Newsletter 2020-01-16


Colombia’s ‘Heart of the World’: Mining, megaprojects overrun indigenous land by Taran Volckhausen [01/15/2020]

– The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is an isolated group of mountains situated along Colombia’s northern coast, which has the unique distinction of harboring more threatened endemic species than anywhere else in the world.
– Agricultural expansion has come at the expense of vital habitat over the past several decades. Now, resource exploitation and infrastructure projects planned for the region are further threatening the mountains’ ecosystems, according to scientists and local activists.
– Four indigenous groups inhabit the region: the Kogui, Arhuaco, Wiwa, and Kankuamo. Since 1973, the Colombian government has recognized a ring of sacred sites extending around the base of the mountain range. Collectively known as the “Black Line,” indigenous communities claim them as their ancestral territory.
– Three years ago, the indigenous councils filed a legal action with the Constitutional Court, arguing that their constitutional rights were violated by legal and illegal mining taking place inside the Black Line. In addition to the mining, the councils denounced large-scale infrastructure projects such as the development of a coal-shipping port, hydroelectric dam, and hotel that had been carried out inside the Black Line without indigenous consent. The court has yet to issue a ruling.

Communities in Brazilian Cerrado besieged by global demand for soy by Sarah Sax and Maurício Angelo [01/13/2020]

– Agronegocio Condominio Cachoeira do Estrondo, known as Estrondo, is an immense mega-farm in the Brazilian Cerrado savanna in Bahia state. It covers a minimum of 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres). Much soy produced in the local region is exported to the EU and China.
– There is evidence Estrondo was born of land grabbing and fraud, accusations the mega-farm denies. It is now caught up in a major investigation by federal police on alleged corruption involving judges, lawyers and farmers, accused of conspiring to secure favorable court rulings to legitimize land grabbing.
– Estrondo’s astronomical land growth was based partly on a takeover of common lands used by seven traditional communities to raise small cattle herds, grow sustainable crops, and for hunting and gathering — land rights guaranteed under Brazilian law.
– Estrondo has installed fences, watchtowers and hired armed guards to protect its land claims. Villagers report that Estrondo’s hired security force has threatened and intimidated them, and there are documented cases of multiple ongoing conflicts including shootings.



Rangers in Indonesia’s Aceh to get guns as officials flex on violators by Basten Gokkon [01/16/2020]
– Rangers in Indonesia’s Aceh province will get firearms to defend themselves against poachers, illegal loggers and miners.
– Rangers elsewhere across Indonesia are already armed, but those in Aceh were disarmed in the 1970s in response to a separatist insurgency there that only ended in 2005.
– Conservationists have largely welcomed the decision to rearm Aceh’s forest rangers, but some have expressed doubt that it will be effective in reducing human encroachment into forests that are home to near-extinct species such as Sumatran tigers, rhinos, orangutans and elephants.
– Aceh authorities are also deliberating an Islamic bylaw that would prescribe 100 lashes of the cane for wildlife poachers, in addition to the jail time and fines prescribed under national laws.

Indigenous lands hold 36% or more of remaining intact forest landscapes by John C. Cannon [01/16/2020]
– More than one-third of the world’s remaining pristine forests, known as intact forest landscapes, exist within land that’s either managed or owned by indigenous peoples, a new study has found. The study, published Jan. 6 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, builds on previous work by lead author John Fa and his […]

For final months of 2019, Amazon deforestation hits highest level in at least 13 years by [01/15/2020]
– Deforestation during the final five months of 2019 hit the highest level since at least 2006 reveals data released this week by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE.
– According to INPE’s satellite-based deforestation monitoring system DETER, deforestation since July 31 surpassed 4,400 square kilometers, more than twice the clearing recorded for the period a year earlier and 51% above the previous record set in 2007, the first year the the agency started releasing monthly data.
– The data does not include forest lost to fires, which INPE tracks separately.
– The newly released data suggests that forest clearing is on track to surpass last year’s rate.

2019 was second-hottest year on record, 2010s hottest decade by [01/15/2020]
– Global average temperatures on land and at sea in December 2019 were the second-highest recorded in the month of December since record-keeping began in 1880. That capped off a year that will also go down as the second-hottest on record, according to data released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today.
– The average temperature across Earth’s land and ocean surfaces in 2019 was 1.71°Fahrenheit or 0.95°Celsius above the 20th-century average, NOAA reports, just 0.07°F or 0.04°C below the hottest year on record, 2016.
– A separate analysis by NASA scientists confirmed 2019 as the second-warmest year on record. Earth’s average global surface temperature is now more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit, or slightly more than 1 degree Celsius, higher than it was in the late 19th century, NASA reported.

As 2019 ends, reptile-rich Sri Lanka delivers three more new gecko species by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [01/15/2020]
– With the recent discovery of three new day gecko species of the genus Cnemaspis, Sri Lanka’s known endemic day geckos have increased up to 36.
– The diminutive, range-restricted geckos were discovered from granite hills and rock outcrops in three different locations in the Indian Ocean island.
– One of them, Cnemspis kotagamai, is named in honor of an illustrious Sri Lankan conservationist, Sarath Kotagama, while the other two geckos are named after the lead author’s parents.
– While introducing the three critically endangered geckos, researchers have called for urgent conservation efforts to prevent further habitat loss in a bid to conserve the new species and those yet to be discovered.

As we act on climate, we mustn’t neglect nature (commentary) by Charlie Gardner | Matthew Struebig | Zoe Davies [01/14/2020]
– The discussion of the environment has been unbalanced. While all the talk is about carbon and climate, that is actually only half the story when it comes to our environmental crisis. The other catastrophe is of course the destruction of the natural world, the ecological crisis which threatens a million species with extinction over the coming decades.
– These twin evils are as important and serious as each other, but you wouldn’t think it from a glance at the papers – media coverage of the ecological crisis is being completely eclipsed by the climate, which received eight times more press attention in recent years.
– This imbalance needs to be rectified, and we must start treating our twin crises equally, because we cannot address them in isolation. Natural ecosystems, such as forests, wetlands, and seagrass beds, store huge amounts of carbon, and protecting and restoring them is the cheapest and most effective action we can take to lessen the climate crisis. The trouble is, our efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change can seriously undermine these key natural ecosystems.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Five murdered in 2020 Brazilian Amazon land conflicts, adding to 2019 surge by Sam Cowie [01/14/2020]
– Already this month, three Miranha indigenous people have been murdered in Coari municipality, an oil and gas rich town on the Amazon River in Amazonas state, while two peasant farmers have been murdered in Maranhão state, on the Amazonian frontier — all five men are believed to have died due to land disputes.
– This month’s violence builds on a spike in rural murders and intimidation in the Amazon and across Brazil seen in 2019, which many analysts say is being catalyzed by the inflammatory rhetoric of President Jair Bolsonaro, along with administration policies undermining protections for indigenous and traditional peoples.
– A major concern, say analysts, is that Bolsonaro’s new policies, including an executive decree (MP 910) issued late in 2019, providing a sweeping amnesty to past land grabbers; and a proposed bill that would open indigenous lands to mining, could result in a further surge in land conflicts and violence this year.

Cost-effective conservation: Study identifies key ‘umbrella’ species by John C. Cannon [01/14/2020]
– A new study has found that incorporating threats, actions and costs into the selection of priority species for conservation can markedly increase the efficiency of these efforts.
– The researchers created a new list of “umbrella” species for Australia, incorporating these factors.
– They found that the new list of umbrella species would lend protection to 46% of Australia’s threatened species — a sevenfold increase over the current list.

To deter Chinese sea claims, Indonesia puts its fishers on the front line by Basten Gokkon [01/14/2020]
– Indonesia is increasing both its security and fishing presence in the waters around the Natuna Islands, following the latest incursion into the area by Chinese vessels.
– China claims much of the South China Sea, including the waters near the Natunas, but that particular area is internationally recognized as part of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
– In a bid to deter future incursions, the Indonesian government has called on fishing fleets operating in the Java Sea to move to the Natunas.
– But observers warn that the arrival of the better-equipped Java fishers could create new tensions with the small-scale fishers already plying the Natuna waters, while doing little to thwart Chinese or other foreign fishing boats.

Indonesia’s push to become a tourism paradise sidelines land rights by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/14/2020]
– Indonesia’s bid to develop new tourism hotspots beyond Bali has given rise to several conflicts with local communities over land rights.
– Communities in places such as Sumatra’s Lake Toba and the island getaways of Bali and Lombok have been forcibly displaced for tourism development projects in which they’ve had little or no say.
– The number of land conflicts in general and related criminal prosecutions of farmers, indigenous people and activists has risen sharply under President Joko Widodo compared to his predecessor.
– Activists warn the situation is likely to get worse as the government prioritizes investments and developments over the land rights of locals.

One six-week expedition discovered ten new songbird species and subspecies in Indonesia by [01/13/2020]
– A six-week expedition to three small island groups near Sulawesi, Indonesia has yielded five new songbird species and five new subspecies.
– The new species and subspecies were described in a paper published in Science last week. Frank Rheindt, a professor at the National University of Singapore, led the research team that made the discoveries using geological history and the notes of historical explorers as a guide in their search for new avian species.
– While locals knew of some of the species already, it’s possible some of the birds had gone unnoticed because they sound more like insects.

Conservationists in peril: Scientists, campaigners risk their lives for their work by James Fair [01/13/2020]
– Toward the end of 2014, Tanya Rosen, a former New York-based international lawyer, found herself being followed by a car while walking back to her apartment in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. “It was going very slow, and at some point, I stopped and pretended to look at my phone,” Rosen recalls. “And then I noticed the […]

Update to biodiversity treaty proposes protecting at least 30% of Earth by [01/13/2020]
– Global policymakers have proposed extending protections to at least 30% of terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems around the world.
– The coming decade of biodiversity protection looks to borrow from the Paris climate agreement by setting targets for protecting intact ecosystems, curbing the spread of invasive species, and halving pollution from organic and plastic waste.
– For biodiversity hotspots, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) calls for safeguarding 60% of these areas by bringing them under the protected area framework or other management mechanisms.
– Some groups have questioned whether offering protection to 30% of areas and strict protection to only 10% will be enough to curb the alarming loss of biodiversity being witnessed globally.

Goldman Prize winner launches new environmental foundation in the Cook Islands by [01/13/2020]
– A Goldman Prize winner from the Cook Islands who was fired for speaking out against mining the floor of the Pacific Ocean has launched a new foundation to support environmental stewardship and social action.
– Jacqueline Evans won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2019 for her central role in establishing Marae Moana in her country: it is the largest multiple-use marine park in the world.
– “This will give our local organizations the independence they need to speak openly when they believe an injustice has been done,” Evans said in a statement.
– Evans used about $66,000 of the funds awarded to her by the Goldman Prize to launch the new foundation.

Ten actions for Brazilian scientists to engage in environmental politics (commentary) by Ananda R. Pereira Martins | Lucas Pereira Martins | Leila Figueiredo [01/10/2020]
– Brazil has faced several environmental and political issues in recent years. For instance, three mining disasters caused the death of more than 250 people and major damage to biodiversity. Also, the unrestricted expansion of agribusiness has led to high rates of deforestation, a pattern that is only expected to increase in the near future.
– In this commentary, the authors look at the political aspects of the environmental crises in Brazil and argue that scientists have an important role to play in transforming the country.
– The authors propose ten actions that can help Brazilian scientists participate more effectively in political matters.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Indonesian officials wield sharia law in defense of Sumatran rhinos by Junaidi Hanafiah and Rahmadi Rahmad [01/10/2020]
– Indonesia’s Aceh province is considering a sharia, or Islamic, bylaw to strengthen punishment for the illegal wildlife trade, in a move that could help protect the critically endangered Sumatran rhino.
– The bylaw, if passed, would prescribe up to 100 lashes of the cane for anyone convicted of hunting, killing or trading in protected species, including rhinos.
– The province’s Leuser Ecosystem is believed to hold up to 50 of the maximum 80 Sumatran rhinos estimated to be left on Earth.
– The Indonesian government also plans to set up its third Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Leuser, part of a network of captive-breeding centers aimed at boosting the species’ population.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, Jan. 10, 2020 by [01/10/2020]
– 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.

Activists seek purge after Indonesia court rules forest plantations illegal by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/10/2020]
– Indonesia’s Supreme Court has struck down a legal provision that effectively gave a free pass to plantation companies operating illegally inside protected forests.
– All areas designated as forest are off-limits to plantations under Indonesian law, but permits are easily obtainable through local officials who tend to bypass the legal requirements and often even solicit bribes.
– Activists say the government must now act on the ruling by cracking down on all violating companies.

Philippine fern efficiently absorbs arsenic, copper from toxic mining soil by [01/09/2020]
– Scientists conducted a study on a fern found to grow only in two copper mining sites in the Philippines, called Pteris melanocaulon.
– This local fern can absorb high concentrations of both copper and arsenic — a unique ability that has not been recorded so far among fern species called metallophytes that are known to absorb heavy metals.
– The fern’s ability to withstand and absorb high levels of both copper and arsenic without showing symptoms of toxicity makes it a possible indigenous and natural solution for rehabilitating mining sites at the end of mining operations, the researchers say.

Rare plant species are especially vulnerable to climate change, and rarity is more common than previously understood by [01/09/2020]
– Researchers from around the world spent 10 years compiling a database that now includes 20 million observational records of plant species occurrence, which they say is the largest dataset on botanical biodiversity ever created.
– They found that there are about 435,000 unique land plant species on planet Earth, and that a large fraction of them, 36.5% or some 158,535 species, can be considered “exceedingly rare,” meaning that they have only been observed and recorded anywhere in the world up to five times. In fact, 28.3% of the world’s plants, or 123,149 species, have been observed just three times or less, per the study.
– The research team found that rare species are clustered in a handful of rarity hotspots, and that global warming and the impacts of human land use are already disproportionately impacting the regions that harbor most of these rare plant species.

Polly share a cracker: Study finds grey parrots are good Samaritans by Malavika Vyawahare [01/09/2020]
– An experiment with eight African grey parrots shows the birds are intrinsically motivated to help one another like humans.
– The parrots, famed for their ability to mimic human speech, spontaneously helped their partners to obtain treats in a token-exchange experiment whose findings were published in the journal Current Biology.
– This kind of behavior has been seen in mammals like humans and great apes, but not in birds.
– Some experts say more comprehensive studies are needed to conclusively prove this altruistic behavior exists in birds.



Audio: Ami Vitale on how meeting Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, changed her life by Mike Gaworecki [01/07/2020]
Indigenous artists from the Amazon use art for environmental advocacy by Débora Menezes [01/07/2020]