Newsletter 2019-11-07


Democratic values that protected Indonesian rainforests now need saving, too by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [11/06/2019]

– The people of Indonesia’s Aru Islands fended off a land grab that would have led to the destruction of a vast area of rainforest, through a sophisticated grassroots campaign that held power to account.
– The campaign holds lessons for rural communities facing similar threats, but their prospects have been diminished by new legislation that strengthens the hand of the powerful and corrupt.
– The legislation has provoked mass street protests in the capital city, Jakarta. As in Aru, it now comes down to civil society to ensure that democracy prevails.

A Philippine tribe that defeated a dam prepares to fight its reincarnation by Leilani Chavez [11/05/2019]

– The Dumagat-Remontado indigenous group has ancestral domain claims in an area where the Philippine government plans to build a dam to supply water to Metro Manila and nearby urban areas.
– The Kaliwa Dam is part of the New Centennial Water Source (NCWS), a project for which President Rodrigo Duterte has secured with a $235.9 million loan deal from China.
– The indigenous community defeated a previous iteration of this project, when a much larger dam was proposed in 2009, but the project has since been revised to call for nine smaller dams — an approach that observers say will undermine the resistance to the project.
– Five out of six community clusters voted to reject the Kaliwa Dam project, but the environment department still issued an environmental compliance certificate to the contractors; Duterte has also warned of the use of “extraordinary powers” to push the project through, raising the prospect of another show of mass resistance.

Indonesia protests: Land bill at center of unrest by Basten Gokkon, Hans Nicholas Jong, Philip Jacobson [11/03/2019]

– In recent weeks, Indonesia has seen its largest mass protests since the “people power” movement that forced President Suharto to step down in 1998.
– Among a variety of pro-democracy demands, the protesters want lawmakers to scrap a controversial bill governing land use in the country.
– The bill defines new crimes critics say could be used to imprison indigenous and other rural citizens for defending their lands against incursions by private companies.
– It also sets a two-year deadline by which citizens must register their lands with the government, or else watch them pass into state control. Activists say the provision would deal a “knockout blow” to the nation’s indigenous rights movement.

‘Guardian of the Forest’ ambushed and murdered in Brazilian Amazon by Karla Mendes [11/02/2019]

– Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a 26-years-old indigenous Guajajara leader was killed on Friday in an Amazon rainforest ambush allegedly by loggers in the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve, one of the country’s most threatened indigenous territories, which is located in Brazil’s Maranhão state.
– Paulo was a member of “Guardians of the Forest,” a group of 120 indigenous Guajajara who risk their lives fighting illegal logging in the Araribóia reserve. The Guardians also protect the uncontacted Awá Guajá hunter-gatherers — one of the most at risk indigenous groups on the planet.
– Indigenous leader Laércio Guajajara, also a Guardian, was hit by gunfire too, but was able to escape and was later taken to a hospital, said indigenous chief Olímpio Iwyramu Guajajara, the Guardians’ leader. All three Guardians have reportedly been threatened by loggers recently.
– Federal Police and Maranhão state police are investigating the attack, which also reportedly resulted in a logger being killed; Paulo’s body was buried on Sunday. The killing is the most recent in a rising tide of violence against indigenous activists since Jair Bolsonaro took power in January.



Indonesia re-exporting illegal waste to other countries, report finds by Basten Gokkon [11/07/2019]
– A report by environmental groups says the Indonesian government is shipping containers of imported plastic waste from the U.S. to other countries instead of sending them back to the source as it claimed it would.
– The report said 38 containers ended up arriving in India, while the others were sent to countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Canada.
– The Indonesian government has rebuffed the allegation, saying the re-export documents list the U.S. and Germany as the final destinations.
– The groups behind the report have called on Indonesia to work together with the source countries and to prosecute those involved in the trafficking of waste.

Healthy ecosystems, healthy humans: ‘One Health’ broadens its scope by John C. Cannon [11/07/2019]
– At an Oct. 25 conference in Berlin, conservation and public health leaders issued 10 principles aimed at encouraging cross-disciplinary research and efforts to address both human health and environmental problems.
– The principles, part of the One Health movement, grew out of the Manhattan Principles introduced in 2004.
– The declaration acknowledges that the world’s poor often suffer the most as a result of environmental degradation.
– However, the conference organizers point out that climate change has global reach and must be addressed from both the environmental and health perspectives.

Facebook and Instagram posts help locate pygmy seahorses in Taiwan by Shreya Dasgupta [11/06/2019]
– By contacting underwater photographers and divers and searching for photos and posts on Facebook and Instagram, researchers have confirmed the presence of five species of pygmy seahorses in Taiwan.
– This makes Taiwan one of the world’s pygmy seahorse diversity hotspots, the researchers say.
– Green Island and Orchid Island, in particular, were hotspots for pygmy seahorse diversity, the researchers found, and they hope that these discoveries will help inform conservation planning.

Makers of Oreos, KitKats among brands linked to Indonesia forest fires by Hans Nicholas Jong [11/06/2019]
– Consumer goods companies behind major brands are getting some of their palm oil from producers linked to fires in Indonesia that have burned an area the size of Puerto Rico.
– The findings, in a report by Greenpeace, identify Mondelēz, Nestlé, Unilever and Procter & Gamble as among the companies exposed to these producers, along with major palm oil traders Wilmar and Cargill.
– These are companies that have committed to sustainable and ethical sourcing of palm oil, and in many cases have blacklisted problematic suppliers.
– Greenpeace attributes their repeated exposure to tainted palm oil on the opacity of plantation ownership in Indonesia, which leads big consumers not to recognize that many producers are part of producer groups with a record of environmental and labor rights violations.

New toads named from a Sumatran biodiversity trove that’s under threat by [11/06/2019]
– Researchers have recently described three new species of toads belonging to the Sigalegalephrynus genus of puppet toads living in the highlands of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island.
– The genus was first proposed in 2017 with the description of two species. Researchers believe there may be even more puppet toads left to discover.
– The discovery highlights the vast diversity of Sumatra’s herpetofauna, but also the immense threats the island’s wildlife faces, primarily from loss of habitat to deforestation and agriculture.
– The researchers say all of the newly described species should be listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Saving the Gran Chaco: Conservationists demand protection before it’s too late by Rodolfo Chisleanschi [11/05/2019]
– The Gran Chaco is South America’s second-largest forest biome, and is home to thousands of species.
– The Chaco has lost around 20 percent of its forest cover since 1985 as land is cleared for agriculture. The Argentine portion has lost 30 percent.
– In response, a project called the Argentine Gran Chaco 2030 Commitment was created to demand more be done to protect the Chaco. As of Nov. 7, 80 organizations and institutions around the world had signed on in support.

Their lawsuit against a coal firm in limbo, Bornean villagers take their fight online by Ian Morse [11/05/2019]
– In Indonesian Borneo’s Central Hulu Sungai district, indigenous people, farmers and fishers have been joined by the local government in their opposition to a planned coal mine.
– With support from conservation NGO Walhi, the district’s residents have launched a lawsuit alleging that the central government illegally issued a permit to PT Mantimin Coal Mining a subsidiary of Indian firm Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS).
– The lawsuit has twice been rejected on technicalities by lower courts. While activists await news on whether the Supreme Court will hear the case, they have intensified a protest campaign under the banner “Save Meratus.”

Indonesia plans IVF for recently captured Sumatran rhino by Basten Gokkon [11/05/2019]
– In a bid to save the nearly extinct Sumatran rhino, Indonesia will attempt to harvest and fertilize an egg cell from a lone female at a captive-breeding center in Borneo.
– The sperm for the in vitro fertilization attempt will come from a male at a captive-breeding center in Sumatra; combining the Sumatran and Bornean lineages is expected to help boost the gene pool for an animal whose global population may be as low as 40.
– Conservationists anticipate obstacles, however: Pahu, the female, is quite old at about 25, and is possibly too small to be able to carry a regular-sized offspring to term.
– The planned attempt by Indonesia comes after conservationists in Malaysia tried and failed to carry out an IVF treatment there, with both the age of the female rhino and lack of access to quality sperm cited for the failure.

Enforce Brazilian laws to curb criminal Amazon deforestation: study by Karla Mendes and Elisângela Mendonça [11/04/2019]
– Recent research finds that a failure to track environmental infractions and to enforce environmental laws and regulations is aiding and abetting ever escalating rates of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado.
– Researchers studied the failings of three environmental initiatives: the TAC da Carne, blocking cattle sales raised in deforestation embargoed areas; the Amazon Soy Moratorium, stopping sales of soy grown on deforested lands; and DOF timber permitting, which allows logging only in approved areas.
– The study found that timber, soy and cattle producers often subvert Brazil’s environmental laws by illegally “laundering” harvested logs, beef and soy to conceal illegal deforestation. These practices have been largely helped by the weak governance of the Jair Bolsonaro administration.
– The scientists recommend the closing of illegal soy, cattle and logging laundering loopholes via the strengthening of Brazilian environmental agencies, the improvement of monitoring technologies, better integration of policies and systems, and putting market pressure on producers.

‘Fantastic grandmothers’ snorkel, help uncover large sea snake population by [11/04/2019]
– A group of seven women in their 60s and 70s, who call themselves the “fantastic grandmothers,” have helped uncover a surprisingly large population of the venomous greater sea snake in the waters surrounding Nouméa, the capital of the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia.
– By November 2018, the women, all Nouméa residents and expert swimmers and snorkelers, and the researchers had collectively taken nearly 300 photographs of more than 140 individual greater sea snakes — much more than researchers had long believed to occur in the area.
– The citizen science project isn’t just revealing numbers, it’s also helping uncover detailed information on the ecology of greater sea snakes, such as their breeding patterns and changes in population structure over seasons.

Indonesian journalists critical of illegal palm plantation found dead by Ayat S. Karokaro [11/04/2019]
– Indonesian journalists Maraden Sianipar and Martua Siregar were found dead with stab and cut wounds at an illegal oil palm plantation in Sumatra that they had reported on critically.
– Police have vowed a full investigation, but it’s not clear whether the deaths were linked to the journalists’ work or a long-running dispute with the local community.
– The victims were reportedly part of a community group that had been trying to gain control of the palm crop at the plantation after authorities ruled the company behind it, PT Sei Alih Berombang (SAB), had illegally cleared forested land.
– The deaths of Maraden and Martua occurred in the same month that environmental activist Golfrid Siregar died of severe head injuries that police say resulted from a drunken-driving crash but that his associates have linked to foul play.

Research points to low forensic capacity to tackle timber fraud in U.S. by John C. Cannon [11/04/2019]
– New research has found that more than 60 percent of a sample of 73 wood products in the U.S. had misrepresented or fraudulent species labels.
– While not “statistically representative,” the findings do indicate that improperly labeled wood is a concern in the U.S.
– The study also found that the U.S. does not have the capacity for forensic wood anatomy identification to address this issue.

Ban on destructive fishing practice helps species recovery in Indonesian park by Basten Gokkon [11/04/2019]
– In 2011, a destructive fishing practice known as muroami was banned in Karimunjawa National Park off Indonesia’s Java Island.
– In 2012-2013, the overall biomass of herbivorous fish species in the park had more than doubled from the 2006-2009 period, researchers have found.
– They attribute this recovery to the muroami ban and have called for it to be implemented in other marine parks across Indonesia.

RSPO questions effectiveness of Indonesian palm plantation moratorium by Hans Nicholas Jong [11/04/2019]
– There hasn’t been any quantifiable way to tell if a year-long moratorium on issuing new licenses for oil palm plantations has been effective, observers say.
– Indonesia imposed the moratorium last year, but failed to define baseline data or publish permit details that would have been essential to measuring progress, according to an official from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.
– As part of the moratorium, the government also ordered a review of existing plantation permits; however, a lack of sanctions sends the message that violators can keep “making mistakes over and over again.”
– An industry watchdog has called on the government to stop thinking about the industry in terms of sheer production volume, and instead to find ways to ensure that the production is sustainable.

Debate rages over intensive oil palm farming in Gabon by Yorick Nelly Kombila [11/01/2019]
– Nearly 88 percent of Gabon is covered in forests, but NGOs fear that the development of oil palm plantations threatens this viable resource.
– Local communities accuse SOTRADER, a public-private partnership between the government and the multinational Olam, of land grabbing.
– Its defenders say that the project respects the environment and community social commitments.
– In September, the government of Gabon signed an agreement allowing the sustainable management of its high carbon stock forests.

There’s a new fin whale subspecies in the North Pacific by [11/01/2019]
– The northern fin whale subspecies was previously believed to include populations in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, but a recent genetic analysis of more than 150 fin whale samples from both ocean basins and the Southern Hemisphere showed that the two populations actually qualify as two separate subspecies.
– By comparing DNA from fin whales in the North Pacific and the North Atlantic, researchers determined that the populations have been genetically distinct for hundreds of thousands of years.
– Improving our understanding of fin whale taxonomy can have important implications for the conservation of the species, which is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, November 1, 2019 by [11/01/2019]
– 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.

Grassroots campaign saves major wetland in Montenegro by Mark Hillsdon [11/01/2019]
– Campaigners have saved the Ulcinj Salina in Montenegro from development after an 18-year campaign.
– They lobbied European Union ministers, mindful of fact that Montenegro’s leadership was looking to join the EU, but its poor environmental record was holding it back.
– They also used the influence of European diplomats to augment pressure on local officials and of the internet to broadcast their cause worldwide. They won local support with their plans for sustainable tourism.

Photos: Peatland fires rage through Indonesia’s Sumatra Island by Nopri Ismi [11/01/2019]
– Aerial images taken last month in the southern part of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island show fires raging through peatlands and generating massive clouds of haze.
– The fires this year are the worst since 2015, exacerbated by an unusually intense dry season and an El Niño weather pattern.
– The fires are set deliberately to clear land for oil palm and pulpwood plantations, and the smoke they generate has sickened hundreds of thousands of people and spread as far as neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

What’s at stake after Chile cancels its hosting of COP25? by Michelle Carrere [11/01/2019]
– Massive protests triggered by social unrest over economic, justice and environmental issues have forced Chile to cancel its hosting of this year’s U.N. climate change summit in December.
– As the organizer of the 25th Conference of Parties, Chile was to have led the effort to bolster ambitions in the fight against climate change aimed at ensuring that global temperatures don’t increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
– On Oct. 31, a day after Chile’s president announced the cancellation, Spain offered to hold the conference on the scheduled dates, Dec. 2-13, in Madrid.

Lawsuit against Indonesian coal plant reveals permit irregularities by Ahmad Supardi [11/01/2019]
– Residents opposed to a newly built coal-fired power plant in Sumatra have alleged a list of irregularities that they say should have disqualified the developer from obtaining an environmental permit.
– A key point is that the project violates provincial and municipal zoning regulations; the latter allows for a plant to be built, but at a different location, while the former makes no accommodation for a coal plant.
– The project site, on Sepang Bay along the southwest coast of Sumatra, has also been identified as an area prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, while the developer hasn’t formalized plans for such contingencies.
– The National Ombudsman has weighed in with findings of maladministration by the provincial government in issuing the environmental permit, but adds that the zoning regulations should be adapted to accommodate for the plant now that it’s been built and is undergoing a trial run.

Enough is too much: The growing case for investors to drop Golden Agri-Resources (commentary) by Jeff Conant and Gaurav Madan [10/31/2019]
– Last year, when we published the report High Risk in the Rainforest, it was far from the first time that palm oil company Golden-Agri Resources (GAR) and its subsidiary Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) were called out for illegal deforestation, land grabbing, and the destruction of critical wildlife habitats. Our report, which detailed the clearance of dense forests and chimpanzee habitats, came several years into the companies’ serial destruction.
– Over a year later, both companies find themselves embroiled in controversies — and GAR’s investors continue to expose themselves and their beneficiaries to significant risks.
– The time has come for GAR’s financiers to acknowledge that, despite their engagement, things have gotten worse. If they understand the real material risks of their investments — risks both to forests and to their bottom-line — they need to engage much more aggressively to make GAR change its course. If they can’t do that, they need to get GAR, and companies like it, out of their portfolios.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Less force, more kindness as Sri Lanka tries to defuse human-elephant conflict by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [10/31/2019]
– Several different methods attempted over the past 70 years to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka have proved ineffective, experts say.
– With more than 300 elephants and 70 people killed in 2018 alone, and a third of the island effectively elephant country, Sri Lanka is mired in an escalating crisis trying to balance its developmental and conservation needs.
– Conservationists have called for designing development programs that account for elephant impact assessments, and abandoning translocations and other control methods in favor of electric fencing that has proven more effective.

Carbon emissions from loss of intact tropical forest a ‘ticking time bomb’ by Malavika Vyawahare [10/31/2019]
– When undisturbed tropical forests are lost the long-term impact on carbon emissions is dramatically higher than earlier estimates suggest, according to a new study.
– Between 2000 and 2013, about 7 percent of the world’s intact tropical forests were destroyed, leading not just to direct carbon emissions but also “hidden” emissions from logging, fragmentation and wildlife loss.
– Another key difference between the old and new estimates is that the latter take into account the diminished carbon sequestration potential of these forests.
– The authors write that the indigenous communities who live in and protect about 35 percent of these forests will have a bigger role to play in the fight against climate change.

New species of shrimp-like creature found in a whale shark’s mouth by [10/31/2019]
– Japanese scientists found a new-to-science species of shrimp-like creature from the gills of a female whale shark that lived in a fish preserve off the island of Okinawa.
– The newly described species is a type of amphipod, a group of shell-less crustaceans that usually feed on decaying plant and animal matter and can be found in a wide variety of environments, from freshwater to some of the deepest parts of the ocean.
– The researchers have named the amphipod Podocerus jinbe, after the Japanese word jinbe for whale sharks.
– It unlikely that the amphipods were feeding directly on the whale shark, the researchers say, and may have been inhabiting the whale shark’s mouth because it provided a good habitat with fresh seawater and food and shelter from predators.


As 2019 Amazon fires die down, Brazilian deforestation roars ahead by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [10/23/2019]
For one Indonesian fisher, saving caught turtles is a moral challenge by Ian Morse [10/23/2019]
Why is Europe rewilding with water buffalo? by Jeremy Hance [10/21/2019]
Failure in conservation projects: Everyone experiences it, few record it by Shreya Dasgupta [10/17/2019]