Newsletter 2019-05-09


Dismantling of Brazilian environmental protections gains pace by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [05/08/2019]

– In his first 100 days in office, Jair Bolsonaro has moved fast to change personnel and reduce the authority of IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, and ICMBio, which manages its conservation areas. His actions are seen as most benefiting ruralists — wealthy elite agribusiness and mining interests.
– Presidential Decree No. 9,760 creates “conciliation centers” to investigate environmental fines, and provides multiple new ways for appealing fines, while also preventing funds gathered via penalties from being distributed to NGOs for environmental projects.
– Some worry the government may use the new decree as a precedent for forgiving the hefty R$250 million (US$63.4 million) fine imposed by IBAMA on Brazil’s gigantic Vale mining company for environmental law infractions related to the Brumadinho tailings dam disaster, in which 235 people died.
– A large number of IBAMA staff have been fired, including 21 of its 27 regional superintendents, responsible for combating deforestation. Many of Bolsonaro’s replacements within the top ranks of the Environment Ministry, IBAMA and ICMBio are coming from the military.

In Ethiopia, a community leans on customs to save an antelope from extinction by Maheder Haileselassie Tadese [05/06/2019]

– By 1992, the animal had been hunted almost to extinction in the Senkele Swayne’s Hartebeest Sanctuary, one of the last places where it’s found.
– Traditional leaders banded together to convince their community to end the hunting of the hartebeest for food, on the grounds that it went against their age-old customs.
– The Swayne’s hartebeest population has since rebounded, although threats to its survival remain, both from natural predation and from human activities.

China, EU, US trading with Brazilian firms fined for Amazon deforestation: report by Karla Mendes [05/06/2019]

– Soy, cattle, timber and other commodity producers fined for Amazon illegal deforestation in Brazil continue to sell their products to companies in China, the European Union and United States according to a new report. The document names 23 importing companies, including giants Bunge, Cargill and Northwest Hardwoods.
– Large international investment firms, such as BlackRock, also continue to pump money into Brazilian firms, despite their being fined for illegal Amazon forest loss by the Brazilian government, according to the report. Many Brazilian producers deny the accuracy of the Amazon Watch document.
– Forest losses in the Brazilian Amazon jumped 54 percent in January 2019 compared to a year ago, and are expected to increase under the Bolsonaro administration which has announced plans for extensive environmental deregulation, and is making an aggressive push to develop the Amazon rainforest for agribusiness and mining.
– With Brazilian government checks on deforestation diminishing, many analysts feel that the only way to limit the loss of Amazon forests now will be to shed a bright light on global commodities supply chains in order to make consumers worldwide aware of the participation of international companies in deforestation.

Most communities not seeing promised oil palm payoff in Borneo, study finds by Loren Bell [05/06/2019]

– A new study analyzing standards of living over a 14-year period across more than 5,000 villages in Indonesian Borneo finds that oil palm development can have both positive and negative impacts on various aspects of a village’s well-being. The key difference: how intact their forest was to begin with.
– For market-based communities, which have already experienced a higher rate of previous forest degradation, oil palm expansion brought a mixed bag of impacts. These villages saw an increase in “basic” and “financial” well-being over all time scales when compared with similar communities without new plantations, but also suffered more rapid detriment to “environmental” and “social” factors.
– The impacts were much starker for subsistence-based communities, which depend upon the forest for their livelihoods. These villages suffered overall decreases in all well-being categories in the wake of new oil palm development when compared to similar communities without. The proportion of houses without access to electricity and toilets increased with the influx of migrant workers.

In Indonesia, bigger catches for a fishing village protecting its mangroves by Aseanty Pahlevi [05/03/2019]

– For years, weak law enforcement and low public awareness meant environmentally dangerous practices were commonly employed in countries like Indonesia.
– But local and national government reforms, combined with customary traditions and ambitious NGO programs, are beginning to address the problem.
– One village in western Borneo has seen a dramatic recovery in fish stocks after temporary fisheries closures were enacted.

Illegal logging poised to wipe Cambodian wildlife sanctuary off the map by Chris Humphrey [05/02/2019]

– Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary has lost more than 60 percent of its forest cover since it was established in 1993, with most of the loss occurring since 2010.
– A big driver behind the deforestation in Beng Per and in many other Cambodian protected areas was Economic Land Concessions (ELCs), which are areas of land – often in protected areas – allocated by the government to corporations aiming to invest in agriculture for short-term financial gains. Large areas of Beng Per were carved out for ELCs in 2011.
– While the Cambodian government stopped officially allocating ELCs in 2012, deforestation is still hitting the park hard as small-scale illegal logging gobbles up remaining forest outside ELC areas. And once the land is denuded, it’s considered fair game for new plantation development.
– Experts working on the ground say corruption is fuelling the widespread destruction of Cambodia’s forests, and is deeply entrenched in many different sectors including the federal government and local forest protection agencies.


Pressure mounts on EU to curb Brazilian deforestation, human rights abuses by Sarah Sax [05/09/2019]
– Concern is rising among Brazilian socioenvironmental NGOs and internationally over the new threats to indigenous people and rising deforestation seen under President Jair Bolsonaro — his administration completed its first 100 days in office in April.
– The EU is Brazil’s second largest trading partner, but currently lacks any binding trade regulations on agricultural goods linked to eliminating deforestation, reducing environmental degradation, and protecting against human rights violations.
– A new report by more than 20 NGOs — including FERN, Forest Peoples Programme, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Amazon Watch — is calling on the EU to include provisions in trade agreements now under negotiation, such as the EU/MERCOSOR agreement, that would fully protect forests and indigenous rights.

Mercury poisoning chief among health problems facing Peru’s uncontacted tribes by Ramiro Escobar [05/09/2019]
– In Peru, about 5,000 indigenous people belonging to 18 different ethnic groups live in isolation, and many more live in a state of initial contact with the outside world.
– One of the most urgent problems facing these communities is mercury contamination, which affects dozens of members of the Nahua indigenous community.
– The Nahua live in the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti Territorial Reserve. They have access to a medical post, but it lacks necessary resources and permanent staff.

Goldman Prize winner survives armed attack on Afro-Colombian social leaders by Taran Volckhausen [05/09/2019]
– Last week on May 4, two bodyguards were wounded when armed gunmen tried to storm a meeting of Afro-Colombian activists that included 2018 Goldman Prize winner Francia Márquez.
– The community leaders had been meeting to discuss future actions following a massive land rights protests last month in Colombia’s Cauca region in which one protester was killed by armed forces.
– In March and April, Afro-Colombian activists participated in an indigenous-led protest with 20,000 people against the government’s environmental and social policies.

Meet the new species of venomous pit viper described from India by Shreya Dasgupta [05/09/2019]
– Wildlife researcher Rohan Pandit and his teammate Wangchu Phiang first stumbled upon the new-to-science pit viper species in May 2016 while surveying biodiversity in the state of Arunachal Pradesh in India.
– In a new paper, researchers have described this species and named it Trimeresurus arunachalensis, or Arunachal pit viper.
– While the researchers have described the Arunachal pit viper based on a single specimen, they say the species’ unique features distinguish it from all the other known species of pit vipers.

Amid aquaculture boom, report guides investors toward sustainability by Max Radwin [05/08/2019]
– More than half of all seafood now comes from farms, and that percentage is projected to rise.
– However, environmental problems currently bedevil the aquaculture industry, and a consensus on the most sustainable practices has yet to emerge.
– A new report released May 8 aims to guide the private sector, NGOs and policymakers toward better aquaculture strategies.
– In place of business-as-usual practices, the report advocates for three alternatives: a land-based aquaculture strategy called recirculating aquaculture systems; offshore fish farms; and seaweed and shellfish farming.

Two-thirds of Earth’s longest rivers no longer free-flowing by Mike Gaworecki [05/08/2019]
– Just one-third of the planet’s 242 longest rivers still flow uninterrupted along their entire length, most of them located in remote regions of the Arctic, the Amazon Basin, and the Congo Basin, according to a study to be published in Nature tomorrow.
– The international team of researchers behind the study, led by Günther Grill of Canada’s McGill University, determined that, of the 91 rivers longer than 1,000 kilometers (about 600 miles) that once emptied out into an ocean, only 21 are still unobstructed from their source to the sea.
– Dams and associated reservoirs are the biggest causes of river obstruction, the researchers say. There are nearly 60,000 large dams in the world already, and as many as 3,700 more large hydroelectric dams are currently in the planning stages or under construction.
– Healthy rivers provide a number of benefits to mankind, from recreation to food security. Ensuring the connectivity of the world’s remaining free-flowing rivers is also critical if we’re to preserve biodiversity in freshwater systems.

New map shows warming waters where coral reefs could be under threat by Shreya Dasgupta [05/08/2019]
– A new interactive map can help you identify, in near-real-time, areas where the sea is warming up at alarming levels, increasing the risk of coral reef bleaching.
– The Coral Reefs at Risk of Bleaching Operations Dashboard, launched by Esri, a company that creates geographic information systems (GIS) and mapping software products, relies on data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch program.
– While the satellite data itself isn’t new, the way the data is displayed is more understandable for the general public, the tool’s developer says.
– The Esri map distills NOAA’s data and displays regions that are facing both high heat stress, increasing the risk of coral bleaching, such as those under Alert 1 and Alert 2 categories, as well as areas where the likelihood of coral bleaching is low or none at the moment, such as those under “Warning” and “Watch.”

Counting on eDNA for a faster, easier way to count coral by Stephanie Parker [05/08/2019]
– Environmental DNA, known as eDNA, is genetic material sloughed off by animals or plants and found in soil, air, or water, and allows scientists to collect and analyze genetic material without having to retrieve it from a species directly.
– Researchers in Hawaii found that the amount of eDNA in water samples is related to coral abundance and thus can be used to conduct accurate surveys of local coral populations using less time and money than sending SCUBA divers down to do the surveys.
– Coral reefs have the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem globally and are one of the most threatened, thanks to climate change and direct human impact. eDNA could help researchers evaluate coral abundance and health more quickly, easily and cost-effectively.

‘To save a forest you have to destroy a nicer one’: U.S. Marines target forest in Guam by Nina Finley [05/08/2019]
– The U.S. Marine Corps is building a base on Guam that will destroy 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of limestone forest, habitat for numerous endangered species.
– As mitigation, the military is funding forest “enhancement” to remove invasive species from fenced zones and restore seed dispersal by native birds.
– The fence’s success depends on maintenance into perpetuity, but biologists on Guam question how long funding will really last.

What we learned from two years of investigating corrupt land deals in Indonesia by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [05/08/2019]
– The now-concluded investigative series “Indonesia for Sale” examined the corruption underpinning Indonesia’s land rights and climate crisis in unparalleled depth.
– The series was a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an investigative journalism initiative founded at Earthsight in 2017.
– In this final commentary, we explore how tackling corruption is a vital precondition for Indonesia to meet its climate targets and resolve land conflicts, and the vital role of government and civil society in doing so.

Climate change is causing marine species to disappear from their habitat twice as fast as land animals by [05/07/2019]
– New research finds that marine animals have disappeared from their habitat due to global warming at twice the rate of wildlife on land.
– According to the study, published late last month in Nature, the loss of whole populations of ocean-dwelling species not only depletes the genetic diversity of those species, but can also trigger a cascade of impacts on predators and prey, thereby altering entire marine ecosystems.
– The heightened vulnerability of marine life to global warming could have significant implications for the food supply and economies of seafood-reliant human communities.

Historic win by Ecuador’s Waorani could re-shape extraction activities by Kimberley Brown [05/07/2019]
– The Waorani indigenous community in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest filed a lawsuit against three government bodies earlier this year for conducting a faulty consultation process in 2012 that resulted in putting their territory up for an international oil auction.
– A regional court tribunal ruled in favor of the community, saying the 2012 consultation process violated the community’s rights.
– The ruling is historic, as it gives communities an extra legal tool to demand their right to self-determination and opens the door to reshape the country’s free, prior and informed consent laws.

’Unprecedented’ loss of biodiversity threatens humanity, report finds by [05/07/2019]
– The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a summary of far-reaching research on the threats to biodiversity on May 6.
– The findings are dire, indicating that around 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction.
– The full 1,500-page report, to be released later this year, raises concerns about the impacts of collapsing biodiversity on human well-being.

Radio drama encourages Belizean fishers to follow the rules by Ashley Stumvoll [05/06/2019]
– The Belizean radio show “Punta Fuego” teaches local fishing communities about fishing regulations.
– Listeners can phone in to the show’s “Talking Fuego” segment and interact with hosts and conservation experts.
– The show aims to earn fishers’ support for the expansion of “replenishment zones.” In April, the government approved these new strictly protected areas to give marine species a break from fishing pressure.
– Critics say the show doesn’t address a wider problem: fishers won’t follow regulations that the government does not enforce, even if they understand the purpose.

‘Landscape of fearlessness’: bushbuck emboldened following top-predator decline in Mozambique by Sophie Manson [05/06/2019]
– Bushbuck in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park have become increasingly fearless in their foraging habits, changing from foraging exclusively in woodland areas to braving open floodplains.
– Following years of civil war, populations of large herbivores and carnivores in Gorongosa declined by over 90 percent, with some top predators completely extirpated.
– Researchers from Princeton University conducted experiments using state-of-the-art equipment to establish whether the bushbucks’ use of floodplains for foraging was due to the decline in predation threat.
– Following experimentally simulated predation events, bushbuck significantly increased their use of tree cover, indicating that the reintroduction of top predators would restore a ‘landscape of fear’.

All you need is human feces: The strange world of dung beetle sampling by Gianluca Cerullo [05/06/2019]
– Dung beetles have emerged as one of the most intensively studied animal groups in tropical rainforests.
– They are very easy and cheap to survey and are strong indicators of the health of rainforests and the presence of diverse mammal communities.
– Dung beetles also carry out critical roles and functions in rainforests, including spreading seeds and nutrients, but some of these are unraveling as humans drive species to extinction.

Slave labor found at second Starbucks-certified Brazilian coffee farm by Daniel Camargos contributor for Repórter Brasil [05/03/2019]
– In July 2018, Brazilian labor inspectors found six employees at the Cedro II farm in Minas Gerais state working in conditions analogous to slavery, including 17-hour shifts. The farm was later added to Brazil’s “Dirty List” of employers found to be utilizing slavery-like labor conditions.
– The Cedro II farm’s coffee production operation had been quality certified by both Starbucks and Nestlé-controlled brand Nespresso. The companies had bought coffee from the farm, but ceased working with it when they learned it was dirty listed.
– 187 employers are on Brazil’s current Dirty List, which is released biannually by what was previously the Ministry of Labor, and is now part of the Ministry of Economy; 48 newly listed companies or individual employers on the April 2019 Dirty List were monitored between 2014 and 2018.

When losing your soil means losing your livelihood (commentary) by Sophie Erfurth [05/03/2019]
– In Niger, where agriculture is the main source of income, the message is simple: Losing your soil means losing your livelihood.
– The ability to grow food is inextricably linked to the productive capacity of the soil. In the case of Niger’s soil, the picture is bleak: The soils hold poor structural stability, low nutrient holding capacity, low water retention capacity… the list goes on.
– How can soil management be improved in a region that has little to no resources? It is indisputable that Niger should reverse unsustainable agricultural practices, but how realistic is this when the very livelihood of Niger’s people depends on extracting the maximum benefit from the soil?
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, May 3, 2019 by [05/03/2019]
– 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.

Malaysia calls on Southeast Asia to back palm oil against ‘unfair’ claims by Hans Nicholas Jong [05/03/2019]
– The Malaysian government has called for support from fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to support the region’s palm oil industry in the wake of a European Union policy to stop recognizing the commodity as a biofuel.
– Malaysia and fellow ASEAN member Indonesia supply more than 80 percent of the world’s palm oil, while Singapore, another ASEAN state, is home to some of the world’s biggest palm oil companies and the banks that finance the industry.
– Malaysia’s minister of primary industries, Teresa Kok, says there’s a global campaign to portray the production of palm oil as exceptionally destructive, which she calls “extremely provocative and belittling.”
– While both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments have instated policies to curb the clearing of rainforest for palm plantations, there still remain challenges to ensuring sustainability across the wider industry, environmental activists say.

Conservationists call for lasting ban on trade in Malagasy precious timber by Malavika Vyawahare [05/03/2019]
– Precious rosewood and ebony has been plundered from Madagascar’s forests for decades, threatening the survival of these hardwood tree species.
– Recent regulations have led to the Madagascar government accumulating a stockpile of the illegal precious wood, whose fate remains undecided.
– A new paper calls for species in two genera, Dalbergia and Diospyros, to be placed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty regulating trade in threatened species.
– The move would ban all trade in the precious wood and thwart an attempt by the government to legalize and sell off the existing stockpile.

In traffic-blighted Penang, transport upgrade plans raise hopes and fears by Danielle Keeton-Olsen [05/03/2019]
– The government of Penang, Malaysia, has big plans to upgrade the state’s transport system via a new network of highways, bridges, tunnels and rail lines.
– While many are hopeful the new roads will ease the island’s infamous traffic, conservationists are concerned that the plan will lock Penang into a car-oriented future.
– One highway project has already been hit by a deadly landslide, adding to residents’ concerns.

Bolsonaro administration authorizes 150+ pesticides in first 100 days by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [05/02/2019]
– With Brazil’s Bolsonaro administration in power for just 100 days, it has already approved 152 new pesticides for use, a record in such a short period of time, while another 1,300 pesticide requests for authorization from transnational companies await action. Most requests are from U.S., German and Chinese companies.
– Brazil is already the world’s largest user of pesticides and has an acknowledged pesticide poisoning problem, with 100,000 cases reported annually, with likely many more not reported. Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina denies that pesticide fast tracking will cause any serious environmental or health problems.
– Newly authorized this year are the fungicide mancozeb (mostly banned in Canada), pesticide sulfoxaflor (associated with bee colony collapse disorder), and insecticide chlorpyrifos (banned in the U.S. in 2018 and associated with development disabilities in children).
– The control of both the executive and legislative branches of the Brazilian federal government by the bancada rualista agribusiness lobby means that it is very likely that bill PL 6299/2002 — called “the poison package” by critics — will be voted up this year. The legislation would greatly deregulate the approval process for pesticides.

Changing energy use in rural Africa with power from solar, clean stoves…and women by David Klinges [05/02/2019]
– Widespread use of fuelwood and charcoal for cooking and heating is a notable barrier to achieving development and conservation goals in sub-Saharan Africa, yet previous attempts at introducing better fuel technologies have largely failed.
– To address energy use at the source, recent efforts are underway that seek to improve adoption of new technologies, such as solar-powered equipment or efficient cookstoves, in rural communities.
– Rather than impose a new method or technology onto a community, encouraging behavior change by wrapping the technology in a collaborative or entrepreneurial envelope could encourage longer-lasting change.


Huge rubber plantation in Cameroon halts deforestation following rebuke by Rachel Fritts [05/01/2019]
Controversial aquaculture projects threaten Myanmar’s remaining mangroves by Wudan Yan [05/01/2019]
Amazon fish kill at Sinop spotlights risk from 80+ Tapajós basin dams by Caio Freitas Paes [04/29/2019]
Guns, Corals and Steel: Are Nuclear Shipwrecks a Biodiversity Hotspot? by Greg Asner [04/28/2019]