Newsletter 2020-04-23



In a Philippine indigenous stronghold, traditions keep COVID-19 at bay by Karlston Lapniten [04/21/2020]

– Indigenous groups in the Cordillera region of the northern Philippines have invoked indigenous rituals to lock down their communities against the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
– The region is inhabited predominantly by indigenous peoples, with more than 15 distinct ethnolinguistic groups.
– Because of this, tribal leaders are often elected in seats of local governance, which, in turn, helps in the preservation of indigenous practices, culture and governance.
– The provinces in the region implemented strict “indigenous lockdowns” immediately after the pandemic hit the country, and have since recorded minimal cases of infections.

A vital mangrove forest hidden in Vietnam’s largest city could be at risk by Michael Tatarski [04/21/2020]

– A majority of the flora in the area was killed by defoliants sprayed by the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.
– Today, the replanted forest protects the city from storms, and stores huge amounts of carbon dioxide, though development plans and aquaculture pose threats to Can Gio’s continued health.

On the brink of a coal boom, Papuans ask who will benefit by Febriana Firdaus [04/21/2020]

– Across Indonesia, a huge and poorly regulated coal industry has generated enormous wealth for investors but left local people behind to deal with the impacts of environmental degradation.
– The country’s easternmost Papua region has several untapped coal reserves. But the central government is working on a plan to open it for coal mining.
– An investigation into the coal industry in Horna, on the Bird’s Head Peninsula of the island of New Guinea, reveals that a company granted exploration rights in the area is closely connected to local and national power players.

Reviving an ancient way of aquaculture at Hawaii’s Heʻeia fishpond by Shannon Brown [04/20/2020]

– A 2017-2020 restoration project was plagued by rain, king tides, and storms, including Hurricane Lane, but researchers believe the ponds themselves “can support good growth rates and good survival.”
– The ponds are a model of sustainability: often built at the mouths of streams, they support fish that feed on algae and seaweed in the silty environment.
– Unlike contemporary aquaculture systems, they require no input of feed and are largely self-sustaining, needing minimal management and maintenance once established.

Wireless grids and towers of power: Engineering our way out of dirty energy by Ian Morse [04/17/2020]

– Engineers have explored harnessing gravity, tapping the unique structures of smelly fruit, and shrinking a planetary idea down to household size.
– Meeting current energy demands with renewable energies is vital to meet climate goals and prevent ecological collapse, but energy technologies rely on hundreds of years of fossil fuel innovation.
– Mongabay explored some intriguing new approaches and talked with innovators who are helping to think our way out of the climate crisis.



As wildlife tourism grounds to a halt, who will pay for the conservation of nature? by Johan Robinson [Thu, 23 Apr 2020]
– Johan Robinson, Chief of the Global Environment Facility Biodiversity and Land Degradation Unit at UN Environment, argues for the need to a system that provides adequate financial support to poorer countries for conserving the biodiversity that benefits us all.
– “Such a system is long overdue, for although the benefits of biodiversity and natural areas are universal, the costs of protection are high and disproportionally borne by the poor communities living with wildlife,” he writes.
– This post is a commentary and does not necessarily reflect the views of Mongabay.

Companies use COVID-19 to weaken standards, secure subsidies: Report by [Thu, 23 Apr 2020]
– A report from the U.S.-based NGO Mighty Earth identifies major corporations representing industries ranging from logging in Indonesia to automakers in the U.S. and outlines their attempts — successful in many cases — to garner subsidies, loosen restrictions, and walk back commitments to climate-related targets amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
– In Indonesia, regulators have relaxed requirements for legality verification of timber.
– U.S. lawmakers have awarded grants and loans to agricultural companies accused of promoting deforestation in the Amazon.
– Officials in the U.S. have also relaxed fuel mileage requirements and regulation enforcement, bowing to pressure from the auto, airline and oil and gas industries.

Forest fires in Indonesia set to add toxic haze to COVID-19 woes by Hans Nicholas Jong [Thu, 23 Apr 2020]
– Forest fires have flared up in Indonesia, marking the start of the dry season and threatening to aggravate respiratory ailments amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
– Haze from forest fires sickens hundreds of Indonesians annually, mostly on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo; many of them now suffer chronic respiratory problems that puts them at high risk of suffering acutely from COVID-19.
– Studies done in Italy have linked higher levels of air pollution to higher COVID-19 mortality rates, and experts in Indonesia fear that theory will play out in the country that already has the second-highest death rate from the pandemic in Asia.
– Social distancing measures imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus are already hampering fire prevention programs, and could do the same for firefighting efforts once the dry season intensifies.

Manila gets its skyline back as air quality improves amid COVID-19 lockdown by [Thu, 23 Apr 2020]
– Manila’s lockdown, a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is easing the Philippine capital’s notorious air pollution levels.
– Air pollution has been a perennial problem in the region, affecting 98% of the population and responsible for more than 4,000 deaths annually.
– Concentrations of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 have dropped to a third of their normal levels in some parts of the city as road transport is curbed, businesses shut and personal mobility restricted.
– Experts say air pollution levels are expected to bounce back up once the lockdown lifts after April 30, but add the government should seize on the drastic change in air quality to beef up its emissions reduction strategies.

What’s in a name? ‘Wet markets’ may hide true culprits for COVID-19 by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Wed, 22 Apr 2020]
– The term “wet market” is typically used to describe places in China and other Asian countries that sell fresh vegetables, fruits, seafood and meat from domesticated animals.
– Only a small minority of Asian wet markets sell wildlife, including illegally trafficked wildlife, although wet markets are unduly conflated with the wildlife trade, experts say.
– Wet markets, or their equivalents, are found in many places around the world, including the U.S.
– The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released new hygiene and sanitation guidelines for food markets around the world.

In famed Chico Mendes reserve, Brazil nut harvesters fight to save the forest by Débora Pinto [Wed, 22 Apr 2020]
– The Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve was named in honor of the rubber tapper who was assassinated for pushing back against the deforestation of this part of Brazil’s Acre state for cattle pastures.
– Today, the reserve’s inhabitants continue the long tradition of sustainable forest use, albeit harvesting Brazil nuts rather than tapping rubber, in keeping up with changing market demands.
– However, the Brazil nut industry remains largely informal and unregulated, and is seasonal, which forces many extractivists to turn to cattle ranching during the rest of the year to supplement their income.
– Clearing forest for livestock pasture is the main driver of deforestation in the reserve, which so far this year has recorded the highest rate of forest loss of any protected area in Brazil.

Obstacles abound in bid to protect Indonesia’s forests and cut emissions by Hans Nicholas Jong [Wed, 22 Apr 2020]
– Deforestation and land-use change are the main drivers of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia, making the protection of forests crucial in reducing the country’s emissions.
– But an analysis by academics finds a huge swath of forest can still potentially be cleared because it lies within logging and plantation concessions, with few requirements for concession holders to conserve them.
– The analysis finds the country can easily fall short of its pledged emissions reduction goal if these forests are allowed to be cleared, which looks increasingly likely under the provisions of a deregulation bill expected to be passed soon.
– Experts say the government should make it mandatory for concession holders to assess the conservation and carbon stock values of their land and to conserve it accordingly.

COVID underscores the urgency of holistic community-based approaches to conservation (commentary) by Alasdair Harris [Wed, 22 Apr 2020]
– The Covid-19 pandemic throws existing environmental crises into even sharper relief, and highlights the critical importance of agile, human-centered approaches to conservation that bolster the resilience of vulnerable populations.
– In this commentary, Alasdair Harris, Executive Director of Blue Ventures, explains how his organization and its partners are mobilizing to respond to the looming public health emergency in these remote, under-served communities.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Transforming conservation at virtual Earth Optimism Summit, April 22-24 by [Wed, 22 Apr 2020]
– Starting on Earth Day, the Earth Optimism Summit will virtually gather over 100 conservation leaders to discuss what’s working in conservation, climate change, and sustainability.
– Mongabay’s Transforming Conservation initiative will host two sessions, one on April 23 and another on the 24th, which readers can watch online.
– Also on April 23, Mongabay will host the Association for Tropical Biology & Conservation (ATBC)’s Short Video Contest award ceremony, during which the three winning videos will be announced.
– Readers can watch via Youtube or Facebook Live as the sessions happen from April 22-24.

Poachers kill 3 near-extinct giant ibises amid pandemic pressure in Cambodia by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Tue, 21 Apr 2020]
– A recent poaching incident in Cambodia’s northern plains took the lives of three giant ibises, a critically endangered bird species.
– There’s been an upsurge in poaching, deforestation and other destructive activities in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.
– The Wildlife Conservation Society in Cambodia is looking for ways to help community members get reliable sources of income during the pandemic so they don’t need to resort to poaching.

Fight against Amazon destruction at stake after enforcement chief fired by Sam Cowie [Tue, 21 Apr 2020]
– Brazil’s environmental agency, IBAMA, has stepped up efforts to fight environmental crimes during the COVID-19 crisis amid concerns that loggers, land grabbers and illegal miners could infect indigenous populations.
– However, the fate of these operations is now uncertain following the firing of IBAMA enforcement director Olivaldi Azevedo last week.
– On April 20, Brazil’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) launched an investigation into Azevedo’s dismissal, questioning whether IBAMA’s operations in Pará state would be affected and citing risks to the region’s indigenous people.
– Elsewhere, indigenous activists are celebrating an important court victory after a judge ordered the removal of North American missionaries accused of trying to convert isolated indigenous communities in the Vale do Javari region, near the border with Peru.

Investing in Amazon Rainforest Conservation: A Foreigner’s Perspective (commentary) by Jonah Wittkamper [Tue, 21 Apr 2020]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has been trending upward since 2012, with a sharp acceleration since January 2019.
– Jonah Wittkamper, President of the Global Governance Philanthropy Network and co-founder of NEXUS, reviews the current situation and provides a perspective on how it might be possible to slow or reverse deforestation by investing in Amazon rainforest conservation.
– Wittkamper wrote this report to help guide investors and philanthropists on their learning journeys on the issue.
– This post is a commentary and does not necessarily reflect the views of Mongabay.

Panic buying amid pandemic drives scarcity in medicinal herbs in Sri Lanka by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [Tue, 21 Apr 2020]
– With Sri Lanka under lockdown to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, panic buying has resulted in an artificial shortage of several herbs, popular as home remedies.
– Supermarkets and smaller retailers have run out of ginger, coriander, turmeric, yellow vine and lime, and Ayurveda practitioners warn there may not be enough supplies to produce the wide range of indigenous medicinal products that many Sri Lankans trust over Western medicine.
– Authorities say the current scarcity caused by panic buying will eventually result in overexploitation and overpricing of common herbs.

For the Mediterranean, the Suez is a wormhole bringing in alien invaders by Elizabeth Fitt [Tue, 21 Apr 2020]
– An influx of Indo-Pacific species has invaded the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal, changing the sea’s ecology and threatening the region’s fisheries.
– Climate change is amplifying the invasion by stressing endemic populations and creating new space for invasive species.
– Researchers say governments are not effectively managing impacts of the invasion on aquaculture, tourism, human health and endemic biodiversity. This includes Egypt, which manages the Suez Canal but is not currently acting to stem the invasion.
– Experts say what’s needed is collaboration by Mediterranean countries to develop and execute adequate management policy before the situation gets worse.

Thailand’s captive elephants face starvation amid COVID-19 tourism freeze by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Tue, 21 Apr 2020]
– The COVID-19 crisis has brought tourism in Thailand to a halt, forcing at least 85 elephant camps in northern Thailand to close and lay off more than 5,000 staff.
– Captive elephants used in the tourism industry are at high risk of starvation and neglect, animal advocates say.
– Organizations like Save Elephant Foundation and World Animal Protection are working to bring food and other resources to as many needy elephants as possible.
– Sanctuaries are also facing difficult times without revenue from paying volunteers and day guests.

What is a Geoffroy’s spider monkey? Candid Animal Cam takes you to the trees this week by [Tue, 21 Apr 2020]
– Every Tuesday, Mongabay brings you a new episode of Candid Animal Cam, our show featuring animals caught on camera traps around the world and hosted by Romi Castagnino, our writer and conservation scientist.

Madagascar’s president promotes unproven herbal cure for COVID-19 by Malavika Vyawahare [Mon, 20 Apr 2020]
– Madagascar’s president, Andry Rajoelina, unveiled an unproven cure for COVID-19 that is derived from a plant, Artemisia annua.
– His comments at a launch of the herbal remedy on April 20 suggested that the remedy, called COVID-ORGANICS, would act both as a cure and a vaccine.
– No evidence from any clinical trials was shared to back up the claims.
– The World Health Organization did not respond to Mongabay’s questions about COVID-ORGANICS, but the agency has warned against the spread of misinformation and purported miracle cures.

Earth Day in the coronavirus era: Can resilience thinking provide a way forward? (commentary) by Elizabeth Grennan Browning and IU Research Fellows [Mon, 20 Apr 2020]
– The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world into a collective moment of disruption that demands a long, hard look at the ways in which we live within our environment.
– With resilience thinking, an understanding of environmentalism becomes better suited to the immense challenges that we must tackle before another Earth Day passes.
– Elizabeth Grennan Browning and the Research Fellows of the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute offer three key features of resilience that deserve deeper understanding and greater public commitment in response to the unprecedented moment of environmental crisis.
– This post is a commentary and does not necessarily reflect the views of Mongabay.

Decade after BP Deepwater Horizon spill, oil drilling is as dangerous as ever by Liz Kimbrough [Mon, 20 Apr 2020]
– Ten years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon exploratory rig exploded, killing 11 people and initiating the largest oil spill in the history of the United States.
– Nearly 5 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, causing catastrophic damage to the ecosystem and economy of the region.
– A newly published report by the nonprofit Oceana looks back at how this spill happened, the resulting ecological and economic impacts, and if this catastrophe has changed government or oil industry approaches to offshore drilling.
– Poor government oversight and inadequate safety culture paved the way for the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion. Now, a decade later, it appears these conditions, the prerequisites for disaster, have not improved.

Bird’s eye view: Drone photos of the Amazon rainforest (insider) by Rhett A. Butler [Mon, 20 Apr 2020]
– Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler shares some images and footage from a recent trip to the Amazon rainforest.
– The images were captured by drone just prior to COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic.
– This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers.

Photos of wild tiger cubs in Thailand rekindles hope for species by Aimee Gabay [Mon, 20 Apr 2020]
– A new scientific survey provides evidence of breeding tiger populations in eastern Thailand’s Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai forest complex, one of the last stands of the Indochinese population.
– The outcome is the result of a decade-long program to protect tigers in this area.
– Researchers deployed an unconventional survey design for this study, investigating the reliability of previous methods of estimating wildlife populations.

Tribute to Garth Owen-Smith, African conservationist (commentary) by Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation [Sat, 18 Apr 2020]
– Garth Owen-Smith was one of the pioneers of Namibia’s community conservancy system.
– That system links Namibian wildlife conservation with sustainable rural development, and has since become a model for wildlife conservation throughout Africa.
– Owen-Smith died on April 11 after a long battle with cancer.
– This obituary was submitted by the team of the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation. The views expressed are those of the authors.

As investment giant BlackRock pulls back from coal, NGOs urge the same for biomass energy by Justin Catanoso [Fri, 17 Apr 2020]
– BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management corporation, announced in January that it would be reducing investments in coal due to the fuel’s role in climate change.
– Environmental organizations laud the move, but say it’s not enough. In March, a coalition of 32 organizations from 17 countries delivered a letter stating burning biomass was more polluting than burning coal and asking BlackRock to divest its 5% stake in UK-based Drax, operator of the world’s largest wood-burning power plant.
– Biomass energy is commonly produced by burning wood pellets. Critics of the wood pellet industry say it produces tons of carbon emissions while leveling old-growth and managed forests in the U.S. Southeast and Eastern Europe needed for carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection and resiliency from increasingly intense storms and flooding.
– However, biomass was designated a renewable energy source in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on par with zero-emissions wind and solar energy. Because of this, countries that burn wood pellets do not have to count the emissions it produces. This gives an on-paper-only impression of carbon emissions reductions, thus putting a dent in the global effort to meet Paris Agreement emission-reduction goals to keep warming to 1.5 degree C this century over a 1900 baseline. Global temperatures have already risen 1 degree C over the past 120 years.

How to prevent the next COVID-19? Conservationists weigh in by Malavika Vyawahare [Fri, 17 Apr 2020]
– As the death toll from COVID-19 crosses 140,000 and cases surpass the 2 million mark there are growing calls for a permanent ban on trade in wild animals for human consumption.
– The available evidence suggests that a wet market in Wuhan, China, where live animals were bought and sold, was the site where the novel coronavirus jumped to human hosts from animals.
– Conservationists, however, are urging for a broader examination of the factors that led to the emergence of COVID-19 and a careful evaluation of measures that could prevent the next zoonotic pandemic.
– One Health, the idea that the well-being of humans is inextricably linked to the health of the planet, is gaining currency and could emerge as the guiding principle for international agencies and national governments in their fight to avert another COVID-19-like crisis.

Decades-old mine in Bougainville exacts devastating human toll: Report by John C. Cannon [Fri, 17 Apr 2020]
– A new report by the Human Rights Law Centre in Australia details the continuing devastation wrought by a copper and gold mine that closed more than 30 years ago in the Papua New Guinean territory of Bougainville.
– The 17-year-long operation of the mine generated more than a billion metric tons of mining waste, which continues to seep into the region’s water sources, fouling drinking water supplies and causing disease.
– The British-Australian mining company Rio Tinto divested from its majority stake in the local operating company in 2016 and says that the governments of Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, now the majority shareholders, are best placed to address the problems.
– The Human Rights Law Centre and other groups contend that Rio Tinto has the ultimate responsibility to facilitate and finance the cleanup.

Ocean deoxygenation could be silently killing coral reefs, scientists say by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Fri, 17 Apr 2020]
– A new perspective paper argues that ocean deoxygenation is the biggest threat to coral reef survival, perhaps even more so than warming sea temperatures and acidification.
– Oxygen in the world’s oceans has decreased by 2% since the middle of the last century, due largely to climate change, agricultural runoff and human waste.
– A growing body of work examines deoxygenation in the open ocean, but little research has been done on the effects of decreased oxygen on coastal coral reefs systems in tropical environments, and this paper begins filling that gap.
– The lead author and his colleagues are currently collecting data off the coast of Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef to understand the effects of deoxygenation on the surrounding reefs.

$3 million and an official apology: Brazil’s Ashaninka get unprecedented compensation for deforestation on their land by Naira Hofmeister [Thu, 16 Apr 2020]
– An unprecedented court settlement guaranteed reparations to the Ashaninka people of the state of Acre, in the Brazilian Amazon, whose lands were deforested in the 1980s to supply the European furniture industry. The logging company penalized was owned by the family of the current governor of Acre, Gladson Cameli.
– The conflict was resolved through mediation from the Prosecutor General of the Republic, Augusto Aras, after the case had circulated in the courts with no resolution for 20 years.
– The indigenous people only agreed with the negotiation because it included an official apology and a recognition of their “enormous importance as guardians” of the Amazon.

Brazilian indigenous chiefs act to halt illegal logging in historical landmark area by Spensy Pimentel [Thu, 16 Apr 2020]
– A valuable Atlantic Forest reserve and the historic setting of the discovery of Brazil, the land of the Pataxó is suffering from the illegal logging of fine woods used to produce handicrafts. Indigenous people are also allegedly involved in the crimes.
– The pieces include the gamelas, famous bowls that are sold to tourists throughout the south of Bahia and transported to Brazil’s big cities by truck. In Monte Pascoal National Park, two of the four trails used by visitors have been shut down out of fear of the presence of invaders.
– Cattle ranches, eucalyptus farms and coffee, papaya and black pepper crops are the targets of other complaints from the Pataxó. Their lands are suffering from the irregular spraying of pesticides and the damming of waterways.
– On the other hand, indigenous involvement in conserving and restoring the forest has grown in recent years. The Pataxó have also started trying out more sustainable economic activities, such as the production of native seedlings and the breeding of small animals.

Low-cost satellite forest monitoring for all: Q&A with CLASlite creator Greg Asner by Liz Kimbrough [Thu, 16 Apr 2020]
– Greg Asner started creating CLASlite during grad school in 1997, and by 2005 was using the satellite-image processing platform to monitor the entire Brazilian Amazon.
– The application automates the workflow for rendering satellite images into useful, information-rich maps to track logging, deforestation, and other forest disturbance events.
– Asner recently joined forces with Rajnish Khanna of i-Cultiver to create a low-cost, user-funded model to keep the CLASlite software running and accessible.
– In an interview, Anser tells Mongabay about the platform that he calls “the fastest and easiest way to take a look at any forest from Earth’s orbit.”

Ring-tailed lemurs ‘stink flirt’ (it’s not as bad as it sounds) by [Thu, 16 Apr 2020]
– During the mating season, male ring-tailed lemurs rub secretions from glands on their wrists onto their tails and wave them at female lemurs.
– These chemical secretions, identified by researchers at the University of Tokyo, have emerged as the first pheromone candidates to be identified in a primate.
– Pheromones, chemical compounds that animals secrete, can signal more than sexual availability; they can also communicate danger or mark trails.
– For the ring-tailed lemur secretions be recognized as real sex pheromones, the scientists will have to show that they are used to communicate only within the species and that they influence mating behavior.

As Indonesia fights COVID-19, warmer temperatures drive up dengue cases by Yitno Suprapto [Thu, 16 Apr 2020]
– Dengue fever has been on the rise in Indonesia this year, even as the country focuses on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Experts have attributed the increase to warmer average temperatures and unsanitary conditions that allow the mosquitoes carrying the virus to thrive.
– Authorities have ordered fumigation drives in response to the outbreak, but health experts warn the mosquitoes are developing a resistance to the insecticides used.



Hanging with Romi: Get to know our camera trap expert and host of Candid Animal Cam by Erik Hoffner [04/08/2020]
Indigenous group wins unprecedented right of reply to Bolsonaro’s racist invective by Shanna Hanbury [04/07/2020]
Defining ‘development’ in the Aru Islands: Q&A with anthropologist Chris Chancellor by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [04/07/2020]
In Madagascar, revived environmental crime hotline leads to tortoise bust by Edward Carver [04/06/2020]