Newsletter 2019-07-18


In Madagascar, villagers oppose plans for a dam that would inundate their land by Edward Carver [07/18/2019]

– A dam project in Madagascar’s central highlands, still in its planning stages, would submerge several villages, forcing hundreds or thousands of people out of their ancestral homes.
– Residents at risk of being displaced oppose the dam, and civil society groups argue that its potentially large size and social impact are not justified by the relatively small amount of power it would produce.
– The Italian company behind the project insists it’s not yet clear if the project is feasible and has made no definitive plans to build the dam.

Bringing back the fish: Q&A with a repentant blast fisherman by Max Radwin[07/15/2019]

– For years local NGOs and government officials attempted to convince the fishermen of El Salvador’s Jiquilisco Bay to stop fishing with explosives, a practice that not only risks life and limb but also harms marine populations and habitats.
– Ultimately, however, it was a fisherman named Eleuterio Lara, now 69, who conjured up a convincing alternative.
– By dropping tree branches, rocks and bicycle parts into the bay, he was able to create an artificial reef that could support enough life to make line-and-pole fishing a viable option. Soon, officials were investing in more advanced cement structures that could create even better reefs and Lara was convincing his fellow fishermen to ditch blast fishing.
– Mongabay hailed Lara as he was peddling down a dirt road on his bicycle for a conversation about his experience with blast fishing, his inspiration for artificial reefs, and what the future holds for Jiquilisco Bay.

Yanomami Amazon reserve invaded by 20,000 miners; Bolsonaro fails to act by Sue Branford [07/12/2019]

– An estimated 20,000 illegal goldminers (garimpeiros) have entered Yanomami Park, one of Brazil’s biggest indigenous reserves, located in Roraima and Amazonas states, near the border with Venezuela.
– The miners are well funded, likely by entrepreneurs, who pay workers and provide them with earthmoving equipment, supplies and airplanes. Three illegal air strips and three open-pit goldmines are in operation within the Yanomami indigenous territory.
– Indigenous leaders blame President Bolsonaro, with his incendiary anti-indigenous language, and his administration, with its policies that have defunded and gutted agencies responsible for law enforcement in the Amazon.
– Bolsonaro claims indigenous people want mining and industrial agribusiness on their lands, but the Yanomami vehemently deny such desires. They say they want self-determination over the types of businesses on their lands. One such new, sustainable business is a chocolate concession that would preserve the rainforest and offer income.

On a Philippine island, indigenous groups take the fight to big palm oil by Rod Harbinson [07/11/2019]

– Many Palawan indigenous communities say they have suffered unfair land acquisition or lease arrangements for oil palm plantations. The situation hit a peak around 2007, when palm oil company Agumil Philippines promoted palm oil around the island as a miracle get-rich-quick crop.
– Many tribal landowners leased or sold parcels of land to Agumil. Those who leased said they were provided loans from the government-run Land Bank of the Philippines, negotiated by Agumil, to clear the land and plant oil palm saplings. Title deeds to the leased land were lodged with the bank as collateral against the loans, where they remain.
– Today the plantations are producing plentiful bunches of oil palm fruit. Still, landowners say they have yet to see any financial returns on their leased land. The problem all cite is that the loans came with crippling 14 percent annual interest rates, which left the original loan amounts inflating out of control. The terms of the lease contracts also stipulate that ongoing operational and managements costs be subtracted from the loan and harvest income.
– Now tribal groups are fighting back on multiple fronts. A tribal representative in the municipality of Rizal recently won a mayoral election. The re-elected mayor of neighboring Brooke’s Point has also pledged a halt to more oil palm plantations. Three of the seven municipalities in southern Palawan have now placed limitations on oil palm cultivation.

Eat the insects, spare the lemurs by Emilie Filou [07/11/2019]

– To solve the twin challenges of malnutrition and biodiversity loss in Madagascar, new efforts are promoting edible insects as a way to take pressure off wildlife that people hunt for meat when food is scarce.
– Insects are widely eaten in Madagascar. They are also incredibly nutritious and one of the “greenest” forms of animal proteins in terms of their land, water and food requirements and their greenhouse gas emissions.
– One program is testing the farming of sakondry, a little-known hopping insect that tastes a lot like bacon. Another is setting up a network of cricket farms.
– Other attempts to reduce reliance on forest protein include improving chicken husbandry in rural areas.


Information is key – but lacking for sharks and rays in the Western Indian Ocean (commentary) by Dave van Beuningen and Rhett Bennett [07/18/2019]
– Due to overexploitation, at least 27 percent of the 222 different shark and ray species found in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) are considered threatened, meaning that they are classified as either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. These species face a high risk of extinction and need urgent conservation intervention.
– Although the majority of sharks and rays pose no threat to humans, we pose a major threat to them, primarily through fisheries. Shark fisheries have existed for many decades, although historically they were primarily caught as unwanted bycatch. However, they are now increasingly being targeted due to the high demand for meat for local consumption and export, and for their fins for the global shark (and ray) fin trade.
– Ensuring that sharks and rays are sustainably managed is important not only because they provide an important source of food and income for many coastal communities, but also because they serve an important function in maintaining balanced and healthy ecosystems through their roles as apex and meso predators, and as food for other, larger marine species. However, information needed to sustainably manage shark and ray populations is sorely lacking in the WIO.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

From over 100,000 species assessments in IUCN update, zero improvements by Shreya Dasgupta [07/18/2019]
– The latest IUCN Red List update, which includes assessments of 105,732 species, lists more than 28,000 species as threatened with extinction.
– The declines of many of these species can be attributed to human overexploitation, according to the IUCN. The red-capped mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus), for example, has moved from vulnerable to endangered in 2019, largely because of threats from illegal hunting for bushmeat and conversion of much of the monkey’s Atlantic coast forest habitat in West Africa to agriculture.
– More than 5,000 trees from 180 countries, and 500 deep-sea bony fish species like the bioluminescent lanternfishes, were also added to the Red List this year.
– No species was assessed as having genuinely improved in status enough to earn it a place in a lower threat category, according to the IUCN.

The frog and the university: Meet the niche new species from Sri Lanka by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [07/18/2019]
– The recent discovery of a new frog species in a niche habitat in Sri Lanka’s cloud forest has highlighted the need for conserving the Indian Ocean island’s dwindling montane habitats.
– The frog, Lankanectes pera, is named after the University of Peradeniya, the country’s oldest, and dwells only in pristine streams flowing through canopy-covered montane forests in the highest reaches of the Knuckles Mountain Range.
– Researchers are calling for extensive studies to inform conservation actions for the species, which they’ve recommended be classified as critically endangered, given its small range and population.

U.S. Virgin Islands bans coral-damaging sunscreens by Heather Gies [07/17/2019]
– On June 25, lawmakers in the U.S. Virgin Islands voted to ban common chemical sunscreen ingredients that can damage coral reefs.
– With the ban, the U.S. Virgin Islands joins a handful of other jurisdictions around the world pioneering action on harmful sunscreens.
– It will be the first such ban to take effect in the United States, followed by Hawaii and Key West, Florida, and among the first internationally.

We are planting trees everywhere: Q&A with Madagascar’s environment ministerby Malavika Vyawahare [07/17/2019]
– Alexandre Georget, a founder of Madagascar’s first green party in 2008, is the country’s new environment minister.
– In an interview with Mongabay, Georget discussed the government’s reforestation plans and outlined how he expected to approach its 2019 goal of reforesting 40,000 hectares.
– He also described the government’s new position on the sale of confiscated illegally harvested precious timber, in advance of the upcoming CITES meeting in August.

Orangutan habitats being cleared in areas near palm oil mills, report finds by Loren Bell [07/17/2019]
– A new study identifies the palm oil mills in Indonesia with the most clearance of orangutan habitat happening around them.
– The top 10 mills are all on the island of Borneo and are producing palm oil that makes its way into the supply chains of consumer goods giants such as Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Avon, Mars, Mondelēz and more ⁠— companies that promised long ago to stop buying palm oil linked to deforestation.
– Just because deforestation is happening around a palm oil mill does not mean it is being done by an entity supplying that mill with palm fruits. But it is a strong red flag that this may be the case.
– Several of the consumer goods giants contacted by Mongabay said they were either actively investigating the deforestation or suspending trading with the mills. Others were more vague in their responses.

Newly described tree species from Tanzania is likely endangered by [07/17/2019]
– Researchers have described a new species of tree from the Usambara mountains of northeastern Tanzania.
– The tree, which grows up to 20 meters (66 feet) in height, has been named Mischogyne iddii after Iddi Rajabu, a resident botanist at the Amani Nature Reserve, where some individuals of the tree can be found.
– The newly described species is known from only two locations in the Usambara mountains, and the researchers estimate that fewer than 50 individuals remain, suggesting a threat category of endangered on the IUCN Red List for the species.

Agriculture, mining, hunting push critically endangered gorillas to the brink by Rachel Fritts [07/16/2019]
– Maiko National Park is one of the most logistically challenging parks in the DRC and one of the most biodiverse. It is one of just two national parks in the world known to contain Grauer’s gorilla, a highly endangered and poorly understood eastern gorilla subspecies, and is also home to the endemic okapi and Congo peafowl, as well as forest elephants, leopards, chimpanzees, and giant pangolins.
– The most major threat to gorillas and other wildlife in Maiko is the bushmeat trade, but this is significantly exacerbated by another threat: artisanal mining. The Second Congo War coincided with a demand spike for a mineral called coltan that forms an essential component of all phones, computers, solar panels, and other electronics.
– Outside of the park, however, there is another threat to wildlife: increasing pressure from rising populations. As villages expand, they require more resources and begin to cut into primary forest to make way for subsistence crops. Satellite imagery show that trees are being cut down near Maiko. As the population expands, such habitat degradation will edge closer to the park itself—bringing even more pressure from the bushmeat trade.
– Villages can be a major threat to wildlife, but they also serve as essential allies to conservation work in the DRC. NGOs working to protect wildlife near Maiko are working closely with local communities to help achieve local buy-in and ensure the long-term sustainable development of the region.

Thousands of sharks and rays are likely entangled in plastic polluting Earth’s oceans by [07/16/2019]
– Scientists at the UK’s University of Exeter examined existing scientific literature and took to Twitter to find documented instances of shark and ray entanglements.
– They ended up finding reports of more than 1,000 entangled animals — and they say the actual number of sharks and rays snarled in plastic is likely to be far higher, as few studies have focused specifically on the issue.
– “Entanglement in marine debris is symptomatic of a degraded marine environment and is a clear animal welfare issue,” the authors write in the study. But they add that entanglement is “likely a far lesser threat” to shark and ray populations than the threat posed by commercial fishing.

Experts deny alleged manipulation of Amazon satellite deforestation data by Karla Mendes [07/16/2019]
– The Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE) issues annual Amazon deforestation reports via its PRODES satellite monitoring system (which relies on NASA Landsat satellite imaging), while the DETER system issues monthly deforestation/degradation alerts (which rely on Sino-Brazilian satellites).
– While experts consider INPE’s monitoring systems among the best in the tropics, ministers in the Bolsonaro administration have insinuated that the deforestation data may be manipulated. Experts have denied this, and note that INPE findings align well with those collected by NGOs Imazon and ISA, and Global Forest Watch (GFW).
– All of the data collected so far from various sources show an upswing in deforestation since Jair Bolsonaro’s election win. However, definitive and precise statistics require year-to-year comparisons, not monthly ones, and won’t be available until later in 2019.
– In March, Brazil’s environment minister pressed for a new but costly private deforestation tracking system. In June, the open-access platform MapBiomas — a network of NGOs, universities and tech firms, along with Google — launched a system to compile data from INPE, ISA, Imazon and GFW to produce definitive deforestation data.

Indonesia’s president signals a transition away from coal power by Hans Nicholas Jong [07/16/2019]
– Indonesia’s president has reportedly signaled a major shift in energy policy, saying he wants to “start reducing the use of coal.”
– Such a policy would run counter to the administration’s previously stated long-term plans of fueling the country’s growing energy demand with coal, with 39 coal-fired plants under construction and 68 more announced.
– Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, and while the main culprit is deforestation and land-use change, the energy sector is poised to overtake it.
– Energy policy analysts have welcomed the reported change in stance from the government, noting that Indonesia has long lagged other countries in developing clean power, despite having an abundance of renewable energy sources.

Colombia registers first drop in deforestation since 2016 FARC peace deal by Taran Volckhausen [07/15/2019]
– Colombia lost 198,000 hectares (489,269 acres) of forest in 2018, according to a report released by the country’s meteorological institute IDEAM. This reduction represents a 10 percent drop compared to 2017 when 220,000 hectares (543,632 acres) were lost.
– Despite slight annual progress, rates of deforestation in Colombia remain stubbornly high, with a sustained increase compared to the low rates the country boasted five years ago.
– While the landmark 2016 FARC peace agreement has opened up parts of Colombia’s remote areas formerly off limits to science, exploration and tourism, it also created a power vacuum exploited by illegal armed groups and wealthy landowners.
– The report points to extensive cattle ranching, coca cultivation related to cocaine production, illegal mining and timber harvesting, unpermitted road construction, burns and extension of the agricultural frontier as the greatest contributors to tropical forest loss in the South American country.

Agroforestry: An ancient ‘indigenous technology’ with wide modern appeal (commentary) by Erik Hoffner [07/15/2019]
– The highly climate- and biodiversity-friendly agricultural practice of agroforestry is now practiced widely around the world, but its roots are deeply indigenous.
– Agroforestry is the practice of growing of trees, shrubs, herbs, and vegetables together in a group mimicking a forest, and its originators were indigenous peoples who realized that growing useful plants together created a system where each species benefited the others.
– Agroforestry is now estimated to cover one billion hectares globally and sequester over 45 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere, a figure that grows annually.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

A response to “On public interest in conservation and internet data” by Zuzana Burivalova; Rhett A Butler; and David S Wilcove [07/15/2019]
– This post is a response to “On public interest in conservation and internet data (commentary)”, which was published on Mongabay on July 15, 2019.
– This text was published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

On public interest in conservation and internet data (commentary) by Ricardo Correia [07/15/2019]
– Conservationists can capture data and use it to generate useful insights for conservation on the relationship between humans and nature. Research in this area falls within the scope of the field of conservation culturomics, the study of human culture through the quantitative analysis of digital data.
– Several studies have used internet search-engine data to evaluate public interest in conservation. These studies were subjected to a few criticisms, however, including the fact that raw data are unavailable due to proprietary constraints. In response to these criticisms, a recent study proposed a methodological work-around — an important contribution that merits praise but should be interpreted with caution.
– Does this mean we should forfeit any hopes that internet data and digital methods can provide useful insights for conservation? Certainly not! The application of digital methods to conservation has immense potential, but also faces challenges inherent to any new development.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Study finds lemurs in degraded Madagascar forest skinny and stunted by Shreya Dasgupta [07/15/2019]
– In Madagascar’s Tsinjoarivo rainforest, adults of the critically endangered diademed sifakas living in the most degraded of forest fragments tend to be skinnier, and young individuals show stunting, compared to individuals living in more intact parts of the forest, according to a new study.
– Skinny bodies in adults could mean that their nutritional intake is compromised in the disturbed areas, researchers say, while young sifakas could be growing more slowly in the most disturbed areas in response to reduced nutrition in the diet.
– Sifakas living in less-disturbed forest fragments, however, don’t appear to be in poorer health than those in continuous, intact forests. This could be because the long-lived sifakas are likely resilient to moderate habitat changes, the researchers say.
– But threats could add up and cause local populations to disappear, the researchers add.

Indonesian governor latest official busted for bribes in environmental case by Indra Nugraha [07/12/2019]
– Three local officials, including a governor, have been arrested and charged for allegedly taking bribes in a land reclamation project.
– The businessman behind the project in Sumatra’s Riau Islands, who has also been arrested, planned to build a resort and tourism site on reclaimed land in a bay designated as protected.
– Observers say that projects involving land reclamation activities are prone to corruption.

Study examines how the Atlantic surfclam is successfully adapting to climate change by [07/12/2019]
– Global climate change poses a severe threat to marine life, but scientists have found at least one species that appears to be successfully adapting to warmer ocean waters.
– A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that, even without factoring in the impacts of fishing, global animal biomass in Earth’s oceans is expected to decrease by as much as 17 percent by 2100 under a “high emissions” scenario that leads to 3-4 degrees Celsius of warming.
– However, a new study published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, shows that, as ocean temperatures rise, Atlantic surfclams, a large saltwater clam found mostly in the western Atlantic Ocean, are capably shifting their range into waters that would have previously been inhospitable to their survival.

More than 10,000 animals and plants seized in massive global operation by [07/12/2019]
– A 26-day worldwide effort in June termed Operation Thunderball, coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organization (WCO), led to seizures of thousands of protected animals and plants.
– Confiscated items included more than 2,600 plants, nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, more than 4,300 birds, 23 live primates, 30 big cats, 440 pieces of elephant tusks, nearly 10,000 marine wildlife animals and their products, and 74 truckloads of timber.
– Based on intelligence gathered before the operation was launched, the authorities identified wildlife trafficking routes and smuggling hotspots, which then led to seizures and almost 600 people being identified as suspects.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, July 12, 2019 by [07/12/2019]
– 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.

Let there be lights, to help migratory cranes avoid power lines by Sue Palminteri[07/12/2019]
– A test of a new system deploying ultraviolet (UV) lights on power lines greatly reduced potentially deadly collisions with the lines by migrating sandhill cranes.
– Developers of the Avian Collision Avoidance System, or ACAS, randomly assigned the system to be on or off each night of a four-month testing period.
– Turning on the lighting system reduced crane collisions by 98 percent and enabled crane flocks to more quickly and calmly avoid the power lines while in flight.
– Many birds can detect UV light, though humans cannot, so the system has potential to reduce a major threat to a range of migratory species without affecting the visibility of structures to humans.

‘Dangerous’ new regulation puts Indonesia’s carbon-rich peatlands at risk by Hans Nicholas Jong [07/12/2019]
– The Indonesian government has effectively rescinded protection for much of its carbon-rich peatlands by issuing a new regulation that limits protection to the area of a peatland ecosystem where the peat is the thickest.
– Concession holders will now be allowed to exploit areas outside these “peat domes,” as long as they maintain the water table, in a mechanism seemingly borrowed straight out of the pulpwood industry playbook.
– Under previous regulations, areas with a layer of peat 3 meters (10 feet) or deeper were off-limits for exploitation, and any companies with such areas in their concessions were obliged to restore and protect them. These areas are now open to exploitation, as long as they’re not considered part of the peat dome.
– Activists warn the new regulation will encourage greater exploitation of Indonesia’s fast-diminishing peatlands, increasing the risks of fire, carbon emissions, and failure to meet the government’s own emissions reduction and peat restoration goals.


Salvadoran fishermen ditch blast fishing for artificial reefs by Max Radwin[07/10/2019]
In Indonesia, a land ‘left behind’ weighs its development alternatives by Ian Morse[07/09/2019]