Newsletter 2020-08-27



Latin America unites to fight global inequalities in new regional pact by Kimberley Brown [08/27/2020]

– More than 2,800 environmentalists, academics, lawyers, activists, and community leaders from Mexico to Argentina have already signed the pact.
– The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated inequality in Latin America, where five of the top 10 countries with the highest transmission rates in the world are located. The ILO estimates more than 41 million people will lose their jobs in the region, while the U.N. has warned that extreme poverty will surpass 83 million people, and deforestation has increased, putting ecosystems and Indigenous communities in jeopardy.
– Some of the proposals in the pact include: cancellation of external debt, offering universal basic income, creating solidarity-based tax reform, building post-extractivist economies, and prioritizing food sovereignty and local health care systems, among others.

Bleak milestone: 500 major fires detected in Brazilian Amazon this year by Liz Kimbrough [08/26/2020]

– 516 major fires, most of them illegal, covering 376,416 hectares (912,863 acres) were detected between May 28 and August 25, 2020, with the Amazon fire season not even half over, and expected to run at least through September.
– Of those fires, 12% were within intact forests, while the rest were in recently deforested areas where the cut trees were allowed to dry out before being lit on fire to convert the former rainforest to cattle pasture and croplands.
– Most of these fires were illegal, being in direct defiance of a total Amazon fire ban issued by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on July 15, 2020.
– IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, which annually fought Amazon fires in the past, has a greatly diminished role this year, having largely been defunded by the Bolsonaro administration. Fire suppression this year falls to the Brazilian Army, which has little experience controlling Amazon blazes.

In Cambodia, a sweeping new environment code languishes in legal limbo by Andrew Nachemson [08/26/2020]

– Deforestation, illegal sand mining and other environmental problems are rampant in Cambodia, which has lost nearly a quarter of its tree cover since 2000.
– In 2015, the country’s Ministry of Environment began drafting a new suite of environmental laws, purportedly aimed at completely overhauling the country’s environmental governance.
– Five years later, the law remains in draft form, and civil society representatives who were initially consulted say they have been shut out of the process.

Study revealing New Guinea’s plant life ‘first step’ toward protection by John C. Cannon [08/25/2020]

– A recent study in the journal Nature found that New Guinea has more plant species than any other island on Earth.
– The island has more than 13,000 species of plants, more than two-thirds of which live only in New Guinea.
– The island’s forests are relatively intact, and researchers say the list of species is a step toward protecting them from the looming threats of large-scale agriculture, logging and road building.

Amazon ‘women warriors’ show gender equality, forest conservation go hand in hand by Rosamaria Loures and Sarah Sax [08/21/2020]

– Recognition of the role that Indigenous land plays in forest protection, biodiversity conservation and environmental health has been growing, but less attention has been paid to the role of women.
– An increasing body of research and experts are calling for a greater recognition of the link between gender equality and environmental protection.
– Examples like the Guajajara “women warriors” in the Brazilian Amazon show how greater inclusion of women can benefit conservation goals.



Lockdown should have cleared up Jakarta’s air. Coal plants kept it dirty by Hans Nicholas Jong [Thu, 27 Aug 2020]
– Cities around the world have seen an improvement in air quality as a result of lockdowns and restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Jakarta has been a notable exception.
– A new study shows that persistently high levels of PM2.5 air pollutant in the Indonesian capital come from coal-fired power plants within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of the city.
– Indonesia is set to build more coal-fired power plants in the vicinity of Jakarta in the coming years while maintaining emissions standards that are much laxer than regional or global standards.
– Air pollution has a significant impact on public health and the economy, with studies linking it to higher rates of COVID-19 infection.

481 and counting: Norway’s whaling catch hits four-year high by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Thu, 27 Aug 2020]
– New data show that Norway has killed 481 minke whales so far this year, a number that surpasses the toll from the past three years.
– Norway continues its commercial whaling operation despite the International Whaling Commission placing a global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982.
– While some whale meat and whale products are sold within Norway, the country also exports it to countries like Japan, Iceland and Denmark’s Faroe Islands.
– Whaling industry representatives say that whale meat sales have gone up in Norway during the COVID-19 pandemic, while conservationists and animal welfare advocates say that most Norwegians are not interested in consuming whale meat.

Fight rages on to save centuries-old giant Philippine rosewood tree by Bong S. Sarmiento [Wed, 26 Aug 2020]
– Officials in the southern Philippines have decided to cut a centuries-old Philippine rosewood tree (Petersianthus quadrialatus) that’s believed to be the oldest and tallest of its species.
– The decision comes after assessments showed extensive fungal rot and termite damage in the trunk, presenting a risk of the 56-meter (184-foot) tree falling over onto a nearby highway.
– Experts, however, say there is still hope for the giant tree through a regimen of tree surgery, fungicide treatment and regular checkups, which they accuse officials of failing to do in the past.

‘It’s taking away our wise men’: COVID-19 hits Peru’s Indigenous people hard by Yvette Sierra Praeli [Wed, 26 Aug 2020]
– The Ombudsperson’s Office reports that 19 health centers in the Amazonian provinces of Condorcanqui and Bagua, with almost 100,000 inhabitants, have closed as the pandemic takes hold.
– Many of the dead in the Indigenous communities are tribal elders, considered the “spiritual guides” of the communities’ struggle for rights and justice.
– Indigenous leaders accuse the government of neglect in its handling of the pandemic response, especially with regard to Peru’s Amazonian communities.

Belize takes ocean action with expanded marine reserve and ban on gill nets by [Tue, 25 Aug 2020]
– In August 2020, the Belizean government enacted two conservation efforts — the expansion of the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve to be seven times its original size, and a plan to phase out gillnet fishing by 2022.
– The Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve contains the ecologically important Corona Reef, which has been threatened by transboundary illegal fishing in the past.
– The marine reserve expansion has helped Belize meet its international commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Target 11, which calls for nations to protect at least 10% of their marine environments by 2020.
– In order to bring gillnet fishing to an end, the Belizean government will help fishers transition to more sustainable livelihoods.

Company investigated for timber trafficking gets stimulus from Peru government by Yvette Sierra Praeli [Tue, 25 Aug 2020]
– Inversiones La Oroza, the company at the center of the largest seizure of illegal timber in Peru, was recently awarded $380,000 under a government stimulus program for the forestry sector.
– La Oroza was identified as the owner of 80% of the 60 freight trucks’ worth of wood seized in 2015 and believed to be bound for Mexico and the U.S.
– It was slapped with sanctions by the U.S., but not in Peru, where the government of the region of Loreto picked it to be part of the Reactiva Peru stimulus program.
– National prosecutors and environmental lawyers have condemned the move, but regional officials have defended their decision.

Sri Lankan conservation law and the framework for ethical science research (Commentary) by Jagath Gunawardana [Tue, 25 Aug 2020]
– Conducting research on wild animals in Sri Lanka through observations in the wild doesn’t require a permit under island’s conservation laws, as long as they don’t involve the capture of animals or take place inside protected areas.
– The collection and keeping of any specimens of non-protected animals, whether alive or dead, are regulated by law, but researchers are afforded a privilege that allows them to even kill and keep specimens of protected and strictly protected animals.
– Sri Lanka law requires foreign research terms to have a local collaborator and material transfer agreements between such collaborating organizations in order to transfer biological material out of the country.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Spying on fear in the wild: Q&A with ecologist Meredith Palmer by Claudia Geib [Tue, 25 Aug 2020]
– Meredith Palmer uses camera traps to study the dynamics of predator-prey relationships in the wilds of Africa and North America.
– Her work is crucial to informing conservation management by ensuring that the reintroduction of predators contributes to a self-regulating ecosystem.
– Building largely on networks of camera traps that churn out hundreds of thousands of images, she must rely on citizen scientists who help her review them.
– Palmer also advocates for greater collaboration between the technology and conservation communities: “My cellphone does a billion things I wish my camera traps would do,” she states in this interview with Mongabay.

Is an African wild dog actually a dog? Candid Animal Cam meets the rare canid by [Tue, 25 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.

Philippine crickets, held nameless in a Hawaii museum, are finally identified by Mavic Conde [Mon, 24 Aug 2020]
– Six new cricket species have been described from the Philippines, adding to a wealth of biodiversity endemic to this Southeast Asian archipelago.
– Three of the new species were described from specimens collected six decades ago and stored at a museum in Hawaii.
– Researchers say more field surveys need to be done to see if the species still occur in the areas where they were first found.
– They also call for further studies to uncover more of the as-yet-undescribed cricket species around the Philippines.

Key Amazon grain route blocked by Indigenous protest over funding, Grainrail by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [Mon, 24 Aug 2020]
– The Kayapó Mekrãgnoti Indigenous people have been blockading the BR-163 highway since 17 August. The BR-163 is a primary route for soy and corn being moved from Brazil’s Amazon interior toward the Atlantic coast for export to China and the European Union.
– The closure is in protest of potentially lost federal funding that the Kayapó Mekrãgnoti use in part to self-protect the Baú and Mekrãgnoti Indigenous Territories from invasion by land grabbers and illegal loggers. The reserve covers 11.3 million hectares (43,630 square miles) in Pará state.
– A second source of conflict: GrainRail, a proposed 934 kilometer (580 mile) railroad, which would run parallel to the BR-163. The railway’s development has been approved by the Brazilian government without an internationally required Indigenous consultation, according to the Kayapó Mekrãgnoti people.
– A federal judge has ordered police to remove the blockade, but a meeting is scheduled for today and expected to run late into the evening to seek a negotiated settlement. The Kayapó Mekrãgnoti are also demanding COVID-19 assistance. So far, 403 Indigenous people from the reserves have been infected and four have died, all elders.

Rescuing Achilles: Southern pig-tailed macaques listed as endangered but still persecuted (commentary) by Sinan Serhadli [Mon, 24 Aug 2020]
– It is alarming if a highly adaptive generalist species such as the pig-tailed macaque–which can thrive even in oil palm landscapes–is now threatened with extinction, the author argues.
– Not long after rescuing an infant macaque from a life on a chain, the author discovered that this once common species has been listed as endangered.
– “Conservation has to include all wildlife regardless of their status. As we can see from the pig-tailed macaque, the common species of today can easily become the endangered species of tomorrow,” he says.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Indonesia bill weakening environmental safeguards to pass in October by Hans Nicholas Jong [Mon, 24 Aug 2020]
– Indonesian lawmakers have ignored expert advice and popular criticism to push ahead with deliberations of a bill that threatens sweeping deregulation of environmental protections.
– The omnibus bill is aimed at making it easier for companies to do business in Indonesia by getting rid of permitting requirements and environmental impact assessments, among other measures.
– Lawmakers say they plan to pass it before their next recess starts on Oct. 9, having already broken parliamentary rules by continuing to deliberate it over their most recent recess period.
– Experts say the bill panders to the interests of the business community at the expense of environmental and social interests.

For South America’s wilderness areas, COVID-19 brings risk and respite by Yvette Sierra Praeli [Mon, 24 Aug 2020]
– A rise in illegal activities and plunge in tourism revenue are some of the problems that protected areas across Latin America are facing due to COVID-19 lockdown measures.
– Experts say the suspension in human activity marks a welcome break for the parks and a unique opportunity to carry out studies about the changes ecosystems are experiencing during this time.

Captive breeding helps New Zealand’s threatened black stilts take flight by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Fri, 21 Aug 2020]
– The black stilt or kakī is a critically endangered wading bird with fewer than 200 individuals living in the wild.
– The main threat to the kakī is introduced predators, such as stoats, ferrets, rats and cats, but the birds are also vulnerable to flooding in their habitat.
– The Kakī Recovery Programme, run by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, runs a captive-breeding and reintroduction program, which has helped boost the wild kakī population by 30% over the past year.
– In August 2020, the program released 104 captive-bred individuals to help bolster wild populations.

Sharks nearby? A bottle of seawater can hold the answer, study says by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [Fri, 21 Aug 2020]
– A new study has been able to identify the presence of blacktip sharks in the waters of Terra Ceia Bay in Florida through eDNA detection in water samples.
– The water samples contained more blacktip eDNA in the spring and summer months, which is when the species uses the bay as a nursery, and less eDNA in the fall, which is when the sharks start to leave the area.
– While the current technique indicates if sharks are present in the water, it isn’t sensitive enough to provide an accurate population count.

Can we predict where Amazon fires will occur? And to what end? by Liz Kimbrough [Fri, 21 Aug 2020]
– If it was possible to accurately forecast where Amazon fires were most likely to occur each year, it should theoretically be far easier to prevent and control those fires.
– Amazon fires are currently predicted in two ways: first, based on deforestation, much of it illegal, that occurs in the wet months before the annual fire season; it is these deforested areas that are most often set on fire in the dry months of July through September.
– Second, it’s also possible to predict the approximate severity and Amazon region in which fires may occur based on climate and drought forecasts for the biome, often based on ocean temperatures.
– But being able to predict where Amazon fires might occur is only a first step. A strong, proactive government response is also needed to prevent and control fires, and in order to apprehend and prosecute those who set them ablaze in the Amazon.

Mauritius’s plan to dump part of wrecked ship sparks controversy by Malavika Vyawahare [Fri, 21 Aug 2020]
– A Japanese-owned ship crashed on the coral reef barrier of Mauritius on July 25, leaking about 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil since then.
– On Aug. 15, the wreaked ship broke into two, leaving Mauritius with another problem: deciding what to do with the wreck.
– The government’s plan to sink the severed bow of the ship 13 kilometers (8 miles) east of the island, in open waters 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) deep, has sparked controversy.
– Experts disagree on the potential dangers of sinking the ship’s bow but are worried that the oil already spilled will pose a long-term threat to fragile ecosystems like coral reefs and mangrove forests.

Forest fires set by poachers threaten a refuge of the Sumatran rhino by Tri Purna Jaya [Fri, 21 Aug 2020]
– Fires set by poachers are a top cause of habitat degradation in Way Kambas National Park on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island.
– The park is home to critically endangered Sumatran rhinos, tigers and elephants, among hundreds of wildlife species.
– The burning on the fringes of the park spurs the growth of fresh grass, which draws the deer and boars that the poachers target.
– Park officials and conservationists are engaged with local communities to dissuade people from poaching, as well as replanting burned areas with hardier vegetation.



Rangers protecting Philippine tamaraws go hungry as pandemic bites by Mavic Conde [08/20/2020]
Indigenous best Amazon stewards, but only when property rights assured: Study by Sue Branford [08/17/2020]
China issues new sustainability rules for its notorious fishing fleet by Elizabeth Fitt [08/14/2020]
More than 260 major, mostly illegal Amazon fires detected since late May by Liz Kimbrough [08/13/2020]