Newsletter 2019-11-14


Brazil’s ‘coconut breakers’ feel the squeeze of Cerrado development by Sarah Sax and Maurício Angelo [11/12/2019]

– These coconut breakers rely on the babassu palm and its harvest of oil-rich nuts for their traditional sustainable livelihood.
– Many of these women live on the edge of the Matopiba region, dubbed by some as “the world’s last agricultural frontier” which has seen an almost 300 percent increase in soy expansion over the last two decades, most of which came at the expense of native forests and vegetation.
– In recent years, industrial agribusiness has moved in fast, privatizing and fencing the commons, converting the babassu palm groves to soy and eucalyptus plantations and cattle ranches, and making it harder for the coconut breakers to access the palm from which they derive their living, and their social and cultural identity.
– In addition, the women say they have been increasingly exposed to threats, intimidation, and physical and sexual violence by farmers and other male agribusiness workers. But the coconut breakers are determined to defend their palm groves at any cost, and to resist the enclosure of the commons.

Scientists rediscover mammalian oddity in remote Vietnam by Jeremy Hance [11/11/2019]

– Last seen in 1990, researchers have found a population of silver-backed chevrotains, a species of mouse-deer, surviving in Vietnam.
– This lost species is threatened by hunting, snaring and habitat destruction, and scientists don’t yet know how many survive.
– Mongabay columnist Jeremy Hance travels to Vietnam to attempt to see the animal himself and learn about its chances for a future.

Colombian town faces earthquakes, pollution, water shortage as industry expands by Álvaro Avendaño and Diana Velasco [11/08/2019]

– Residents of the town of Puerto Gaitán say their water sources are being used for the cultivation of oil palm plantations and the extraction of crude oil.
– Studies have found water quality near the town qualifies as “poor” and water reserves have dropped off for many areas, forcing residents to import water from elsewhere.
– Locals say seismic tremors induced for oil extraction have damaged houses and soil.
– Researchers say wildlife populations have been harmed by agricultural chemicals used for palm oil production and habitat loss caused by expanding plantations.



Deforestation preceded fires in ‘massive’ area of Amazon in 2019 by John C. Cannon [11/14/2019]
– Deforestation watchdog Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project found that 4,500 square kilometers (1,740 square miles) of the Brazilian Amazon was deforested between 2017 and 2019 and then burned.
– The team’s analysis revealed that 65 percent of that deforestation occurred in 2019 alone.
– The research points to the need for policymakers to address deforestation as well as fires.

Audio: Damian Aspinall on why he’s calling for zoos to be phased out within the next three decades by Mike Gaworecki [11/13/2019]
– On today’s episode, we speak with Damian Aspinall, chairman of the Aspinall Foundation, a UK charity that works to conserve endangered animals and return them to the wild.
– Back in June of this year we welcomed Jim Breheny onto the Mongabay Newscast. Breheny is director of the Bronx Zoo in New York City, and he told me that zoos not only preserve species for the future but support field work to protect species in the wild, as well, and for that reason are vital to wildlife conservation today.
– Aspinall does not agree that zoos are important for conservation of wild species. In fact, he argues that keeping animals in captivity in zoos is cruel, inhumane — and unnecessary. He appears on this episode of the Mongabay Newscast to discuss why he is calling for all zoos around the world to be closed down within the next 30 years, and how he says the work of preserving rare and endangered species could be better accomplished by in situ conservation interventions.

In surprise move, Brazil has removed restrictions on Amazon sugarcane production by Naira Hofmeister [11/13/2019]
– Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has signed a decree revoking a zoning regulation for the sugarcane industry, effectively allowing for cultivation of the crop in the Amazon and other areas of primary forest.
– The measure is controversial because it wasn’t requested by the industry, which, under the previous regulation, was permitted to expand onto degraded land and cattle pasture covering six times the area currently planted with sugarcane.
– The government has justified the move as necessary to boost the ethanol industry in Amazonian states, but experts warn the end of the zoning restriction could present an obstacle to ethanol exports to the European Union, damaging the biofuel sector.
– To date, the sugarcane industry has remained dissociated from the deforestation linked to the cattle and soy industries. Environmentalists say this new decree could end that exception, while also sending the message that the government sees no value in protecting standing forests.

Failure Factors: Sometimes the most important thing to know is what did not go as planned (commentary) by David Wilkie, Kara Stevens, Richard Margoluis [11/13/2019]
– The problem with focusing so much on unearthing positive or affirmative evidence is that we humans often learn more from our failures than from our successes, write David Wilkie of WCS, Kara Stevens of the Walton Family Foundation, and Richard Margoluis of the Moore Foundation.
– People working to conserve nature and improve people’s lives may not report failures because they may worry about compromising their own and their organization’s reputations and jeopardizing future support.
– To address those concerns, the Failure Factors Initiative has been established to identify ways that individuals, teams and their organizations can grow to value failure, learn from it, and improve their decisions and actions.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Indonesian fire expert awarded for exposing destruction by plantation firms by Hans Nicholas Jong [11/13/2019]
– An Indonesian fire expert who has testified in 500 cases against companies accused of allowing fires on their concessions has been awarded the John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science.
– Bambang Hero Saharjo has weathered a series of threats as well as a retaliatory lawsuit over the years by companies he has testified against.
– The award committee lauded Bambang for continuing “to testify and stand up for the Indonesian people’s constitutional right to a healthy environment, one of the very few scientists in his field who are prepared to do so.”
– A further prize for an early-career recipient was awarded to Canadian pharmacist Olivier Bernard, who has challenged alternative-health proponents pushing for evidence-free high-dose vitamin C injections for cancer patients.

Myanmar risks losing forests to oil palm, but there’s time to pivot by Nanditha Chandraprakash [11/13/2019]
– The Myanmar government has to date handed out more than 400,000 hectares (nearly a million acres) of oil palm concessions to 44 companies, some of it overlapping with proposed national parks.
– But almost 60 percent of the concessions have not been developed, and remain either forested or occupied by non-rubber tree crops, a new study finds.
– The study’s authors say Myanmar could be headed down the same path as Indonesia and Malaysia, two other Southeast Asian countries that sacrificed large swaths of natural forest for oil palm plantations.
– Given the change from a military junta to a democratic government since the concessions were handed out, conservationists say there may an opening now for forest conservation policies.

India’s Ganga River dolphins are being shouted down by noisy boats by Shreya Dasgupta [11/12/2019]
– India’s Ganga River is getting noisier with increased ship traffic and dredging, and that’s stressing the river’s iconic dolphins and changing how they communicate, a new study has found.
– When fewer than five vessels moving on the river per hour, the dolphins seem to enhance their vocal activities to compensate for the high-frequency noise generated by the propellers.
– But as vessel traffic increases and water levels fall during the dry season, leading to more intense and sustained noise pollution, the dolphins don’t seem to alter their clicks much compared to baseline levels, the researchers found.
– This is likely because having to continuously emit clicks in a persistently noisy world can be physically taxing, forcing the endangered mammals to “either call at baseline levels or shut up,” according to the researchers.

Safer at sea: The unexpected benefit of traceability for small-scale fishers by Laura Villadiego [11/12/2019]
– Consumers are demanding to know where the seafood they buy comes from to ensure catches are legal, sustainable and free from labor abuse.
– The technology to deliver that information, once out of reach for small-scale fishers, is becoming more accessible in places like the Philippines.
– Its adoption is not only increasing seafood traceability but also improving the safety of fishers while they’re out on the water.
– Fishers and their families, among the most vulnerable in the seafood supply chain, say they welcome the security and peace of mind the technology brings.

New honeyeater species described from Indonesia’s Alor Island by Basten Gokkon [11/12/2019]
– Scientists have described a new bird species found only on the island of Alor in eastern Indonesia.
– The Alor myzomela is easily distinguished from other known members of the Myzomela genus of honeyeater birds thanks to its unique call and paler upper wings.
– A growing human population on the island is already fragmenting the species’ only known habitat, prompting the researchers to recommend it be considered endangered on the IUCN Red List.
– The bird’s scientific name, Myzomela prawiradilagae, is a tribute to prominent ornithologist Dewi Malia Prawiradilaga from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Tradition and taboo keep Guinea-Bissau’s forests standing by Ricci Shryock [11/12/2019]
– Guinea-Bissau is home to countless sacred forests, where cutting down a tree is strictly prohibited by the community.
– Efforts are also underway to develop community forests in communities that don’t recognize the concept of sacred forests, and imbue them with a similar understanding and reverence for the environment.
– Despite these efforts, the country experienced a spate of illegal logging following a coup in 2012, prompting a logging ban to be imposed in 2015.
– With the ban expiring in March 2020 and elections taking place this November, it’s unclear whether or how the government’s stance on the issue will change.

LIDAR technology leads Brazilian team to 30 story tall Amazon tree by Jenny Gonzales [11/11/2019]
– A research team using cutting edge LIDAR technology is mapping the Brazilian Amazon to create a detailed biomass map in order to track the impacts of land use change on forest carbon emissions — data collection required under the Paris Climate Agreement and paid for by the Amazon Fund.
– While conducting their LIDAR survey by aircraft, the study team detected several groves of immense trees on the border between Pará and Amapá states. One individual, a red angelim (Dinizia excelsa Ducke) was recorded as being 88.5 meters (just over 290 feet) tall.
– A team of 30 researchers, guided by riverine community guides, made the arduous journey to the giant tree groves. They found some of the trees growing atop a hill, which is unusual because big tropical trees generally thrive in low places safe from wind. Further research is needed to learn why they grow there.
– The giant trees are more than a source of wonder: each can sequester up to 40 tons of carbon, nearly as much as a hectare (2.4 acres) of typical forest. So, when managing a forest and deciding which trees to cut, it is important to consider tree size. In this particular case, the loss of one giant red angelim’s carbon footprint would be huge.

Global trafficking threat catches up to Sri Lanka’s endangered pangolins by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [11/11/2019]
– Hunting for domestic meat consumption has long been the main threat to the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) in Sri Lanka, but a new study identifies a growing threat from hunting for scales to feed demand from China.
– The researchers note an “established smuggling pathway” to India via fishing boat, which they say could explain why Sri Lanka isn’t highlighted as a trading or source country, as these stockpiles technically reach the global market through India.
– The new study also identifies an emerging trend of increasing pangolin rescues, but links this to the growing human presence in pangolin habitats.
– But the researchers also recorded pangolin sightings in areas and elevations they were previously not known to frequent, suggesting their ability to adapt to human and climate threats.

Fires and greenhouse gases fuel drying of the Amazon by [11/11/2019]
– New research reveals that fires in the Amazon rainforest, used primarily to clear land for agriculture and ranching, are contributing to drier conditions caused by the emissions of climate-warming gases into the atmosphere.
– Fires release “black carbon,” which absorbs energy and causes temperatures to rise, as well as blocking the formation of clouds, creating drier conditions.
– The researchers caution that the rising demand for water combined with scarcer supplies could threaten the forest’s survival.

Can a national management plan halt Madagascar’s shark decline? by Edward Carver [11/11/2019]
– Sharks once were plentiful in Madagascar’s waters, but a spike in demand for shark fins dating to the 1980s has led to heavy exploitation and a reduction in the fishes’ abundance and size.
– Madagascar has no national laws that specifically protect sharks. In June, though, the country released a new national plan for the sustainable management of sharks and rays.
– The plan calls for a shark trade surveillance program, a crackdown on illegal industrial fishing, more “no-take” zones, and a concerted effort to collect better data.
– Conservationists welcomed the plan as an important step — provided the country can enforce its provisions.

Palm owner charged with ordering murder of two journalists in Indonesia by Ayat S. Karokaro [11/11/2019]
– Five people, including the alleged owner of an oil palm plantation in Sumatra where two journalists were found dead, have been charged with their murder.
– The alleged assailants are accused to being paid $3,000 from the company to kill Maraden Sianipar, 55, and Martua Siregar, 42, apparently in retaliation for their advocacy on behalf of locals engaged in a land dispute with the company.
– The murders on Oct. 29 occurred in the same month that environmental activist Golfrid Siregar was found dead, also in North Sumatra, in suspicious circumstances. At the time he was challenging the police’s failure to pursue a forgery complaint in connection with a permit for a power plant in an orangutan habitat.
– The recent deaths of journalists and activists defending environmental protection have raised concerns among many observers over the state of activism and press freedom in Indonesia.

FSC report on palm giant Korindo lists litany of violations, even with redactions by Hans Nicholas Jong [11/11/2019]
– The Forest Stewardship Council has released a batch of heavily redacted reports on violations carried out by an FSC affiliate, palm oil company Korindo, in the Indonesian region of Papua.
– Korindo had earlier issued a cease-and-desist letter to stop the release of damaging information from the investigation, but the redacted reports still paint a “devastating” picture of the company’s wrongdoing, including massive deforestation, activists say.
– Among the details omitted from the published reports is the estimated compensation owed to indigenous communities affected by Korindo’s forest-clearing activities, believed to be in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
– The FSC has proposed remedial measures to be carried out by Korindo, but activists say these are far from commensurate with the company’s “extreme violations,” including the clearing of more than 50,000 hectares (123,500 acres) of rainforests.

Emperor penguins could disappear by 2100 if nations don’t cap emissions by [11/08/2019]
– Researchers have combined a global climate model that projects where and when sea ice forms and a model of penguin populations to predict how penguin colonies would react to changing sea ice under future climate scenarios.
– The models found that under the business-as-usual scenario, where countries fail to halt climate change, emperor penguin numbers will decline by around 86 percent by 2100.
– However, if countries meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, limiting the global increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, then emperor penguin numbers would decline by about 31 percent, giving them a fighting chance at survival.

Madagascar suspends activities at controversial Base Toliara mine by Malavika Vyawahare [11/08/2019]
– The Malagasy government suspended activities at the Base Toliara ilmenite mine in southwest Madagascar citing opposition from local communities and unfavourable terms for the people and government.
– The mine is intended to produce ilmenite, which is considered the most important ore of titanium and used commercially in the production of paint, adhesives and even toothpaste.
– The company described the government’s decision as “disappointing” and said it will engage in discussions to convince the government of the mine’s benefits.
– Civil society organizations hailed the decision, noting that it represents the government putting the concerns of the people above the interests of a private company, and expressed hope that it will set a precedent.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, November 8, 2019 by [11/08/2019]
– 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.

Mischaracterizing the conservation benefits of trade (commentary) by Brett R. Scheffers; Brunno F. Oliveira; Ieuan Lamb; and David P. Edwards [11/08/2019]
– The authors of a Science paper on global wildlife trade respond to an editorial published on Mongabay that criticized their methodology.
– Brett R. Scheffers of the University of Florida/IFAS; Brunno F. Oliveira of the University of Florida/IFAS and Auburn University at Montgomery; and Leuan Lamb and David P. Edwards of the University of Sheffield say their paper ‘uses a rigorously assembled database to make the first global assessment of traded species—both legal and illegal, and from national to international scales—and to identify the global hotspots of trade diversity.’
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Philippine officials not spared as attacks on environmental defenders persist by [11/08/2019]
– Days after participating in a raid on illegal loggers, government environmental officer Ronaldo Corpuz was shot and killed by unknown assailants.
– Corpuz is the fifth environmental worker killed this year, with all the deaths linked to illegal logging, in a country that eco watchdog Global Witness has named the deadliest for environmental defenders.
– The killings come amid a largely successful government crackdown on illegal logging activities across the country.
– Environment department secretary Roy Cimatu has condemned the latest killing and renewed calls for lawmakers to approve additional funding to support the department’s enforcement bureau, which aims to arm rangers, among other measures.

Coke is again the biggest culprit behind plastic waste in the Philippines by [11/07/2019]
– Multinational food and beverage companies Coca-Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo are the main contributors to the world’s plastic waste, according to a recently released global report based on a massive brand audit by green groups across 51 countries.
– The audit, organized by Break Free From Plastic, a global movement, focused on plastic trash collected from 484 simultaneous clean-ups carried out around the world.
– In the Philippines in particular, Coca-Cola was found to be a prolific source of plastic waste, accounting for more than 2,800 pieces out of the 11,700 Coke-branded pieces of trash collected during the clean-up.
– While some of these companies have pledged to tackle the plastic problem, activists say they’re refusing to address the root of the problem by making a drastic switch away from plastic packaging.


Democratic values that protected Indonesian rainforests now need saving, too by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [11/06/2019]
A Philippine tribe that defeated a dam prepares to fight its reincarnation by Leilani Chavez [11/05/2019]
Indonesia protests: Land bill at center of unrest by Basten Gokkon, Hans Nicholas Jong, Philip Jacobson [11/03/2019]
‘Guardian of the Forest’ ambushed and murdered in Brazilian Amazon by Karla Mendes [11/02/2019]