Newsletter 2019-05-02


Huge rubber plantation in Cameroon halts deforestation following rebuke by Rachel Fritts [05/01/2019]

– A massive rubber plantation operated by rubber supply group Halcyon Agri through its subsidiary Sudcam has come under fire in recent years for what many say are unsustainable environmental practices, lack of transparency, and negative impacts on local communities. Reports document the displacement of indigenous communities to make way for development, and felling has occurred right up against the intact rainforest of Cameroon’s Dja Faunal Reserve.
– Initially silent about the rebuke of Sudcam, Halcyon unveiled a number of sustainability measures late last year and has actively sought to open a dialogue with NGOs. In response to criticisms, the company issued a “cease and desist” order on logging in Sudcam, developed a Sustainable Natural Rubber Supply Chain Policy, and created an independent Sustainability Council.
– Satellite imagery indicates no further clearing has happened since the deforestation ban was issued in Dec. 2018.
– Representatives of conservation NGOs that have been critical of the plantation in the past say they are pleased with Halcyon Agri’s response, and hope that the company will continue to improve conditions at its Sudcam plantation.

Controversial aquaculture projects threaten Myanmar’s remaining mangroves by Wudan Yan [05/01/2019]

– Business tycoons have illegally obtained land permits to develop aquaculture in Tanintharyi without consulting the forestry department for input.
– Villagers living nearby say the aquaculture facilities impact water quality and their ability to fish.
– Authorities are looking more closely at the development of aquaculture in Tanintharyi following a visit in March by the state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, who spoke with locals complaining about the impacts of the industry on their daily lives.

Amazon fish kill at Sinop spotlights risk from 80+ Tapajós basin dams by Caio Freitas Paes [04/29/2019]

– Evidence shows that a 2019 fish kill in which 13 tons of dead fish were found in Brazil’s Teles Pires River was likely caused by anoxia (lack of oxygen) created by the filling of the Sinop dam’s reservoir by the Sinop HPP consortium (which includes French and Brazilian firms responsible for construction and operation).
– Scientists and environmentalists had warned of this and other ecological risks, but their calls for caution were ignored by regulators and resisted by the builder. Only 30 percent of vegetation was removed from the area of the reservoir, rather than the 100 percent required by law, which helped cause the die-off.
– The concern now is that similar incidents could occur elsewhere. There are at least 80 hydroelectric plants planned for the Juruena / Teles Pires basin alone — one of the Brazilian Amazon’s most important watersheds.
– Of immediate concern is the Castanheira dam on the Arinos River to be built by the federal Energy Research Company (EPE). Critics fear that, under the Jair Bolsonaro government, environmental licensing and construction will advance despite serious threats posed to indigenous reserves and the environment.

Guns, Corals and Steel: Are Nuclear Shipwrecks a Biodiversity Hotspot? by Greg Asner [04/28/2019]

– My team and I used deep technical diving techniques to explore the coral biodiversity of warships sunk in the 1946 nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll.
– Our surveys revealed that eight nuked warships harbored 27 percent of the world’s coral genera on their hulls, superstructures and armaments.
– At depths down to 55 meters (180 feet), these ships lie well below the 21st-century ocean warming danger zone.
– As a result, Bikini’s massive warships have become unexpected arks of coral biodiversity.


Hippos poop a lot of silica, and that’s critical for Africa’s rivers and lakes by Shreya Dasgupta [05/02/2019]
– By chomping on large amounts of silica-rich grass at night, then defecating into the Mara River during the day, hippos help move silicon from land to the water — something that’s vital for the health of the river and lakes further downstream, a new study has found.
– Researchers analyzed samples of soil, water, grass and hippo feces from various points along the Mara River, and found that hippos alone were likely contributing more than 76 percent of the silicon being transported along the river.
– If the Mara River’s hippos decline in number, it could lead to a reduction in the amount of silicon that makes its way to the lakes. This in turn could result in algal blooms that can use up the oxygen in the lakes downstream and kill the fish.

It’s now or never for Madagascar’s biodiversity, experts say by Malavika Vyawahare [05/02/2019]
– As Madagascar’s recently elected president completed his first 100 days in office, experts identify five priority areas for conservation.
– In a new comment piece in Nature Sustainability, the experts highlight the need for setting conservation goals that are aligned with the sustainable development of the country.
– Strengthening the rights of local people and the rule of law is key to successful conservation, the authors say.
– Urgent steps include tackling environmental crime, investing in protected areas, and mitigating environmental impacts from infrastructure development.

In Sri Lanka, a tiny new orchid bears an elephant’s name by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [05/01/2019]
– A new orchid species found only in Sri Lanka has been named after a wild elephant killed for its tusks in 2017.
– The botanists who discovered Pteroceras dalaputtuwa say they named it in the hope of highlighting the need to conserve the island’s rich plant and animal biodiversity.
– The surveys that yielded the new species also led to the rediscovery of another endemic orchid species, Pteroceras viridiflorum that was considered extinct and not seen in nearly 150 years.

Recently discovered Brazilian river dolphin’s calls could help us understand evolution of marine mammal communication by [05/01/2019]
– Until recently it was believed that the solitary nature of Araguaian dolphins meant that they wouldn’t have much use for communication. But scientists have now documented hundreds of sounds made by the dolphins — and they say that these vocalizations could help us better understand the evolution of underwater communication among marine mammals.
– Using underwater cameras and microphones to record interactions between the dolphins, researchers recorded 20 hours of vocalizations, which they classified into 13 different types of “tonal sounds” and 66 types of “pulsed calls.” In total, they identified 237 distinct types of calls.
– The most common sounds the dolphins made were “short two-component calls,” the researchers report in the study. About 35 percent of these calls were made by calves while reuniting with their mothers, which suggests that the calls are an important component of mother-calf communication.

Drone rediscovers Hawaiian flower thought to be extinct by [05/01/2019]
– A drone surveying a cliff face in a remote part of Kalalau Valley in Hawaii’s Kaua‘i Island has confirmed the presence of Hibiscadelphus woodii, a relative of hibiscus that was last seen alive in 2009, and thought to be extinct.
– Biologists first spotted four H. woodii plants in March 1991, but three of the plants were crushed and killed by falling boulders between 1995 and 1998. The remaining known individual was last observed alive in 2009, and then seen dead in 2011.
– However, by flying into difficult-to-reach areas, drones are uncovering secrets of previously unexplored cliff habitats.

Mobile app encourages Indian fishers to free entangled whale sharks by Vasudevan Sridharan [05/01/2019]
– When whale sharks in waters off the Indian state of Gujarat get trapped in fishing nets, a new mobile app lets fishers easily document their release.
– Conservationists and fishers alike hope the app will speed up the compensation fishers receive for damaged nets.
– However, fishers say the compensation, a maximum of 25,000 rupees ($360), should be increased to reflect the true loss of their revenue during their downtime without nets.

How India’s shrub frogs crossed a bridge to Sri Lanka – and changed forever by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [05/01/2019]
– A new study traces the migration of a genus of shrub frogs, endemic to India’s Western Ghats, to Sri Lanka some 27 million years ago.
– A constantly changing climate gave rise to various types of habitats over the course of geological time, allowing isolated populations of the same species to evolve in vastly different ways.
– One group of frogs later even migrated back across to India.
– The researchers hope to identify historical reasons that may be driving current trends of species diversity and distribution.

Western chimp numbers revised up to 53,000, but development threats loom by Ashoka Mukpo [05/01/2019]
– A new survey of data from the IUCN’s Apes Database indicates that there are nearly 53,000 western chimpanzees in West Africa.
– The number is significantly higher than previous estimates, which placed the population closer to 35,000, but the subspecies remains categorized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
– The authors of the study say their findings can help governments in the region ensure that proposed infrastructure projects do as little harm to the remaining chimpanzee populations as possible.

Audio: Saving forests and biodiversity by giving humans affordable healthcare by Mike Gaworecki [04/30/2019]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Kinari Webb, founder of Health in Harmony, an organization using healthcare for humans to save rainforests and their wildlife inhabitants.
– In the decade since Heath in Harmony launched its healthcare-for-conservation program in Indonesia’s Gunung Palung National Park, infant deaths in local communities have been reduced by more than two-thirds, the number of illegal logging households in the park has gone down by nearly 90 percent, the loss of forest has stabilized, 20,000 hectares of forest are being replanted, and habitat for 2,500 endangered Bornean Orangutans has been protected.
– Webb talks about radical listening, the tremendous impacts for rainforests and orangutans of providing affordable healthcare to local communities, and her plans to expand Health in Harmony’s efforts outside of Indonesia on this episode of the Newscast.

Why Myanmar villagers still engage in illegal logging of mangroves by Wudan Yan [04/30/2019]
– The Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar used to be rich in mangroves, but only 20 percent of the original coverage remains today.
– Although it’s illegal to log mangrove wood, people who live in villages without electricity still cut the increasingly fragmented mangrove forests of the delta for fuelwood for cooking.
– Logging isn’t just physically dangerous; it’s also legally risky.
– Fuel-efficient stoves, access to alternative fuels, and opportunities for employment could help reduce the amount of illegal logging of mangroves.

Building the world’s biggest MPA: Q&A with Goldman winner Jacqueline Evans by Monica Evans [04/30/2019]
– In July 2017, the South Pacific nation of the Cook Islands made a bold bid to convert its entire territorial waters, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), into a mixed-use marine protected area.
– Called Marae Moana, or “sacred ocean,” the MPA spans almost 2 million square kilometers (772,200 square miles), making it the biggest in the world, although only parts of it are strictly protected from fishing and other extractive activities.
– Jacqueline Evans, a marine conservationist, was the driving force behind the MPA.
– This week, Evans was awarded a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her work on Marae Moana.

EU holds the key to stop the ‘Notre Dame of forests’ from burning (commentary) by Claire Wordley [04/30/2019]
– Brazil’s President vowed to rip up the rainforest to make way for farming and mining, threatening the lives of Indigenous people.
– European scientists and Brazilian Indigenous groups say that the EU can halt the devastation. In ongoing trade talks, the EU must demand higher standards for Brazilian goods.
– EU citizens care about our planetary life support systems. Their leaders should reflect this on the global stage.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Javan rhino found dead in Indonesia, bringing global population down to 68 by Basten Gokkon [04/30/2019]
– The body of a juvenile male Javan rhinoceros was discovered last month in a mud pit in Ujung Kulon National Park, the sole remaining habitat for the species.
– The death of the rhino, known as Manggala, brings the known global population of his species down to 68 individuals.
– The body was intact when found, and preliminary investigations indicated the rhino did not die due to an infectious disease. A detailed post-mortem is being conducted, with results expected May 7.
– The body bore multiple wounds, leading park officials to suspect Manggala may have been attacked by an adult rhinoceros.

Meet the winners of the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize by Shreya Dasgupta [04/29/2019]
– This year is the 30th anniversary of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.
– Also called the Green Nobel Prize, the annual award honors grassroots environmental heroes from six continental regions: Europe, Asia, North America, Central and South America, Africa, and islands and island nations.
– This year’s winners are Alfred Brownell from Liberia, Bayarjargal Agvaantseren from Mongolia, Ana Colovic Lesoska from North Macedonia, Jacqueline Evans from the Cook Islands, Alberto Curamil from Chile, and Linda Garcia from the United States.

An epic Pacific survey reveals mixed fortunes for green and hawksbill turtles by Malavika Vyawahare [04/29/2019]
– An expansive survey over 13 years of green turtles and hawksbill turtles found the population of the former rebounding in the Pacific Basin.
– Both these species are historically threatened by overexploitation, fishing bycatch and habitat loss, and are protected under CITES.
– While green turtle numbers remained stable or increased in the regions covered by the in-water survey, hawksbill turtle numbers remain low.
– Another major study released this week found that warming global temperatures impact cold-blooded marine animals, such as turtles, twice as much as terrestrial ectotherms.

Brazil Supreme Court land demarcation decision sparks indigenous protest by Karla Mendes [04/26/2019]
– On January 1, the first day of his presidency, Jair Bolsonaro issued a provisional measure (MP 870) shifting decision-making power regarding indigenous reserve demarcations from Funai, Brazil’s indigenous agency, to the Ministry of Agriculture.
– MP 870 was quickly challenged as unconstitutional in Brazil’s Supreme Court, but on April 24 Supreme Court Justice Roberto Barroso rejected that challenge, though he did agree that if the Agriculture Ministry failed to carry through with indigenous demarcations in future, further legal action could go forward at that time.
– At their annual encampment in Brasilia from April 24-26, approximately 4,500 indigenous people from across Brazil protested Barroso’s demarcation decision by marching on the Supreme Court building. During the three-day encampment, indigenous groups also protested Bolsonaro’s plan to allow mining and agribusiness within indigenous reserves.
– Of special concern to indigenous people is the administration’s move toward adopting a policy of assimilation, which could result in the erosion of indigenous autonomy within ancestral reserves, and the absorption of indigenous cultures and traditions into Brazil’s predominant culture.

Phasepardhis and the lesser florican (commentary) by Neema Pathak Broome and Shrishtee Bajpai [04/26/2019]
– Across India, grasslands are highly degraded and mismanaged ecosystems. Often considered wastelands, they face the constant threats of being turned into tree plantations by the Forest Department, devoured by urban expansion and industrial development, or converted for cultivation of agricultural crops.
– At the root of these practices are pre-independence colonial policies. Such policies have continued in post-independence times, severely impacting the habitat and consequently populations of birds like the lesser florican and the great Indian bustard.
– Phasepardi people face a fate similar to their habitat, the grasslands, and their co-inhabitants, the grassland birds. Together with Phasepardhi youth, non-profit organization Samvedana has initiated a process towards conservation of the lesser florican, re-generation of degraded grasslands, and strengthening livelihoods and dignity for the Phasepardhis.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Weak governance undermines South America’s ocean ecosystems by Michelle Carrere [04/26/2019]
– Illegal fishing, overfishing and pollution are common problems in the waters of South America.
– For instance, Ecuadoran small-scale fishing captures at least 250,000 sharks every year, most of them apparently illegally, and 62 percent of Chile’s fisheries are overexploited or depleted.
– But the overarching problem, the one that enables the rest, is weak governance, according to experts.
– This article encapsulates a series of stories by Mongabay Latam examining the state of the sea in Chile, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador.

Large emperor penguin colony suffers ‘catastrophic’ breeding failure by [04/26/2019]
– Until recently, the emperor penguin colony at Halley Bay on the Weddell Sea in the Antarctic was one of the world’s largest, supporting between 14,000 to 25,000 breeding pairs, or around 5 to 9 percent of the bird’s global population.
– Since 2016, satellite images have shown that the colony has suffered a complete breeding failure, something that’s never been recorded before.
– This breeding failure started in 2016 when, following abnormal stormy weather, the sea ice broke up in October, long before the chicks had fledged and were ready to go out to sea. In 2017 and 2018, the sea ice broke up early too, leading to the likely death of all chicks.
– Around the same time, there was a massive increase in the numbers of emperor penguins at the Dawson-Lambton Glacier penguin colony 55 kilometers (34 miles) south of Halley Bay, suggesting that many of the emperor penguins from Halley Bay had moved to Dawson-Lambton.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, April 26, 2019 by [04/26/2019]
– 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.

That Malagasy forest featured in Netflix’s ‘Our Planet’? It’s vanishing fast by Malavika Vyawahare [04/26/2019]
– Parts of the Netflix series “Our Planet,” released this month, were shot in Kirindy Forest in the Menabe Antimena protected area in western Madagascar.
– It’s a biodiversity-rich area that supports plant and animal species found nowhere else, including baobabs, lemurs and fossas.
– Between the shooting for the series in 2016 and its release in 2019, a large patch of the forest was lost, including areas where filming took place.
– This reflects a larger trend of deforestation in the area and in Madagascar, which is experiencing massive deforestation pressure.

Ocean winds, wave heights have increased around the world by [04/25/2019]
– An analysis of 33 years’ worth of data finds that ocean winds and wave heights are becoming more extreme worldwide, with the Southern Ocean seeing the largest increases.
– In order to examine long-term trends, Ian Young and Agustinus Ribal of Australia’s University of Melbourne combined nearly 4 billion measurements of wind speeds and wave heights collected from 31 satellite missions between 1985 and 2018 and data from 80 ocean buoys deployed around the globe into a single, extensive dataset.
– The researchers found that there have been small increases in mean wind speed and wave height over the past 33 years, but they found stronger increases in extreme conditions, which they define in the paper as wind speed and wave height measurements that fall in the 90th percentile or above


Stinging ants: Amazon indigenous group girds itself to hold ancestral lands by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [04/25/2019]
Bolsonaro draws battle lines in fight over Amazon indigenous lands by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [04/24/2019]
Can rice husk briquettes stem the tide of mangrove deforestation in Myanmar? by Wudan Yan [04/23/2019]
Video: Meet Indonesia’s go-to expert witness against haze-causing plantation firms by [04/23/2019]
On one island, a microcosm of Vietnam’s environmental challenges by Michael Tatarski [04/22/2019]
Jane Goodall on Leonardo DiCaprio, her 85th birthday, and the need for hope by Rhett A. Butler [04/21/2019]