Newsletter 2019-10-17


Venezuelan crisis: Government censors environmental and scientific data by Jeanfreddy Gutiérrez Torres [10/16/2019]

– Venezuela is among the most biodiverse nations in the world. But it has become increasingly difficult to measure, assess and protect the nation’s environment as the federal government spreads a dense cloak of secrecy over environmental and scientific statistics — concealing invaluable baseline, annual and long-term data.
– When the country was experiencing prosperity in the first decade of the 21st century, data was readily available on the Internet. But from roughly 2011 onward, as the nation spiraled into economic and social chaos, statistics began disappearing from the Web, and being unavailable to the public, scientific researchers and activists.
– Many important government environmental and social indices have been hidden from public view, including updated data on inflation, unemployment, crime, deforestation, ecosystem and wildlife endangerment, mining, water and air quality, pollution, climate change, energy, national fisheries production and more.
– Compounding governmental restrictions on transparency are difficulties in collecting scientific data in a nation suffering economic and social freefall. For example, 70 percent of Venezuelan weather stations are inoperative, meaning that regional temperature and rainfall patterns are no longer being measured.

At India’s Assam Zoo, decades of experience lead to rhino-breeding success by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [10/16/2019]

– Assam State Zoo in northeastern India has been breeding greater one-horned rhinos in captivity since the 1960s.
– However, until 2011 the country lacked a formal, nationally coordinated program dedicated to maintaining a viable captive population of the species, which is considered by the IUCN to be vulnerable to extinction due to poaching.
– India launched an official captive-breeding initiative in 2011. One calf has already been born at the Assam Zoo as part of the program, and another is on the way. An additional six have been born in the Patna Zoo in India’s Bihar state.

‘Witnessing extinction in the flames’ as the Amazon burns for agribusiness by Ana Ionova [10/10/2019]

– The vast and biodiverse Triunfo do Xingu protected area in the Brazilian Amazon lost 22 percent of its forest cover between 2007 and 2018, with figures this year indicating the rate of deforestation is accelerating.
– The surge in deforestation, driven largely by cattle ranching, is part of a wider trend of encroachment into protected areas across the Brazilian Amazon under the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, according to conservationists.
– With the widespread clearing slicing up the larger protected area into smaller fragments of forest, human rights advocates worry that it will become increasingly difficult for forest-dependent indigenous communities to survive within it.
– The deforestation is likely to have a far-reaching impact on the biodiversity of the region, which is home to countless species of plants and animals not adapted to living in areas with higher temperatures and less vegetation.



On the front line of climate change in India’s Sundarbans by Johan Augustin [10/17/2019]
– The sea level has risen by an average of 3 centimeters a year over the past two decades in the Sundarbans, the vast mangrove delta at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal, leading to one of the fastest rates of coastal erosion in the world.
– Residents of the dozens of islands in the Indian part of the Sundarbans have seen their homes swallowed up by the sea and their farmland poisoned by saltwater, forcing many to relocate.
– The fast-encroaching sea, driven by climate change, has also eaten away at the hunting grounds of the Sundarbans’ famous Bengal tigers, pushing them to target the villagers’ livestock — and, increasingly, the villagers themselves.
– At the same time, villagers unable to farm and experiencing dwindling fish catches are venturing deeper into tiger territory to look for crabs and collect honey, putting them at even greater risk of being attacked by the big cats.

Biodiversity ‘not just an environmental issue’: Q&A with IPBES ex-chair Robert Watson by [10/17/2019]
– The World Bank and IMF meetings from Oct. 14-20 will include discussions on protecting biodiversity and the importance of investing in nature.
– A recent U.N. report found that more than 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction.
– In a conversation with Mongabay, Robert Watson, who chaired the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that produced the report, discusses the economic value of biodiversity.

Violence against indigenous peoples explodes in Brazil by Clarissa Beretz [10/17/2019]
– Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) has published its annual report on violence against indigenous peoples, showing a sharp rise in murders and land grabs.
– According to the report, 135 indigenous peoples were killed in 2018 — an increase of 23 percent from the previous year. There were also a large number of deaths that occurred as a result of state negligence, including suicide (101 cases) and infant mortality (519 cases).
– Preliminary data for 2019 indicate that, in the first nine months of the Bolsonaro government, there have already been reports of 160 cases of land invasion, illegal exploitation of natural resources, and damage to property in 153 indigenous territories — twice as many compared to the previous year.

Extreme snowfall led to reproductive collapse in some Arctic wildlife in 2018 by [10/16/2019]
– In 2018, while the Arctic continued to see warmer summers and retreating snow cover in general because of rising global temperatures, there was also very heavy snowfall that kept several areas covered in “unusually large amounts of snow” even in late summer, when much of it should have melted.
– In northeast Greenland, one of the regions affected by the excessive snowfall, most animals and plants, including Arctic foxes and migratory shorebirds, failed to reproduce, researchers found.
– While one non-breeding year may not spell doom for Arctic wildlife, frequent extreme weather events like the one in 2018 could make it harder for Arctic species to bounce back and survive, the researchers warn.

Biodiversity boosts crop pollinators and pest controllers, study finds by [10/16/2019]
– A new study looks at the reliance on biodiversity of ecosystem services provided by pollinating and pest-controlling insects.
– Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the “landscape simplification” that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects.
– The scientists found that the reduction in ecosystem services provided by these insects tended to lead to lower crop yields.

Modern farms need both high- and low-tech farming practices (commentary) by Juan Minvielle [10/16/2019]
– Farmers across Argentina have had to contend with new and unprecedented pressures. As a third-generation Argentinian farmer, I have seen this first-hand.
– The key to surviving any major change is to adapt, and by embracing both low-tech and high-tech practices, farmers can thrive and prosper even in the face of significant climate and food security challenges.
– The use of biotech seeds, especially, provides farmers with much more flexibility in combating weeds and pests, without having to resort to mechanical production that breaks up the soil. Many countries have been slow, or perhaps reluctant, to adopt this kinds of technology. Yet Argentinian farms have reaped the benefits and are now able to make progress towards more sustainable agriculture.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Audio: Exploring the deep sea with biologist Diva Amon by Mike Gaworecki [10/16/2019]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with deep sea biologist Diva Amon about what we do and don’t know about biodiversity at the bottom of the ocean.
– Plans to mine the ocean floor are moving forward around the world, especially around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea that create deposits of valuable metals. But given the fact that humans have explored less than 1 percent of the deep sea, it’s fair to say that we really have no idea what’s at risk.
– Amon is here to talk about the findings of a recent study she co-authored about biodiversity and research effort at deep sea vents, what got her into studying the bottom of the ocean in the first place, and two of her favorite deep sea creatures: the Dumbo octopus and the headless chicken monster.

Malaysian attempt at Sumatran rhino IVF fails on low quality of sperm by Basten Gokkon [10/16/2019]
– A recent effort to produce a Sumatran rhino embryo from egg and sperm samples taken from the last of the species in Malaysia has failed, officials said.
– The low quality of the sperm, extracted in 2015 and 2016 from an aging rhino that has since died, was cited as the main cause of the failure to fertilize the egg.
– Malaysian officials say they will continue to improve and attempt their in vitro fertilization attempts, and have called on Indonesia to send sperm samples from younger rhinos held in Sumatra.
– Indonesia has refused to send any samples, citing the need for a formal agreement, but conservationists say that captive-breeding of Sumatran rhinos is the only feasible solution to protect the species from extinction.

For the Philippines, a warming world means stronger typhoons, fewer fish by [10/16/2019]
– Global warming is expected to increase the frequency of El Niño and La Niña weather events in the Pacific, resulting in more powerful typhoons hitting the Philippines, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
– The report’s authors warn that even under a low-carbon-emission scenario, such extreme weather events are inevitable.
– The Philippines also has to contend with warming ocean waters that threaten to kill its coral reefs and drive its once-plentiful fish stocks to cooler regions of the Pacific.
– The IPCC authors say more research is needed to better understand how ocean warming will impact the Philippines and the wider region.

Cook Islands MPA leader fired after supporting seabed mining freeze by Monica Evans [10/15/2019]
– Last month the Cook Islands government dismissed the director of the world’s biggest mixed-use marine protected area (MPA), which is called Marae Moana.
– Jacqueline Evans, a marine scientist, had played a key leadership role in the seven-year campaign to establish Marae Moana and served as its director since the MPA was enshrined into law in 2017.
– Her firing came after she expressed support for a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining across the Pacific Ocean. Seabed mining has been a sticking point throughout the history of Marae Moana, with some environmentalists hoping to prohibit it outright and other parties wanting to explore it as a potential source of revenue.
– Evans was a 2019 winner of the prestigious international Goldman Prize for grassroots environmentalists in recognition of her work to make Marae Moana a reality.

Misuse of wildlife trade data jeopardizes efforts to protect species and combat trafficking (commentary) by Jonathan Kolby [10/15/2019]
– Oversimplification of the interpretation of wildlife trade data jeopardizes the ability of policy makers to prioritize aiming limited resources towards those species that truly require protection from unsustainable trade and wildlife trafficking, which threaten species with extinction.
– In a recent study published in Science, the authors expressed a series of conclusions that are based on a gross misinterpretation of wildlife trade data.
– Wildlife conservation policy decisions should rely on the best available analyses of threats in order to respond most efficiently. The interpretation of data presented in this study show numerous flaws that may interfere with perceptions about where unsustainable and illegal trade is actually occurring and where limited resources should be directed to prevent wildlife extinction.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

‘Weird’ police probe rules Indonesian activist died in drink-driving crash by Ayat S. Karokaro [10/15/2019]
– Police in Indonesia have ruled the death of an outspoken environmental activist a lone drink-driving accident.
– But former colleagues of Golfrid Siregar, 34, dispute this finding, pointing to several holes in the evidence cited by police, including independent testimony from his family that he wasn’t a drinker.
– Golfrid’s death has prompted an international outcry, with groups such as Human Rights Watch calling for a thorough and transparent investigation into his death.
– Golfrid provided legal assistance for local communities ensnared in land conflicts with oil palm companies, and at the time of his death was involved in a lawsuit over alleged forgery in the permitting process for a controversial hydropower project in an orangutan habitat.

A Philippine community fights a lonely battle against the mine in its midst by Leilani Chavez [10/15/2019]
– A tribal community in the Philippines has since July maintained a blockade of a controversial gold mine whose permit has expired but whose operator insists is allowed to continue working pending a renewal.
– The expiration in June of the permit held by OceanaGold Philippines Inc. (OGPI) for the Didipio mine has sparked a policy tangle, given that it’s the first permit of its kind in the Philippines to end, with no precedent for how the renewal application should proceed.
– The provincial government supports the end of mining operations, but has been largely bypassed in the permit renewal process, which existing laws place under the authority of the national government.
– President Rodrigo Duterte, who has criticized destructive mining practices in the past, omitted to do so in his latest state of the nation address, but has thrown the community a lifeline by requiring that OGPI seek free, prior and informed consent for its renewal application.

‘Bring it on,’ EU MP says of trade fight over palm biofuel phase-out by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/15/2019]
– A European member of parliament says the bloc isn’t concerned about threats by Indonesia and Malaysia to file a trade complaint over an EU policy to phase out palm oil-based biofuels by 2030.
– The two Southeast Asian countries supply 85 percent of the world’s palm oil, and have denounced the EU policy as discriminatory.
– The EU has justified its decision on the environmental impact of palm oil production, notably the large-scale deforestation to clear land for palm plantations.
– Concerns have also been raised that Indonesia’s response of boosting its domestic production of palm-based biodiesel, which a minister calls “green fuel,” could actually result in a net increase in carbon emissions.

$65 million deal to protect Congo’s forests raises concerns by John C. Cannon [10/14/2019]
– The Central African Forest Initiative negotiated a deal with the Republic of Congo for $65 million in funding.
– The aim of the initiative is to protect forest while encouraging economic development.
– But environmental organizations criticized the timing and the wording of the agreement, which they argue still allows for oil drilling and exploration that could harm peatlands and forest.
– Two companies in the Republic of Congo recently found oil beneath the peatlands that could nearly triple the Central African country’s daily production.

British armed forces supplied by Brazilian meat firm linked to Amazon deforestation, corruption: Report by [10/14/2019]
– The British military sourced beef for ration packs from Brazilian meatpacker JBS despite its history of corruption, poor environmental record and links to human rights abuses.
– Ration packs supplied to the UK armed forces between 2009 and 2016 were found to be manufactured by JBS and supplied by Vestey Foods.
– The sources of JBS beef imported by Vestey into the UK could not be confirmed and may not have come from illegally deforested lands or suspect supply chains.
– Cattle ranching is the largest single driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and a significant contributor to tropical carbon emissions. A recent wave of forest fires in the region prompted a global outcry and calls for tougher action to curb environmental destruction.

Education, compensation, and spiritual outreach protect threatened whale sharks by Tariq Engineer [10/14/2019]
– In the 1980s and 90s, whale sharks were being killed in their hundreds off the western coast of India. Demand for the shark’s fins and meat in south-east Asia meant a fisherman could earn as much as $7,000 for a large shark.
– In 2001, India declared the whale shark a protected species. In 2004, the Whale Shark Conservation Project began its effort to spread awareness of the ban among the fishermen in the state of Gujarat, where the killing was taking place, and to convert the fishermen from hunters to protectors of the fish.
– Through a combination of community outreach, participation of a popular spiritual leader, and financial compensation, the community was convinced to stop killing the sharks. Since then, 710 whale sharks have also been rescued after getting entangled in fishing nets, while scientists have been able to tag eight sharks for research purposes.

Expansion of a famous elephant park holds out hope for Africa’s big tuskers by Matthew Hattingh, Mlu Mdletshe [10/14/2019]
– Eight of Africa’s remaining 30 “big tuskers” live in South Africa’s Tembe Elephant Park.
– The park is set to be expanded by up to 26,000 hectares, allowing its herd of 200 to grow.
– The park is owned and managed by local communities.

Rare songbird recovers, moves off endangered species list by [10/11/2019]
– The Kirtland’s warbler, a species that was close to extinction five decades ago, is now thriving and has been removed from the U.S. federal list of endangered species.
– Where there were fewer than 200 breeding pairs of the warbler in the 1970s and 1980s, today there are more than 2,300.
– However, the warbler’s continued survival is conservation-reliant, which means it will still depend heavily on continued conservation efforts.
– Conservationists say the bird’s comeback is testament that the Endangered Species Act works, and warn that current attempts by the Trump administration to roll back conservation policies could lead to other protected species going extinct.

Deforestation continues to rise in the Brazilian Amazon by [10/11/2019]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continues its upward trajectory according to data released today by the country’s national space research institute INPE.
– Monthly deforestation alert data showed that 1,444 square kilometers of forest in Brazil’s “Legal Amazon” — or Amazonia — were cleared during the month of September, bringing the area chopped down through the first nine months of the year to 7,604 square kilometers, an 86 percent increase over the same period last year.
– INPE put the area burned in the Amazon year to date at 59,826 square kilometers, a 97 percent increase in the area burned relative to last year.
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is on pace to be the highest in over a decade.

Saving an island from the worst oil spill in the Philippines: The case of Guimaras by Arnel Murga [10/11/2019]
– On August 11, 2006, the oil tanker M/T Solar 1, hired by Petron Corporation, sank off the coast of Guimaras, an island province in the Philippines, spilling more than 2.1 million liters (about 555,000 gallons) of bunker fuel. It is still known as the worst oil spill in the Philippines’ history.
– The oil that contaminated the water was not only devastating for the environment but also for the people and the economy of Guimaras.
– Thirteen years later, Guimaras once again boasts pristine beaches with white sand and the fisherfolks have returned to harvesting the abundance of the waters.

Bali mangrove bay is now a conservation zone, nixing reclamation plan by Basten Gokkon [10/11/2019]
– Indonesia’s maritime ministry has designated Bali’s Benoa Bay a conservation zone for religious and cultural activities, and traditional and sustainable fisheries.
– The decision effectively kills a $2 billion plan to reclaim land in the mangrove-rich bay for a tourism development featuring hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues and a convention center.
– While opponents of the development project have welcomed the decree, they say it’s only the first step toward ensuring that the bay receives full and permanent legal protection against such development plans.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, October 11, 2019 by [10/11/2019]
– 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.

Madagascar calls for assistance as fires imperil its protected areas by Malavika Vyawahare [10/11/2019]
– Between August and September 1,300 hectares (3212 acres) of forest land in Ankarafantsika National Park in northwestern Madagascar was burnt.
– Bush fires from slash-and-burn cultivation, in which forestland is burnt and cleared to plant crops, caused the most damage.
– The fires impacted forests not just in the buffer zone of the park but also the core area.
– The Malagasy government has called on the international community to aid its fire-fighting efforts.

Seeking justice against palm oil firms, victims call out banks behind them by Hans Nicholas Jong [10/10/2019]
– Individuals from Indonesia and Liberia embroiled in land disputes with oil palm plantations have visited the Netherlands to call on the Dutch banks facilitating these companies’ operations to take action.
– The companies in question are PT Astra Agro Lestari in Indonesia and Golden Veroleum Liberia, both of which are owned by conglomerates based in secrecy jurisdictions and which have financial links to Dutch banks ABN AMRO and Rabobank.
– The banks say their relationship with the companies is only indirect, and as such they say there is little they can do to influence them.
– Friends of the Earth, which arranged for the affected individuals to go to the Netherlands, is pushing for the European Union to adopt more stringent regulations that would disincentivize banks and other institutions from investing in environmentally and socially unsustainable businesses.


Saving Aru: The epic battle to save the islands that inspired the theory of evolution by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [10/09/2019]
For India’s flood-hit rhinos, refuge depends increasingly on humans by Manon Verchot [10/09/2019]
Demand for charcoal threatens the forest of Madagascar’s last hunter-gatherers by Sam Friedberg [10/03/2019]