Newsletter 2020-01-09


Audio: Ami Vitale on how meeting Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, changed her life by Mike Gaworecki [01/07/2020]

– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Ami Vitale, a photographer for National Geographic who documented the death of the last male northern white rhino, Sudan.
– As celebrated as her nature and wildlife photography is, Vitale started off as a war zone photographer. She came to realize that humanity’s strained relationship with the natural world was behind each of the human conflicts she covered, however, and then, when she first met Sudan in 2009, she was moved to focus on nature photography.
– On today’s episode, Vitale tells us about how meeting Sudan changed her life and discusses a few more of the stories she’s documented throughout her highly decorated career, including China’s efforts to rehab its panda population and the wildlife sanctuary in Kenya that rescues orphaned elephants and helps them return to the wild.

Indigenous artists from the Amazon use art for environmental advocacy by Débora Menezes [01/07/2020]

– Visual artist Denilson Baniwa and singer Djuena Tikuna are taking the Amazon to galleries and stages around the world, sharing the rainforest’s socio-environmental diversity and bringing up questions about its future.
– Denilson, born in a village in the Middle Rio Negro region, mixes elements of Baniwa indigenous cosmology and contemporary aesthetics to create paintings, photographs and performances denouncing violence against indigenous Brazilian peoples.
– Djuena, born in the far western tip of the state of Amazonas, uses the Tikuna language as an instrument of resistance: in 2017, she became the first indigenous vocalist in history to sing at the Teatro Amazonas, Manaus’s legendary symbol of Amazonia’s elite.



Forest loss moves swiftly once 50% deforestation ‘tipping point’ reached by [01/09/2020]
– Scientists looked at satellite images showing land use change between 1992 and 2015.
– Their analysis and modeling reveals that deforestation occurs relatively slowly at first, until a block has lost around 50% of its forest.
– After that “tipping point,” the transition to a wholly different type of landscape is much more rapid.
– The findings support conservation strategies aimed at protecting intact areas that still have the bulk of their forest standing.

Pangolins top the charts while climate stories lag: Insights on our 2019 reporting (insider) by Rhett A. Butler [01/08/2020]
– Mongabay’s traffic hit a new record in 2019, with pageviews increasing 34% to 102 million and monthly active users climbing 50% to 4.3 million. But the high level numbers don’t reveal much, so here are some more interesting insights on how various topics performed and how our articles fared across geographies.
– Given Mongabay’s bureaus in Indonesia and India, it’s not surprising that those countries represent two of our three biggest markets. The Philippines, where we hired a staff writer in 2019, ranks fourth. Mongabay has especially high readership on a per capita basis in certain Latin American and Asian countries, led by Bolivia, Indonesia, and Paraguay.
– Wildlife-related stories attracted the most readers in 2019, while climate science stories were the least read.
– This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.

Tool use in puffins may point to ‘underestimated’ intelligence in seabirds by [01/08/2020]
– A camera trap in Iceland captured video of an Atlantic puffin using a stick to scratch itself.
– The discovery, along with a similar observation in Wales in 2014, is the first evidence of tool use in seabirds.
– The findings suggest that seabirds like puffins may be more intelligent or possess greater problem-solving skills than once thought.

Palm oil processors top plantations in destroying proboscis monkey habitat by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/08/2020]
– The oil palm processing industry has overtaken palm plantations as the biggest cause of the loss of habitat for the endangered proboscis monkey in Indonesia’s Balikpapan Bay.
– A new study pinpoints the shift to 2007, when suitable land for palm oil plantations ran out and there was a boom in building the industry and infrastructure to process and ship out the commodity.
– Plantations continue to be a key factor in the loss of habitat, with RSPO-certified companies clearing proboscis monkey habitat despite such activity being prohibited under the terms of the sustainability scheme.
– The area continues to face further threats with plans for greater industrial expansion and the development of a new capital city nearby.

The fight is on to save the last clean waterway in Brazil’s Manaus by Sam Cowie [01/08/2020]
– Jó Farah, president of Mata Viva, a local NGO, fights to save a stream called Água Branca, which means “white water,” that he says is the last clean waterway, or igarapé, in the city of Manaus, the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state.
– Once used for leisure, navigation and fishing, almost all of the 150 igarapés in Manaus are totally polluted, with experts saying it could take up to 30 years for them to recover, while others are considered “dead.”
– Igarapés are important for natural drainage during rainy season, experts say. They warn the problems of flooding will only get worse over time, especially with climate change and related extreme weather conditions, if the issue not addressed properly.

Killing gods: The last hope for the world’s rarest reptile by Jeremy Hance [01/07/2020]
– After decades of dams, overhunting and pollution the Yangtze giant softshell turtle is down to three known individuals.
– But conservationists say if they can just locate a male and female, survival for the world’s biggest freshwater turtle is still possible.
– The plan would be to capture the animals and keep them in a semi-wild captive state, but more funding and resources are needed to move forward.

Jakarta floods spark renewed calls for stronger environmental protection by Basten Gokkon [01/07/2020]
– Environmental activists in Indonesia have renewed calls for the government to strengthen regulations to protect the environment following the recent massive flooding that hit the country’s capital and surrounding areas.
– Record rainfall and years of accumulated environmental degradation combined to create one of the deadliest floods in recent years in Jakarta.
– A group of lawyers and residents affected by the flooding say they plan to file a class-action lawsuit against the Jakarta administration for its negligence and inability to prevent and deal with the disaster.
– More heavy rains and strong winds are forecast to continue into mid-February, while authorities carry out cloud-seeding attempts to minimize rainfall hitting urban areas.

Science-backed policy boosts critically endangered Nassau grouper by [01/06/2020]
– A study, published Jan. 6, has found that the population of Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) around Little Cayman Island more than tripled between 2003 and 2015.
– The researchers attribute the rebound to a scientific monitoring effort by NGOs and universities as well as the Cayman Islands government response to the data.
– The government has closed the fishery and instituted size and catch limits to protect the critically endangered species.

2019: The year Sri Lanka’s stunning new species came to light (Commentary) by Amila Prasanna Sumanapala [01/06/2020]
– In 2019, biodiversity-rich Sri Lanka yielded up more than 50 species new to science, most of them endemic to the Indian Ocean island.
– Description of invertebrates scaled a new high with 32 new species discoveries recorded in a single year.
– The newly described species are mostly range-restricted species known from very limited localities that require immediate conservation efforts.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

The long goodbye: Study declares ancient Chinese paddlefish extinct by Shreya Dasgupta [01/06/2020]
– The Chinese paddlefish (Psephurus gladius) was last recorded by researchers in 2003. Subsequent local surveys failed to spot any individual.
– A new study based on a comprehensive large-scale survey in 2017 and 2018 and statistical analysis of previous records suggest that the species most likely went functionally extinct by 1993 and completely extinct by 2010.
– There’s always the possibility that individuals of a species declared extinct still survive somewhere, but in the case of the Chinese paddlefish that’s highly unlikely, researchers say.
– The factors that contributed to the paddlefish’s extinction, including the construction of a dam that split its population, also threaten other species unique to the Yangtze River basin.

Deadly conditions for Indonesian migrant crews tied to illegal fishing by Basten Gokkon [01/06/2020]
– A recent report by the environmental group Greenpeace highlights harrowing testimonies from Indonesian migrant workers about dire conditions on board foreign distant-water fishing vessels.
– The workers told of being overworked, having their wages withheld, being forced into debt bondage, and experiencing physical and sexual violence.
– Experts say slavery on board fishing vessels is strongly linked to illegal fishing activities.
– Greepeace has called on governments and boat operators to resolve human rights issues at sea as part of efforts to achieve sustainable fisheries.

Report identifies tycoons controlling site of new Indonesian capital by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/06/2020]
– The site for Indonesia’s planned new capital city overlaps with 162 coal mining and pulpwood plantation concessions, a report by a coalition of NGOs has revealed.
– The concessions are linked to some of Indonesia’s wealthiest and most powerful businesspeople and politicians, raising concerns over how the government will get them to relinquish the concessions.
– Moving the capital from Jakarta to the new site in Borneo is also expected to benefit coal companies, which look set to provide the bulk of the electricity for what the government initially slated would be a “zero-emission” city.
– The government has downplayed concerns about the concessions at the site, saying the $33.5 billion project will be an opportunity to repair the environmental damage done by the companies operating in the area.

Our most popular nature and environment stories by [01/03/2020]
– In 2019, Mongabay celebrated its 20th year, publishing 4,871 articles, over 750 videos, and 26 podcast episodes.
– Mongabay continued to see strong growth in terms of readership in 2019, with pageviews increasing 34% to 102 million and monthly active users climbing 50% to 4.3 million. Video views rose 50% to 39 million.
– Below is a list of our most popular stories published in 2019.

Communities in Ecuador fight back against palm oil by Alejandro Pérez [01/03/2020]
– Residents of the communities of La Chiquita and Awá Guadalito say their drinking water has been contaminated by pollution from oil palm plantations.
– A court ruling ordered two oil palm companies and the state to pay reparations for social and environmental impacts caused by the oil palm cultivation.
– However, in the two years since the ruling was issued, two communities in San Lorenzo say they have yet to see any changes.

From scorpion skewers to cricket flour, bug protein is becoming big business by Michael Tatarski [01/03/2020]
– In Southeast Asia and elsewhere, insects have long been an integral part of the human diet, and nowadays scorpions can be ordered on skewers, while ants fill spring rolls and silkworms star in croquettes.
– Insect protein is a sustainable, affordable, and nutritious alternative to conventional animal protein.
– Vietnam-based reporter Mike Tatarski visited insect hunters, purveyors, and Cricket One, one of the world’s largest cricket farms, to see how they are being caught and cultivated, and wonders about the tradition’s likelihood of spreading to the West.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, Jan. 3, 2020 by [01/03/2020]
– 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.

From trash to cash: How a Thai entrepreneur turned used flip-flops into a sustainable business model by Ryan Anderson [01/02/2020]
– A university team in Thailand named “Tlejourn” has created a profitable product from discarded flip-flops. Of the 5.25 trillion pieces of trash floating in the ocean, old flip-flops are one of the most commonly found items.
– Although flip-flops are not recyclable, Tlejourn upcycles them into new, solid mats, which are then use to make new footware. Tlejourn’s footwear is handmade by low-income families in southern Thailand, providing them with a significant financial boost.
– With Tlejourn’s help, Thai shoe manufacturer Nanyang created a new product line of sandals made from discarded flip-flops. Inspired by Tlejourn’s success, other trash collecting initiatives, like Trash Hero, now experiment to find other ways to turn trash into cash.



Bolsonaro’s Brazil: 2020 could see revived Amazon mining assault — part two by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [12/31/2019]
Bolsonaro’s Brazil: 2019 brings death by 1,000 cuts to Amazon — part one by Sue Branford and Thais Borges [12/30/2019]
Rainforests in 2020: 10 things to watch by Rhett A. Butler [12/29/2019]
2019: The year rainforests burned by Rhett A. Butler [12/27/2019]
Amazon’s Mura indigenous group demands input over giant mining project by Thais Borges; Sue Branford; and Mauricio Torres [12/27/2019]
Photos: Top 15 new species of 2019 by Shreya Dasgupta [12/26/2019]
Mega-mining project slated for Brazilian Amazon sparks controversy by Thais Borges; Sue Branford; and Mauricio Torres [12/26/2019]