Newsletter 2019-12-26



Antonio Donato Nobre: “The forest is sick and losing its carbon-sequestration capacity” by Sibélia Zanon [12/23/2019]

– A researcher at the INPE Center of Land System Science, Antonio Donato Nobre, describes the state of degradation threatening the future of the Amazon rainforest in an exclusive interview with Mongabay.
– Nobre fears the forest is nearing what he describes as a “tipping point,” after which it will no longer be able to regenerate on its own, thus embarking on the path to desertification. “This is not about protecting the forest simply to please environmentalists. The living forest is essential for the survival of human civilization,” he says.
– In order to reverse the current state of destruction, Nobre proposes the development of a forest economy – capable, in his opinion, of generating nearly 20 times as much revenue as extensive cattle ranching. As an example, he cites the project Amazônia 4.0, which defends the use of technology for the sustainable exploration of biodiversity.

Brazil on the precipice: from environmental leader to despoiler (2010-2020) by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [12/23/2019]

– Brazil’s 21st century environmental record is most easily visualized via Amazon deforestation: poor regulation and lawlessness led to peak deforestation in 2004, with 27,772 square kilometers cleared. Better laws and enforcement, and a soy moratorium led to a dramatic decline to 4,571 square kilometers in 2012.
– Since then, first under Workers’ Party President Dilma Rousseff, then under Michel Temer, deforestation rates began to rise. The rate saw its biggest jump this year under President Jair Bolsonaro, with a loss of 9,762 square kilometers — the worst deforestation since 2008.
– From 2011-2016, the Amazon saw numerous hydroelectric project controversies, including the construction of the Belo Monte mega-dam, two huge hydroelectric projects on the Madeira River, plus multiple dams on the Teles Pires River. The Lava Jato corruption scandal and an economic downturn curbed dam building.
– Brazil’s ruralist agribusiness interests consolidated power, first under Temer, and more so under Bolsonaro, launching multiple attacks on indigenous and traditional land rights. Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental and anti-indigenous policies are a mark of his administration, a trend expected to continue in 2020.

Deforestation for potential rubber plantation raises concerns in Papua New Guinea by John C. Cannon [12/19/2019]

– The project, ostensibly for a 125-square-kilometer (48-square-mile) rubber plantation, began in mid-2018.
– Satellite imagery shows that Maxland, working with a local landowner company, has built logging roads and deforested patches of the Great Central Forest on Manus Island.
– Like Papua New Guinea as a whole, Manus is home to a wide variety of unique wildlife — just one aspect of the forest on which human communities have depended for thousands of years.
– Government forestry and environment officials were aware of the importance of the forest and a local forest management committee protested the project before it began, but it’s been allowed to continue anyway.



Action plan for red colobus by Esther Nakkazi [12/26/2019]
– Across Africa, red colobus monkeys (Piliocolobus spp.) are threatened by hunting and loss of forest habitat.
– The presence of red colobus monkeys, whose range overlaps with that of three-quarters of other African primates, is a strong indicator of healthy forests.
– The Red Colobus Action Plan aims to strengthen conservation by building capacity, coordinating research, and raising the profile of these leaf-eating monkeys.

2019’s top 10 ocean news stories (commentary) by Emma Critchley and Douglas McCauley [12/25/2019]
– Marine scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara, share their list of the top 10 ocean news stories from 2019.
– Hopeful developments included progress toward an international treaty to protect biodiversity on the high seas and a rebound in the western South Atlantic humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) to nearly its pre-whaling population size.
– Meanwhile, research documenting rapidly unfurling effects of climate change in the ocean painted a dire picture of the present and future ocean. These include accelerating sea level rise, more severe marine heatwaves and more frequent coral bleaching events.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

‘Tainted timber’ from Myanmar widely used in yachts seized in the Netherlands by Malavika Vyawahare [12/25/2019]
– Dutch police led raids in six locations in the Netherlands this month, where they seized teak originating from Myanmar.
– The EU does not allow timber that is illegally logged or obtained through overexploitation of forests to enter its markets.
– The seized teak allegedly entered Europe through the Czech Republic, where the enforcement of regulations is weak and was subsequently brought to the Netherlands.
– It is effectively impossible to import Myanmar teak into Europe because there is a high risk of the timber being illegally logged and difficulty in obtaining adequate and credible documentation to prove provenance.

NGOs reject new oil palm plantation in southern Cameroon by Eugene N. Nforngwa [12/25/2019]
– Cameroon’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife proposes to reclassify 60,000 ha of a logging concession for oil palm plantations.
– Until 2016, Forest Management Unit 09-025 had been selectively logged and remains a resource for local people, as well as an important buffer zone for an adjacent national park.
– Though no impact assessment, public consultation, or decree formalising the reclassification have taken place, Camvert SARL has begun setting up a nursery for oil palm saplings.
– Civil society and local communities fear the classification process is rigged; they are calling for government to instead make FMU 09-025 a community forest or add it to Campo Ma’an National Park.

EU/Chinese soy consumption linked to species impacts in Brazilian Cerrado: study by Sarah Sax [12/24/2019]
– The Brazilian Cerrado, the world’s largest tropical savanna, is a biodiversity hotspot with thousands of unique species and is home to 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity.
– However, half of the Cerrado has already been converted to agriculture; much of it is now growing soy which is exported abroad, particularly to the European Union (EU) and China, primarily as animal feed. But tracing soy-driven biodiversity and species losses to specific commodities traders and importing nations is challenging.
– Now a new groundbreaking study published in the journal PNAS has modeled the biodiversity impacts of site-specific soy production, while also linking specific habitat losses and species losses to nations and traders.
– For example, the research found that the consumption of Brazilian soy by EU countries has been especially detrimental to the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla), which has lost 85 percent of its habitat to soy in the state of Mato Grosso.

Community conservation agreements a lifeline for Uganda’s grey crowned cranes by Fredrick Mugira [12/24/2019]
— Ten years ago, grey crowned cranes (Balearica regulorum) had become a rare sight along the highway connecting the Ugandan capital, Kampala, to Rwanda. Across the birds’ entire range in East and Southern Africa, the cranes’ populations had declined steeply. But efforts to restore their wetland habitats in Uganda are succeeding, and […]

In Indonesia’s provinces, ditching coal for renewables would cut carbon and costs: study by Della Syahni [12/24/2019]
– Contrary to often-used arguments that fossil fuels are cheaper than renewable energy in Indonesia, a recent analysis found that shifting to renewables could actually cut both emissions and costs.
– The analysis, part of a joint Indonesian-Danish energy program, was conducted in four Indonesian provinces. It found that if those provinces fully developed their potential renewable energy sources, they could save up to 11.5 million tons of CO2 by 2030 and nearly 40 trillion rupiah (US$2.8 billion) each year.
– Each of the four provinces — North Sulawesi, Gorontalo, South Kalimantan and Riau — has significant potential for renewable energy generation, but local governments currently plan to rely on fossil fuels like coal to meet long-term energy demand.

New monkey discovered on “island” amid deforestation in Brazil by [12/23/2019]
– DNA analysis has revealed a “new” species in the transition forest between the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado woodland in Brazil.
– Writing in Primate Conservation, a team of scientists analyzed the traits of a group of titi monkeys rediscovered in 2011 in the Chapada dos Parecis.
– They determined that the monkeys are sufficiently distinct from the closely related ashy black titi to be classified as a separate species.
– They dubbed the primate Plecturocebus parecis after the name of the plateau.

Audio: The best animal calls featured on the Mongabay Newscast in 2019 by Mike Gaworecki [12/23/2019]
– This is our last episode of 2019, so we took a look back at the bioacoustic recordings we featured here on the Mongabay Newscast over the past year and today we will be playing some of our favorites for you.
– As regular listeners to the Mongabay Newscast already know, bioacoustics is the study of how animals use and perceive sound, and how their acoustical adaptations reflect their behaviors and their relationships with their habitats and surroundings. Bioacoustics is still a fairly young field of study, but it is currently being used to study everything from how wildlife populations respond to the impacts of climate change to how entire ecosystems are impacted by human activities.
– On today’s episode, we listen to recordings of stitchbirds in New Zealand, river dolphins in Brazil, humpback whales in the Pacific, right whales in the Atlantic, and gibbons in Indonesia.

Largest coral reef survey in French Polynesia offers hope by Shreya Dasgupta [12/23/2019]
– Researchers who studied and mapped coral reefs in French Polynesia over a seven-month expedition in 2012-13, have found that French Polynesia had one of the world’s healthiest corals, and some of the highest diversity and density of reef fish on the planet at the time of the surveys.
– Not all areas were doing well — in places that had been severely damaged in the early 2000s by tropical cyclones and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, coral cover was extremely low.
– But the team observed new corals coming up at some of the damaged sites, suggesting that “there may be pockets of resilience in French Polynesia’s reefs.”

Indonesian palm oil firm hit with $1.8m fine for 2015 fires by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/23/2019]
– Indonesia’s environment ministry has won a long-awaited court judgment and $1.8 million fine from a palm oil company that experienced fires on its concession in 2015.
– The company, PT Kaswari Unggul, had challenged the initial administrative sanctions issued in the wake of the burning, and continued to stonewall against the ministry’s efforts to hold it responsible for the burning.
– Ironically, the company’s resistance to the sanctions, which would have compelled it to introduce fire-prevention measures on its land, may have contributed to fires flaring up on the same concession again this year.
– The ministry has welcomed the recent judgment, but has yet to collect on any of the combined $224 million it’s been awarded in similar cases, thanks to legal stonewalling and a Byzantine court bureaucracy.

10 noteworthy books on conservation and the environment from 2019 by John C. Cannon [12/23/2019]
– 2019 produced a number of notable books on the environment, ranging from the memoirs of researchers and journalists to how-to guides and prescient novels.
– Here’s a sample of what was published in the past year.
– They cut across a variety of environment-related themes, though climate change is a common point of meditation for many of the authors on the list.
– Inclusion on this list does not imply Mongabay’s endorsement of a book’s content; the views in the books are those of the authors and not necessarily Mongabay.

Plans for a new Indonesian capital put Borneo’s abandoned mines in the spotlight by Yovanda [12/20/2019]
– Two inactive coal open-pits, each of which has claimed the life of a child in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan, have been set for a restoration initiative led by the government.
– The government insists that owners of the abandoned mine pits will be held fully responsible for the costs of restoration work.
– The move comes amid a national plan to relocate the country’s capital from Jakarta to the Bornean province, so the abandoned pits have been identified as a top problem that needs solving.
– Environmentalists welcome the initiative to restore the abandoned open-pits, but said that turning them into agritourism sites was not a solution, as it would likely create new problems.

‘The tipping point is here, it is now,’ top Amazon scientists warn by Shanna Hanbury [12/20/2019]
– In the past, climate modelling has indicated an approaching Amazon tipping point when global climate change, combined with increasing deforestation, could result in a rapid Amazon shift from rainforest to degraded savanna and shrubland, releasing massive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere when the world can least afford it.
– Now, scientists Carlos Nobre and Thomas Lovejoy report that researchers are seeing evidence in both the atmosphere and on the ground that this tipping point has been reached and will worsen if no action is taken immediately to reverse the situation.
– They reference a NASA satellite study revealing an increasingly dry Amazon over time, which space agency scientists say is one of “the first indications of positive climate feedback mechanisms.” A 2018 study found that Amazon tree species adapted to wet climates were dying at record rates while dry-adapted trees thrived.
– It is urgent, the scientists say, that Brazil move away from unsustainable agribusiness monocultures of cattle, soy, and sugarcane, while launching a major reforestation project on already degraded lands in the southern and eastern Amazon, actions that could help Brazil keep its Paris Climate Agreement commitment.

2020 ballot initiative would restore wolves to Colorado by [12/20/2019]
– This month, more than 200,000 signatures were delivered to the Colorado secretary of state calling for the restoration of gray wolves to be put on the 2020 ballot.
– If passed, Initiative 107 would direct the state to develop a plan for reintroducing wolves to western Colorado by 2023.
– Mongabay reached out to wildlife biologist Mike Phillips to hear his opinion of the initiative.

Illegal gold rush causing ‘irreversible damage’ to rivers in the Brazilian Amazon by Ana Ionova [12/20/2019]
– A surge in illegal gold mining in the Brazilian Amazon state of Pará is causing a dramatic rise in water pollution and deforestation, as speculators clear swaths of forest along the riverbanks to make way for makeshift mines known as garimpos. These mines have invaded well into Kayapó indigenous territory, a vast region home to several indigenous groups, including some that live in voluntary isolation from the outside world.
– Deforestation has more than doubled in the Kayapó protected area since 2000, with nonprofit groups pointing to gold mining as the key driver. FUNAI, the government agency tasked with protecting the interests of indigenous people in Brazil, has identified almost 3,000 people contaminated by mining residue in the territory.
– In Brazil, it is illegal to mine on indigenous lands – but local sources claim this isn’t stopping illegal miners from encroaching on the Kayapó territory. Some indigenous people who live on this land have been battling to expel the invaders in recent years. Others have reluctantly tolerated the illegal mining in exchange for a cut of the profits, which they say brings badly-needed funds to their communities.
– Many point to the rhetoric of Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro as a key factor that has emboldened illegal miners. The controversial far-right leader – who has his own past as a miner – has repeatedly railed against land protections as an “obstacle” to mining and development. Bolsonaro’s government is now pushing forward a controversial bill that would permit mining in indigenous territories.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, December 20, 2019 by [12/20/2019]
– 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.

Indonesia fires cost nation $5 billion this year: World Bank by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/20/2019]
– Land and forest fires in Indonesia cost the country $5.2 billion in damage and economic losses this year, equivalent to 0.5% of its economy, according to a new analysis from the World Bank.
– Half of the estimated economic loss came from the agriculture and environmental sectors, as fires damaged valuable estate crops and released significant greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, estimated at 708 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
– The actual economic loss could be higher as the World Bank hasn’t taken into account the impacts of the fires on the public health and on the image of Indonesia’s palm oil industry.

Ancient Sri Lankans used ‘flexible’ quartz tools to hunt primates in rainforests by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [12/20/2019]
– Ancient hunter-gatherers from Sri Lanka’s western rainforests used a quartz-containing “flexible toolkit” to hunt small mammals, new research shows.
– The researchers discovered South Asia’s oldest recorded, human-made hunting tools in Fa-Hien Lena Cave, an ancient rock shelter in a patch of lowland rainforest on the Indian Ocean island.
– While similar tools have been used in Europe and Africa, the hunters’ targets in those locations had been large- or medium-size animals, not primates or giant squirrels, as in Sri Lanka.

From seeds to forests: How one man is growing Thailand’s future by Nanticha Ocharoenchai [12/20/2019]
– When Nopporn Nontapa couldn’t become a forestry official, he turned his passion for Thailand’s forests into a thriving online community.
– Nontapa’s community now gives away seedlings to people across the country, growing a new generation of trees in a country whose forests have been hammered by deforestation.
– Today, Nontapa teaches a course on forestry as well as continues to manage his community, nearly 40,000 strong.

Scales from around 50,000 pangolins seized by Chinese customs by [12/20/2019]
– After a year-long investigation, Chinese customs officials seized over 23 metric tons of pangolin scales, local Chinese media reported last week.
– This massive amount of scales, the officials say, would have been extracted from around 50,000 pangolins, and represent the largest seizure of wildlife products in the country this year.
– The scales had originated from Africa and were being smuggled in batches into China from Busan, South Korea, since November 2018, the officials said.
– Authorities have detained 18 suspects in connection with the seizures.

Plan to lift baby lobster export ban draws fire in Indonesia by Basten Gokkon [12/20/2019]
– In 2016, Indonesia’s then fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti implemented a ban on the export of baby lobsters in a bid to protect the sustainability of the creatures in the wild.
– But now, Susi’s successor, Edhy Prabowo, is looking to lift the ban in an effort to boost the country’s economic growth from the fisheries sector.
– Environmentalists criticized the plan, saying it would threaten the population of wild lobsters that are crucial for a healthy marine ecosystem.

Paris accord ‘impossible to implement’ if tropical forest loss not stopped by Taran Volckhausen [12/19/2019]
– Human activity is already threatening 80% of the world’s forests with destruction or degradation. Deforestation is also putting ecosystems and 50% of the world’s biodiversity at risk, along with forest peoples.
– Atop that, dense intact tropical forests serve as vital carbon sinks. But forest loss accounted for 8% of the world’s annual CO2 emissions in 2018, while intact tropical forest loss from 2000 to 2013 will result in over 626% more long-term carbon emissions through 2050 than previously thought, according to new research.
– Zooming in on just one example, 17% of the Amazon has been cleared at one time or another. Another 20% has been degraded. In 2019, the deforestation rate there shot up 30% from the year before. The risk is that climate change combined with deforestation could lead to an Amazon forest collapse, with huge releases of carbon.
– If tropical nations, and nations consuming forest products, but had the political will, then the world’s forests could be conserved. One approach: create buffers around intact tropical forests by reducing road networks while reforesting. Also, give indigenous groups more power to protect forests, as they’re proven to be the best stewards.

Philippine coastal town leads war against plastic trash in Mindanao by Bong S. Sarmiento [12/19/2019]
– The town of San Isidro in Mindanao committed to eliminating plastic pollution in ten years after locals experienced repeated cases of rescuing sea turtles that eventually die with stomachs full of plastic wastes.
– The anti-plastic campaign comes at a time that the Philippines is struggling with solid wastes, particularly plastic, in its waters that endanger its rich marine life.
– The town is engaging the community by paying for collected plastic wastes, teaching financial literacy to children, and turning these wastes into “eco-bricks” for use in local construction.
– More stringent waste management policies are also being adopted, including requiring climbers who visit Mt. Hamiguitan, a UNESCO world heritage site, to carry their wastes out instead of leaving it in the mountain.

Female golden rocket frogs know a good father when they hear him by Lara Streiff [12/19/2019]
– Female golden rocket frogs prefer males with longer call lengths featuring more pulses, which correlates to their parental care abilities, researchers have found.
– Male removal experiments in Kaieteur National Park in Guyana revealed that hatching success is four times higher in clutches with attentive fathers than those without a father present.
– By honestly advertising their parental care abilities, male frogs can inform females of their potential to protect their eggs and tadpoles from desiccation and predation.



Fighting to save an endangered ape, Indonesian activists fear for their lives by Hans Nicholas Jong [12/18/2019]
Tropical forests’ lost decade: the 2010s by Rhett A. Butler [12/17/2019]
Murders of indigenous leaders in Brazilian Amazon hits highest level in two decades by Shanna Hanbury [12/14/2019]



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