Newsletter 2019-08-01


Logging, mining companies lock eyes on a biodiverse island like no other by Gianluca Cerullo [07/31/2019]

– Woodlark Island sits far off the coast of Papua New Guinea and is swathed in old growth forests home to animals found nowhere else on the planet. However, the island and its unique inhabitants have an uncertain future. Lured by high-value timber, a logging company is planning to clear 40 percent of Woodlark’s forests. Researchers say this could drive many species to extinction.
– The company says logging will be followed by the planting of tree and cocoa plantations, and it has submitted to the government a permit application to clear forests as an agricultural development project. However, an independent investigation found this application process “riddled with errors, inconsistencies and false information” and that the company did not properly obtain the consent of landowners who have lived on the island for generations.
– It is unclear if the application has been approved, but there are signs that the company may be moving forward with its plans.
– Meanwhile, a mining company is pushing forward with its own plans to develop an open-pit gold mine on the island. The mine is expected to result in increased road construction and discharge nearly 13 metric tons of mining waste into a nearby bay.

Fuel trafficking sustains illegal mining in Peru’s Madre de Dios by Vanessa Romo[07/31/2019]

– Mongabay Latam confirmed that one of the new trafficking methods is the modification of fuel tanks in vehicles to allow room for more fuel, which is permitted by the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
– After Operation Mercury 2019, the communities of San Gabán (in the Puno region) and Amarakaeri (in the Madre de Dios region) were identified as areas that could see an influx of displaced illegal miners.

Travelogue: Visiting an indigenous rainforest tribe in Borneo (Insider) by Rhett A. Butler [07/31/2019]

– Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler writes about his visit to Sungai Utik, a Penan Iban community in Indonesian Borneo last month.
– Rhett visited Sungai Utik to see how the community has protected their customary forest from logging and deforestation.
– Sungai Utik was recognized for their efforts with the prestigious U.N. Equator Prize last month.
– This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.

Peru’s crackdown on coca pushes illegal growers toward protected areas by Vanessa Romo [07/30/2019]

– In the last two years, the cultivation of coca has deforested more than 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) and invaded the buffer zones of Bahuaja-Sonene National Park and Tambopata National Reserve.
– Clandestine cocaine laboratories have been found in both areas.
– The director of Corah, a project in charge of the eradication of illicit crops, indicates that they will continue with interventions. Local authorities, however, demand the presence of the National Commission for Development and Life without Drugs to provide alternative sources of livelihood.


New film reveals at-risk ‘uncontacted’ Awá tribe in Brazilian Amazon by Karla Mendes [08/01/2019]
– A just released documentary film includes footage of an uncontacted indigenous group known as the Awá Guajá, hunter-gatherers described by NGO Survival International as the most threatened tribe on the planet. The indigenous group lives in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in Northeast Maranhão state.
– The footage was captured by chance by cameraman Flay Guajajara, a member of the Mídia Índia (a collective of indigenous communicators of various ethnicities) when he and other Guajajara Indians were on a hunting trip in the Araribóia reserve, one of the country’s most threatened indigenous territories. *
– The Awá share the Araribóia reserve with their Guajajara relatives. In late 2012, the Guajajara set up a group who call themselves “Guardians of the Forest” and risk their lives combatting illegal logging to protect the reserve and the Awá’s lives.

Venezuelan crisis: Caring for priceless botanical treasures in a failed state by Jeanfreddy Gutiérrez Torres [07/31/2019]
– Venezuela’s Botanical Garden of Caracas was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Its 70-hectare (173-acre) garden, National Herbarium and Henri Pittier Library are considered a national, and international treasure, and a vital repository of Latin American and global natural history utilized frequently by researchers.
– But a devastating drought that started two years ago, plus massive thefts of equipment (ranging from air conditioners to computers, plumbing and even electrical wiring), plus a failed electrical and public water supply, have all combined to threaten the Garden’s priceless collections.
– The annual botanical garden budget has been slashed to a mere $500 per year, which has forced staff to rely on innovative conservation solutions which include crowd funding to pay for rainwater cisterns, as well as volunteer programs in which participants contribute not only labor, but irrigation water they bring from home.
– As Venezuela’s government grows increasingly corrupt and incompetent, and as the national economy spirals out of control with hyperinflation topping 1.7 million percent in 2018, the botanical garden’s curators have no ready answers as to how to go about preserving the rare plants they tend on into the future.

Forest loss threatens territorial gibbons in southern Borneo by[07/31/2019]
– Bornean southern gibbons have the largest territories of any species in their genus, a new study has found.
– These large home ranges, combined with the species’ intense territoriality, puts it at particular risk of habitat loss as a result of deforestation and fire.
– The findings of this research demonstrate that this endangered species needs large areas of unbroken forest.

Study shows how to protect more species for less money in western Amazon by Liz Kimbrough [07/31/2019]
– A new study identifies nearly 300 areas for proposed protection in the western Amazon that would give the most bang for the buck in terms of the number of species conserved in this biodiversity hotspot.
– The researchers considered management and lost-opportunity costs in their analyses, and found that the presence of indigenous communities in protected areas can actually bring down the costs of conservation.
– While the estimated cost for protecting these proposed areas is just $100 million a year — less than a hundredth of the GDP of the countries in the western Amazon — the researchers say there needs to be clear political will to implement such a solution.

Deforestation drops in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, but risks remain: experts by Karla Mendes [07/31/2019]
– A joint report from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and NGO Fundação SOS Mata Atlântica based on satellite imaging shows an annual reduction of 9.3 percent in deforested areas in the Mata Atlântica, the country’s most endangered biome.
– The cleared area in 17 Atlantic Forest states between October 2017 and April 2018 totaled 11,399 hectares (28,167 acres), which is 1,163 hectares (2,874 acres) less than over the same period a year earlier.
– However, intense pressure from agribusiness and the real estate market continues placing the Mata Atlântica’s ecosystems under threat, risks that include ongoing deforestation, losses in biodiversity, and potential extinction of species, experts warn.

‘Extremely rare’ fossil tooth of hamster-sized monkey found in Peru by Shreya Dasgupta [07/31/2019]
– From the riverbed of the Río Alto Madre de Dios in southeastern Peru, researchers have found an extremely small tooth that belonged to a species of tiny monkey that lived some 18 million years ago.
– Researchers have named the new species of extinct monkey Parvimico materdei, with parvimico meaning tiny monkey and the species name referring to the river where the fossil tooth was found.
– From the tooth, the researchers have deduced that the monkey was exceptionally small, in the size range of marmosets and tamarins, and likely ate a mix of insects and fruits.
– Given how the monkey fossil record for the period between 13 million and 31 million years ago from South America is extremely scarce, creating a gap in the understanding of the evolution of New World monkeys, the discovery of P. materdei is incredibly exciting, researchers say.

Indonesia investigates oil spill in Java Sea by state energy company by Basten Gokkon [07/31/2019]
– An oil well operated by Indonesian state-owned energy company Pertamina has been leaking crude into the Java Sea for nearly three weeks now.
– The slick has spread as far as 84 kilometers (52 miles) to the west and covers an area of more than 4,500 hectares (11,100 acres), according to satellite imagery.
– Pertamina says it may take eight weeks to shut off the leaking well, and three months for affected areas to recover from the environmental damage.
– The leak is the latest involving Pertamina. Five people were killed in March last year when oil from a ruptured Pertamina pipeline caught fire in Borneo.

Reef fish are faring fine in eastern Indonesia, study suggests by Julia John [07/31/2019]
– A new study examines the health of reef fish populations in the lesser Sunda-Banda seascape, a part of the Coral Triangle, which overlaps with Indonesian waters in the western Pacific.
– In remote areas far from large human populations, reef fish are generally doing well, the researchers found.
– The researchers propose turning one area in Southwest Maluku, Indonesia, into a marine protected area.

Microplastic waste fouls up beaches on Sri Lanka’s southern tourism coast by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [07/31/2019]
– Beaches along Sri Lanka’s southern coast, a tourism hotspot, are increasingly being contaminated with microplastic pollution, a survey has found.
– The study found that 60 percent of sand samples and 70 percent of surface water samples from 10 survey sites contained an abundance of microplastics up to 4.5 millimeters (0.18 inches) in size.
– The researchers have called for meticulous waste management initiatives, regulating the use of plastics, and further studies to ascertain the magnitude of the pollution caused by plastic waste.

A Philippine community that once ate giant clams now works to protect them by Leilani Chavez [07/31/2019]
– The island of Samal in the southern Philippines is home to one of 40 sites around the country where giant clams (Tridacna spp.) are nurtured as part of a conservation program.
– For the local community, giant clams had long been a source of food, so there was initially some resistance to the program when it started in 2001.
– Today, the clam sanctuary has grown into an ecotourism venture that generates revenue for the community and employs local seniors, particularly women.
– However, the mollusks are threatened by rising ocean temperatures, declining salinity and other human-driven factors, leaving their fate — and that of the community that has come to depend on them — in the balance.

Malagasy president considers backing declaration on conservation goals by [07/30/2019]
– Madagascar’s president, Andry Rajoelina, is considering sponsoring a petition launched by the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) that outlines conservation priorities for the country.
– Almost 90 percent of Madagascar’s flora and fauna is endemic to the island nation, but is severely threatened by forest loss and trafficking.
– If the petition garners a sufficient number of signatures by August 2 it will be instated as the ‘Declaration of Ivato.’

Top Mongabay beach reads for the ‘dog days’ of summer by Erik Hoffner [07/30/2019]
– The name Mongabay derives from a tropical island off the coast of Madagascar, so we wanted to share some relaxing ‘beach reads’ for some easy reading, whether you are on holidays or not.
– The ‘dog days’ are that time each year when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises just before the sun, and ranges from July 3 to August 11. It also coincides with beach time holidays for many residents of the Northern Hemisphere.
– Here are a few top ‘beach reads’ our editors at Mongabay bureaus around the world suggest for our readers. Many more relaxing, good news stories can be found at our page that aggregates them all.

Authorities investigate murder of indigenous leader in Brazilian Amazon by Thais Borges (translated by Tulio Borges) [07/30/2019]
– A task force is investigating the murder of indigenous leader Emyra Wajãpi, who was found dead on July 23, stabbed close to the Waseity indigenous village where he lived, in the northern state of Amapá, according to the Wajãpi Village Council (Apina).
– On the night of July 26, a group of 50 gold miners — some reportedly armed with rifles and machine guns — allegedly invaded the neighboring Yvytotõ indigenous village and threatened residents, forcing them to flee, Apina reported. Authorities are investigating the alleged incursion.
– The violence in Amapá came as far-right president Jair Bolsonaro continues pressing for legalization of mining and agribusiness operations within protected indigenous reserves. Indigenous groups argue that the president’s rhetoric encourages invasions of indigenous lands, escalating violence against native people.
– The indigenous villages where the alleged crimes took place are part of the Wajãpi indigenous reserve, an area of about 6,000 square kilometers (2,317 square miles), rich in gold and other minerals.

West Nile virus lingers longer in birds exposed to light pollution by [07/29/2019]
– House sparrows exposed to light at night had higher levels of West Nile virus in their blood for two days longer than sparrows that were exposed to darkness, according to a new study.
– The research sought to mimic the effects of light pollution common to urban environments on virus levels in a known reservoir of West Nile virus, which can cause a flu-like fever in humans.
– The team’s research suggests that an outbreak could be 41 percent more likely to happen as a result of the persistence of the virus in this host.

Brazilian Amazon deforestation surge is real despite Bolsonaro’s denial (commentary) by Philip M. Fearnside [07/29/2019]
– June 2019 saw an 88 percent increase in Amazon deforestation over the same month in 2018. In the first half of July 2019, deforestation was 68 percent above that for the entire month of July 2018, according to INPE, Brazil’s federal monitoring agency.
– However, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, is denying the accuracy of his own government statistics, calling INPE’s data “lies.”
– Like US President Trump, Bolsonaro has a history of denying scientific data and facts when they conflict with his ideology and policies, including the need for action to combat the escalating climate crisis.
– The conservation outlook for the rest of Bolsonaro’s four-year term is grim; he has in just six months dismantled Brazil’s environmental agencies, deforestation program and environmental licensing system. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

India pushes for its largest ever hydropower project despite concerns by Mayank Aggarwal [07/29/2019]
– India’s hydropower sector has come back into focus with the government clearing the path for the controversial, large-scale Dibang hydropower project in Arunachal Pradesh state.
– The project, estimated to cost about $4 billion, is expected to be the highest dam in India once completed and aimed at preventing flooding in downstream areas. It’s controversial for its proposed felling of trees and possible impact on local communities, ecology, environment and wildlife of the area.
– In its focus on the hydropower sector, the Indian government has also introduced a bill to parliament on dam safety, to regulate the more than 5,600 existing dams in India, some of them more than 100 years old, and the nearly 4,700 under construction.

Two ferns presumed extinct found on remote Australian mountaintops by [07/26/2019]
– Researchers have rediscovered two species of ferns on the mountaintops of Queensland, Australia, that were last seen more than 50 years ago and presumed extinct.
– The ferns, Hymenophyllum whitei and Oreogrammitis leonardii, were found on Thornton Peak and Mount Finnigan respectively during an expedition in August 2017.
– Researchers recommend listing both species as endangered in Queensland because they occur over a very limited area.

To regulate or not to regulate? EU climate commitments face key test over global deforestation (commentary) by Sam Lawson [07/26/2019]
– European citizens overwhelmingly support government action to address deforestation. But it has been painfully slow in coming. Eleven years have passed since the EU first promised to act.
– Meanwhile, EU imports of high-risk commodities like palm oil, beef, and soy from tropical countries have continued to rise, and deforestation to feed them has accelerated.
– Europe’s new plan to address its role in driving rampant, often illegal deforestation through its consumption of commodities is finally ready. It has taken over 10 years to write. It runs to 21 pages. But just one short sentence really matters — and the future of the planet may hinge on how it is interpreted.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, July 26, 2019 by [07/26/2019]
– 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.

In Indonesia, a court victory for Bali’s ban on single-use plastics by Basten Gokkon [07/26/2019]
– Indonesia’s top court has rejected a challenge to a ban on single-use plastics on the island of Bali.
– The ban was proposed last December and was subsequently challenged by plastic-recycling industry, which argued it would harm the livelihoods of manufacturers, recyclers, and trash pickers.
– The ruling potentially paves the way for other local governments around Indonesia to impose their own bans on plastic.
– The country is the number two source of the plastic waste that ends up in the oceans, behind only China, and has set itself the target of reducing that waste output by 70 percent by 2025.

Baby whale wears a camera, reveals its travel and nursing behavior: video by Sue Palminteri [07/25/2019]
– A video taken by a camera carried by a baby whale shows underwater nursing behavior from the calf’s perspective.
– The CATS Cam camera used in the filming incorporates multiple environmental sensors, such as depth and temperature, as well as movement and acceleration by the calf.
– The unusual perspective may help researchers better understand the nursing process of a baby whale, including surfacing to breathe while its mother remains underwater and suckling from mammary slits on each side of its mom.

Simba’s future depends on putting communities at the forefront of lion conservation (commentary) by Fred Nelson and John Kamanga [07/25/2019]
– While Simba and Mufasa’s return to the big screen is good news for Disney and summer movie fans, in the quarter-century since the original animated version of The Lion King was released, Africa’s lion population has declined by roughly half. With only about 20,000 lions remaining in Africa, and their historic range having contracted by over 80 percent, the lion’s future is increasingly uncertain.
– In the face of these challenges, lion conservation is becoming a more urgent priority, particularly given the important role that lions play in African economies through wildlife tourism. In Tanzania, for example, home to perhaps half of all the remaining wild lions left in the world, lions are a cornerstone of a national tourism industry that earns over $2 billion annually and accounts for roughly a quarter of all foreign exchange earnings.
– Fortunately, when conservation programs are able to provide people with reasons to support lion conservation, local communities can become key stewards of lions and other wildlife.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Cocoa and gunshots: The struggle to save a threatened forest in Nigeria by Orji Sunday [07/19/2019]
The ambitious plan to recover and rewild the feisty, dwarf cow by Jeremy Hance [07/19/2019]