Newsletter 2020-09-24



Flip-flops, fishing gear pile up at Aldabra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site by Malavika Vyawahare [09/23/2020]

– More than 370,000 flip-flops from all over the world are piling up on the Aldabra coral atoll In Seychelles, one of the remotest corners of the planet and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to a new study.
– The second-largest atoll in the world, with a vast lagoon enclosed by raised coral atolls, Aldabra is home to the India Ocean’s last giant tortoises and only flightless bird species, among other rare and threatened wildlife.
– The authors of the new paper estimate that plastic garbage from fishing vessels accounts for more than 80% of the trash on the atoll by weight.
– They calculate that recovering the plastic trash on Aldabra could cost as much as $7.3 million, a large price to pay for a small island nation like Seychelles.

On World Rhino Day, ‘real work’ is still needed to save Sumatran rhinos by Basten Gokkon [09/22/2020]

– September 22 marks World Rhino Day, which looks to bring attention to the protection of the two African and three Asian rhino species that exist today.
– Of these five species, the Sumatran rhino is in the greatest peril, described as the most endangered large mammal on Earth.
– Its population is estimated at fewer than 80 individuals living in small, isolated habitats in Indonesia, where a low birth rate (a result of their isolation due to habitat fragmentation) is now the biggest threat to their survival.
– Rhino experts have called on the Indonesian government to do “real work” to save the species, including on a captive-breeding program widely seen as the last feasible means of staving off extinction.

Solomon Islands environmental defender faces life sentence for arson charge by Louise Hunt [09/18/2020]

– Accused of burning logging machinery belonging to Malaysia-based firm Xiang Lin SI Ltd, the “Nende Five” were taken into custody in 2018.
– In June 2020, three of the five were acquitted based on lack of evidence. However, in July the magistrate decided to uphold charges against the two remaining defendants.
– Jerry Meioko was convicted on charges of larceny and unlawful damage while Clement Tauto became the only defendant to be convicted of arson, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Their convictions were based on confessions, which advocates say were made under duress.
– Meanwhile, logging continues to spread in the Solomon Islands in areas that are home to local communities and claimed as ancestral land, and in forest inhabited by unique, endangered species found nowhere else in the world.

In Brazil’s Pantanal, a desperate struggle to save a hyacinth macaw refuge from fire by Jennifer Ann Thomas [09/17/2020]

– Firefighters are working around the clock to protect a forested ranch in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state that’s an important refuge of the threatened hyacinth macaw.
– The Pantanal wetlands in which the ranch is located are experiencing severe wildfires, sparked by human activity and exacerbated by drought and climate change.
– The São Francisco do Perigara ranch is home to around 1,000 hyacinth macaws — 15% of the total population of the species in the wild, and 20% of its population in the Pantanal.



Philippine community goes to court to stop coal plant in ecological haven by Leilani Chavez [24 Sep 2020]
– Residents and civil society groups have launched a legal challenge to stop construction of a coal power plant in the Philippine province of Palawan.
– The project has been delayed for eight years due to widespread community opposition, but construction may begin soon after the developer, DMCI Power Corporation, secured the necessary permits.
– Indigenous groups say they were shut out of the consultation process, while environmental activists have warned of the project’s impact on one of the Philippines’ last ecological havens.
– Critics of the project also point out that Palawan has vast renewable energy potential that could meet its entire demand for electricity, mostly through small-scale hydro plants that don’t require the construction of reservoirs and dams.

For the Pantanal’s jaguars, fires bring ‘death by a thousand needle wounds’ by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [24 Sep 2020]
– The Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland region, is experiencing catastrophic fires, with current estimates stating that approximately 3.3 million hectares (8.1 million acres), or 22% of the region, have gone up in flames.
– There are approximately 2,000 jaguars living in the Pantanal’s jaguar corridor, and conservationists estimate that about 600 jaguars have had their habitat impacted by the fires, as well as many injured or killed.
– Jaguars are having trouble escaping the situation due to the fires burning underground, which makes them difficult to visually detect.
– While it’s not entirely clear how the fires will affect jaguar populations into the future, the fires could lead to food insecurity issues and genetic instability, according to experts.

Bailique: Why these islands in the Amazon Delta are falling into pieces by Luís Patriani (text) and Mauricio de Paiva (photos) [24 Sep 2020]
– Erosion on the shores of the Bailique Archipelago, at the mouth of the Amazon River, has destroyed homes, schools and electricity infrastructure.
– Without power, this community of fishers and certified sustainable açaí harvesters cannot keep their products refrigerated.
– Researchers attribute the problem to the choking-off of the Araguari River, located just north of the archipelago and previously known for its tidal bore, when the tide pushed the water upstream, creating dramatic waves.
– The tidal bore ended in 2013 as the flow of the Araguari was constricted by three hydropower dams built upstream and two canals bleeding its water into the Amazon Basin, allowing the sea to advance over the islands.

New tool alerts ships when whales are near. But will they slow down? by Claudia Geib [23 Sep 2020]
– In 2018 and 2019 there were a record 27 documented whale-ship collisions off the coast of California, although the actual number is likely to be much higher.
– To reduce the number of deadly collisions, the Benioff Ocean Initiative launched Whale Safe on Sept. 17.
– The new mapping and analysis tool alerts mariners when whales are likely present in the busy Santa Barbara Channel near Los Angeles, drawing on data from an acoustic monitoring buoy, on-the-water sighting reports, and computer modeling.
– If whales are likely nearby, the developers hope large vessels will slow to speeds that are less harmful to whales in a collision. Their decision whether to do so remains voluntary.

Landed by the thousands: Overfished Congo waters put endangered sharks at risk by Sharon Guynup [23 Sep 2020]
– More than 100 commercial trawlers and about 700 smaller boats of the Republic of Congo’s artisanal fleet are putting intense pressure on 42 shark and ray species; all of them on the IUCN red list, according to a new survey by TRAFFIC, an NGO that tracks the global wildlife trade.
– The 150-mile Congo coast makes up a tiny part of Africa’s shoreline, but overfishing is taking a heavy toll. One example: Ten thousand metric tons of hammerheads were reported caught in Congo from 2007 through 2017 — the equivalent weight of 10,000 small cars.
– Republic of Congo is a signatory of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but not one CITES-listed shark species is on the country’s endangered species list. A new law aimed at meeting international commitments has been in the works since 2018, but has not been ratified by the Parliament.
– A new international market incentivized shark fishing around 2000, with the arrival of Chinese companies in Congo. The fins are exported illegally to Asia for shark fin soup, but authorities say they have no idea how the shark fins are being smuggled out of the country. Without knowledge of export routes, little can be done to prevent the illegal trade.

Past illegal activity dogs Chinese fleet that fished squid near Galapagos by Michelle Carrere [23 Sep 2020]
– For about four years, a Chinese fishing fleet has been repeating a route from the South Atlantic, off Argentina, to the Eastern Pacific, passing by Chile and Peru en route to the outskirts of the Galápagos Islands.
– The fleet caused an international stir in August, as some 260 vessels swarmed just outside the waters of the Galápagos Islands, renowned for their unique biodiversity.
– While the Chinese government maintains that the fleet was operating legally in international waters, some vessels have a history of operating outside the law.
– For example, a vessel that was pursued by the Argentine Navy for illegally fishing in that country’s waters in April of this year was part of the fleet fishing on the limits of the Galápagos.

Less than half of world’s humid tropical forests have high ecological integrity: Study by Claire Asher [22 Sep 2020]
– Over 93% of the Earth’s best-quality and least-disturbed tropical forests have no legal protection from destruction, according to a study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.
– Humid broadleaf tropical and subtropical forests cover just 14% of the Earth’s land surface, but support at least half of all species and offer key ecosystem services, making them crucial to meeting global climate and conservation targets.
– As a result of human activities, 33% of the biome has already been deforested and a further 22% is degraded. The study makes recommendations for maintaining existing protections, adding new ones, mitigating human activities, and restoring degraded forests.
– The Convention on Biological Diversity’s Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will set 30-year conservation goals in 2021. New satellite imaging data offers a chance to set improved targets for forest protection and restoration, taking canopy structure into account.

What is a pampas cat? Candid Animal Cam is back in the Americas by [22 Sep 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.

‘We are all ecstatic’: Rescued wild pangolin gives birth to healthy pup by [21 Sep 2020]
– In April 2020, conservation authorities in South Africa rescued a pregnant Temminck’s pangolin from the wildlife trade, and placed her in the African Pangolin Working Group’s release program after an extensive rehabilitation process.
– There is a paucity of information about pangolin reproduction biology, so it was difficult for veterinary staff to ascertain when the rescued pangolin would eventually give birth.
– In August 2020, camera trap footage revealed that the rescued pangolin had given birth to a healthy pup.

Arctic Sea ice melts to second-place finish at annual minimum by Gloria Dickie [21 Sep 2020]
– At the annual September Arctic sea ice minimum this year, the ice extent was reduced to just 3.74 million square kilometers, a low that surpassed every year since 1979 except 2012, which saw a minimum of 3.41 million square kilometers.
– While 2012 was an anomaly (a year in which an immense August cyclone shattered the weakened ice), 2020 came very close to that record, but without any such storm, though the region did see intense July and August heat.
– A new study finds, once again, that what starts in the Arctic doesn’t stay there. Researchers say that Asia is seeing lengthier bouts of extreme storms, droughts, heat and cold as weather systems stall there, possibly due to a weakening Northern Hemisphere jet stream — an effect thought to be due to Arctic warming.
– In other new research, scientists say a layer of warm Atlantic water entering the Arctic, which had always stayed down deep in the past, is starting to rise toward, and mix with, colder surface waters. That mixing could be fatal to the Arctic sea ice in the future — with unknown, but potentially dire impacts on global climate stability.

Two new Javan rhino calves are spotted in the species’ last holdout by Basten Gokkon [21 Sep 2020]
– Camera traps have captured images of two newborn Javan rhinos this year in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park, the last place on Earth where the critically endangered species is found.
– There are an estimated 74 of the rhinos left, with the population increasing by at least one every year since 2012.
– Conservationists credit stringent protection of the rhinos’ habitat for helping reverse a decline driven by poaching and habitat loss.
– But the rhinos remain under the looming threat of disease, natural disaster, and a resurgence in encroachment.

Two deaths, zero accountability: Indonesia’s mining pits claim more lives by Hans Nicholas Jong, Yovanda [21 Sep 2020]
– Two boys drowned in a rain-filled mining pit in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province in early September, highlighting once again the danger posed by abandoned pits.
– Police have ruled the deaths accidental, but a mining watchdog plans to file a criminal complaint against the mining company, PT Sarana Daya Hutama (SDH), for failing to rehabilitate the site at the end of its operations, as required by law.
– There are more than 1,700 of these abandoned pits throughout East Kalimantan, Indonesia’s coal-mining heartland, which have claimed 39 lives since 2011.
– The companies behind them are rarely ever punished; the only one to be prosecuted was fined the equivalent of just 7 U.S. cents.

Hawaiian reefs lost almost half their fish to pollution and fishing by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [21 Sep 2020]
– A new study has found a 45% decline in the biomass of important fish species in West Hawai‘i’s reefs across a 10-year period.
– According to the research, sewage pollution was the biggest contributor to declining fish biomass; spearfishing, collection for the aquarium trade, and fishing using lay nets followed closely behind.
– The study will inform new management practices to protect Hawai‘i’s coral reefs, including the state’s 30 by 30 initiative, which aims to designate 30% of Hawai‘i’s nearshore waters as marine protected areas by 2030.

Paper giant APP’s Sumatran road project cuts through elephant habitat by Taufik Wijaya [21 Sep 2020]
– A subsidiary of paper giant Asia Pulp & Paper Sinar Mas plans to upgrade a road that cuts through peat and mangrove forests that constitute a wild elephant habitat in Indonesia’s southern Sumatra.
– The project aims to improve connectivity between the company’s pulp mill and port, as part of efforts to turn it into the largest pulp and paper producer in Asia.
– The company has promised that the project will not require the further clearing of peat or mangrove forests and will have minimal impact on the elephant population of about 150.
– Conservationists say they’re worried the project could usher in further development of infrastructure and settlements, which could eventually wipe out the wild elephant population in this region.

Fires turn sage brush habitat in Washington into a scorched ‘oblivion’ by Ashley Ahearn [18 Sep 2020]
– Wildfires in Washington state have burned hundreds of thousands of acres, including an important mating habitat for sage grouse.
– More than half of the fewer than 1,000 birds in the state may have been lost in the fires, according to leading grouse expert Michael Schroeder.
– Prospects for the species’ recovery here look grim, given that what little habitat they had was surrounded by fields and towns, leaving them no room for refuge.

Rieli Franciscato died protecting isolated indigenous peoples in the Amazon (commentary) by Enrique Ortiz [18 Sep 2020]
– Rieli Franciscato of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous affairs agency FUNAI was killed last week on the edge of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau Indigenous territory in Rondonia.
– Franciscato, 56, was a sertanista, a “field person” who works in the most remote parts of the Brazilian Amazon. Franciscato specifically worked to protect the rights and territory of Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation in the Amazon rainforest. These peoples are sometimes referred to as “uncontacted tribes” in the press.
– In this commentary, Enrique Ortiz, Senior Program Director at the Andes Amazon Fund, writes that Franciscato “died in the hands of those he loved” and notes his death was probably at least part to blame on outsiders who have been invading Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau lands and threatening the tribe. “One can imagine that the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau can see the advances into their territory as a threat to their survival,” he writes.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

In Peru, self-reporting of oil spills by companies leaves an unknown toll by Karen de la Torre [18 Sep 2020]
– In Peru, the oil industry is responsible for monitoring its own spills, but companies have been penalized for providing false and incomplete information.
– Records kept by government agencies of the number of barrels of oil spilled into the environment are full of inaccuracies, leaving the true quantity unknown.
– According to reports from oil companies, 88% of spills in Peru have occurred on the country’s north coast, one of the most biodiverse areas of Peruvian waters.

‘Off the chart’: CO2 from California fires dwarf state’s fossil fuel emissions by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [18 Sep 2020]
– This year’s fires in California have already burned through 1.4 million hectares (3.4 million acres) of land, and the fire season isn’t set to end for at least a couple of months.
– The fires have already generated more than 91 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is about 25% more than the state’s annual emissions from fossil fuels.
– Higher carbon emissions contribute to a multipart climate feedback, accelerating climate change which then sets the stage for more fires that will emit an increasing amount of carbon dioxide, experts say.

Madagascar reopens national parks shuttered by COVID-19 by Rivonala Razafison [17 Sep 2020]
– On Sept. 5, Madagascar began reopening all its national parks. They’d been closed since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
– The pandemic has been devastating for local economies, which depend heavily on tourism.
– Madagascar authorities also announced further easing of restrictions throughout much of the island nation and the resumption of limited international flights.

Missing mangroves are root of contention over Philippine airport project by Leilani Chavez, Susan Claire Agbayani [17 Sep 2020]
– Work on a new international airport project in Bulacan, just north of Manila, has already resulted in the decimation of more than 600 mangrove trees in the Manila Bay area, residents say.
– Bulacan’s coast is a key mangrove forest and important bird and biodiversity area, and one of several sites along the bay that’s facing threats due to land reclamation projects.
– The Bulacan “aerotropolis,” a 2,500-hectare (6,200-acre) airport complex, is part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s revised “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program and has been awarded to San Miguel Corporation, the Philippines’ biggest company by revenue.
– The cutting of mangroves is prohibited under Philippine law, but no one has been held accountable for the hundreds of trees cut in Bulacan — a problem that residents and environmental groups say will intensify as construction of the airport returns to full force by October.



Missing mangroves are root of contention over Philippine airport project by Leilani Chavez, Susan Claire Agbayani [09/17/2020]
Podcast: Great ape ‘forest gardeners of Africa’ benefit from conservation victory by Mike Gaworecki [09/16/2020]
Game changer: NASA data tool could revolutionize Amazon fire analysis by Shanna Hanbury [09/15/2020]
Biologists warn ‘extinction denial’ is the latest anti-science conspiracy theory by Mike Shanahan [09/14/2020]
Can public lands unify divided Americans? An interview with John Leshy by Rhett A. Butler [09/14/2020]
For European chemical giants, Brazil is an open market for toxic pesticides banned at home by Pedro Grigori: Agência Pública/Repórter Brasil [09/10/2020]