Newsletter 2019-05-23


Former Brazilian enviro ministers blast Bolsonaro environmental assaults by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [05/23/2019]

– A new manifesto by eight of Brazil’s past environment ministers has accused the rightist Bolsonaro administration of “a series of unprecedented actions that are destroying the capacity of the environment ministry to formulate and carry out public policies.”
– The ministers warn that Bolsonaro’s draconian environmental policies, including the weakening of environmental licensing, plus sweeping illegal deforestation amnesties, could cause great economic harm to Brazil, possibly endangering trade agreements with the European Union.
– Brazil this month threatened to overhaul rules used to select deforestation projects for the Amazon Fund, a pool of money provided to Brazil annually, mostly by Norway and Germany. Both nations deny being consulted about the rule change that could end many NGOs receiving grants from the fund.
– Environment Minister Riccardo Salles also announced a reassessment of every one of Brazil’s 334 conservation units. Some parks may be closed, including the Tamoios Ecological Station, where Bolsonaro was fined for illegal fishing in 2012 and which he’d like to turn into the “Brazilian Cancun.”

For India’s imperiled apes, thinking locally matters by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [05/23/2019]

– Northeastern India is home to two ape species: eastern and western hoolock gibbons.
– Populations of hoolock gibbons in India are both protected and harmed by practices and beliefs specific to the human communities with whom they share their habitats.
– In several gibbon habitats, local indigenous people are leading conservation efforts that are deeply informed by local circumstances.
– The fortunes of different gibbon populations within India show that there is no one-size-fits-all conservation strategy for apes.

Bauxite mining and Chinese dam push Guinea’s chimpanzees to the brink by Jennifer O’Mahony [05/21/2019]

– Guinea is home to about half of the world’s critically endangered western chimpanzees.
– A bauxite mining boom is driving the chimpanzees from their habitats in Guinea’s Boké region. To compensate, two mining firms agreed in 2017 to fund the establishment of Moyen-Bafing National Park, home to an estimated 5,300 chimpanzees.
– The national park is itself threatened by a bauxite mine and a proposed hydroelectric dam — projects that could kill as many as 2,800 of the great apes.

‘Resisting to exist’: Indigenous women unite against Brazil’s far-right president by Karla Mendes [05/20/2019]

– Brazil today is home to 900,000 indigenous people, speaking 274 languages and with widely differing cultural traditions. Indigenous rights were enshrined in Brazil’s 1988 constitution, including the demarcation and protection of indigenous ancestral lands.
– But indigenous people have felt seriously threatened since Jair Bolsonaro took office in January, as illegal invasions of indigenous territories have rapidly escalated, and as the administration threatens to put policies in place to limit further indigenous demarcations, eliminate indigenous comments on infrastructure projects, and cut back on health services.
– Many of the leaders in the fight against Bolsonaro’s policies are women; in this story, they give voice to their outrage at the danger to their homelands, communities and families.

Solomon Islanders imprisoned for trying to stop the logging of their forests by Louise Hunt [05/17/2019]

– A group of residents of Nende Island in the Solomon Islands claim corrupt government practices allowed a logging company to get a license to log the island’s primary forests, as well as cropland. Activists also allege the company, Malaysia-based Xiang Lin SI Ltd, logged outside of its concession area.
– The “Nende Five,” as they’ve become known, say they were never given an opportunity to object to the logging of their land, and Xiang Lin proceeded without obtaining the consent of the majority of residents.
– The protesters say they tried to stop the logging through legal processes. When heavy equipment was destroyed last year, the Nende Five were taken into custody. However, they say they’re innocent of the charges against them.
– Their trial has been adjourned 29 times for lack of evidence, and was recently vacated after two days in court due to allegations that the police had not followed due process in obtaining evidence from one of the defendants. The trial is expected to resume in June. Meanwhile, deforestation is ramping up on Nende as logging roads multiply and displace the island’s old growth rainforest.

A new election brings little hope for Solomon Islands’ vanishing forests by Louise Hunt [05/17/2019]

– Longstanding allegations of corruption plague forest governance in the Solomon Islands, with residents and NGOs claiming government officials are allowing logging to illegally penetrate primary forests on community and ancestral land.
– Satellite data show several surges in deforestation across the country since the beginning of the year.
– Many were hoping the Solomon Islands’ recent national election would bring needed change. However, Manasseh Sogavare was elected Prime Minster last month, a move observers say is, at best, an extension of the status quo.
– In the meantime, mining companies appear to be moving in to extract mineral resources from areas that have been logged.


A new gecko emerges from Sri Lanka’s Nilgala savanna forest by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [05/23/2019]
– A new species of day gecko has been recorded from a savanna forest with rock outcrops and prehistoric granite caves in Sri Lanka.
– The Nilgala savanna forest is home to 17 species of geckos, as well as several undescribed species. The discovery here of the Nilgala day gecko (Cnemaspis nilgala) means Sri Lanka is now home to 24 known species in the genus, all of them endemic to the island.
– The researchers have called for increased study and conservation of the small and specialized ranges in which these reptiles have evolved and which have contributed to Sri Lanka’s rich biodiversity.

New report examines drivers of rising Amazon deforestation on country-by-country basis by [05/23/2019]
– A new report examines the “unchecked development” in the Amazon that has driven deforestation rates to near-record levels throughout the world’s largest tropical forest.
– The main drivers of deforestation vary from country to country, according to the report, a collaborative effort by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Andes Amazon Fund.
– While the causes of Amazonian forest destruction vary, one thing that is common throughout the region is a lack of adequate resources for oversight and enforcement of environmental regulations. And “signs suggest this problem is only growing,” according to the report.

Plants are working hard to keep pace with increasing carbon dioxide by Shreya Dasgupta [05/23/2019]
– Global photosynthesis in terrestrial plants, or the amount of atmospheric carbon that plants are absorbing to create organic matter, has increased in nearly constant proportion to the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels, a new study has found.
– Using computer models, researchers found that elevated carbon dioxide levels drive increase in leaf area of plants in the tropics. In higher latitudes, though, rising global temperatures appears to be what’s driving increases in both leaf area and growing seasons.
– This increase in global photosynthesis will likely slow in the future, the researchers say.
– Plants are providing a helping hand by slowing down the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and we should take advantage of that by reducing emissions and conserving forests, the researchers say.

Ñembi Guasu: Huge new conservation area in Bolivia’s Gran Chaco by Yvette Sierra Praeli [05/23/2019]
– The new protected area spans more than 12,000 square kilometers (4,650 square miles) of well-conserved forests and is home to a massive number of animal and plant species.
– Among the area’s 300 species of birds and 100 species of mammals are jaguars, pumas and night monkeys.
– The protected zone is also home to the Ayoreo indigenous community, which is in a state of voluntary isolation.

How climate change could throw Māori culture off-balance by Ashley Stumvoll [05/23/2019]
– Māori culture is at risk due to predicted changes in the ranges of two culturally important native plants, kuta and kūmarahou.
– Under projected climate change models, traditional weavers will face a shortage of kuta, a grass-like sedge used for weaving, in their ancestral harvesting sites.
– Kūmarahou, a shrub used for medicinal purposes, will become more abundant, devaluing the plant as a form of cultural currency in Māori tradition.

Documentary on world’s rarest ape generates film festival buzz by Hans Nicholas Jong [05/23/2019]
– The first documentary ever made about the Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s rarest and most threatened species of great apes, is racking up awards at film festivals around the world.
– U.K.-based filmmaker Matt Senior says his interest in the orangutan, which was only described as a new species in 2017, was piqued by a Mongabay article.
– Only 800 of the apes are believed to exist in the Batang Toru forest in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Their habitat is under threat from a massive Chinese-funded hydropower project being built in the area.
– Matt says he hopes the documentary will raise public awareness about this newest species of orangutan and the very real threats pushing it toward extinction.

Laurel Chor on photojournalism and Hong Kong’s ‘incredible biodiversity’ by Erik Hoffner [05/22/2019]
– Hong Kong is a city of 7.3 million people and isn’t known for its biodiversity, but journalist Laurel Chor has made it her mission to educate people about their natural heritage
– A photojournalist and filmmaker, she has traveled the world covering stories with images and words, from Iceland to the DRC.
– In conjunction with Ecosperity Week and World Environment Day, Laurel will be speaking at a special edition of Ecosperity Conversations on June 7. She is also a judge for the photo competition Shoot for Sustainability.

For migrating songbirds, ‘baby shark’ is more than just an annoying tune by Shreya Dasgupta [05/22/2019]
– Researchers who opportunistically examined the stomach contents of tiger sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico over eight years found that the sharks had been eating land-dwelling songbirds.
– The months during which the researchers encountered tiger sharks with birds in their guts coincided with the peak timings for coastal bird sightings for 11 species of songbirds, suggesting that the shark-bird interactions could be linked to the annual migration of these terrestrial birds.
– Surprisingly, most of the recorded shark-bird interactions occurred during the fall, when the migrating songbirds are about to start crossing the Gulf of Mexico and are presumably well-rested.
– The researchers speculate that unpredictable storms could be forcing the migratory birds to the water, making them easy prey, especially for baby tiger sharks that are yet to learn how to forage.

The health of penguin chicks points scientists to changes in the ocean by [05/22/2019]
– A recent closure of commercial fishing around South Africa’s Robben Island gave scientists the chance to understand how fluctuations in prey fish populations affect endangered African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) absent pressure from humans.
– The researchers found that the more fish were available, the better the condition of the penguin chicks that rely on their parents for food.
– This link between prey abundance in the sea and the condition of penguin chicks on land could serve as an indicator of changes in the ecosystem.

Wildlife trade summit may move to Geneva amid Colombo security concerns by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [05/22/2019]
– A month after the devastating Easter Sunday terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka that resulted in the postponement of the 18th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP18) of CITES, the Geneva-based secretariat appears likely to hold the meeting in its home city.
– The meeting, originally scheduled for May 23 to June 3 in Colombo, was postponed indefinitely amid security concerns following the April 21 series of bombings at churches and hotels that claimed more than 250 lives in the Indian Ocean island.
– A U.N. security assessment is currently underway in Sri Lanka, with the findings expected to be submitted to the CITES Secretariat by May 31.
– Conservationists say the delay will affect much-needed funding and activities to protect species from the international wildlife trade.

World Agroforestry Congress gathers huge group of global boosters in France by Erik Hoffner [05/21/2019]
– The 4th World Agroforestry Congress is this week and aims to bridge the gap between agroforestry science and its practical implementation worldwide.
– Over 1,200 attendees from all over the world are here presenting new research and sharing ideas for implementation of this agricultural technique that is good for food security, biodiversity, the climate, and more.
– One topic gaining extra attention at this Congress is the involvement of the private sector in boosting agroforestry’s implementation worldwide, because it can be quite profitable to do so while also supporting people and planet.
– Agroforestry combines trees alongside shrubs, crops and livestock in systems that produce food, support biodiversity, build soil horizons and water tables, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Mongabay has been publishing a special series on its implementation and impact worldwide.

Indonesia calls on palm oil industry, obscured by secrecy, to remain opaque by Hans Nicholas Jong [05/21/2019]
– The Indonesian government has called on the country’s palm oil companies to refrain from releasing their plantation data, citing national security, privacy and competition reasons.
– The publication of the data is a necessary part of sustainability certification under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
– Activists say they fear that withholding the information will further damage the reputation of Indonesia’s palm oil industry, which is already beset by allegations of deforestation, land grabbing, and labor rights abuses.
– The government has for years sent out mixed messages about whether it will make available the plantation data, which activists say is crucial in helping resolve the hundreds of land disputes across Indonesia, most of them involving palm concessions.

Interest in protecting environment up since Pope’s 2015 encyclical by John C. Cannon [05/21/2019]
– New research into the usage of environmentally related search terms on Google suggests that interest in the environment has risen since Pope Francis released Laudato Si’ in 2015.
– Laudato Si’, a papal encyclical, argues that it is a moral imperative for humans to look after the environment.
– Researchers and scholars believe that the pope’s support for protecting the environment could ripple well beyond the 16 percent of the world’s population that is Catholic.

Bolivia: Nature rights tribunal condemns TIPNIS project by [05/20/2019]
– Bolivia has “violated the rights of nature and of indigenous peoples as defenders of Mother Earth and have failed to comply with its obligation to respect, protect, and guarantee the rights of Mother Earth…” the International Rights of Nature Tribunal has ruled.
– In 2018, a delegation from the tribunal was refused entry to the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory. The group was trying to assess the claims of communities affected by the project, but they were blocked from entering the area.

Volunteers find bones of new species of extinct heron at Florida fossil site by [05/20/2019]
– Two volunteers assisting researchers of the Florida Museum of Natural History have found bones that belong to a previously undescribed species of extinct heron, according to a new study.
– The Montbrook site, a large fossil excavation site located a 45-minute drive south of Gainesville, Florida, where the volunteers were working, is estimated to be 5 million to 5.5 million years old.
– Researchers have named the now-extinct heron species Taphophoyx hodgei or Hodge’s tiger heron, after property owner Eddie Hodge, who contacted the Florida Museum of Natural History and allowed them to excavate the site after his granddaughter discovered fossils there in 2015.
– Based on their examination of the bones, the researchers say the extinct species is likely closely related to today’s tiger herons (Tigrisoma spp.), which live in Mexico and Central and South America.

Monitoring hack shines a light on fishing boats operating under cover of dark by Basten Gokkon [05/17/2019]
– A new report shows that many of the fishing vessels that operate at night in Indonesian waters don’t broadcast their location, masking a potentially massive problem of illegal and undocumented fishing.
– Though many of these boats fall below the 30 gross tonnage threshold for which the use of the vessel monitoring system (VMS) is required, the study highlights the indication of “dark vessels” where larger boats have switched off the tracking device, likely to avoid detection.
– The researchers suggest that if the matching of two data sets in near real time becomes available, it would greatly help authorities identify these dark vessels and crack down on illegal fishing.

Extreme weather puts traditional livelihoods in peril in Sri Lanka, studies warn by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [05/17/2019]
– New assessments identify Sri Lanka’s northern region as a hotspot for climate change impacts, with the district of Jaffna named the top hotspot.
– The Global Climate Risk Index 2019 lists Sri Lanka as the second most impacted country in 2017 for having faced extensive losses due to climate catastrophes in a single year.
– With extreme weather events predicted to increase with rising levels of impact, the assessments call for rapid adaptation, particularly in terms of livelihoods vulnerable to an increasingly unpredictable climate.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, May 17, 2019 by [05/17/2019]
– 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.

Red colobus conservation in Zanzibar: A cautiously optimistic tale by Bart Crezee [05/17/2019]
– Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park was established in 2004 to protect the endangered Zanzibar red colobus.
– Initially met with conflict and resistance, the conservation project has now been embraced by local communities because they directly share in half of all tourism revenues.
– This kind of community forest management could prove a successful model for other conservation sites in Tanzania and beyond.


UK supermarkets implicated in Amazon deforestation supply chain: report by Sarah Sax [05/13/2019]