Newsletter 2020-06-18



Will U.S. scientists find a silent salamander killer in time? by [06/17/2020]

– The U.S. is home to the world’s greatest diversity of salamanders, so experts are worried about another pandemic that is headed for the country, one that has salamanders in its sights.
– On this episode of the podcast we speak with a wildlife disease ecologist with U.S. Geological Survey, Daniel Grear, and with reporter Benji Jones about the programs that are pooling resources to search for any appearance of the dangerous fungus, called Bsal.
– This is a huge task that Jones describes as “searching for a needle in a haystack except the needle is invisible and the hay stretches for thousands of miles.”
– Grear shares how testing efforts are focused on areas of the U.S. that have the greatest concentration and biodiversity of salamanders, and that 11,000 tests have already been recorded, all negative, though experts like him believe it’s just a matter of time before the fungus makes landfall in North America.

Deep-sea mining: An environmental solution or impending catastrophe? by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [06/16/2020]

– A new report by the Deep Sea Mining Campaign and MiningWatch Canada examines the potential risks of seabed mining operations targeting polymetallic nodules: rock concretions that harbor minerals like manganese, nickel, cobalt and copper.
– While deep-sea mining has not started in any part of the world, 16 international mining companies have contracts to explore the seabed for minerals within the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, and other companies have contracts to explore for nodules in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Ocean.
– The report suggests that polymetallic nodule mining would negatively impact ecosystems, biodiversity, fisheries, and the social and economic dimensions of Pacific island nations, and that this mining requires a precautionary approach. Mining companies, on the other hand, say nodule mining is less destructive than land mining, and that mining operations can benefit Pacific island nations socially and economically.
– Mining companies also say polymetallic nodule mining is necessary to provide the minerals needed for renewable energy technologies, while opponents say these minerals can be extracted from land sources, including recycled electronics.

14 straight months of rising Amazon deforestation in Brazil by Rhett A. Butler [06/12/2020]

– Deforestation in Earth’s largest rainforest increased for the fourteenth consecutive month according to data released today by the Brazilian government.
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is currently pacing 83% ahead of where it was a year ago.
– The high level of deforestation through the first few months of 2020 means the year is shaping up to have a bad fire season.
– The rise in deforestation troubles scientists who fear that the combination of forest loss and the effects of climate change could trigger the Amazon rainforest to tip toward a drier ecosystem.



Shifting cultivation: more than a means of livelihood by Aimee Gabay [Thu, 18 Jun 2020]
– Despite state discouragement, indigenous communities in northeast India persist in practicing shifting cultivation, an agricultural system used over centuries.
– A new study published in the journal Forest Policy and Economics examined this attachment, revealing various factors behind their motivation to continue.
– They found that shifting cultivation (SC) is not only a means of living for these communities but is also deeply rooted in their culture and way of life.

Chimps prefer human crops, scientists find — and it’s better for them by Elizabeth Fitt [Thu, 18 Jun 2020]
– Entering agricultural areas to eat crops puts chimps at risk of injury or death, but a growing body of research suggests that the nutritional benefits of cultivated food keep chimps coming back.
– In a recent paper, a team of researchers carefully studied the diets of chimpanzees in Bossou, Guinea, an area where their natural habitat has been partially cleared for farming.
– They found that the crops eaten by chimpanzees were better sources of basic nutrition than available wild foods.
– The research also indicated that chimpanzees’ foraging preferences are highly specific — troops in different areas preferred different crops — indicating that any mitigation efforts must be informed by the realities of both humans and non-human apes sharing a particular landscape.

A Sri Lankan herp mystery solved: The snake species that was two by Dilrukshi Handunnetti [Thu, 18 Jun 2020]
– A new study has finally solved a herpetological mystery surrounding Dendrelaphis bifrenalis, a species of bronzeback snake endemic to Sri Lanka.
– Researchers have established, through morphological differences and DNA sequencing, that the dry-zone populations of the snake are the true D. bifrenalis, and the wet-zone populations are a species new to science: D. Wickrorum.
– They named the new species in honor of leading herpetologists L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe, known as “Sri Lanka’s Darwin” for the sheer number of species he has described, and his wife Nethu.
– The study also rights a taxonomic wrong by re-establishing D. effrenis, another bronzeback, as a valid species, based on a 2016 discovery by Wickramasinghe and observations in the wild, after the species was effectively whitewashed from the taxonomic record nearly 80 years ago.

From a Philippine conflict hotspot, a new insect-eating plant emerges by Elizabeth Fitt [Wed, 17 Jun 2020]
– Filipino scientists have discovered a new species of insect-eating pitcher plant in a mountain range in the country’s southern Mindanao region.
– The range is a key biodiverse area but has not been granted any form of environmental protection, and is prone to armed conflicts, criminal activity, and tribal wars.
– The scientists risked threats to explore the unprotected remote area, but say they are determined to catalog as much of the biodiversity as they can before it is destroyed by logging and land conversion activities.
– Identifying new species could help preserve the ecology of this area that is crucial to the existence of indigenous ethnolinguistic groups, researchers say.

Indonesia struggles to restore peatlands as fires strangle national parks by Shreya Dasgupta [Wed, 17 Jun 2020]
– More than a million hectares across Indonesia burned in 2019, according to the government’s numbers. The fires released an estimated 708 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in the atmosphere, costing the country more than $5 billion in economic losses that year, according to the World Bank.
– Sumatra was particularly affected, with fires consuming large swaths of primary forest in protected areas like Berbak-Sembilang National Park, which is home to endangered wildlife like Sumatran tigers and elephants, and false gharials.
– Illegal logging and the expansion of plantations in the region area over the past decades has rapidly transformed the park and the surrounding area, draining peat swamps and turning them into degraded, easily flammable patches of land. Following Indonesia’s peatland destruction-fueled fire crisis of 2015 President Joko Widodo established the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) in Jakarta in 2016. The agency planned to restore over 2.6 million hectares of degraded peatlands, including those in concession areas and in protected areas like Berbak-Sembilang.
– However, BRG president Nazir Foed acknowledged that restoration “progress has not been optimal.” Critics say the effort has been stymied by a lack of collaboration between stakeholders and a lack of consensus on what even constitutes a restored peatland.

Cook Islands to grant seabed mining exploration licenses within a year by Monica Evans [Wed, 17 Jun 2020]
– The Cook Islands government will allow miners to prospect for minerals on its seabed, with an eye to commencing mining within five years.
– Officials justify the decision on the need to ease the country’s economic dependence on tourism, which has taken a hit from coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
– Scientists, environmental advocates and civil society organizations have expressed alarm at the plan and warned of potentially disastrous ecosystem impacts that could also hurt local fisheries.
– The Cook Islands in 2017 designated its entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of nearly 2 million square kilometres (772,000 square miles) as a marine protected area, but in 2019 passed legislation effectively allowing the issuance of seabed mining permits to undercut that move.

In Sri Lanka, crop-destroying insects follow the COVID-19 pandemic by Malaka Rodrigo [Wed, 17 Jun 2020]
– In May, Sri Lanka recorded a sporadic increase in crop-damaging yellow-spotted grasshoppers (Aularches miliaris), leading to concerns that a pest outbreak could impact food security.
– Sri Lankan experts are also watching as harmful desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) damage crops in neighboring India and Pakistan, though it seems unlikely these locusts will arrive in the island nation.
– The decline of natural predators and recent changes in the climate may be helping to increase the frequency of these potentially devastating insect invasions.
– Experts have used drones to map and verify crop damage caused by grasshoppers.

Coral reef loss helps some fish grow bigger, but perhaps not for long by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Tue, 16 Jun 2020]
– A new study finds that large, herbivorous fish species, such as parrotfish, surgeonfish and rabbitfish, benefit from coral reef demise due to an increase of a food source, algal turf.
– Certain fish species grew larger in response to coral loss and increased algal turf, contributing to an increase in reef fish biomass, although the study suggests that any gains would be short-lived.
– Data for this study were collected between 2003 and 2018 off the coast of Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef, which experienced coral reef losses of up to 83% due to mass bleaching events and cyclone destruction during that period.

Amazon river dolphin risks extinction if Brazil moratorium not renewed by Peter Yeung [Tue, 16 Jun 2020]
– The Amazon river dolphin (also known as the pink river dolphin, or boto) is the largest of the world’s freshwater dolphins. It lives in the Amazon and Orinoco river systems.
– For years, the dolphin’s populations, though protected in Brazil, trended downward, halving every decade there, as poachers hunted the animals, using their fatty blubber as bait to catch a carnivorous catfish known as the piracatinga, which is drawn to the scent of rotting flesh.
– In 2015, the government of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff tried to curb this chronic criminal behavior and protect the dolphins by introducing a five-year moratorium on catching piracatinga.
– Now that moratorium has lapsed and scientists are urging its quick renewal to prevent the Amazon river dolphin from going extinct. But so far, Brazil’s Bolsonaro administration has failed to take steps to restore the piracatinga ban.

Concerned for the future, indigenous Nicaraguans lament lost habitats by Sandra Cuffe [Tue, 16 Jun 2020]
– Last week we published an investigation detailing the companies importing beef from Nicaragua and the industry’s links to deforestation and land grabbing in the country’s indigenous autonomous regions.
– This article provides a glimpse of life in the indigenous regions and how people there are coping with an influx of settlers and cattle ranching.
– Mongabay visited Nicaragua’s South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region in October last year.

What are the secrets of the giraffe? Candid Animal Cam meets the tallest land animal on earth by [Tue, 16 Jun 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.

The world’s a stage for these four new jumping spiders from Sri Lanka by Ifham Nizam [Tue, 16 Jun 2020]
– Sri Lanka has yielded up four new species of Asian jumping spiders, the first time spiders from the genus Synagelides have been recorded on the biodiversity-rich Indian Ocean island.
– The new species, cryptic small spiders that live in association with ants, have been named Synagelides hortonensis, S. lakmalii, S. rosalindae and S. orlandoi.
– The latter two are named after Rosalind Senior and Orlando de Bois, a pair of lovers in the Shakespeare comedy “As You Like It”; S. hortonensis is named after Horton Plains National Park, from where the type specimen was described; and S. lakmalii after scientist U.G. Sasanka Lakmali Ranasinghe.

Sex organs reveal new jumping spider species in the Philippines by [Mon, 15 Jun 2020]
– A father-and-daughter pair of Philippine scientists have described three new species of jumping spiders in the country after carefully examining the arachnids’ reproductive organs.
– The new spiders belong to the genus Lepidemathis that’s only found in the Philippines; the new arrivals raise the number of Lepidemathis species from four to seven.
– The spiders were found in three separate provinces on the main island of Luzon in 2014; arachnologist Aimee Lynn Barrion-Dupo and her father, entomologist Albert Barrion, spent the following years trying to differentiate the species from other jumping spiders.
– Male jumping spiders are known for their well-choreographed courtship dance, and it’s possible these new species have a unique song and dance number too, the researchers say.

Nature needs cities, and cities need nature (commentary) by Johan Robinson [Mon, 15 Jun 2020]
– At a time when the world is losing its biodiversity at an alarming rate, and that loss has been linked to disease outbreaks, urban nature is more important than ever. Yet urbanization is a major cause of habitat loss – which drives much of the staggering loss of biodiversity
– With thoughtful planning, cities can connect habitats within and outside of city limits in ways that help protect populations of animals and plants that would otherwise be fragmented and vulnerable to extinction.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Effective conservation science must shift away from doomsday views and toward solutions: Study by Monica Evans [Mon, 15 Jun 2020]
– Too much of conservation research focuses on describing the state of nature, in particular declines in biodiversity, and not on developing sustainable solutions to conservation challenges, say the authors of a new study.
– Studies that “ring the alarm bell” tend to dominate because of the challenges of doing the kind of complex multidisciplinary research needed to develop workable solutions, and the fact that professional and financial incentives are lacking for the latter kind of work.
– The researchers highlighted three cases in which the accumulated body of research on a particular conservation challenge took a solution-oriented trajectory and met with success: South Asian vultures, whooping cranes, and seabird bycatch.

Experts see environmental, social fallout in Indonesia’s infrastructure push by Hans Nicholas Jong [Mon, 15 Jun 2020]
– The Indonesian government has announced a list of 89 priority projects, tagged at $100 billion, to jump-start the economy out of the current COVID-19-induced slump.
– To speed up the projects, the government has issued a new regulation on eminent domain that will make it easier to take over community lands, including those of indigenous groups, and degazette forests to allow them to be cleared, experts warn.
– The new regulation is the latest in a slate of deregulatory policies that conservationists, environmental activists and indigenous rights defenders say will harm the country’s biodiversity, its climate commitments, and its most vulnerable communities.
– Among the projects are nickel smelters that are applying to dump their toxic waste into the sea; a high-speed railway line that’s part of the China-backed Belt and Road Initiative; and a rice estate spanning 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) on carbon-dense peatlands.

Vietnamese agribusiness firm HAGL accused of clearing indigenous land in Cambodia by Michael Tatarski [Mon, 15 Jun 2020]
– HAGL, a publicly listed Vietnamese agribusiness giant, is at the center of allegations it illegally cleared land in Cambodia that was earmarked for local indigenous communities.
– The International Finance Corporation’s independent complaints watchdog has been involved in the dispute since 2014, when residents of 17 villages in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province lodged a complaint against an HAGL investor in Vietnam; HAGL unilaterally withdrew from the process in January 2019.
– In March last year the Cambodian government announced it would return more than 700 hectares of the HAGL concession to local indigenous groups.
– But satellite images obtained by Mongabay from investigators in Cambodia show that in March, at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in Cambodia, land in these areas was clear-cut or burned.

Colombian farmers, ranchers join businesses to turn the tide on Amazon deforestation by Dimitri Selibas [Fri, 12 Jun 2020]
– Campesinos and cattle ranchers in Colombia’s Amazon are joining forces with businesses and research institutions to tackle deforestation in the region.
– Deforestation in Colombia’s Amazon for 2018 was approximately 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres), nearly the size of Luxembourg.
– In Caquetá, Colombia’s second-biggest cattle region, which produces 1.7 million liters (450,000 gallons) of milk per day and represents 22,500 ranchers, a zero deforestation agreement has been signed by the region’s cattle ranchers’ committee, the government, unions, civil society organizations, top chefs, and restaurants.
– A 20-year study by the Amazonian Scientific Research Institute SINCHI shows how agroforestry, silvopastoralism and enrichment can preserve the fragile Amazonian soils while also being highly profitable, with returns on investment ranging from 10% to 16% and net earnings of $13,200 per hectare after 20 years.

An armada of turtles, caught on drone cam, flocks to the Great Barrier Reef by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Fri, 12 Jun 2020]
– New drone video shows thousands of endangered green turtles swimming ashore to Raine Island on the outer edges of the Great Barrier Reef.
– Researchers captured this video to help survey the nesting turtle population, and in the process demonstrated that this technique is more effective than manually counting turtles from boats. They recorded 64,000 turtles nesting on Raine Island this season.
– There’s been an increase in the number of nesting green turtles around the world, including Raine Island, likely due to conservation efforts and fishing moratoriums.
– Team members at the Raine Island Recovery Project are working to restore the island’s beaches to ensure that green turtles can continue to safely nest there.

Indonesia to allow back destructive seine and trawl nets in its waters by Basten Gokkon [Fri, 12 Jun 2020]
– The Indonesian government plans to lift a ban on the use of seine and trawl nets, which marine conservationists and scientists have blamed for overfishing and damage to coastal reef ecosystems.
– The fisheries ministry says the move is expected to boost catches and thereby attract greater investment in the fisheries sector.
– Conservationists have panned the proposed lifting of the ban, calling it a step backward in efforts to develop a sustainable fisheries industry in the country.
– They have called instead for the fisheries ministry to focus on efforts to promote the use of sustainable fishing gear, empower small-scale fishers, and combat illegal fishing practices.

A Sri Lankan rescue center races to save wild patients during lockdown by Malaka Rodrigo [Fri, 12 Jun 2020]
– The Hiyare wild animal rescue center in southern Sri Lanka has reported a significant increase in the number of injured and orphaned animals brought in during the COVID-19 lockdown.
– Conservationists attribute this both to the onset of the breeding season for several species, and an increase in farming activity as the lockdown forced people to find other means of livelihood.
– Caretakers at the rescue center faced multiple challenges securing sufficient supplies of fresh milk and fodder for the animals, many of which they hope to be able to release back into the wild once they are rehabilitated and trained.
– Initiated in 2008, the Hiyare center has saved and released many animals, but now faces funding uncertainty as a result of the economic impact of the lockdown.

One-two punch of drought, pandemic hits Madagascar’s poor and its wildlife by Malavika Vyawahare [Fri, 12 Jun 2020]
– Because of the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time in years poverty is rising in Madagascar, already one of the poorest countries in the world.
– Near Tsimanampesotse National Park in the southwest of the country, the loss of tourists has coincided with a disastrously dry rainy season, and restrictions associated with the pandemic are adding to rural distress; an estimated half a million people will need food aid in the coming months.
– Erratic rainfall patterns and food scarcity don’t just affect humans but also the lemurs living in the park, according to Lemur Love, a nonprofit that works in Tsimanampesotse National Park.
– The hunger crisis created by the drought and compounded by the pandemic could force people to lean even more heavily on nature; to impinge on forests and consume more wild meat to survive.

In Philippines’ Palawan, top cop linked to assault on environmental officer by Keith Anthony Fabro [Thu, 11 Jun 2020]
– Police on the Philippine island of Palawan reportedly assaulted and arrested government environmental officials trying to serve a vacate notice to settlers occupying a mangrove area.
– Environmental lawyers and conservation officials have condemned the incident, led by Marion Balonglong, the chief of police of Puerto Princesa, the provincial capital, calling it “yet another blow to our environmental enforcement.”
– Cutting down mangroves is prohibited under Philippine laws, and in recent years environmental defenders have come under deadly attacks from suspected illegal loggers; this incident marks the first time they’ve been confronted by the police.
– Suspected illegal loggers killed a village patrol officer in 2017, and a forest ranger in 2019; in May this year, suspected loggers shot and wounded a ranger in a national park.

Amazon poor go hungry as Brazil slashes social safety net, cuts forests: Study by Shanna Hanbury [Thu, 11 Jun 2020]
– Living along the rivers of the Amazon rainforest, many imagine, would make for a sustainable diet packed full of freshwater fish. But a recent study finds this is not the case. A combination of interacting factors is now causing many poor families in riverine communities to go hungry.
– Researchers found that Amazon fish catch rates are naturally 73% lower in the highwater season. In the past, this lull was supplemented by hunting. But Brazilian deforestation, increased under former Pres. Michel Temer and now under Pres. Jair Bolsonaro, has replaced biodiverse forests with soy and other kinds of plantations.
– Add to this Bolsonaro’s and Temer’s rapid deconstruction of internationally-lauded social welfare programs, implemented by Presidents Lula and Rousseff and their Workers’ Party, which fed many riverine families when fish catches dropped.
– Figure in climate change too: its deep droughts harm forest and river diversity, while extreme floods keep stream levels high and fish catches low, and for longer. Now, COVID-19 has come to the Amazon, with food shopping trips made from rural riverine settlements to cities now requiring a serious element of risk.

Māori push for pandemic stimulus spend to save ancestral forest by Monica Evans [Thu, 11 Jun 2020]
– The Raukūmara Forest on New Zealand’s East Cape has been hammered by introduced pests in the past half-century, and experts predict ecological collapse within a decade without an immense scale-up of pest control efforts.
– On April 1 this year, the New Zealand government announced a fund for “shovel-ready” projects to provide much-needed jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Two Māori tribal groups with ancestral claims to the Raukūmaras are campaigning for $21 million from the fund to carry out intensive pest control in the forest over the next five years.



Brazilian government taken to court for assault on environment, climate by Sam Cowie [06/10/2020]
A bid to legitimize invasions of Brazil’s indigenous lands faces a court challenge by Caio de Freitas Paes [06/10/2020]
Bison: (Back) home on the range by John C. Cannon [06/10/2020]
Nicaraguan beef, grazed on deforested and stolen land, feeds global demand by Mario Rautner, Sandra Cuffe [06/10/2020]
‘Every time an elder dies, a library is burnt’: Amazon COVID-19 toll grows by Sue Branford [06/09/2020]
‘I’ll never be ready for this port,’ locals say of Colombia’s proposed project by Kimberley Brown [06/08/2020]
MRN bauxite mine leaves legacy of pollution, poverty in Brazilian Amazon by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [06/04/2020]