,” violating national law and raising the possibility that radionuclide-enriched tailings could enter a lake that local people use for drinking water, two recent studies confirm.
– Rio Tinto, the London-based multinational that owns the mine, acknowledged the breach for the first time in a March 23 memo, more than five years after the breach initially occurred.
– Rio Tinto will hold its annual general meeting April 10 in London.
– The director of an NGO that commissioned one of the studies is a shareholder and said she hopes to speak about what’s happened at the lake.

Hunting pumas to save deer could backfire, new research suggests by John C. Cannon [04/09/2019]
– A new study finds that the age of individual pumas near Jackson, Wyoming, had the greatest influence over the prey they chose to hunt.
– Older mountain lions went after elk, among the largest prey species in the study area, while the younger cats hunted small animals like raccoons as well as mule deer.
– The research calls into question the validity of recent wildlife management plans in the western United States to grow mule deer populations by culling mountain lions, the authors say.

Report highlights secretive business dealings of Indonesian VP hopeful by Hans Nicholas Jong [04/09/2019]
– A new report links two of Indonesia’s most prominent political figures, one of them a vice presidential candidate, with mysterious offshore financial transactions related to coal companies they owned.
– The report, from the international anti-corruption NGO Global Witness, suggests that businessmen and politicians Sandiaga Uno and Luhut Pandjaitan both may have taken advantage of corporate secrecy techniques that obscured ownership of companies and flows of millions of dollars in cash.
– While there is no evidence that Luhut or Sandiaga have engaged in any illegal activity, the issues raised in the report are at the heart of a global financial system that has allowed the tools of corporate secrecy, which can facilitate corruption, tax dodging and conflicts of interest, to spread unchecked.
– Sandiaga is running for vice president in the April 17 election on a ticket led by former military general Prabowo Subianto. Luhut, himself a former general, is a senior minister and close adviser to the incumbent, President Joko Widodo.

Ice-free Alps? It could be a reality by 2100 by Malavika Vyawahare [04/09/2019]
– Even without additional warming, Alpian glaciers stand to lose 50 percent of their glacial mass by 2050 because of warming that has already occurred.
– The Alps are not just an iconic tourist destination, they also feed rivers and support ecosystems downstream.
– A majority of ice loss cannot be avoided, researchers say, but stronger actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions can help limit the loss.

Sumatran governor jailed over bribes to award infrastructure projects by [04/09/2019]
– A court in Jakarta has sentenced the governor of the province of Aceh, in Sumatra, to seven years in prison for taking bribes to award local infrastructure contracts.
– Irwandi Yusuf had previously gained a reputation as a “green governor” for his policies championing environmental conservation and sustainable development of the province’s natural resources.
– He was arrested last July for taking a bribe from the head of a district in Aceh to approve infrastructure projects there, and for taking kickbacks from members of his campaign team to farm out government contracts.

Natural forests best bet for fighting climate change, analysis finds by Malavika Vyawahare [04/09/2019]
– Natural forests store more carbon for longer compared to plantations and agroforestry.
– The carbon sequestration potential of natural forests is 40 times greater than that of plantations, a new analysis has found.
– But countries like Brazil, China and Indonesia are relying more on expanding plantations to meet their regreening goals.
– About 66 percent of forest restoration commitments in tropical and subtropical countries involve planting some kind of agricultural crop.

Belize to nearly triple area under strict marine protected areas by Shreya Dasgupta [04/08/2019]
– The government of Belize has approved a plan to expand its marine areas designated as no-take zones from 4.5 percent to 11.6 percent of its total waters.
– Much of the expansion will cover deep-sea areas at depths ranging from 200 to 3,000 meters (660 to 9,850 feet), currently underrepresented in Belize’s system of marine protected areas, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
– The expansion will also include a no-take area in Belize’s exclusive economic zone, covering an extensive coral reef complex known as the Corona Reef.

Photos: What are vipers? by Kevin Torregrosa [04/08/2019]
– This photo post comes via Mongabay’s partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Wild View blog.
– Under this partnership, we publish occasional original contributions from Wild View that highlights an animal species or group.
– In this post, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Herpetology Collection Manager Kevin Torregrosa writes about vipers.
– Photos by WCS Staff Photographer Julie Larsen Maher.

Study concludes that nature benefits when more women make land management decisions by [04/08/2019]
– A study led by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) and published in the journal Nature Climate Change last month explored whether or not gender quotas for local governing bodies could help reduce deforestation while addressing local inequalities at the same time.
– For the study, researchers traveled to 31 villages near collectively managed forests in three developing countries — Indonesia, Peru, and Tanzania — and asked 440 forest users in those communities to play a tabletop simulation game in which they had to make decisions about how many trees to harvest from a shared forest. The participants were divided into groups of eight, and half the groups were required to have women as 50 percent of their members. The other half of the groups had no gender quotas.
– The authors write in the study that their results “show that gender quotas make interventions more effective and lead to more equal sharing of intervention benefits.”

Fishing for sharks in Honduras’s sanctuary seas: Q&A with biologist Gabriela Ochoa by Michelle Carrere [04/08/2019]
– In 2011, Honduras declared the creation of a shark sanctuary encompassing all its waters.
– A 2016 decree allows for the sale of sharks caught incidentally, but in the absence of monitoring and inspection, hundreds of sharks are still being caught daily during certain seasons to supply an Easter-time demand for dried fish.
– Mongabay spoke with marine biologist and conservationist Gabriela Ochoa, who studies Honduras’s ongoing shark fishery, about the trade.

Planning without action will see the Javan rhino go extinct (commentary) by Haerudin R. Sadjudin [04/08/2019]
– Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia’s Java island is the last remaining habitat on Earth for the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros.
– The rhino population is holding steady, but its survival is threatened by natural disasters and a genetic bottleneck due to its small population.
– Conservation efforts, particularly finding a second home for these creatures in a lower-risk area, have long been planned, and now is the time to implement all of them to protect the rhinos from extinction.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Illegal online sales driving mercury pollution crisis in Indonesia by Luh De Suriyani, Nurdin Tubaka [04/08/2019]
– Illegal online mercury sales are booming in Indonesia.
– Use of the toxic metal was banned in 2014, but it remains popular among small-time miners, for whom it’s become increasingly easy to procure online.
– It’s a quick and dirty process that constitutes the livelihoods of some 1 million people spread across the country. But prolonged exposure to mercury can have severe health consequences.

Climb confirms that the world’s tallest tropical tree tops 100 meters by John C. Cannon [04/07/2019]
– A team of scientists has found and mapped the tallest tree on record in the tropics, standing at more than 100 meters (328 feet).
– Climber Unding Jami with the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership scaled the tree and verified its height.
– The structure of the tree, determined from airborne lidar surveys as well as laser scans from the ground and drone photographs, provides insight into why these trees grow so high.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, April 5, 2018 by [04/05/2019]
– 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.

On a wing and a prayer? Evidence for ways to conserve bats (commentary) by Claire Wordley [04/05/2019]
– Globally, around a quarter of bat species are threatened by factors including habitat loss, roost destruction, hunting, and climate change.
– To find the most effective ways of conserving these creatures, researchers at Conservation First, the University of Leeds, and the University of Cambridge (where I work) have updated a report that gathers together information on how well attempts to conserve bats actually worked.
– While the new bat synopsis gathers more information than ever before on ways to reduce the impact of developments from roads to lighting and from farming to forestry, it still highlights shocking gaps in the evidence.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Unusual lizard lays eggs, then births a live baby — in the same pregnancy by [04/05/2019]
– In a lab at the University of Sydney, a female yellow-bellied three-toad skink first laid eggs, then gave birth to a live baby, all part of the same pregnancy.
– This is the first time biologists have observed both egg-laying and live-bearing in a single litter of a vertebrate animal, researchers say in a new study.
– While the three-toed skink is known to have a dual mode of reproduction — some populations lay eggs, while others give birth to live babies — what mode the skink follows seems to be influenced by genetics and not environmental conditions, previous research has found.
– But the latest study suggests that individuals may be able to “switch” between reproductive modes depending on the situation, researchers say.

Indonesia arrests 7 for allegedly selling Komodo dragons over Facebook by Basten Gokkon [04/05/2019]
– Indonesian officials have arrested seven suspected members of a trafficking network that sold at least 40 Komodo dragons, along with other rare species, through Facebook and other social media platforms.
– Komodo dragons are found only in Indonesia and are a protected species, which means the suspects could face up to five years in prison and up to $7,000 each in fines for trading the animals.
– Six baby Komodo dragons were seized from the suspects, and are now being cared for by conservation officials ahead of a possible release back into the wild.
– The arrests have highlighted the dominant role of social media platforms in facilitating the illegal trade in Indonesia’s protected wildlife, with up to 98 percent of transactions believed to be carried out online.

Indonesia oil slicks highlight weak enforcement against bilge dumping by Basten Gokkon [04/05/2019]
– An environmental monitoring group has published reports saying that two ships have been pumping their waste oil out to sea, in a process known as bilge dumping, off the coast of Sumatra.
– The findings are based on a combination of satellite imagery of the slicks, which extend a total of 135 kilometers (84 miles), and tracking data from the ships.
– Activists say these findings highlight just how common bilge dumping is in Indonesian waters, and the lack of enforcement against the practice.
– Officials had not commented on the matter as of the time this story was published.

Human population boom led to Madagascar’s megafauna extinction: Study by Malavika Vyawahare [04/04/2019]
– Large animals, called megafauna, went extinct in Madagascar about 1,000 years ago.
– Humans are believed to have played a major role in their disappearance.
– A human population boom, supported by the shift from a hunter-gatherer to a pastoralist-herder lifestyle, was a key driver, a new study says.
– Large populations meant more hunting pressure and habitat degradation, ultimately leading to extinction.

Those kicks were fast as lightning: Kangaroo rats evade deadly snake strikes by Sue Palminteri [04/04/2019]
– A research team has shown that desert kangaroo rats fend off predatory rattlesnakes through a combination of speedy reaction times, powerful near-vertical leaps, and mid-air, ninja-style kicks.
– Locating snakes through radio tracking and filming snake-kangaroo rat interactions with high-speed video cameras enabled the team to analyze strike and reaction speed, distance and angle the rats moved to avoid being bitten, and aspects of the impressive maneuverability displayed by most kangaroo rats in the recordings.
– About 81 percent of recorded snake strikes were accurate, yet the snake actually bit the kangaroo rat in just 47 percent of the strikes and latched on long enough in just 22 percent of strikes to actually kill and eat the kangaroo rat.
– The slowed-down videos demonstrate the importance of kangaroo rats’ physical features, including long tails and powerful legs, and mid-air maneuverability in escaping predation.


Panamanian indigenous people act to protect the forest from invading loggers by Guido Bilbao [04/02/2019]
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, grassroots opposition stalls another hydropower project by Jordan Salama [04/03/2019]
Indigenous groups in Ecuador convene to talk resistance in the Amazon by Kimberley Brown [04/01/2019]
Questions remain as Vietnam reaches major REDD+ milestone by Michael Tatarski [04/01/2019]