Newsletter 2019-07-04


Amazon REDD+ scheme side-steps land rights to reward small forest producers by Claire Asher [07/03/2019]

– To safeguard the almost 90 percent of its land still covered with forest, the small Brazilian state of Acre implemented a carbon credit scheme that assigns monetary value to stored carbon in the standing trees and rewards local “ecosystem service providers” for their role protecting it.
– Acre’s System of Incentives for Environmental Services (SISA) rewards sustainable harvesting of rubber, nuts and other commodities from the forests. Crucially, it doesn’t make land tenure a prerequisite to qualify for incentives such as subsidies and agricultural supplies.
– But a new study criticizes the program for giving state officials the power to determine what counts as “green labor.” The program already promotes intensive agricultural practices and artificial fishponds, and experts warn more damaging practices may be permitted under the control of new state officials.
– There’s also no definitive evidence that the program works to conserve forests, with the rate of deforestation in Acre holding relatively steady since SISA came into effect.

Madagascar mine ignites protests, community division by Edward Carver [07/02/2019]

– An Australian mining company, Base Resources, plans to break ground soon on a mineral sands mining project in southwestern Madagascar.
– Base Resources says the project represents a development opportunity for the region. It has the support of most government officials and local mayors.
– But local opposition groups have called for an end to the project, citing the negative environmental impact it could have and insisting that it’s been made possible only through corrupt land deals.
– The battle over the project has played out in the Malagasy media for several years and is reaching a fever pitch as the project nears fruition. In the latest development, a Madagascar court released nine community members held for six weeks on accusations of participating in the destruction of Base Resources’ exploration campsite.

Amazon rural development and conservation: a path to sustainability? by Jaqueline Sordi [07/02/2019]

– Oil palm production in Brazil continues to be conducted on a small scale as compared to the nation’s vast soy plantations. Total oil palm cultivation was just 50,000 hectares in 2010. Today, that total has risen to 236,000 hectares, 85 percent of which is in Pará state.
– While environmentalists fear escalated oil palm production could lead to greater deforestation, Brazil possesses 200 million hectares (772,204 square miles) of deforested, degraded lands, three quarters of which is utilized as pasture, most of it with low productivity that could be converted to oil palm.
– The Rurality Project offers an example of sustainable oil palm production through its recruitment of small-scale growers to boost local economies. But, the bulk of Amazon palm oil is produced on large plantations managed by big firms, like Biopalma, many of which have poor socioenvironmental records.
– If oil palm is to become a large-scale reality in Brazil, without major deforestation, growth will need to be backed by strong regulation and enforcement. But critics say the Bolsonaro government is backing weak regulation that encourages land speculation and deforestation.

As climate chaos escalates in Indian Country, feds abandon tribes by Saul Elbein [07/01/2019]

– South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Oglalla Sioux Indian Reservation is one of the most impoverished places in the U.S. But in 2018 and 2019, the reservation was struck by two horrific storms — with economic harm to their homes and livelihoods that the community’s low income residents have found it extraordinarily difficult to absorb.
– High Plains weather has been getting more variable, erratic and destructive: in 2011 came severe drought and wildfires, followed in 2012 by severe flooding. Sometimes these oscillations take the form of high-powered storms, with a rash of tornadoes in 2016, a destructive ice storm in 2018, and a bomb cyclone in 2019.
– According to the National Climate Assessment issued at the end of 2018, “Climate change is expected to exacerbate these [extreme weather] challenges.” But starting with Bill Clinton and continuing under Donald Trump, the federal government has severely slashed federal aid to Indian reservations and their low income residents.
– As a result, Pine Ridge is increasingly forced to rely on its own resources and on creative solutions, including crowdfunded local and national volunteer teams who have risen to the challenge and helped the communities repair storm damage. But as extreme weather intensifies on the High Plains, surviving there will get tougher.

An Indonesian forest community grapples with the arrival of the outside world by Rod Harbinson [07/01/2019]

– Siberut Island, part of the Mentawai archipelago in western Indonesia, is recognized as a U.N. Biosphere Reserve due to its outstanding cultural and ecological value.
– The traditions of the indigenous Mentawai people, including agroforestry and customary land tenure, have allowed the people of the island live off the forest without depleting it.
– Roughly half of the island is protected as a national park. The rest, however, has been parceled out for timber and biomass plantations, road building, and the development of a special economic zone including a yacht marina and luxury resort.

Indigenous Iban community defends rainforests, but awaits lands rights recognition by Aseanty Pahlevi, Rhett A. Butler [07/01/2019]

– Over the past half century the rainforests of Borneo have been logged, strip-mined, burned, and converted for monoculture plantations. The forests that local people primarily relied upon for sustenance are now felled to feed commodities into the global market.
– But the Dayak Iban of Sungai Utik community in Indonesian Borneo has managed to fend off loggers and land invaders from their forest home.
– Sungai Utik’s efforts to sustainably manage its community forest in the face of large-scale deforestation and cultural loss across Borneo have won it accolades, including the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Equator Prize last month.
– During a June 2019 visit, Mongabay spoke with Apay Janggut, or “Bandi”, the head of the Sungai Utik longhouse about his community’s traditional practices, resistance to loggers, and efforts to adapt to issues facing indigenous peoples around the world.


Ocean currents spin a web of interconnected fisheries around the world by Basten Gokkon [07/04/2019]
– Most marine catches are made within a given country’s territorial waters, but the fish most likely originated in spawning grounds in another country’s jurisdiction, a new study shows.
– The modeling of catch, spawning and ocean current data shows that the dispersal of baby fish caught by ocean currents creates an interconnection between global marine fisheries.
– The finding highlights the need for greater international cooperation in protecting marine ecosystems everywhere, as an estimated $10 billion worth of fish spawn in one country and are caught in another every year.

Study: Vast swaths of lost tropical forest can still be brought back to life by Hans Nicholas Jong [07/03/2019]
– A new study has once again emphasized the importance of restoring degraded tropical forests in the fight against climate change.
– Using high-resolution satellite imagery, the study identifies more than a million square kilometers (386,000 square miles) of lost tropical rainforest across the Americas, Africa and Southeast Asia as having high potential for restoration.
– The researchers say there’s no time to waste on reforestation efforts, but caution that the type of reforestation undertaken must be carefully considered.
– Countries such as China have increased their forest cover through the extensive planting of a single tree species, but studies have shown that monoculture tree plantations are inferior to natural forests when it comes to capturing carbon, hosting wildlife, and providing other ecosystem services.

Was Sierra Leone’s one-month fishing ban enough to replenish fish stocks? by Uzman Unis Bah [07/03/2019]
– The Sierra Leone government closed the country’s waters to fishing by industrial vessels during the entire month of April to give flagging fish stocks a chance to rebuild. During that period artisanal fishers were allowed to fish.
– Both industrial and artisanal fishers appeared to support the closure, the first of its kind, amid declining catches and an influx of virtually unregulated foreign fishing vessels.
– Officials declared the closure a success, as part of Sierra Leone’s broader effort to formalize and gain regulatory control of its fisheries.
– However, outside experts have expressed doubt that the move would do much to improve the state of the country’s fisheries.

How to make sure your aquarium fish are ethical (commentary) by Robert Woods [07/03/2019]
– Fishkeeping has been around for centuries, and the amount of people who want to start keeping fish grows year after year. However, many newcomers to the hobby don’t carry out research to ensure the fish they’re buying have been sourced ethically.
– The disturbing truth is that a large portion of marine fish are not raised or caught ethically. Some are wild-caught, meaning they’ve been taken from their natural environment to be sold onto aquarists. However, not all collection of fish in the wild is unethical — it depends of how they were caught, whether that species is in decline, and a few other factors.
– In this commentary piece for Mongabay, Robert Woods, fish enthusiast and owner of Fishkeeping World, explains how to ensure that you buy aquarium fish ethically.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Zambia halts plans to dam the Luangwa River by [07/03/2019]
– WWF reports that the Zambian government has cancelled a pre-feasibility study for a dam on the Luangwa River, the Ndevu Gorge Power Project, which would have cost $1.26 billion and generated between 235 and 240 megawatts of power if completed.
– More than 200,000 people had signed a petition calling for the legal protection of the river. Critics of the dam project argued that fragmentation of the Luangwa would threaten wildlife and freshwater fish stocks, as well as the agriculture and tourism that local communities rely on.
– A study recently published in Nature found that two-thirds of the world’s 242 longest rivers are no longer free-flowing, mainly because so many of them have been fragmented by dams.

Lost in translation: Green regulations backfire without local context by [07/03/2019]
– Strong green regulations modeled on those in industrialized countries don’t always have the intended effects of reducing conflict and environmental degradation, new research shows.
– These rules can place onerous burdens on small-scale producers that ultimately force them to go around the regulations, at times leading to more conflict and harm to the environment.
– The study’s author argues that regulations should be flexible enough to accommodate small-scale producers and the unique challenges they face.

Antarctic sea ice declining ‘precipitously’ since 2014, study finds by [07/03/2019]
– After decades of overall increase, Antarctica’s sea ice has been rapidly decreasing since 2014, according to a new study.
– Between 2014 and 2017, Antarctica suffered a precipitous decline, losing more yearly average sea ice in just three years than that observed in the Arctic over a period of 33 years.
– There was a small increase in the yearly average sea ice in Antarctica from 2017 to 2018, but there has been a decline in 2019 again. Whether the small uptick in 2018 is a blip in an otherwise long-term downward trend of Antarctic sea ice extent or the start of a rebound, is difficult to say, Claire Parkinson of NASA writes.
– Whether the changes are because of climate change or something else also remains to be seen, researchers say.

New eDNA sampling system aims for cleaner, more efficient field research by Sue Palminteri [07/02/2019]
– Researchers tested a new self-preserving filter housing system that automatically preserves eDNA from water samples, while reducing the risk of DNA contamination and plastic waste.
– Scientists who use eDNA currently rely on cumbersome cold storage or liquid preservatives and single-use sampling equipment to preserve their eDNA samples, which are highly sensitive to degradation as well as contamination.
– The new system incorporates a hydrophilic plastic material in its filter housing that physically pulls water from the sample without having to add chemicals.
– In a six-month test, it allowed data collectors to preserve samples quickly and easily, at ambient temperature and with far reduced plastic waste, preventing degradation for weeks and with slightly higher amounts of captured DNA than a standard method.

For Ecuador’s Sápara, saving the forest means saving their language by Sarah Sax [07/02/2019]
– The Sápara people of Ecuador, who live in one of the most biodiverse forests in the world, are fighting to retain their traditional language, spoken today by only a handful of native speakers.
– Tropical rainforests around the world and especially in Latin America are at the forefront of a rapid decline in linguistic diversity, and the traditional ecological knowledge encoded in it.
– Half of the world’s languages, many spoken by only a few dozen or a few hundred people, are kept alive by only 0.1 percent of the world’s population, and constitute some of the most threatened languages.
– 2019 has been declared the “year of indigenous languages” by the U.N., in recognition of the importance of linguistic diversity around the world and its rapid decline.

Japan resumes commercial whale hunting by [07/02/2019]
– For years, Japan exploited a loophole in international rules to continue hunting whales despite being a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) bound by the commercial whaling moratorium that went into effect in 1986. The country has now quit the IWC altogether and resumed commercial whaling.
– The first minke whale caught under the country’s new commercial whaling program was landed yesterday at Kushiro port in northern Japan, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency, a London-based NGO.
– IWC members Norway and Iceland are the only other countries on Earth that currently hunt whales commercially. But Iceland’s two whaling companies have announced that they’ll be sitting out the summer 2019 whaling season, meaning that, for the first time in 17 years, no whales will be caught in Iceland’s waters.

Search for a new home for Javan rhinos put on hold by Basten Gokkon [07/02/2019]
– The Indonesian government says plans to establish a second habitat for the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros have been put on hold.
– The species numbers an estimated 68 individuals, all of them corralled in a national park on the western tip of the island of Java.
– Conservationists had for years considered finding a second habitat outside the park to establish a new population of rhinos, given the risks they currently face from disease and natural disasters.
– However, the top contender for a second habitat currently serves as a military training ground, leaving conservationists to find ways to expand the rhinos’ suitable habitat within the national park.

As opposition wanes, a Malaysian land reclamation project pushes ahead by Keith Schneider [07/02/2019]
– When Mahathir Mohamad was elected Malaysia’s prime minister in May 2018, Chinese-backed developments were put in the political crosshairs.
– Forest City, a massive mixed-use development being built off the southern coast of Peninsular Malaysia, had already attracted controversy due to concerns about its impact on fisheries, seagrass beds, mangroves, and relations with neighboring Singapore.
– Although it’s been a bumpy political year for Forest City’s developers, construction continues on the project, as does debate over its environmental impacts.

Casualty of peace? Study shows rise in deforestation after conflicts by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [07/02/2019]
– A new study records a dramatic increase in the deforestation rate in four countries emerging from years of conflict.
– One of the countries studied, Sri Lanka, saw its deforestation rate in the five years after the end of its quarter-century civil war jump by 31.5 percent compared to the last five years of the conflict.
– Similar surges were seen in the three other countries: Peru, Ivory Coast and Nepal. The four countries saw an average spike in the five-year post-war period of 68 percent, against the world mean rate of 7.2 percent.
– Corruption at different scales, lack of funding for the entities in charge of forest and environmental management, inadequate policies, poor implementation are identified as key drivers of deforestation in these biodiversity hotspots.

In India’s Sundarbans, communities shrink as their island sinks by Erin Stone, Lisa Hornak [07/01/2019]
– In India and Bangladesh, millions of people live in the Sundarbans islands and face losing their homes to rising seas caused by climate change.
– The region was the first in the world to record an unfolding climate refugee crisis as people fled an island lost to the sea. More islands remain at risk of succumbing to the rising waters.
– The government has long relied on building embankments to keep the seawater out, but in a report it co-wrote in 2014 it acknowledges that this measure is no longer sufficient.
– One expert calls for restoring the Sundarbans’ original mangrove habitats to both mitigate the impacts of rising seas and storm surges, and to serve as a carbon sink in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions.

Rivers are the world’s heritage. Time to treat them as such (commentary) by Josh Klemm [07/01/2019]
– This July represents a critical opportunity to protect rivers and the World Heritage sites that depend on them. Key government leaders will converge on Baku, Azerbaijan for the 43rd annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee this week.
– Established under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Committee is charged with protecting sites around the world deemed of the highest cultural and natural values. But oddly, no river has yet been directly protected by the Committee.
– Beyond protecting existing sites from harm, the World Heritage Committee needs to broaden its conception of what constitutes a natural site to recognize the intrinsic value of rivers, particularly free-flowing rivers, and the critical role they play in sustaining life.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Six endangered North Atlantic right whales died last month alone by [07/01/2019]
– In June this year, six endangered North Atlantic right whales were spotted dead in Canadian waters, including a 40-year-old breeding grandmother, and a 34-year-old grandfather.
– With only some 400 North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) estimated to survive today, researchers and conservation groups are worried.
– Necropsies carried out so far suggest that some of the whales died from collisions with ships.
– Entanglement in fishing gear is another leading cause of death among this extremely threatened species of baleen whale.

La Mosquitia: Dangerous territory for scarlet macaws in Honduras by Jennifer Ávila [07/01/2019]
– The scarlet macaw (Ara macao), with its iconic red, blue and yellow plumes, is the national bird of Honduras. It inhabits forests from northern Central America to the southern Amazon, but the northern subspecies (A. m. cyanoptera) is particularly imperiled.
– “Ecotrafficking,” the term for wildlife trafficking in Honduras, is a major problem in La Mosquitia, the part of eastern Honduras, near the border with Nicaragua.
– Today, around 600 scarlet macaws inhabit the pine forests of Gracias a Dios, the Honduran department where Mabita is located. Anaida Panting and her family oversee 38 scarlet macaw nests and 30 great green macaw (Ara ambiguus) nests.

Colombia gasoline fueling cocaine production by Taran Volckhausen [06/28/2019]
– Despite efforts by the U.S. and Colombia to crack down on cocaine production, the land used to grow the crop in Colombia is at an all-time high.
– After cattle ranching and land grabbing, coca cultivation is one of the main drivers of deforestation in Colombia, especially in protected areas such as national parks.
– Although road development plans promised by a 2016 peace deal do not appear to be producing new transportation infrastructure in these remote regions, Global Forest Watch shows many of the country’s coca regions reported a large number of deforestation alerts within primary rainforest.

What happens to an ecotourism town when the wildlife doesn’t show? by Nina Unlay [06/28/2019]
– Since the mid-1990s, the town of Donsol in the Philippines has based its economy around tourists viewing whale sharks.
– Whale sharks are migratory fish. And while they showed up in reliable numbers during the first decade of Donsol’s venture into shark tourism, their numbers have become highly unpredictable in the past decade for reasons still unknown.
– Tourism has declined as well, with 2018 registering the fewest visitor arrivals since whale shark tourism started. The local economy, which it had buoyed, is now flagging, although 2019 seems off to a strong start for both whale sharks and tourists.
– Wildlife tourism, by nature, is susceptible to biodiversity loss and changes in animal behavior; it places host communities on a thin line between profit and loss.

Researchers discover right whales singing for the first time ever by [06/28/2019]
– Right whales — three species of large baleen whales in the genus Eubalaena — have never been known to sing. As far as scientists knew, right whale vocalizations consisted entirely of individual calls, as opposed to the repeated, patterned phrases of true whale songs.
– But according to a study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America this month, the extremely rare eastern North Pacific right whale appears to use its gunshot calls in a repeating pattern — the first instance ever recorded of a right whale population breaking into song.
– A research team with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) analyzed 17-years’-worth of data from autonomous recorders deployed in the Bering Sea and documented four distinct right whale song types at five different locations between the years 2009 and 2017.

An ill-deserved reputation threatens Sri Lanka’s ‘secretive snake’ by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [06/28/2019]
– A widely held misperception of the threat it poses and changes to its habitat are threatening the existence of the Sri Lankan keelback, a mildly venomous snake that inhabits the island’s southwest, new research says.
– The expansion of agriculture and infrastructure development in rural areas is contributing to the loss and fragmentation of the species’ habitat.
– Researchers have called for further study into the keelback to achieve a better conservation assessment of the species, which in turn can inform national policies to ensure its survival.

Altered fish communities persist long after reefs bleach, study finds by John C. Cannon [06/28/2019]
– In a new study, bleached reefs in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles had fewer predators like snappers and groupers and more plant-eating fish such as parrotfish and rabbitfish.
– The researchers found that this change in the composition of fish species persisted for more than a decade and a half after bleaching occurred in 1998.
– Scientists expect bleaching events to occur more frequently as a result of climate change, making it likely that these shifts in fish communities will become permanent.

Amazon infrastructure puts 68% of indigenous lands / protected areas at risk: report by Jenny Gonzales [06/28/2019]
– 68 percent of the indigenous lands and protected natural areas in the nine nations encompassing the Amazon region are under pressure from roads, mining, dams, oil drilling, forest fires and deforestation, according to a new report by RAISG, the Amazonian Geo-referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network.
– Of the 6,345 indigenous territories located within the nine Amazonian countries surveyed, 2,042 (32 percent) are threatened or pressured by two types of infrastructure activities, while 2,584 (41 percent) are threatened or pressured by at least one. Only 8 percent of the total are not threatened or pressured at all.
– In the case of the 692 protected natural areas in the Amazon region, 193 (28 percent) suffer three kinds of threat or pressure, and 188 (27 percent) suffer threats or pressure from two activities.
– “These are alarming numbers: 43 percent of the protected natural areas and 19 percent of the indigenous lands are under three or more types of pressure or threat,” said Júlia Jacomini, a researcher with the ISA, Instituto Socioambiental, an NGO and RAISG partner.

Despite fiery campaign rhetoric, Chinese-backed projects in Malaysia steam ahead by Keith Schneider [06/28/2019]
– In 2018, Mahathir Mohamad unseated Najib Razak as prime minister in Malaysia’s elections, on a platform that relied heavily on anti-Chinese rhetoric.
– In his first months in office, Mahathir suspended or canceled a number of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects, including the 688-kilometer (428-mile) East Coast Rail Link, a planned railway line that raised serious concerns for environmentalists.
– In the year since, Mahathir has walked back his campaign rhetoric, and most major infrastructure projects are set to be relaunched, albeit at lower costs.

More than 50 lakes lie hidden beneath Greenland ice sheet, study finds by [06/28/2019]
– Scientists say they’ve identified 56 lakes beneath the Greenland ice sheet, bringing the total to 60 known subglacial lakes underneath the thick ice mass.
– While some of these lakes are just 200 meters (650 feet) long, some are nearly 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) in length.
– There are probably many more such subglacial lakes under the Greenland ice sheet waiting to be uncovered, the researchers say.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, June 28, 2019 by [06/28/2019]
– 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.

Saving Guatemala’s vanishing macaws: Q&A with veterinarian Luis Fernando Guerra by Max Radwin [06/27/2019]
– The northern subspecies of the scarlet macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera) has disappeared from much of its former range in Mexico and Central America due to habitat loss and wildlife trafficking. Researchers estimate there are between 150 and 200 scarlet macaws remaining in Guatemala.
– Fire, used to clear land for agriculture, is the biggest driver of habitat loss in Guatemala. So far this year, NASA satellites have detected more than 40,000 fires in Guatemala, many occurring in scarlet macaw habitat.
– The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is trying to protect Guatemala’s macaws through a program that monitors nest sites and places lab-hatched chicks in adoptive nests.
– Mongabay caught up with WCS Lead Medical Veterinarian Luis Fernando Guerra as he was working in the field in Laguna del Tigre National Park to chat about his work and the outlook for scarlet macaws.

Sri Lanka, in bid for species protection, is stymied by lack of data (commentary) by Dennis Mombauer [06/27/2019]
– Sri Lanka was supposed to host the 18th Conference of the Parties to CITES in May 2019, but the event has been rescheduled for Geneva in August due to security concerns after the Easter Sunday bombings.
– Sri Lanka is involved in nine proposals concerning 43 species, the most for a single party at the upcoming CoP. Six of the proposals concern species of reptiles and spiders endemic to Sri Lanka or South Asia, and the other three concern species of saltwater fish.
– The CITES Secretariat has recommended rejecting four of Sri Lanka’s proposals and adopting five, highlighting how lack of data is hampering conservation efforts in the country.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro presses anti-indigenous agenda; resistance surges by Sue Branford [06/27/2019]
– As President Jair Bolsonaro tries to steamroll his indigenous and environmental policies into law, more than 340 international and Brazilian NGOs are urging the European Union to show its disapproval by pulling out of a nearly complete landmark trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur (South America’s trade bloc).
– A similar plea made in May by 600 European scientists and 300 indigenous groups called on the EU to demand that Brazil respect environmental and human rights standards as a precondition for concluding the Mercosur trade negotiations. It seems very unlikely that these protests will derail the trade agreement.
– Despite being blocked by the Brazilian Congress and by the nation’s Supreme Court, Bolsonaro continues demanding that responsibility for demarcating indigenous lands be taken away from FUNAI, Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, and be handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture.
– In another move, Brazil’s Environment Minister says he plans to overhaul rules used to select deforestation projects for the Amazon Fund, money provided to Brazil annually largely by Norway and Germany. Both nations deny being consulted about the rule change that could end many NGOs receiving grants.


National parks: Serving humanity’s well-being as much as nature’s by Jeremy Hance [06/25/2019]
Mongabay investigative series helps confirm global insect decline by Jeremy Hance [06/24/2019]
Fire, cattle, cocaine: Deforestation spikes in Guatemalan national park by Max Radwin [06/21/2019]