Newsletter 2020-08-13



Ecuador races for emergency infrastructure as river’s collapse threatens dam by Antonio Jose Paz Cardona [08/11/2020]

– The erosion has progressed at an accelerated rate and has reached other rivers, threatening a national highway and Indigenous communities.
– Studies commissioned by the Ecuadoran government call for emergency infrastructure to mitigate the erosion, which could reach the catchment dam of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant, with disastrous consequences.
– The Kichwa Indigenous communities affected by the oil spill four months ago say they are still waiting for justice from the government and the pipeline operators.

Though forests burn, trees retake farmland globally as agroforestry advances by Patrick Worms [08/10/2020]

– Agroforestry is an ancient agricultural technique being rediscovered all over the world as limitations of the globe’s highly industrialized agriculture become obvious.
– On the old and exhausted soils of Africa, trees’ power to nourish life is potentially integral to a reboot of the continent’s agriculture.
– Agroforestry is the intentional combination of woody perennials like trees and shrubs with crops and also livestock to create a resilient “food ecosystem” that benefits farmers, biodiversity and the climate.
– In an analysis for Mongabay, agroforestry expert Patrick Worms suggests that while news reports show forests burning in many places, one can take heart from the fact that trees are busily taking root upon the world’s vast swaths of farmland.

Life among the turtles: Traditional people struggle inside an Amazon reserve by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [08/10/2020]

– The Brazilian Amazon’s Trombetas River is well known for its exceptional biodiversity, including nesting turtles. In 1979, to protect flora and fauna there, the REBIO Trombetas was founded; it’s a highly restrictive form of conservation unit where today only very limited economic activity is permitted.
– The two traditional communities inside the reserve — the Último Quilombo and Nova Esperança Quilombo (Afro-Brazilian communities of runaway slave descendants) — complain that the government has unfairly penalized them for conducting forest and river livelihoods including Brazil nut collecting and fishing.
– Local residents also contend that while they’re fined for such minor infractions, MRN, the world’s fourth largest bauxite mining company, located near the REBIO, has done extensive ecological damage due to ore ship traffic and water pollution, which severely impacts turtle populations.
– In fact, MRN’s mines, ore processing and bauxite waste lagoons are located inside the Saracá-Taquera National Forest, a protected area known as a FLONA, on the Trombetas River. MRN has been fined often for its environmental violations there, fines it has appealed and not yet paid; the firm says it’s operating within the law.

Brazilian Amazon protected areas ‘in flames’ as land-grabbers invade by Ana Ionova [08/07/2020]

– The Área de Proteção Ambiental (APA) Triunfo do Xingu spans some 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres). Its dense forests boast a rich diversity of plant and animal species, and it is also home to Indigenous groups and traditional peoples who rely on the forest to survive.
– But the area has come under pressure, becoming one of the most deforested regions in the Amazon in recent years. Overall, the territory has lost nearly 30% of its forest cover, with some 5% cleared in 2019 alone.
– The number of fires has soared in Triunfo do Xingu too. Over the last two months, NASA satellites picked up 3,842 fire alerts in the territory. August and September – when Brazil’s fire season is normally at its peak – are expected to bring even more intense burning.
– The area has emerged as an epicenter of land-grabbing and illegal mining, amid a surge in invaders who are betting that the Bolsonaro administration will eventually loosen or scrap protections of the land they are occupying.

Deforestation in the Amazon is drying up the rest of Brazil: Report by Sibélia Zanon [08/07/2020]

– The center-west, south and part of the southeast regions of Brazil have seen rainfall well below average in recent years.
– Agriculture is the first sector to feel the effects of the drought, with drastic losses in production. Water supply and power generation have also been impacted.
– Agribusiness suffers the consequences of drought but also causes it: Deforestation of the Amazon to clear land for livestock, farming and logging affects the rainfall regime in Brazil and other Latin American countries.
– “South America is drying up as a result of the combined effects of deforestation and climate change”, says scientist Antonio Donato Nobre.

Fires in the Pantanal: ‘We are facing a scenario now that is catastrophic’ by Ana Ionova [08/06/2020]

– Devastating wildfires that burned out of control in late 2019 and early 2020 in Brazil’s Pantanal wetland are back. Around 1.2 million hectares (3 million acres) in the region have been burned so far.
– The Pantanal is the world’s largest tropical wetland and straddles the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia – with Brazil containing the lion’s share.
– The Brazilian Pantanal has seen the number of fires more than double so far in 2020, up some 200% over the same period in 2019. Sources say the fires were started by human activity – likely to clear land for agriculture – and are difficult to control due to a lack of access to the region and because the fires are burning underground, fueled by highly combustible peat and exacerbated by drought.
– Faced with the surging number of fires in June and July, state and federal authorities moved to reinforce bans on burning. However, early signs suggest these measures are doing little to mitigate fires.



Illegal plant trade, tourism threaten new Philippine flowering herbs by Keith Anthony Fabro [Thu, 13 Aug 2020]
– Scientists have described a new ornamental plant species in the biodiverse region of Palawan, a province in the western Philippines.
– The new species, Begonia cabanillasii, is the 25th begonia species found on the island and the 133rd recorded in the Philippines.
– Begonias are flowering perennial herbs popular in the ornamental plant trade. The new species grows in a shady and rocky undergrowth habitat in Palawan and is assessed to be critically endangered.
– The illegal plant trade and tourism, a driver of deforestation in the province, pose the biggest threat to this new plant species and other Palawan-endemic flora, researchers say.

In the fight against biodiversity loss, connectivity is key (commentary) by Jodi Hilty [Wed, 12 Aug 2020]
– People have been raising the alarm over habitat and biodiversity loss for decades, but solutions have so far failed to effectively address the problem.
– A new report, “Guidelines for Conserving Connectivity through Ecological Networks and Corridors,” suggests greater consideration of connections between protected areas is part of the solution.
– Ecological corridors on land, freshwater and in the sea are a critical conservation designation needed to ensure that ecosystem functioning and ecological processes are maintained and restored.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Climate change could put tropical plant germination at risk: Study by Claire Asher [Wed, 12 Aug 2020]
– Under a worst-case climate change scenario, more than 20% of plant species in the tropics may experience temperatures too high for their seeds to germinate by 2070, according to an analysis of seed germination data compiled by the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
– Under that same worst-case scenario, over half of tropical species may see reduced rates of germination by 2070 as well, the study reports, while many temperate species at high latitudes will move closer to their optimum temperature and may experience increased germination success as a result.
– The analysis shows that 26% of tropical species and 10% of temperate species are already experiencing temperatures above their optimum. Some plants are found living at sites where temperatures are already above their maximum, suggesting that their lineage in that location may be effectively extinct.
– Plants that find themselves outside of optimum or tolerable temperature ranges may be able to migrate to higher latitudes or altitudes, and existing diversity can offer a reservoir of genetic variation for species to adapt, but physiological limits and long generation times may mean even diverse species struggle.

Mongabay’s most popular stories for July 2020 by [Wed, 12 Aug 2020]
– Mongabay had 10.8 million pageviews in July, up 45% over a year ago.
– Below are the most read stories on from July 2020.

Before burning comes felling: Brazil’s half-measure fire ban (commentary) by Angie Bolzan [Wed, 12 Aug 2020]
– Satellite data shows that fires are again burning in the Brazilian Amazon. The Bolsonaro Administration responded by issuing a temporary ban on burning on July 15, but Angie Bolzan of the Amazon Conservation Team argues that this decree doesn’t address the underlying driver of fires: deforestation.
– “The 2019 fires that overwhelmed the Amazon did not spontaneously generate: they happened largely in areas that had already been deforested and then were set ablaze to finish the conversion process to pasture for livestock and agriculture,” Bolzan writes. “The extensive fires were a culmination of the destruction that preceded it, a process that takes place insidiously and relentlessly, driven by both landowners and landgrabbers, and recently emboldened by the current administration’s outspoken criticism of environmental protection laws and policies.”
– To address fires, the Brazilian government needs to restore efforts to control deforestation and take effective policy action, says Bolzan.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

COVID is killing Indigenous leaders (commentary) by Mark Plotkin [Tue, 11 Aug 2020]
– Jose de los Santos Sauna Limaco, a political leader of the Kogi peoples of the Sierra Nevada of Colombia, died last week of COVID-19. He was 44.
– Santos Sauna is one of several indigenous leaders who’ve fallen during the pandemic. Mark Plotkin, an ethnobotanist who founded the Amazon Conservation Team, says the world is a poorer place with the loss of people like Santos Sauna.
– “Not only have the Kogis lost a great, wise and inspiring leader, but so has the entire world,” Plotkin writes. “Those of us who were blessed enough to know him will mourn him forever.”
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Paper maze and lack of transparency cloak investment in companies involved in Amazon deforestation by Fernanda Wenzel, Naira Hofmeister, Pedro Papini and Juliana Lopes from ((o))eco [Tue, 11 Aug 2020]
– Lack of transparency prevents individual investors to know where their money is going to and allows majors investors to cloak their contributions to meatpackers who operates in the Amazon.
– Despite a Brazilian Central Bank law, brokers ignore environmental risk assessment when suggesting clients to invest en meatpackers.
– Meatpacking and retail companies use dozens of subsidiaries and even tax havens to hide the origins of its investments.

Is Chinese investment driving a sharp increase in jaguar poaching? by Rebecca Branford [Tue, 11 Aug 2020]
– A 200-fold increase in the number of trafficked dead jaguars seized by authorities in Central and South America between 2012 and 2018 has been reported in a new study.
– Researchers suggest the major surge in the trade may be facilitated by Chinese investment networks in Latin America.
– Corruption and low incomes in source countries also are likely a significant factor boosting trafficking.
– Acting on the paper’s findings, initiatives organized by nations, states, municipalities, NGOs, universities and research institutes could help improve collaborative regional efforts to combat the illicit trade.

Don’t let Big Oil open a new front in its war on environmental defenders (commentary) by Steven Donziger [Tue, 11 Aug 2020]
– Steven Donziger is a human-rights attorney who has led a lawsuit against Chevron for alleged damages caused in the Ecuadorian Amazon by Texaco, a company it acquired in 2001.
– Donziger has been confined for over 12 months due to a lawsuit filed against him by Chevron. The home confinement was imposed by a U.S. judge.
– In this opinion piece, Donziger argues that the action taken against him are part of a campaign by Chevron to intimidate critics of its environmental record.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

As wild areas become farmland, species that carry diseases flourish by Ashoka Mukpo [Tue, 11 Aug 2020]
– A study in the science journal Nature found that the conversion of wild areas into farmland, cities and other forms of managed land increases the abundance of species that carry pathogens capable of jumping to humans.
– The study drew on a database of nearly 7,000 ecological communities and 376 “host species” on six continents.
– The biggest population increases were measured in species of passerine birds, rodents and bats.
– Species that carry infectious pathogens did better on converted land than their close “non-host” relatives.

Sharks contaminated with plastic are ‘cause for concern’ by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Tue, 11 Aug 2020]
– A new study investigated microplastic ingestion in four species of demersal sharks in the North Atlantic Ocean, and found that 67% of sampled sharks contained plastic particles and fibers, pointing toward the pervasiveness of plastic in the marine environment.
– A total of 379 microplastics were found in 46 sampled sharks, with the highest number of plastics inside a single bull huss, which had 154 polypropylene fibers inside its stomach and intestines.
– Many of the plastic particles found in the sharks were fragments of synthetic cellulose, the material found in polyester clothing and hygiene products like face masks, which have become commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic.
– The demersal sharks likely ingested the plastic through a food source, such as crustaceans, or by directly ingesting sediment from the seafloor, the study suggests.

They outlived dinosaurs, but can glass sponge reefs survive man-made warming? by Francesca Edralin [Tue, 11 Aug 2020]
– A new study has found that warming ocean waters and increased acidification could weaken the skeletal structure of Canada’s iconic glass sponge reefs.
– The potential loss of glass sponge reefs, which were thought to have gone extinct 40 million years ago, would imperil the regionwide and distinct ecosystem, including potentially hundreds of fish species.
– Researchers say the Canadian government must take climate change more seriously or risk losing an ecosystem found nowhere else.

How social are lions? Candid Animal Cam heads to the savannah by [Tue, 11 Aug 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.

As Amazon tree loss worsens, political pressure grows, and Brazil hedges: Critics by Jenny Gonzales [Mon, 10 Aug 2020]
– Government data released last Friday shows that from August 1, 2019 to July 31, 2020 forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon totaled 9,205 square kilometers (3.554 square miles), an increase of 34.5% over the previous comparative period (2018/2019), when 6,844 square kilometers (2,642 square miles) were deforested.
– 1,654 square kilometers were cleared in July, 2020, a decline as compared to the 2,255 square kilometers cleared in July 2019. Brazil’s Vice President jumped on this one-month period to declare erroneously that deforestation rates are falling, and he credited this overall decline to the Army deployed to the Amazon in May.
– Meanwhile, pressure grows on the Bolsonaro government to turn away from policies that analysts say are rapidly accelerating deforestation. More than 60 organizations sent a letter to the administration, foreign investors, and Brazilian and European parliamentarians, detailing proposals to contain the deforestation crisis.
– In other news, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles met with illegal miners in the Amazon, and in response the Defense Ministry appeared to cave to their demands to stop patrolling in their area of operation. But in a reversal, the Army, after halting its patrols in the region, has reinstated them.

New Indigenous storytelling platform brings community perspectives to the world by Liz Kimbrough [Mon, 10 Aug 2020]
– A new Indigenous geostorytelling platform, Tribal Stories, launched on Aug. 9, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
– The launch of the platform, by Netherlands-based nonprofit People’s Planet Project (PPP), featured films created by Indigenous filmmakers from the A’i Cofan community in Ecuador and the Kīsêdjê community in Brazil.
– PPP supports filmmaking and the use of geospatial data for storytelling and legal advocacy work.

Mauritius grapples with worst environmental crisis in a generation by Malavika Vyawahare [Mon, 10 Aug 2020]
– A ship that ran aground on a coral reef has leaked about 900 tons of fuel oil into the waters off the southeastern coast of Mauritius.
– The incident occurred on July 25, and by Aug. 6 the Japanese-owned ship started to spill oil from its fuel tank, leading Mauritian authorities to declare an environmental emergency.
– The oil sludge threatens Pointe d’Esny, the largest remaining wetland in Mauritius, and other ecologically sensitive areas like the Ile aux Aigrettes Nature Reserve, Blue Bay Marine Area, and Mahebourg Fishing Reserves.
– Water currents appear to be carrying the oil slick north along the eastern shoreline, putting mangrove forests in harm’s way.

Indonesian case highlights potential for long-term harms of corruption by Hans Nicholas Jong [Mon, 10 Aug 2020]
– Anti-graft investigators have arrested a district chief and four other officials in Indonesian Borneo for allegedly taking $560,000 in bribes to award contracts for public works projects.
– An independent watchdog says the case is emblematic of how corruption in infrastructure and public procurement contracts ultimately harms the local community and environment.
– A hallmark of such projects is the low quality of work, which can have long-term impacts on communities and the areas they live in.
– The watchdog has recorded a more than 50% increase in the number of cases of corruption in infrastructure and procurement projects in Indonesia between 2015 and 2018.

Why I stand for my tribe’s forest: It gives us food, culture, and life (commentary) by Arkilaus Kladit [Sat, 08 Aug 2020]
– For the occasion of International Indigenous Peoples Day August 9, 2020, Arkilaus Kladit, a member of the Knasaimos-Tehit people in South Sorong Regency in West Papua Province, Indonesia, writes about the importance of his tribe’s customary forests.
– Arkilaus, who is a member of the Knasaimos Indigenous Peoples Council, describes his tribe’s long struggle to secure recognition of his tribe’s customary lands by the Indonesian government.
– Arkilaus explains how the Knasaimos-Tehit people are dependent on forests for food, community resilience, and cultural significance.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Amazon rainforest the size of Sao Paulo cleared in July in Brazil by [Fri, 07 Aug 2020]
– An area of rainforest larger than the city of São Paulo was cleared during the month of July, bringing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon to 9,205 square kilometers over the past 12 months, according to official government data released today by Brazil’s National Space Research Institute INPE.
– INPE’s satellite-based deforestation alert system registered 1,654 square kilometers of forest clearing last month, a decline from the 2,255 square kilometers detected the same month a year ago. Still, forest loss in the region puts the 2019/2020 deforestation year, which runs from August 1 to July 31, to be the highest since at least 2007.
– The sharp year-over-year rise in deforestation was confirmed by Imazon, a Brazilian NGO that independently monitors forest loss in the region, which found a 29% increase via its “SAD” system.
– Deforestation has been trending higher since 2012 but accelerated since early 2019.

Fires in Argentina’s Paraná Delta are burning ‘out of control’ by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Fri, 07 Aug 2020]
– Hundreds of fires are currently burning through the Paraná Delta region, an important wetland ecosystem that hosts a range of wildlife in Argentina, raising concerns among conservationists.
– The Paraná River is also experiencing extremely low water levels due to a regional drought, although experts say an exact climatic reason for the drought has yet to be determined.
– Experts say most of the fires have been deliberately lit by people, but they are now raging “out of control” due to drought, lack of rainfall and low river levels.

Probe begins into alleged deforestation by Olam, ‘world’s largest farmer’ by James Fair [Fri, 07 Aug 2020]
– A retrospective assessment has begun of claims that FSC-certified palm oil producer Olam razed thousands of hectares of wildlife-rich rainforest in Gabon.
– Campaigners are calling for Olam to fund compensatory forest restoration or additional protection.
– The Gabonese government says its palm oil strategy is sustainable and does not threaten the country’s rich biodiversity.

In Colombia, a protected park is buffeted by social, environmental conflicts by Antonio José Paz Cardona [Fri, 07 Aug 2020]
– When Serranía de Las Quinchas Regional Natural Park was established in Colombia in 2008, thousands of campesinos were already living there on land previously dominated by paramilitaries.
– Many productive activities have been restricted and residents are requesting state support.
– There have been reports that the army is eradicating illicit coca crops while disregarding health and safety protocols put in place to combat COVID-19.
– Residents of the park say they have no means of making a living and are worried about illegal logging, land ownership and oil infrastructure in the area.

For the Philippines’ Mangyans, COVID-19 extends a long history of discrimination by Robert Bociaga [Fri, 07 Aug 2020]
– A case of coronavirus in a remote Philippine tribe has highlighted the threats that the pandemic poses to a group that already suffers poor access to health care.
– This Mangyans of the island of Mindoro have a long history of being discriminated against and being forced off their land by business interests and security forces.
– During the pandemic and lockdown, they have also reportedly been denied government aid, prompting calls for all governments to ensure Indigenous rights are respected and adequate resources are allocated to Indigenous communities throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Mining industry releases first standard to improve safety of waste storage by Ian Morse [Thu, 06 Aug 2020]
– On Aug. 5, spurred by a deadly Brazilian dam disaster in early 2019, a partnership between the U.N. and industry leaders released new guidance for companies to manage their mining waste safely.
– The Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management “strives to achieve … zero harm to people and the environment with zero tolerance for human fatality,” according to its preamble.
– However, some environmental and human rights groups say the measures in the standard don’t go far enough.

Traversing Russia’s remote taiga in pursuit of the Blakiston’s fish owl by Gloria Dickie [Thu, 06 Aug 2020]
– The Blakiston’s fish owl is the world’s largest owl, ranging from the eastern woodlands of Hokkaido, Japan, to the Primorye territory in the south of Russia’s Far East.
– The species is endangered, with only 1,500 to 3,700 fish owls remaining in the wild.
– In his new, just published book, Owls of the Eastern Ice, biologist Jonathan Slaght chronicles his experiences and misadventures as an American researcher in Siberia, while also revealing the fish owl’s fascinating secret world.
– To protect the fish owl, Slaght and his Russian colleagues advocate for limiting road access into high biodiversity areas in Siberia.



How do we save charisma-challenged species? Start with a story by Jeremy Hance [08/06/2020]
Why are some endangered species ignored? by Jeremy Hance [08/03/2020]
Ornithologists discover more rare hornbills than thought on Philippine island by Leilani Chavez [07/31/2020]
In syntropic agriculture, farmers stop fighting nature and learn to embrace it by Sandra Weiss [07/30/2020]