Newsletter 2019-06-13


The Great Insect Dying: How to save insects and ourselves by Jeremy Hance[06/13/2019]

– The entomologists interviewed for this Mongabay series agreed on three major causes for the ongoing and escalating collapse of global insect populations: habitat loss (especially due to agribusiness expansion), climate change and pesticide use. Some added a fourth cause: human overpopulation.
– Solutions to these problems exist, most agreed, but political commitment, major institutional funding and a large-scale vision are lacking. To combat habitat loss, researchers urge preservation of biodiversity hotspots such as primary rainforest, regeneration of damaged ecosystems, and nature-friendly agriculture.
– Combatting climate change, scientists agree, requires deep carbon emission cuts along with the establishment of secure, very large conserved areas and corridors encompassing a wide variety of temperate and tropical ecosystems, sometimes designed with preserving specific insect populations in mind.
– Pesticide use solutions include bans of some toxins and pesticide seed coatings, the education of farmers by scientists rather than by pesticide companies, and importantly, a rethinking of agribusiness practices. The Netherlands’ Delta Plan for Biodiversity Recovery includes some of these elements.

Out on a limb: Unlikely collaboration boosts orangutans in Borneo by Nina Finley[06/12/2019]

– Logging and hunting have decimated a population of Bornean orangutans in Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park in Indonesia.
– Help has recently come from a pair of unlikely allies: an animal welfare group and a human health care nonprofit.
– Cross-disciplinary collaboration to meet the needs of ecosystems and humans is becoming an important tool for overcoming seemingly intractable obstacles in conservation.

Regreening a barren refugee landscape on Myanmar’s border by Kaamil Ahmed[06/11/2019]

– Kutupalong, the megacamp that combined with several satellite settlements in the same corner of Bangladesh, is now home to 740,000 refugees.
– Along this borderland between Myanmar and Bangladesh, Rohingya refugees are beginning to cultivate some of the fresh food that they consume.
– Boosted in part by an April 2018 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization influx of 25,000 micro-gardening kits, inhabitants are trying to nourish the damaged environment.

Inside an ambitious project to rewild trafficked bonobos in the Congo Basin by Christopher Clark [06/11/2019]

– A decade ago, a troop of formerly captive bonobos was for the first time reintroduced to the wild in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
– Following that successful reintroduction, a new troop of 14 bonobos is now in the process of being released and is anticipated to be fully in the wild by September.
– Congolese conservation group Amis des Bonobos du Congo (ABC) is working to make sure the communities surrounding the release site feel invested in the project.

The Great Insect Dying: The tropics in trouble and some hope by Jeremy Hance[06/10/2019]

– Insect species are most diverse in the tropics, but are largely unresearched, with many species not described by science. But entomologists believe abundance is being impacted by climate change, habitat destruction and the introduction of industrial agribusiness with its heavy pesticide use.
– A 2018 repeat of a 1976 study in Puerto Rico, which measured the total biomass of a rainforest’s arthropods, found that in the intervening decades populations collapsed. Sticky traps caught up to 60-fold fewer insects than 37 years prior, while ground netting caught 8 times fewer insects than in 1976.
– The same researchers also looked at insect abundance in a tropical forest in Western Mexico. There, biomass abundance fell eightfold in sticky traps from 1981 to 2014. Researchers from Southeast Asia, Australia, Oceania and Africa all expressed concern to Mongabay over possible insect abundance declines.
– In response to feared tropical declines, new insect surveys are being launched, including the Arthropod Initiative and Global Malaise Trap Program. But all of these new initiatives suffer the same dire problem: a dearth of funding and lack of interest from foundations, conservation groups and governments.

The Great Insect Dying: Vanishing act in Europe and North America by Jeremy Hance [06/06/2019]

– Though arthropods make up most of the species on Earth, and much of the planet’s biomass, they are significantly understudied compared to mammals, plants, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish. Lack of baseline data makes insect abundance decline difficult to assess.
– Insects in the temperate EU and U.S. are the world’s best studied, so it is here that scientists expect to detect precipitous declines first. A groundbreaking study published in October 2017 found that flying insects in 63 protected areas in Germany had declined by 75 percent in just 25 years.
– The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme has a 43-year butterfly record, and over that time two-thirds of the nations’ species have decreased. Another recent paper found an 84 percent decline in butterflies in the Netherlands from 1890 to 2017. Still, EU researchers say far more data points are needed.
– Neither the U.S. or Canada have conducted an in-depth study similar to that in Germany. But entomologists agree that major abundance declines are likely underway, and many are planning studies to detect population drops. Contributors to decline are climate change, pesticides and ecosystem destruction.


Is REDD ready for its closeup? Reports vary by [06/12/2019]
– As the world’s governments look to curb global warming, protecting what’s left of Earth’s tropical forests is crucial. That means REDD+ could have a huge role to play — but debate is currently raging as to whether or not REDD-based projects can actually deliver the level of emissions reductions necessary to avert runaway global climate change.
– Many REDD+ projects are built around the idea of carbon offsetting. In a recent investigative article, ProPublica’s Lisa Song writes that, despite their enormous appeal, carbon offsetting programs don’t always lead to the emissions reductions they’re meant to produce.
– In “case after case,” Song writes, she found “carbon credits hadn’t offset the amount of pollution they were supposed to, or they had brought gains that were quickly reversed or that couldn’t be accurately measured to begin with.”
– However, the ProPublica report has been criticized by advocates of carbon credit schemes who say that Song has failed to tell the whole story.

Did efforts to protect DRC’s elephants and bonobos leave a trail of abuses? by Ashoka Mukpo [06/12/2019]
– New research shows encouraging results for the number of forest elephants and bonobos inside Salonga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a major conservation site.
– But the findings come amid reports that park rangers, who accompanied the researchers during the field surveys, have committed severe abuses against villagers in the region, including extrajudicial killings.
– As conservation increasingly becomes militarized, advocates say Salonga is a case study about the need for accountability.

Audio: Bronx Zoo director argues zoos are more relevant to conservation than everby Mike Gaworecki [06/12/2019]
– On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast we speak with Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo in New York City, about the contributions zoos make to the cause of global biodiversity conservation.
– Breheny is well aware that a large contingent of the population questions the relevance of zoos in the 21st century. But he says that, as mankind’s influence extends ever farther and habitat for wildlife continues to shrink, zoos are more relevant than ever, as they preserve for the future the diversity of species who share the planet with us today.
– On today’s episode of the Newscast, Breheny tells us about the evolution of zoos and aquariums that he’s witnessed over his 40-plus-year career; how zoos not only preserve species for the future but support field work to protect species in the wild, as well; and about his experience attempting to tell the story of zoos through the Animal Planet TV show ‘The Zoo.’

Arctic sea ice extent just hit a record low for early June; worse may come by Gloria Dickie [06/12/2019]
– The lowest Arctic sea ice extent in the 40-year satellite record for this time of year was set on June 10 with just 10.901 million square kilometers of ice remaining, dipping just below the previous record set in 2016 of 10.919 million square kilometers. This year’s record is likely to deepen at least for the coming days.
– Some scientists theorize that declining Arctic summer sea ice extent, which has fallen by roughly half since 1979, could be generating a cascade of harmful effects: as the Arctic melts, the heat differential between the Far North and temperate zone lessens, causing the jet stream (high altitude Northern Hemisphere winds), to falter.
– As the polar jet stream loses energy, it can fail to hug the Arctic Circle. Instead it starts to dip deeply into the temperate zone forming great waves which can block and stall weather patterns there, bringing long punishing bouts of rain and floods like those seen in the Midwest this spring, or extended heatwaves and drought.
– Arctic weather variations are too complex to predict in advance, but 2019 has made a strong start toward possibly beating 2012 for the lowest annual ice extent record. Records aside, the Arctic sea ice death spiral and the extreme weather it can trigger are adversely impacting agriculture, infrastructure, economics and human lives.

Homestay programs in Nepal’s rhino hub hold promise and pitfalls for locals by Abhaya Raj Joshi [06/12/2019]
– When faced with criticism that local people don’t benefit from wildlife tourism to Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, officials and conservationists point to homestay programs set up in communities on the park’s borders.
– These homestay programs aim to provide the communities with alternative livelihoods and to create an incentive to protect forests and wildlife.
– In the villages of Amaltari and Barauli, two very different homestay programs have been established, catering to different groups of visitors. Both models have their strengths, but also their shortcomings.

New rainforest gecko joins growing list of reptiles unique to Sri Lanka by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [06/11/2019]
– A new species of day gecko, Cnemaspis godagedarai, has been described in Sri Lanka, bringing the island’s number of endemic geckos in the genus Cnemaspis to 25.
– The new gecko, named after a national hero in the fight against British colonial rule, shares its microhabitat with seven other species of endemic reptiles, making the conservation of their habitat critical to their survival.
– With more than 80 percent of Sri Lanka’s species being endemic to the island, and a majority of them restricted to the wet zone, the country needs special species conservation mechanisms, researchers say.

For the Philippine eagle, a shot at survival means going abroad by Leilani Chavez[06/11/2019]
– The Philippines has loaned off two Philippine eagles (Pithecophaga jefferyi) to Singapore for a 10-year breeding agreement, part of wider efforts to protect the species against disease outbreaks and natural calamities.
– Prior to the agreement, the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) managed the only sanctuary of its kind in the world for this critically endangered species.
– Despite rigorous community-oriented programs to protect the eagles, human activity, including hunting and habitat destruction, remains the biggest threat to the Philippine eagles.

Dam in Ethiopia has wiped out indigenous livelihoods, report finds by John C. Cannon [06/11/2019]
– A dam in southern Ethiopia built to supply electricity to cities and control the flow of water for irrigating industrial agriculture has led to the displacement and loss of livelihoods of indigenous groups, the Oakland Institute has found.
– On June 10, the policy think tank published a report of its research, demonstrating that the effects of the Gibe III dam on the Lower Omo River continue to ripple through communities, forcing them onto sedentary farms and leading to hunger, conflict and human rights abuses.
– The Oakland Institute applauds the stated desire of the new government, which came to power in April 2018, to look out for indigenous rights.
– But the report’s authors caution that continued development aimed at increasing economic productivity and attracting international investors could further marginalize indigenous communities in Ethiopia.

Canada passes ‘Free Willy’ bill to ban captivity of all whales, dolphins by [06/11/2019]
– On June 10, Canada’s House of Commons passed a bill that bans the practice of keeping cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in captivity in the country.
– Bill S-203 also prohibits breeding of the animals and collecting reproductive materials from them. The only exceptions to these provisions will be in cases of rescues and rehabilitation, licensed scientific research, or “in the best interests of the cetacean’s welfare.”
– The legislation, also known as the “Free Willy” bill, allows Vancouver Aquarium and Marineland in Niagara Falls, the only two facilities in Canada that still house cetaceans, to continue to keep their animals as long as they do not breed or bring in any new individuals.

Bumpy ride for conservation in PNG as lack of roads hinders activities by Lucy EJ Woods [06/10/2019]
– Much of Papua New Guinea remains inaccessible by road and the existing roads are often in poor condition.
– While lack of road access has historically helped to keep ecosystems intact, it comes with both social and environmental downsides.
– Some communities are negotiating with resource extraction companies who promise to provide roads and other needed services. Lack of infrastructure also hampers efforts to monitor and protect the environment.
– Some NGOs, whose work suffers from difficult and expensive travel to project areas, call for carefully planned expansion of the road network.

Brazil guts environmental agencies, clears way for unchecked deforestation by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [06/10/2019]
– The Bolsonaro administration has launched policies that undermine IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, and ICMBio (The Chico Mendes Institute) which protects the nation’s federal conservation units, by effectively dismantling environmental law enforcement and allowing deforestation to proceed unchecked.
– Fines imposed for illegal deforestation between Jan. 1 and May 15 this year were down 34 percent from the same period in 2018, the largest percentage drop ever recorded. It was also smallest number of fines ever imposed (850), compared to 1,290 in the same period last year.
– Government seizures of illegally harvested timber fell even more precipitously, with just 40 cubic meters (1,410 cubic feet), equal to 10 large trees, confiscated in the first four months of 2019. By contrast, 25,000 cubic meters (883,000 cubic feet) of illegal timber were seized in 2018. IBAMA is now required to announce in advance the time and location of all its planned raids on illegal loggers.
– Bolsonaro has defanged deforestation enforcement further by firing or not replacing top environmental officials. This includes 21 out of 27 IBAMA state superintendents responsible for imposing most of the deforestation fines. Also, 47 of Brazil’s conservation units now lack directors, leaving a combined area greater than the size of England without conservation leadership.

Indonesian ban on clearing new swaths of forest to be made permanent by Hans Nicholas Jong [06/10/2019]
– A temporary moratorium that prohibits the issuance of new permits to clear primary and peat forests is set to be made permanent later this year.
– Though largely ineffective in stemming deforestation in the first few years after its introduction in 2011, the moratorium has since 2016 been shored up by peat-protection regulations that have helped slow the loss of forest cover.
– Environmental activists have welcomed the move to make the moratorium permanent, but say there’s room to strengthen it, such as by extending it to include secondary forests.
– They’ve also called for the closing of a loophole that allows primary and peat forests to be razed for plantations of rice, sugarcane and other crops deemed important to national food security.

Caribbean nations boost protection for extremely rare largetooth sawfish by Shreya Dasgupta [06/08/2019]
– On June 5, Caribbean countries agreed to boost protection for the largetooth sawfish by adding it to Annex II of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol under the Cartagena Convention.
– Plants and animals added to Annexes I and II of the SPAW Protocol are afforded the highest levels of protection, with countries falling within the Caribbean region committing to ban the collection, possession or killing of the species, prohibit their commercial trade, and take steps to reduce disturbances to the species.
– Experts have welcomed the measure, but say that SPAW countries must “follow through with their obligations to implement protections.”
– Legal protection aside, education and local community involvement is key to giving species like sawfish “a fighting chance,” experts say.

New pilot whale subspecies revealed: Q&A with marine biologist Amy Van Cise by Rebecca Kessler [06/07/2019]
– For centuries, Japanese seafarers have noted two distinct types of pilot whale in their waters: One with a squarish head and dark body, the other a bit bigger with a round head and a light patch on its back.
– The two types have long been officially classified simply as forms of the same species, short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), but a new genetic study finds that they are actually distinct subspecies.
– The finding is just the latest shake-up of the cetacean family tree after the discoveries of new whale species in recent years.
– Mongabay spoke with the new study’s lead author, Amy Van Cise, a marine biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, about the science of whale taxonomy and what her team’s discovery means for the conservation of short-finned pilot whales.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, June 7, 2019 by [06/07/2019]
– 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.

Healthy reefs, healthy people: Community-based marine conservation in Papua New Guinea (commentary) by Jonathan Booth [06/07/2019]
– Marine resources play a vital role in food security for coastal communities across Papua New Guinea, which, after Australia, is the largest and most populated country in Oceania. The maintenance of marine ecosystem integrity (the health of these habitats) ensures the provision of the goods and services communities rely on, including seafood, medicine, coastal protection, and carbon capture.
– Today, these ecosystem services are in jeopardy — but a solution exists in working with local communities to reverse destructive trends.
– Although this community-focused approach takes time, effort, and money, it represents our best chance for long-term success.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Microplastics a key factor in Sri Lanka’s plunging fish stocks, survey shows by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [06/07/2019]
– Microplastics and overfishing are the leading causes of extensive marine pollution in Sri Lanka, a new survey has found.
– The survey, the first of its kind carried out in 40 years, showed that the island’s fish stock had dropped drastically by about 80 percent, in part due to high levels of microplastic contamination.
– The island’s northwestern seas recorded the highest levels of marine pollution, while seas to the east remain rich with marine life and should be made a conservation priority, researchers say.

Alliance launches plan to save the planet by [06/07/2019]
– Healthy and productive ecosystems sustain life on Earth, but face accelerating threats from human behavior.
– A new initiative however aims to counter that trend by fundamentally transforming food, city, energy, and production and consumption systems.
– The Global Commons Alliance, launched this week at the Ecosperity 2019 conference in Singapore, will do this through an approach that leverages the best science to provide actionable guidance to businesses, governments, and the general public.
– Over 500 companies have committed to set science-based targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Twice as many fishing vessels now, but it’s harder to catch fish by Shreya Dasgupta [06/06/2019]
– The global fishing fleet has more than doubled from about 1.7 million boats harvesting fish in 1950 to 3.7 million fishing vessels in 2015.
– More fishing vessels have become motorized as well: while only 20 percent of the world’s fishing vessels were powered by motors in 1950, this number rose to 68 percent in 2015.
– The growing fishing fleet is, however, catching less seafood for the same effort.
– There are geographic variations: while Asia’s fishing fleet has dramatically increased over the past decades, catching fewer fish for the same effort, fleet sizes in North America and Western Europe shrank slightly, accompanied by an increase in fish catch per unit effort.

Researchers and customs officials unite to fight wildlife trafficking using eDNA by David Klinges [06/06/2019]
– A novel, fast-acting eDNA test can help airport customs officials identify illegally trafficked European eels, which as juveniles cannot be visually distinguished from legally-traded species.
– Although international treaties have historically provided a framework for imposing restrictions when nations violate agreements, enforcement remains a challenge in part because many trafficked specimens go unnoticed.
– Where enforcement proves difficult, technology such as this fast-acting eDNA test can improve monitoring of illegally traded flora and fauna.


Congo’s hidden crisis: Snakebites and envenomation by Hugh Kinsella Cunningham [06/05/2019]
The Sateré-Mawé move to reclaim Amazon ancestral lands from invaders by Thais Borges; Mauricio Torres; and Sue Branford [06/04/2019]
‘We come from the earth’: Q&A with Goldman Prize winner Alfred Brownell by Ashoka Mukpo [06/03/2019]
The Great Insect Dying: A global look at a deepening crisis by Jeremy Hance[06/03/2019]
Long-term ecological research threatened by short-term thinking by Taran Volckhausen [06/03/2019]
Land grabbing, cattle ranching ravage Colombian Amazon after FARC demobilization by Taran Volckhausen [05/30/2019]