Newsletter 2019-07-11


Salvadoran fishermen ditch blast fishing for artificial reefs by Max Radwin [07/10/2019]

– Blast fishing has taken a toll on both the fishermen and marine life of El Salvador’s Jiquilisco Bay Biosphere Reserve.
– Some residents have lost limbs or eyes or suffered bad burns. And populations of mangroves, fish, and critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles have declined.
– Over the last decade, officials have made rooting out the practice a top priority, placing their bets on a creative alternative that a local fisherman suggested in 2009: the creation of artificial reefs to replenish marine life.
– Today blast fishing has declined by 90 percent and the communities are trying to market their seafood as “clean fish” at a premium price.

In Indonesia, a land ‘left behind’ weighs its development alternatives by Ian Morse [07/09/2019]

– After defeating a plan to turn much of the Aru Islands into a series of giant sugar plantations, indigenous people in the eastern Indonesian archipelago are mulling how to raise their standard of living without sacrificing their rich environment.
– Time may be short: Indonesia’s minister of agriculture appears to be pushing another corporate-backed agribusiness plan in Aru involving Andi Syamsuddin Arsyad, an up-and-coming tycoon better known as Haji Isam. The two visited Aru together last year.
– Some Aruese believe development focused on tourism or fisheries would be a better fit for the delicate, small-island ecosystem, home to some of Indonesia’s last best rainforest and famous for its birds-of-paradise.


Arctic in free fall: 2019 sea ice volume sinks to near record for June by Gloria Dickie [07/11/2019]
– High temperatures and relentless sun throughout the spring have caused Arctic sea ice volume to plummet, nearly setting a record low for the month of June. Sea extent has also plummeted, setting a new record low as of July 10.
– At the end of June, 15,900 cubic kilometers (3,814 cubic miles) of ice remained in the Arctic Ocean, coming within a mere 500 cubic kilometers (120 cubic miles) of setting a new ice volume record for the month. 2017 still holds the June record, but just barely; accurate Arctic records have been kept since 1979.
– On July 10, Arctic sea ice extent for 2019 fell to 8.338 million square kilometers (3.219 million square miles), surpassing 2012’s record low of 8.359 million square kilometers (3.227 million square miles).
– While changing weather always dictates sea ice minimum extent and volume in September, scientists say that if conditions remain favorable for melt and ice export to the North Atlantic, then 2019 could beat all records. And because what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay there, that could mean trouble for the world’s weather.

Rattled by sardine stock crash, India begins regulating its fisheries by Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar [07/11/2019]
– In India, fishing has transformed over the decades from a small-scale artisanal practice into an increasingly industrialized sector, and catches have grown apace.
– The industry has largely gone unregulated, and yields have slowed in the past decade, including an unexpected and disruptive crash in the sardine catch.
– In response, India’s coastal states and central government have begun to take measures to make fishing more sustainable.
– The latest, and potentially the most important move, is the creation of the first ministry for fisheries just last month.

‘Let us trade’: Debate over ivory sales rages ahead of CITES summit by Busani Bafana [07/11/2019]
– Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe want to sell off their ivory stocks to raise money for conservation.
– Growing human and elephant populations in these southern African countries have provoked increased human-wildlife conflict, and the governments see legal ivory sales as a way to generate revenue for conservation and development funding.
– Other countries, most notably Kenya, oppose the proposal, on the grounds that previous legal sales stimulated demand for ivory and coincided with a sharp increase in poaching.

Asian elephants gang up in a bid to survive an increasingly human world by Aathira Perinchery [07/11/2019]
– Matriarch grandmas, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews: elephants, much like us, have complex social lives.
– Asian elephants in southern India could be changing their social lives just to adapt to human-use landscapes that are fast replacing their natural habitats. Young male elephants, which are typically solitary, are now forming unusually large, and more long-term, all-male herds.

Can jurisdictional certification curb palm oil deforestation in Indonesia? (commentary) by John Watts; Dan Nepstad; and Silvia Irawan [07/10/2019]
– In this commentary, Dan Nepstad of Earth Innovation Institute and John Watts and Silvia Irawan of Inovasi Bumi argue that the surge in oil palm expansion in Indonesia since the early 2000s has caused deforestation, environmental degradation and social conflicts; strategies to reduce these negative impacts have seen only modest success.
– The authors say the jurisdictional certification pilots of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) represent a promising new approach to these issues. The RSPO pilot in Seruyan — a district that has experienced many of these problems — has led to several innovations, including an agricultural facility that provides technical support to smallholders while managing funds received from companies, implementation of the “jurisdiction-wide environmental protection plan” regulation, a mechanism for resolving land conflicts, and a method for mapping and registering independent smallholders.
– Deforestation may be on the decline in Seruyan, with the exception of the El Niño related fires of 2015 and 2016. Through jurisdictional certification, there is the potential to protect 480 thousand hectares of standing forests and restore 420 thousand hectares of forests.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Cargill rejects Cerrado soy moratorium, pledges $30 million search for ideas by Sarah Sax [07/10/2019]
– The 2006 Amazon Soy Moratorium — a voluntary agreement credited with stemming deforestation in the Amazon due to soy growing over the last decade— is the model put forth in the 2017 Cerrado Manifesto, intended to catalyze action to stop rampant clearing of forests and native vegetation in the savanna biome.
– But now Cargill, a trading firm active in the Cerrado, has published an open letter to its Brazilian soy producers avowing that it will not support a soy moratorium in the savanna biome. Bunge, Archer Daniels Midland, Amaggi and other commodities firms have been resistant to the Manifesto’s call to action as well, which could doom it.
– Cargill’s nixing of a Cerrado soy moratorium came after the firm announced its sustainable soy action plan, along with a $30 million fund to limit Cerrado forest loss, and amid international pleas to curb Brazilian deforestation prompted by the new EU / Mercosur (Latin American economic bloc) trade agreement.
– One possible reason Cargill and other commodities firms and producers are resisting the Cerrado Manifesto: under the Amazon Soy Moratorium producers simply moved their operations out of the Amazon and into the Cerrado. But the Cerrado Manifesto would prevent further deforestation for soy in the biome, potentially curbing rapid production expansion there.

Snowy owl summer: Raptor rehabilitation center releases Arctic visitor by Erik Hoffner [07/10/2019]
– A snowy owl injured on its Massachusetts wintering grounds was brought to Tufts Wildlife Clinic this spring.
– In nature, wildlife must heal fast or perish if they can’t find food or defend themselves from predators, but the lucky ones are brought to a clinic specializing in injured animals.
– Tufts Wildlife Clinic at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University is one such place.
– Mongabay interviewed the clinic’s assistant director about the healing path of “snowy 397” before his eventual successful release.

Vaquita habitat now listed as ‘World Heritage in Danger’ by [07/10/2019]
– The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has decided to list the Sea of Cortez and its islands in Mexico’s Gulf of California, the only place where the critically endangered vaquita is known to occur, on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
– The porpoise’s numbers have dropped drastically, from around 300 in the mid-2000s to just 10 individuals, according to the latest estimate, mostly as a result of getting entangled in gillnets used in the poaching of totoaba fish.
– The continuing illegal totoaba trade poses a threat to the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage Site, the World Heritage Committee said, recommending that the site be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Chimps in Sierra Leone adapt to human-impacted habitats, but threats remain by Ini Ekott [07/10/2019]
– Western chimpanzees are adapting to survive in severely degraded habitat, a new study says.
– However, the study also finds the abundance of western chimpanzees in Sierra Leone is impacted by even secondary roads.
– Ensuring the long-term survival of western chimps calls for changes in agriculture, roads and other development, researchers say.

Jakarta residents sue government over ‘world’s filthiest’ air quality by Hans Nicholas Jong [07/10/2019]
– A group of citizens is suing the Indonesian government, including the president, over the poor air quality in Jakarta, which in recent weeks has ranked as the worst in the world.
– The plaintiffs say the government has failed to take meaningful action to address the many sources of air pollution, and want it to update its safe threshold for pollutant exposure to be in line with global standards.
– The government, however, has deflected, claiming variously that the air quality data is inaccurate, that the public is to blame for not taking mass transit, and that the problem isn’t as severe as it’s made out to be.
– While studies show vehicle emissions account for up to 70 percent of Jakarta’s air pollution, the number of days per year with unhealthy air has actually doubled since an award-winning improvement of the public transit system, indicating other sources play a greater role.

After a lengthy delay, still no green light for Sri Lanka’s red list by Malaka Rodrigo [07/09/2019]
– The rediscovery in recent years of species long thought to be extinct has sparked calls by scientists for an update of Sri Lanka’s red list of threatened species.
– The current list is based on assessments from 2012, and a scheduled update in 2017 was missed because of procedural delays and resource constraints.
– Conservationists have also called for the red-listing criteria used in Sri Lanka to be consistent with the global guidelines set out by the IUCN, in order to ensure consistency in conservation efforts.
– They also want more species recovery initiatives based on the national red list, to make better use of the data to optimize conservation efforts.

Audio: Listen to the first-ever recordings of right whales breaking into song by Mike Gaworecki [07/09/2019]
– On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Jessica Crance, a research biologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who recently discovered right whales singing for the first time ever.
– Gunshot calls made by right whales are exactly what their name suggests they are — loud, concussive bursts of noise. Perhaps that doesn’t sound terribly musical, but the critically endangered eastern population of North Pacific right whales appears to use gunshot calls in a repeating pattern — the first instance ever recorded of a right whale population breaking into song.
– Jessica Crance led the research team at NOAA that documented North Pacific right whales breaking into song in the Bering Sea. On this episode of the Mongabay Newscast, Crance will play recordings of two different right whale song types and discuss what we know about why the critically endangered whales might be singing in the first place.

Critiques of carbon credits aren’t asking the right question (commentary) by Agus Sari [07/09/2019]
– Rather than dwelling too much on the conclusions that critiques of carbon credit schemes seem to put forward with such conviction, we should step back and consider, “Are they asking the right question to begin with?”
– Ultimately, these critiques are premised on the question of whether carbon credits have, to date, delivered all the benefits they’ve promised. Their answer: A decisive “no.” The problem is that such a question, and the response, will leave many readers with the impression that carbon credits are simply a bad option, and we’ll have to look elsewhere for solutions to climate change. Unfortunately, we no longer have such a luxury.
– So, instead, let’s ask this: “Is there any way to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement without protecting the world’s forests?” The answer here is another resounding “no,” but this one with much more serious implications.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Deadly virus detected in wild frog populations in Brazil by Shreya Dasgupta [07/09/2019]
– Researchers have detected the first case of ranavirus infection in both native frog species as well as the invasive American bullfrog in the wild in Brazil.
– While the study cannot attribute ranavirus as the cause of death for the observed American bullfrog tadpoles, the findings suggest that ranavirus is spread in the wild, the researchers say.
– Ranavirus infections could be far more widespread in Brazil, and may have simply gone unnoticed until now, the researchers add.

In Nigeria, a highway threatens community and conservation interests by Linus Unah [07/09/2019]
– Activists and affected communities in Nigeria’s Cross River state continue to protest plans to build a major highway cutting through farmland and forest that’s home to threatened species such as the Cross River gorilla.
– The federal government ordered a slew of measures to minimize the impact of the project, but two years later it remains unclear whether the developers have complied, even as they resume work.
– Environmentalists warn of a “Pandora’s box” of problems ushered in by the construction of the highway, including illegal deforestation, poaching, land grabs, micro-climate change, erosion, biodiversity loss and encroachment into protected areas.
– They’ve called on the state government to pursue alternatives to the new highway, including investing in upgrading existing road networks.

Are plants conscious? The debate rages on by Malavika Vyawahare [07/09/2019]
– An opinion piece in the journal Trends in Plant Science emphatically argues that plants are not conscious.
– The article questions the soundness of widely covered studies that mimosa plants (Mimosa pudica) and peas (Pisum sativum) display learning behaviors that amount to having a consciousness.
– Plants do not have a brain or anything resembling it, the authors point out, and to possess consciousness a structurally complex brain is required.
– Monica Gagliano, who has reported learning behaviors in plants, rejects this view saying that the criteria used to determine animal consciousness cannot be uncritically extrapolated to plants, and that the opinion piece fails to cite sound evidence.

As Amazon deforestation rises, sensational headlines play into Bolsonaro’s agenda (commentary) by Rhett A. Butler [07/08/2019]
– Deforestation appears to be on the rise in the Brazilian Amazon, but sensational headlines are playing into the Bolsonaro administration’s campaign to undermine science-based monitoring of the Amazon.
– For example, administration officials are actively calling into question Brazilian space agency INPE’s data, according to BBC News, which last week quoted General Augusto Heleno Pereira as saying that data on deforestation rates in the Amazon are “manipulated.” Pereira’s claim is completely unsubstantiated, but is nonetheless consistent with a reported push by the Bolsonaro administration to privatize deforestation monitoring.
– It is critically important that deforestation data is reported accurately by the media. The damage being wrought right now is certainly real and significant. There is no need to embellish or misrepresent the data. Doing so only furnishes the Bolsonaro administration with more ammunition for its war on journalism, science, and the environment.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Film that fish: Stereo-video speeds surveys of marine fish communities by Sue Palminteri [07/05/2019]
– Researchers use underwater visual surveys to assess the sizes of fish in marine communities and their associated habitats, but diver-based data collection is time-consuming and requires expertise, and results may vary among different data collectors.
– A multinational research team recently published the first guide to help researchers using diver-operated stereo-video methods (stereo-DOVs) to standardize surveys of fish assemblages (species and their abundances) and their associated habitat.
– The video provides a permanent, shareable record of each survey transect, including the species and numbers of fish seen, while the stereo option allows researchers to measure fish using overlapping images.
– The guide provides information on appropriate equipment; designing a stereo‐DOV if needed; operating it during underwater studies; processing the video data after collection; and analyzing fish behavior, population features and habitat in the resulting video.

New protected area in Bolivia is nearly as large as Yellowstone in the US by [07/05/2019]
– A new protected area in northwest Bolivia will promote wildlife conservation and sustainable development in local communities, its creators say.
– The municipal government of Reyes, in northwest Bolivia, approved the Municipal Park and Natural Area of Integral Management Rhukanrhuka on June 25. The protected area encompasses some 859,451 hectares or more than 2.1 million acres, making it nearly as large as Yellowstone National Park in the United States, widely regarded to be the first national park ever created.
– According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Rainforest Trust, which worked with the Reyes government and local communities to establish Rhukanrhuka, the municipal protected area will benefit the local economy as well as titi monkeys, river dolphins, wattled curassows and other wildlife.

Heart of Ecuador’s Yasuni, home to uncontacted tribes, opens for oil drilling by Kimberley Brown [07/05/2019]
– Ecuador’s environment ministry has approved the environmental assessment plans to drill for oil in Ishpingo, the last field of the controversial ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) project in Yasuni National Park.
– Saving Yasuni from oil extraction has long been a priority for conservationists, since former president Rafael Correa launched the ITT initiative in 2007, asking for international donations in return for keeping oil in the ground. The initiative failed in 2013.
– Ishpingo is the most controversial of the three ITT fields as it overlaps with the Intangible Zone, home to two uncontacted indigenous communities, the Tagaeri and Taromenane; the government claims it will not expand into this area.
– The Ecuadoran government also signed a new decree that now allows oil platforms to be constructed within the Intangible Zone’s buffer area, which was previously forbidden.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, July 5, 2019 by [07/05/2019]
– 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.

Chance rescue turns out to be first record of elusive tortoise species in India by Shreya Dasgupta [07/05/2019]
– Two tortoises that a range officer in Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India rescued from a group of boys turned out to be the impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa), an elusive species that has never been recorded in India before.
– Researchers who have studied the reptile in Myanmar say the high-elevation habitat in Arunachal Pradesh where the tortoises were found is quite similar to that in Myanmar.
– Very little is known about impressed tortoises, and researchers and the range officer hope that a long-term survey will be launched to find more individuals of the species in India.
– For now, the two rescued individuals have been sent to a zoo in the state’s capital.

Environmental defenders in Peru’s Madre de Dios face double jeopardy by Vanessa Romo [07/05/2019]
– In the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve in Peru’s Madre de Dios region, men and women have resisted the threats of mining and illegal logging for 12 years.
– Operation Mercury 2019, launched to eradicate illegal gold mining, also increased harassment of these environmental defenders. For this report, Mongabay Latam recorded their stories.
– No matter what land defenders do, they still lose: if they report illegal activities on their concessions they are threatened by those who are caught; and when they don’t alert anyone out of fear, the authorities sometimes fine them for not reporting the transgressions.

Stylish jumping spider named after late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld by [07/04/2019]
– Researchers have named a previously undescribed species of black-and-white jumping spider Jotus karllagerfeldi, after the late fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld, known for his signature black-and-white style.
– In addition to Karl Lagerfeld’s jumping spider, researchers have described four more new-to-science species of jumping spiders in the new paper, including J. albimanus, J. fortiniae, J. moonensis and J. newtoni.
– All five newly described species belong to a group of miniscule spiders called the brushed jumping spiders, males of which can be extremely colorful and are known to perform elaborate mating dances using a brush of long, colorful bristles on their legs to wave to the females.
– Despite being colorful and charismatic, very little is known about brushed jumping spiders, researchers say, urging amateurs who photograph these spiders to lodge their specimens with museums so that more new species can be described.

Drowning deaths at disused mines in Indonesia renew calls for action by Yovanda [07/04/2019]
– Two children have drowned in abandoned mining pits in the Indonesian Bornean city of Samarinda, bringing the toll from such accidents there to 35 in the last eight years.
– Officials say the victims and their families are to blame — an attitude that has raised the ire of local activists.
– The activists have demanded stronger enforcement of regulations requiring mining companies to fill in and restore their disused mining sites.
– An audit has shown that most mining companies simply don’t comply. And with few consequences or liability for the deaths, there seems little incentive for the companies to change their practices.

Two studies provide dueling looks at where trees should go by Gabriel Popkin [07/04/2019]
– A study published today in Science finds the planet contains a U.S.-sized area of unforested land environmentally capable of growing trees without displacing farmland or cities.
– The authors write that if this area were completely reforested, those new trees could, in theory, soak up two thirds of humanity’s carbon emissions to date.
– Meanwhile, another published earlier this week in Science Advances and which analyzed the tropics only, arrived at a slightly smaller area estimate. It points “restoration hotspots” based on the environmental and economic likelihood of restoration success, including Brazil and several African countries.
– However, the authors of the Science study warn we may not have much time to act as many places become hotter and drier in response to global warming, making it harder for trees to survive. They found that almost a quarter of places that could currently grow forests will become climatically unsuitable under business-as-usual global warming scenarios, with the vast majority of these losses in the tropics.

Land thieves ramp up deforestation in Brazil’s Jamanxim National Forest by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [07/04/2019]
– Deforestation appears to be rising dramatically in Brazil, with satellite data showing the country’s Amazonian region lost more forest in May than during any other month in the past decade.
– Jamanxim National Forest, in the state of Pará, has been particularly hard hit, losing more than 3 percent of its forest cover in May. Another surge was detected during the last week of June.
– Residents say the pressure facing Jamanxim comes from outsiders who are looking to make a profit by logging trees and then selling the newly cleared land to ranchers.
– Many of those living in protected areas believe that the political climate under President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration is encouraging the invasions by loggers into Brazil’s protected areas.

Slight warming could be enough to heighten risk of malaria: Study by [07/04/2019]
– New research has found that malaria parasites need less time to develop at lower temperatures than previously thought.
– Earlier research postulated that malaria transmission in cooler areas was unlikely because parasites took longer to mature than the lifespans of their mosquito hosts.
– The researchers found that the parasites needed between 31 and 37 days to develop at 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit) — substantially lower than the 56 days postulated by previous research and well within the lifespan of female mosquitoes.


Amazon REDD+ scheme side-steps land rights to reward small forest producers by Claire Asher [07/03/2019]
Madagascar mine ignites protests, community division by Edward Carver[07/02/2019]
Amazon rural development and conservation: a path to sustainability? by Jaqueline Sordi [07/02/2019]
As climate chaos escalates in Indian Country, feds abandon tribes by Saul Elbein[07/01/2019]
An Indonesian forest community grapples with the arrival of the outside world by Rod Harbinson [07/01/2019]
Indigenous Iban community defends rainforests, but awaits lands rights recognition by Aseanty Pahlevi, Rhett A. Butler [07/01/2019]