Newsletter 2020-01-30



Impending Amazon tipping point puts biome and world at risk, scientists warn by Shanna Hanbury [01/27/2020]

– Climate models coupled with real world biome changes are causing prominent scientists to forecast that, unless action is taken immediately, 50 to 70% of the Amazon will be transformed from rainforest into savanna in less than 50 years.
– That ecological disaster would trigger a vast release of carbon stored in vegetation, likely leading to a regional and planetary climate catastrophe. The Amazon rainforest-to-savanna tipping point is being triggered by rapidly escalating deforestation, regional and global climate change, and increasing Amazon wildfires — all of which are making the region dryer.
– While models produced the first evidence of the tipping point, events on the ground are now adding to grave concern. The Amazon has grown hotter and dryer in recent decades, and rainforest that was once fireproof now readily burns. Plant species adapted to a wet climate are dying, as drought-resistant species flourish. Deforestation is escalating rapidly.
– Scientists say the tipping point could be reversed with strong environmental policies. However, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is moving in the opposite direction, with plans to develop the Amazon, including the opening of indigenous reserves to industrial mining and agribusiness, and the building of roads, dams and other infrastructure.

Vale has filed hundreds of requests to exploit indigenous lands in Amazon by Maurício Angelo and Observatório da Mineração [01/27/2020]

– The controversial Belo Monte mega-dam in Pará state has done significant socio environmental harm to the Xingu River and the indigenous and traditional people living beside it. Now it appears the dam may not be able to produce the electricity totals promised by its builders — an eventuality critics had long warned about.
– Project designers appear to have seriously misestimated the Xingu River’s flow rates and fluctuations between wet and dry seasons, while also not accounting for reductions in flow due to deforestation caused by rapidly expanding cattle ranches and soy plantations far upriver in Mato Grosso state.
– Climate change-induced droughts are also decreasing Xingu River flows and generating capacity. In 2013, an important Brazilian Panel on Climate Change report warned that global warming could drop water levels all across the Amazon basin, putting hydropower in serious jeopardy.
– As deforestation due to agribusiness and mining spreads across the basin, now driven by the development-friendly policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, the future for Amazon hydroelectric dams, their generating capacity and investment potential looks increasingly bleak.



Indonesian environment ministry ends WWF partnership amid public spat by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/29/2020]
– Indonesia’s environment ministry has terminated its forest conservation partnership with WWF, citing the organization’s violations of their agreement.
– But the spat appears to have been inflamed by public perceptions that WWF Indonesia had worked harder than the ministry to tackle forest fires last year.
– WWF Indonesia has operated in Indonesia for more than 50 years, and its ongoing programs with other government institutions remain unaffected by the environment ministry’s move.

For Colombia, 2019 was a year of environmental discontent by Antonio José Paz Cardona [01/28/2020]
– On Nov. 21, 2019, widespread national strikes began to break out in Colombia and have continued on and off since then.
– The protests include public demands over matters like austerity measures and working toward a robust domestic environmental agenda.
– Among the most intense issues for Colombia in 2019 were deforestation, the murders of social, environmental, and indigenous leaders, the debate over fracking, the increase in extractive activities, and restrictions on citizen participation in deciding the latter.

Urban wildlife: Managing Cape Town’s baboons by Heather Richardson [01/28/2020]
– Baboons on South Africa’s Cape Peninsula are attracted to residential areas by the ready availability of food waste and fruit trees.
– The extirpation of the primates’ natural predators and steady growth of human settlements has led to escalating conflict.
– Culling was abandoned as a management method as it was pushing the baboon population toward local extinction.
– Alternative approaches have been complicated by debates over humane methods of deterrence as well as poor enforcement of regulations to make urban areas less attractive to baboons.

Mongabay editor has now been detained 6 weeks in Indonesia by [01/28/2020]
– Mongabay editor Philip Jacobson was detained in Indonesia on December 17, 2019 over an alleged issue with his business visa.
– Jacobson was formally arrested on January 21 and was incarcerated in Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan through January 24.
– Jacobson is currently under ‘city arrest’ without his passport and is prevented from leaving Palangkaraya.
– This is a press release from Mongabay about a developing situation and may be updated.

Indigenous, protected lands in Amazon emit far less carbon than areas outside by John C. Cannon [01/28/2020]
– A new study calculates the gains and losses in carbon across the Amazon rainforest from deforestation as well as human-caused and naturally occurring degradation of the forest.
– The team found that around 70% of the total carbon emitted from the Amazon between 2003 and 2016 came from areas outside indigenous-held lands and protected areas, despite the fact that these outside areas made up less than half of the total land area.
– The researchers argue that their findings make the case for supporting indigenous communities with “political protection and financial support” to protect carbon stocks in the Amazon necessary to address climate change.

Our growing footprint, wildlife extinctions, and the importance of contraception (commentary) by Sarah Baillie [01/28/2020]
– We’re not exactly treading lightly on planet Earth. A new study finds more than 20,000 land animal species are experiencing intense pressure from the global human footprint. It’s no wonder that last year the United Nations said that a million species may face extinction in the coming decades.
– Wildlife extinctions have been a fact of life on our planet for eons. But the extinction rates we’re seeing now are about 1,000 times higher than the background rate. Humans have never witnessed these kinds of large-scale die-offs — and it’s our own fault.
– Human population growth is a big part of the equation — we’ve more than doubled our numbers on the planet since 1970. We can start to address that by reducing unplanned pregnancies and promoting reproductive rights and contraception access for all.

NGOs demand inquiry into Environment Minister aid to Amazon land grabbers by Jenny Gonzales [01/28/2020]
– 25 environmental and indigenous organizations have made an official complaint to the Brazilian Attorney General’s Office requesting an investigation for abuse of power and misconduct in office by Environment Minister Ricardo Salles and Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) head, Homero Cerqueira.
– It is alleged that Salles and Cerqueira met with convicted criminals including known Amazon land grabbers, and that both officials pledged to end inspections inside the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve (Resex), a protected area in Acre state under heavy pressure from illegal deforesters. ICMBio oversees Brazil’s parks.
– Last week President Jair Bolsonaro established the Amazon Council, putting the nation’s Vice President at its head, and subordinating Salles and the Environment Ministry to the new council. Some analysts speculate that Salles has fallen from favor due to his reckless speech and actions, though others disagree.
– Some speculate the new council is a merely a public relations maneuver meant to show international and national critics that Bolsonaro cares about the Amazon. Few expect the council to zealously press forward with conservation efforts, while others see it as a means of bypassing the Environment Ministry.

Bringing rocks to a dynamite fight: Fishers take on blast fishing in Peru by Michelle Carrere [01/28/2020]
– Peruvian authorities have noted an increase in fishing with explosives, one of the most devastating methods of harvesting fish.
– Traditional fishers and blast fishers have come into heated conflict over marine resources, leading to altercations and even death threats.
– Amid insufficient and allegedly corrupt law enforcement, fishers in the port city of Chimbote have begun patrolling local beaches themselves to defend them against blast fishers.

Belize officially declares wildlife corridor in key protected area complex by [01/27/2020]
– A wildlife corridor in northern Belize has been officially declared by government order and, together with a system of three nature reserves in what’s known as the country’s “sugar cane belt,” will now be included in a Special Management Area in perpetuity.
– The 27,000-hectare Belize Norheastern Biological Corridor includes some 13,600 hectares of private lands. It was designed to connect Shipstern Nature Reserve with Freshwater Creek Forest Reserve and Honey Camp National Park, allowing safe passage for iconic wildlife such as jaguars and pumas in a region where more than 10,000 hectares or 25,000 acres of forest have been lost over the past decade.

Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: study by Gloria Dickie [01/27/2020]
– Scientists predominantly believe that the tropics have the largest influence on global weather, but new research suggests that climate change-driven Arctic heating and rapid melting of Arctic sea ice could impact places as far away as the equator.
– A new study, published today, found that accelerating ice melt in recent decades could be linked to Central Pacific trade wind intensification, the emergence of El Niño events, and a weakening of the North Pacific Aleutian Low Circulation — a semi-permanent low pressure system that drives post-tropical cyclones and generates strong storms.
– A 2019 study likewise revealed a close connection between winter Arctic ice concentration over the Greenland-Barents Seas and the El-Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the following winter. Another study out this month found that in prehistoric times, periods of major permafrost thawing were tied to an absence of Arctic summer sea ice.
– Other research has drawn connections between rising Arctic temperatures and changes in the jet stream — a fast-moving river of air that circles the northern polar region. A slowing of the jet stream, and its looping far to the south, is thought to be stalling temperate weather patterns, worsening droughts, storms and other extreme weather.

Sri Lanka’s divine pests: Peafowl problem calls for human action (Commentary) by A.A. Thasun Amarasinghe [01/27/2020]
– Sri Lanka has a long list of pests, among them the Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus), a protected species of significant cultural and religious importance to the country’s Buddhist and Hindu populations.
– Peafowls, among the largest member of the pheasant family, reproduce quickly and have spread throughout the island as their natural predators have waned, due largely to human activity.
– Researchers warn that delays in taking long- and short-term action to get the peafowl population under control will result in increasingly severe damage to farmers’ crops and loss of ecological integrity in the rainforests and other sensitive ecosystems where the species is an ecological pest.

Conservationists welcome China’s wildlife trade ban by [01/26/2020]
– In an effort to curb further spread of the deadly Coronavirus, China has temporarily banned the sale of wildlife.
– The virus outbreak that has killed 56 people in China has been traced to a market that sells wildlife.
– NGOs have embraced the move, and are calling for it to be made permanent.
– This comes as China prepares to host the 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity, a major conservation congress that aims to curb the current extinction crisis, in October.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro creates Amazon Council and Environmental Police force by Jan Rocha [01/24/2020]
– Brazil has formed a new Amazon Council headed by Vice President Hamilton Mourão, a retired general and supporter of Amazon mining development. The council will oversee “the activities of all the ministries involved in the protection, defense and development and sustainable development of the Amazon.
– A new Environmental Police force is also being created made up of military police from state forces, which will have the potential to put thousands of agents into the field for Amazon operations.
– Meanwhile, Bolsonaro slashed the budget for IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency, cutting it by 25% as compared to 2019. IBAMA has been recognized internationally for its key role in enforcing Brazil’s laws against illegal loggers and land grabbers, for reducing deforestation and fighting Amazon fires.
– Critics are concerned over Bolsonaro’s militarization of Amazon environmental, development, and security administration, seeing it as a throwback to the days of Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, when new highways and other infrastructure projects greatly benefited land grabbers and wealthy landowners.

Unknown saviors of the environment: Thirty-five men create a forest from barren land by Gurvinder Singh [01/24/2020]
– A group of 35 men braved all odds to create a lush green forest by planting over 1.4 million saplings over the past fifteen years in Assam state in north-eastern India.
– The group say they’ve received no significant recognition from authorities, despite having spent their lives on conservation of the environment.
– Their efforts have proved an inspiration for youngsters, who have come forward to create a forest and also earn a livelihood from it.

Iridescence helps these ‘living jewels’ hide in plain sight by Malavika Vyawahare [01/24/2020]
– Jewel beetles (Sternocera aequisignata) have iridescent wing cases that change color depending on which angle the light hits them, like a peacock’s feather or an opal.
– A new study published in Current Biology finds that this iridescence may help the beetles hide from predators in the wild like birds.
– The study authors ran experiments that showed birds were least likely to spot the iridescent wing cases compared to static mono-colored wing cases, and even humans had the most difficulty locating them.
– This finding is important because it provides evidence for the first time that iridescence, rather than being a disadvantage, can aid a species’ survival by helping conceal it.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, Jan. 24, 2020 by [01/24/2020]
– 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.

Window tech could save billions of birds, and it’s already here by Rachael Meyer [01/24/2020]
– Close to one billion birds in the United States die each year from collisions with windows on buildings.
– Last year, a 48-year study reported that the overall bird population in the U.S. has declined by roughly 30% since 1970 in the United States.
– A variety of methods to prevent bird collisions could reduce these numbers, including the use of ultraviolet signature coatings on glass.
– Combining this technology with sustainable window solutions that control interior light and heat may make it easier for building owners to adopt bird-friendly materials.



Mongabay editor arrested in Indonesia by [01/21/2020]
Belo Monte boondoggle: Brazil’s biggest, costliest dam may be unviable by Tiffany Higgins [01/17/2020]