Newsletter 2020-02-13


Cerrado in crisis: One Brazilian farm family commits to sustainable soy by Sarah Sax [02/10/2020]

– Brazil’s Cerrado is one of the most biodiverse tropical savannas on the planet, with aquifers and rivers vital to Brazil’s urban water supply. But more than half the biome’s 2 million square kilometers have been cleared, and the rest is vanishing fast.
– The Cerrado today serves a soaring global demand for soy, used as animal feed for livestock in Brazil, the European Union, United Kingdom and elsewhere.
– The Bergamaschi family soy plantation is different from most. The family has conserved 8% of its land above the 20% required by Brazil’s Forest Code. It is also fully committed to growing soy sustainably, and has received Roundtable for Responsible Soy certification — a designation that assures zero deforestation.
– But few Cerrado growers are following suit, largely due to economics. For now the EU market for certified soy is very small. Without consumer demand, and a strong commitment from government, soy certification will likely lag in the Cerrado. However, signs are that the EU could soon act to ban “imported deforestation.”

Video: Mika Ganobal, the civil servant who risked his job to save his homeland by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [02/07/2020]

– Several years ago, a plantation company nearly broke ground on a plan to clear more than half of the rainforest in Indonesia’s Aru Islands.
– Local residents organized against the project. One of the leaders of the effort to stop it was a local bureaucrat named Mika Ganobal.
– Watch our video profile of Mika below.

Lucky ducks: Once thought extinct, rare pochards take steps toward recovery by Edward Carver [02/06/2020]

– 12 Madagascar pochard (Aythya innotata) ducklings were born in the wild in November.
– Conservationists had introduced 21 young adult pochards to Lake Sofia in northern Madagascar in December 2018, but did not expect them to reproduce so quickly.
– The pochard was once common in Madagascar’s highlands, but the population declined rapidly in the mid-20th century. Only a single pochard was spotted from 1970 until 2006.
– The new crop of ducklings marks a victory for conservation groups that have been working to save the species since then. However, the pochard’s future remains precarious due in part to a lack of food, with its total population measurable in the dozens.



Illegal pangolin trade may have played a part in coronavirus outbreak by Malavika Vyawahare [13 Feb 2020]
– Findings reported in the Chinese media suggest that the novel coronavirus that has led to more than 1,000 deaths could have been transmitted to humans from bats via pangolins.
– These shy nocturnal animals, found in Asia and Africa, are considered the most trafficked mammals in the world.
– Despite a global trade ban, China remains a major destination for pangolins, which are killed for their meat and because their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
– If pangolins did act as an intermediary host, a link that researchers insist hasn’t been firmly established, the illegal trade in pangolins could have heightened the risk of the outbreak and would make it trickier for researchers and officials to nail down how it started.

Early deforestation numbers for 2019 reveal trends in the Amazon by John C. Cannon [12 Feb 2020]
– The Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project, or MAAP, an initiative of the nonprofit organization Amazon Conservation, has published its analysis of preliminary deforestation data for the Amazon in 2019.
– The figures project that deforestation in 2019 tapered, if slightly, or held relatively steady in four of the five Amazon countries included in the study.
– Bolivia’s loss of forest in 2019 rose in comparison with 2018, likely as a result of widespread fires that burned standing forest.
– The researchers used early-warning alerts of tree cover loss in 2019 to estimate total deforestation in the five countries and then compared the figures with historical rates going back to 2001.

The reporter-editor bond (insider) by Genevieve Belmaker [12 Feb 2020]
– International freelance environmental journalists work in some of the wildest locales on the planet, where the rampant destruction of nature is occurring against the backdrop of political power struggles, human rights crises, armed conflict, and organized crime.
– These independent journalists take on significant financial, physical and psychological risk with a very thin safety net. The related stresses and burdens can create roadblocks.
– Existing support and resource tools to help keep journalists safe and healthy are scattered throughout hundreds of local, domestic and international organizations and media outlets.
– In addition to resources Mongabay already provides to support independent journalists, in 2019 it hosted a six-month pilot project to provide targeted support and mentoring to a small group of international freelance environmental journalists.

Uphill fight to shut disaster-amplifying gold mines in Indonesian park by Hans Nicholas Jong [12 Feb 2020]
– The Indonesian government has begun cracking down on illegal gold mines in a national park outside Jakarta blamed for exacerbating floods and landslides last month.
– But local authorities say it won’t be an easy task, with only 26 of out nearly 400 of the mines shut down so far.
– A day’s worth of mining can yield nearly the same pay as the monthly minimum wage, which officials say will continue to make it an attractive livelihood for many people.
– The environment ministry plans to reforest the degraded areas of the national park by planting 1.2 million trees by March.

Investigation reveals loopholes for illegal shark fin exports from Indonesia by [12 Feb 2020]
– An undercover reporting initiative by Indonesian media has highlighted loopholes that allow protected sharks to be sold abroad.
– Shark products, mostly fins, end up being exported to Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Japan and Thailand.
– In Indonesia, some endangered shark species are allowed for limited catch, but not for export, but traders find their way around this prohibition by concealing the fins from customs authorities.
– Indonesia is home to more than a quarter of the world’s 400 known shark species; a fifth of all shark species are endangered.

Philippines turns to EU’s Copernicus in Earth satellite data collaboration by [11 Feb 2020]
– The Philippines is close to sealing a partnership with the European Union’s Copernicus Earth observation program for a series of pilot projects that will run three years.
– The projects will focus on mapping deforestation and carbon sequestration, and seas and coastal planning.
– Once the partnership is signed, the country will have access to Copernicus’s extensive database, which government agencies can use to streamline disaster response, monitor environmental efforts, and update the Philippines’ forest and coastal resources maps.

Study investigates impact of road deaths on giant anteater population in Cerrado by Clarissa Beretz [11 Feb 2020]
– For three years, the Bandeiras e Rodovias (Anteaters and Highways) project by the Institute for the Conservation of Wild Animals (ICAS) has investigated the impact of highway collisions on the health and population of the largest insectivorous mammal in the world: the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla).
– Between January 2017 and December 2019, researchers tracked 44 anteaters by GPS, interviewed truck drivers, and monitored 92,364 kilometers (57,392 miles) of highways. During this period they recorded the deaths of 725 giant anteaters, a slow-moving nocturnal species with non-reflective eyes and poor hearing.
– The study is especially relevant because it was conducted in the Cerrado, Brazil’s grain-growing heartland that’s served by a large truck fleet and marked by significant loss of habitat for corn and soybean plantations. The findings indicate that the impact of the highways has cut the growth rate of the anteater population in half, which could speed up its demise.
– The researchers warn that the possible extinction of the giant anteater could have wide-reaching ramifications, including on agriculture, since the species plays an important role in controlling insects and pests, thereby saving farmers from having to spend on pest control products that, among other things, contaminate the soil.

Private firms will pay soy farmers not to deforest Brazil’s Cerrado by Sarah Sax [11 Feb 2020]
– The meteoric growth of the soy industry, which cultivates the profitable bean to feed livestock and cultivated fish in both Brazil and internationally (especially in the UK and EU) is rapidly destroying critical biomes like the Cerrado, Brazil’s tropical savanna.
– But in December. Tesco, Nutreco, and Grieg Seafood launched a groundbreaking initiative aimed at reducing deforestation in the Cerrado by paying farmers to conserve native vegetation on their lands.
– The “Funding for Soy Farmers in the Cerrado Initiative” has so far managed to secure around US$13 million in pledges to incentivize farmers to avoid new deforestation, and instead grow on land that has already been transformed for agriculture. A mechanism for distributing the funds has yet to be established.
– The initiative’s goals align with those of the Cerrado Manifesto, a voluntary pact already signed by 60+ organizations to protect the Cerrado. Backers only want soy grown on the 38 million hectares already converted from savanna to agriculture. A sticking point: transnational commodities companies, like Cargill, haven’t signed on.

Isolated by civil war, Sri Lanka’s Jaffna proves to be a herp haven by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [11 Feb 2020]
– A first-time field study of reptiles and amphibians in Sri Lanka’s previously conflict-ridden Jaffna Peninsula has listed 18 previously unrecorded species.
– The new study includes observations from 10 habitat types and a review of previous scientific literature and museum specimens, and resulted in a list of 69 reptiles and 15 amphibians.
– While many herpetofaunal surveys have been carried out in the wet zone of the species-rich Indian Ocean island, there has been scant research in the dry zone, which includes Jaffna and constitutes the majority of Sri Lanka’s land mass.
– To conserve both the species and their habitats, the researchers have called for scientific land-use planning, natural resource management and infrastructure development, as well as community-based programs to spread awareness.

Experts see minefield of risk as Indonesia seeks environmental deregulation by Hans Nicholas Jong [11 Feb 2020]
– The government is pushing for the swift passage of more than 1,200 amendments to at least 80 existing laws in a bid to deregulate the economy and boost investment, including in the environmental sector.
– Chief among the proposed changes is the scrapping of environmental impact assessments and environmental permits as prerequisites for business permits to be issued for various kinds of projects.
– Other planned amendments would get rid of criminal charges for businesses violating environmental regulations; deprive indigenous communities of a say in projects that would affect them; and redesignate forest areas, which would allow illegal plantations and mines to whitewash their operations.
– Experts say these changes, and the rushed, opaque manner in which the government is pushing the bills, will give rise to greater risk for investors and spark more conflicts over land and resources.

Scientists find never-before-seen baby of rare rabbit on WhatsApp by Elizabeth Fitt [11 Feb 2020]
– Scientists got their first sight ever of a baby Sumatran striped rabbit when it was listed for sale on a WhatsApp group for wildlife traders.
– They say they fear the rabbit’s rarity could create an illegal collectors’ market for the species.
– Experts say national wildlife legislation needs to be brought up to date to combat cybercrime.
– Scientists agree that social media can also be a positive tool in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking by raising awareness.

Database offers new details on the dams that hold mining waste by [11 Feb 2020]
– A new database called the Global Tailings Portal pulls together information on 1,700 dams that store waste, or tailings, from mines around the world.
– Around 100 publicly traded companies have shared information about their dams with GRID-Arendal, the Norwegian foundation that developed the database.
– The portal’s creators say that much of the information, including the size, location, and risk factors associated with the included dams, hasn’t been publicly available before, even as catastrophic dam failures continue to occur.

In Borneo, building a nest box — and a future for conservation (commentary) by Christina Imrich [10 Feb 2020]
– Every day, tourists to lodges along the Kinabatangan River catch glimpses of Borneo’s “Big Five”: orangutan, proboscis monkey, pygmy elephant, rhinoceros hornbill, and estuarine crocodile.
– I wish I could tell you this reflected their thriving populations. In fact, the narrow strips of land that abut the river are the last remaining forest patches in the area, loosely protected from expanding palm oil plantations. There is nowhere else for the animals to go.
– It was with mixed emotions that I visited the river in July, hoping to see the Big Five for myself. While I didn’t see them all, I did get to witness something even more inspiring: a team of rising conservation leaders that has been working tirelessly and with abundant creativity to create more space for these amazing animals.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

As 2020 fire season nears, Indonesian president blasts officials for 2019 by Hans Nicholas Jong [10 Feb 2020]
– President Joko Widodo has chided his top officials for failing to anticipate the severity of the land and forest fires that hit Indonesia last year, saying they must do better as the 2020 dry season approaches.
– The fires are set annually to clear land for planting, and there had been ample warning that an intense dry season and El Niño weather system would exacerbate the problem in 2019.
– The president threatened again to fire officials for failing to prevent or control fires in their jurisdictions this year, and quashed their excuses that last year’s burning wasn’t as bad as in other countries.
– A key weapon in the government’s fight against future fires is a program to restore degraded peatlands; but activists say the program is opaque and flawed, with little public accountability of the progress made.

Eco-tourism isn’t enough to develop a country: Q&A with Gabon’s environment minister, Lee White by Matthew Hatthingh [10 Feb 2020]
– There are limits to the potential of ecotourism to meet development needs, says Gabon’s environment minister.
– Beneficiation of timber and controlled, selective logging means fewer trees can be cut while the people of Gabon benefit from higher earnings and more sustainable jobs.
– FSC certification and tighter controls at Gabon’s port, along with stiffer minimum sentences for corruption and audits of logging companies will curb illegal operations.

In Sumatra, authorities fight a resurgence of illegal gold mining by Een Irawan Putra [10 Feb 2020]
– Authorities say they’re boosting efforts to crack down on illegal gold mining in West Sumatra province, after having declared the practice over in 2014.
– The illegal mines are scattered throughout the province, including inside ostensibly protected areas, where miners claim to have the backing of corrupt officials.
– The country’s disaster mitigation agency warns that floods and landslides in downstream areas will get worse if the mining upstream, and its attendant environmental destruction, isn’t stopped.

Deforestation in Brazil continues torrid pace into 2020 by [09 Feb 2020]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon continues to rise, according to data from Brazil’s national space research institute INPE.
– NPE’s deforestation alert system DETER shows that deforestation during January 2020 amounted to 284 square kilometers (110 square miles), an area 83 times the size of New York’s Central Park. The loss is more than twice that registered in January 2019.
– January’s numbers put deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon over 9,000 sq km for the past 12 months, an 85% increase over a year ago.
– The various data points suggest that forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon is currently pacing about double last year’s rate.

Music festival in Kenyan national park ruffles feathers by Gilbert Nakweya [09 Feb 2020]
– Conservation organization WildlifeDirect argues a music festival planned for Hells’ Gate National Park will further disturb vulnerable raptors and other wildlife.
– The Kenya Wildlife Service defends this and similar events, saying the park is an “activity-based conservation and recreation facility” and some of the revenue raised will go towards supporting conservation.
– Hell’s Gate, a breeding site for the endangered Rüppell’s vulture, has also been heavily impacted by geothermal power generation.

Bolsonaro sends Congress bill to open indigenous lands to mining, fossil fuels by Jan Rocha [07 Feb 2020]
– President Jair Bolsonaro has long pledged to open Brazil’s indigenous reserves in the Amazon and elsewhere to commercial mining, oil and gas exploration, cattle ranching and agribusiness, new hydroelectric dam projects, and tourism. This week he sent a bill to Congress that would do just that.
– And while the legislation would allow consultation with impacted indigenous populations, they would lack the power of veto, except in cases of “garimpo” or wildcat mining. Though the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby is strong in Congress, it remains to be seen whether the bill will be approved.
– The legislation would also allow the use of GM, genetically modified, seeds in agricultural projects, a practice previously banned because of the danger of contaminating native seeds. Royalties would be paid to indigenous communities for the economic activities allowed in their reserves and communities.
– Bolsonaro called his project a “dream” but it has already met with withering criticism from indigenous organizations who see it as a nightmare. Apib, the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples, called it a ‘death project’ which would, under the mask of false good intentions, effectively authorize the invasion of their lands

Tuna supply chains under scrutiny as Bumble Bee brand changes hands by Monica Evans [07 Feb 2020]
– Last month, Taiwan-based Fong Chun Formosa Fishery Company (FCF), one of the top three global tuna traders, bought U.S. canned-tuna brand Bumble Bee Foods for $928 million.
– The acquisition will significantly boost FCF’s economic clout and give it a public face through the sale of Bumble Bee products.
– FCF president Max Chou emphasized the companies’ mutual “commitment to sustainability and global fisheries conservation.”
– But differing definitions of what constitutes sustainability in the complex tuna industry, as well as concerns over workers’ rights, suggest there’s work to do to build confidence in the environmental and ethical pedigree of the cutely cartooned tuna cans on supermarket shelves.

Beaked whales’ stealth behavior gives clues to mystery of mass stranding by Malavika Vyawahare [07 Feb 2020]
– A new study suggests that beaked whales have evolved stealthy and synchronized behavior to evade predators such as killer whales.
– They dive in synch to maximize their foraging time together and minimize their time at the surface, where killer whales can more easily target them.
– And even though they depend on echolocation to communicate and forage, they go into silent mode in depths that killer whales typically hunt in.
– Predator avoidance is such a strong driver of their behavior that researchers say any hint of danger —even a naval sonar — could trigger an intense stress response, and possibly explain why beaked whales are prone to mass stranding.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, Feb. 7, 2020 by [07 Feb 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.

Rhino poaching in South Africa declines for fifth straight year by [07 Feb 2020]
– South Africa reports that rhino poaching has declined for a fifth straight year in the country, with 594 rhino poached in 2019, down from the 769 rhino killed for their horns in 2018.
– According to an official press release from the South African government, the decline in poaching in 2019 is due to a combination of measures, including deployment of technologies that allow for better reaction times to poaching incidents, improved information collection and sharing between law enforcement agencies, greater cooperation between entities at the regional and national level, and more meaningful engagement of the private sector, NGOs, and donors.
– There were 2,014 incursions and poaching-related activities recorded in South Africa’s Kruger National Park in 2019, leading to 327 rhinos being lost. Some 178 alleged poachers were arrested within the Park last year, while 332 arrests were made throughout the country.

Managing fisheries helps stocks recover — most of the time by John C. Cannon [07 Feb 2020]
– A recent study, representing 49% of the fish landed between 1990 and 2016, reveals that, on average, fish stocks are healthy where intensive fisheries management is implemented.
– The research demonstrates that managing fish populations with robust scientific data has helped turn the tide against overfishing in places around the world where it is practiced.
– But disagreements between scientists exist over whether other strategies, such as marine protected areas, should complement fisheries management in an effort to protect life in the world’s oceans.

Indonesia softens stance on WWF termination as programs fall into limbo by Hans Nicholas Jong [07 Feb 2020]
– Indonesia’s environment ministry says it’s open to working with WWF again on conservation programs after terminating their long-running partnership.
– A senior government official said the NGO would have to address the concerns cited for the termination, but also agreed that WWF Indonesia should be allowed a wider scope for work should the partnership be revived.
– WWF Indonesia has welcomed the possibility of resuming its work, which includes conservation projects on critically endangered species such as Sumatran and Javan rhinos and Sumatran elephants.
– The termination of the partnership has already forced WWF Indonesia to lay off a team of elephant rangers and threatens to end funding for ranger patrols for Javan rhinos.

Recreational fishers are increasingly targeting sharks and rays, and researchers are concerned by [6 Feb 2020]
– New research estimating the haul of recreational fishers around the world finds that sharks and rays are increasingly being targeted, and that has researchers worried.
– As of 2014, researchers estimate, about 900,000 metric tons of fish were extracted from marine waters by recreational fishers. That’s up from 280,000 metric tons in the 1950s, but still less than 1% of total global marine catches.
– The researchers found that catches of cartilaginous fish like sharks and rays has increased steadily over the past six decades, and now comprises some 54,000 metric tons, or about 6% of the annual catch for recreational purposes.

Escalating firestorms could turn Amazon from carbon sink to source: Study by Taran Volckhausen [06 Feb 2020]
– A new study finds that the Brazilian Amazon could be moving from being a carbon storehouse to a carbon source — putting the regional and global climate at great risk. Intensifying wildfires could contribute to that shift happening by mid-century.
– Researchers used models to show that an increasingly hot, dry Amazon climate, coupled with deforestation, could trigger wildfires burning up to 16% of the rainforest in Brazil’s Southern Amazon by 2050, releasing up to 17 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.
– The team’s models indicated that Amazon fires will likely continue intensifying before 2030, due to more frequent heat and drought conditions caused by global warming, and as rampant deforestation due to agribusiness expansion dries out the understory and creates more flammable forest edges.
– Of great concern, the study also found that over time, fires won’t just impact edge areas, but intact forest, deep inside indigenous reserves and other conserved areas. Reduced sources of fire ignition and fire suppression could decrease the likelihood of burning, especially if accompanied by a decrease in global carbon emissions.

Fiscal meltdown at Easter Island park drives rift among islanders by Michelle Carrere [6 Feb 2020]
– At the start of 2018, the Chilean government transferred the management of Rapa Nui National Park on Easter Island to the Ma’u Henua Polynesian Indigenous Community.
– By then, however, there was already conclusive evidence of serious financial inconsistencies in the park’s provisional management by Ma’u Henua’s board.
– During a 20-month period, about $566,000 in payments for services and supplies wound up in accounts belonging to the board chairman’s close relatives.
– The conflict has divided residents of Rapa Nui, resulted in a mob beating and a courtroom set on fire, and sparked ongoing investigations by Chile’s public prosecutor’s office.



Indonesian investigative reporter and journalism advocate Tommy Apriando, 1989-2020 by Rhett A. Butler [02/04/2020]
American journalist Philip Jacobson freed after prolonged detention in Indonesia by [01/31/2020]
Young farmers apply ancient agroforestry practices in the heart of Sardinia by Monica Pelliccia [01/29/2020]