Newsletter 2020-10-08



Stock indices let Brazil meatpackers shed ties to deforestation, draw investors by Fernanda Wenzel, Naira Hofmeister, Pedro Papini [10/06/2020]

– The prominent placement of Brazil’s three biggest meatpackers — JBS, Marfrig and Minerva — on the country’s stock exchange indices has seen them net $121 million in investments.
– These investments are made through funds that track the various stock exchange indices, whose makeup is ostensibly determined by a company’s performance and management.
– These meatpackers, whose operations are closely associated with deforestation and land grabbing in the Amazon, receive investments even through funds geared toward environmentally and socially responsible companies.

Diary of a top environmental journalist and bad traveler: Q&A with Jeremy Hance by Erik Hoffner [10/06/2020]

– Mongabay’s award-winning senior correspondent Jeremy Hance’s new book – “Baggage: Confessions of a Globe-Trotting Hypochondriac” – lands in bookstores and on e-readers worldwide today.
– Despite dealing with extreme anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder since the age of 10, Jeremy has traveled extensively to report for Mongabay, and has filed an almost unbelievable 3,000+ environmental news stories since 2008.
– In an interview about the new book, he shares some favorite treks and top tricks for dealing with travel anxiety.
– “Baggage” is available via HCI and the major publishing house Simon and Schuster in digital, paper format, and as audiobook.

Battle over proposed Colombian port at Tribugá puts sustainable development in focus by Dimitri Selibas [10/05/2020]

– A civil society coalition has proposed an economic alternative that is conscious of the area’s natural environment, as well as the cultural practices of the region’s Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.
– Opponents of the port project have also disputed its necessity and inevitable environmental damage, given that Colombia’s existing Pacific port, Buenaventura, is currently underutilized.
– The project developer has faced problems obtaining the required environmental license, and most recently having its port concession rejected by Colombia’s national port authority.

Brazilian dry forests are chronically degraded even in non-deforested areas by Meghie Rodrigues [10/01/2020]

– Authors call the effect chronic anthropogenic disturbance and modeled it for areas with human settlements, infrastructure construction, grazing, logging, and fire in 47,100 remaining fragments of the biome.
– The Caatinga is the only biome exclusively Brazilian, and is home to more than 900 species of animals and plants.
– But with more than 27 million people, it is also one of the most degraded biomes in the country, although the study highlights areas that can still be conserved, including wildlife corridors.



Deaths and media-driven panic threaten human-jackal coexistence in Sri Lanka by Malaka Rodrigo [08 Oct 2020]
– Attacks by rabid jackals this past September left a man and a child from the same village dead of rabies, and prompted a backlash against the animals.
– Experts say the jackals were likely infected by a rabid stray dog, attributing the outbreak to the failure of Sri Lanka’s anti-rabies program.
– The Sri Lanka jackal (Canis aereus naria), a subspecies of the golden jackal, is the island’s only wild canid and a widespread hunter and scavenger; any attempt to cull it would cause ecological imbalances throughout its range.
– Once abundant even at the edges of urban areas, the jackal has gone extinct locally from much of its former range due to habitat loss, with scientists calling for more research into the animal to better understand and manage it.

Research links industrial pig farming and virus outbreaks by Sibélia Zanon [08 Oct 2020]
– Researchers have found a surprising correlation in Brazil, the U.S. and Germany: areas with more pigs also have higher COVID-19 infection rates.
– In Brazil, more than 70% of pigs are raised in confinement, without access to sunlight and fed with transgenic soybean-based animal feed.
– Pigs can catch avian flu and other human influenza viruses at the same time, resulting in novel combinations that make pig farms potential laboratories for the emergence of new diseases.
– Record pork exports from Brazil signal even greater deforestation in the country, as land is cleared to grow the soybeans used in animal feed.

Vietnam conservation regulations improving, but much work remains by Michael Tatarski [07 Oct 2020]
– Vietnam made headlines earlier in the year for considering a wildlife trade ban in response to COVID-19, but such a development has not occurred.
– Nonetheless, the country’s laws related to biodiversity conservation are robust and generally comprehensive, with strong penalties for violations in place.
– But enforcement remains a problem, while corruption and other issues also hinder improved protection of Vietnam’s wildlife.
– Conservation organizations have been heartened by recent legal and regulatory improvements, but caution that there is still a long way to go.

With the help of an app, Nunavut hunters document the changing Arctic by Claudia Geib [07 Oct 2020]
– Since 2012, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board (NWMB) has run a community-based monitoring program to gather information about Inuit harvesting practices and the status of regional species.
– The program recently introduced an app that makes it possible for anyone to participate in the program, at any time.
– Like other community-based monitoring programs, the primary challenge for the NWMB is figuring out how to use information that is different from traditional scientific or social science research.

Blooms driven by climate change threaten to smother marine life in Arabian Sea by Malavika Vyawahare [07 Oct 2020]
– A strange single-celled organism that acts both as a plant and an animal has come to dominate wintertime algal blooms in the northern Arabian Sea.
– Winter blooms of Noctiluca scintillans, also known as the sea sparkle, have displaced microscopic algae called diatoms that form the basis of the marine food chain, a paper in Nature says.
– Scientists at Columbia University fear the outbreaks could herald massive declines in fisheries in the region, potentially impacting millions of fishers in India, Pakistan, Iran, Oman and Yemen.
– They have linked the emergence of N. scintillans blooms with the loss of ice cover in the Himalayan-Tibetan Plateau driven by climate change.

Sumatran bridge project in elephant habitat may exacerbate degradation by Taufik Wijaya [07 Oct 2020]
– Officials in Sumatra have agreed to build a bridge linking the main island to the archipelago of Bangka-Belitung, part of wider efforts to boost economic development in the region.
– The starting point for the planned bridge will be the Air Sugihan ecosystem, which is home to at least 148 wild and critically endangered Sumatran elephants.
– Conservationists say there needs to be a science-based approach to infrastructure development in the region to minimize threats to the elephant population.
– The Air Sugihan ecosystem was as recently as the 1970s home to another iconic species, the Sumatran tiger, before a government-sponsored migration program led to a boom in the human population and the clearing of large swaths of land for agriculture.

In the Horn of Africa, conflict and illegal trade create a ‘cheetah hell’ by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [07 Oct 2020]
– Wild cheetahs are under intense pressure in the Horn of Africa due to human-wildlife conflicts and illegal trade, which takes about 300 cubs from the region each year, conservationists say.
– In Somaliland, a country ravaged by climate change-induced drought, nomadic farmers will often kill or chase away cheetahs threatening their livestock, and either keep their cubs as pets or attempt to sell them to traders.
– While the international trade of cheetahs is banned under CITES, animals continue to be smuggled from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East, via a well-established trade route between Somaliland and Yemen.
– In addition to rescuing and providing long-term care for wild cheetahs, the Cheetah Conservation Fund and Somaliland’s Ministry of Environment and Rural Development are working to develop an education program that promotes coexistence between farmers and cheetahs.

Fires raze nearly half of Indigenous territories in Brazil’s Pantanal by Bianca Muniz, Bruno Fonseca and Raphaela Ribeiro from Agência Pública [06 Oct 2020]
– Data indicate that some of the fires began on private land that was supposed to have been conserved, before spreading to Indigenous territories and state and national parks.
– Indigenous people say the fires “came from outside” and “destroyed everything,” including the food and medicinal plants that form an important part of their culture.
– Firefighting officials say there was ample warning about a higher-than-average number of fires this year, but budget cuts and a delay in hiring dashed any chance of efforts to prevent the burning.
– This year’s surge in the number and extent of fires comes amid a plunge in the number of fines imposed by the Brazilian government for environmental crimes, including those related to burning and deforestation.

Brazilian frog believed ‘extinct’ for 50+ years, found with eDNA testing by Peter Yeung [06 Oct 2020]
– A Brazilian frog species, Megaelosia bocainensis, thought to have gone extinct in 1968 has been found with eDNA testing, which picks up the traces of environmental DNA that are left behind by living organisms in soil, water and air.
– The missing frog’s eDNA was detected in the Atlantic Forest biome in Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina, its last known habitat in São Paulo state, Brazil.
– The researchers used metabarcoding — a form of rapid DNA sequencing — in order to monitor entire communities, rather than only specific rare target species.
– The innovative highly sensitive eDNA sampling technique provides a valuable tool for conservation scientists to evaluate the status of threatened species and to confirm the presence of species that are difficult to monitor and often go undetected using traditional methods.

Automakers fuelling deforestation, dispossession in Paraguay’s Gran Chaco: report by [06 Oct 2020]
– Major European automakers including Jaguar Land Rover and BMW use leather linked to illegal deforestation in Paraguay forests home to one of the world’s last uncontacted tribes.
– A report by London-based NGO Earthsight released last week following a years-long undercover investigation revealed links to illegal clearances of forest in the Chaco region of Paraguay.
– The forests of the Gran Chaco, a lowland region straddling Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, are home to at-risk fauna such as jaguars and giant anteaters, whose populations have been devastated by cattle ranching and soybean cultivation.

Indonesia’s food estate program eyes new plantations in forest frontiers by Hans Nicholas Jong [06 Oct 2020]
– The Indonesian government says it will expand a national “food estate” program by establishing millions of hectares of new crop plantations in Sumatra and Papua.
– The program is currently centered in Indonesian Borneo, where it occupies the site of an identical project from the 1990s that failed spectacularly.
– To expand the project into North Sumatra and Papua, the government is seeking out private investors; but activists say this risks a repeat of the current corporate takeover of Indigenous and community lands.
– The government is also reportedly considering lifting the forest status of more than a million hectares of rainforest in Papua so that it can clear the area for farmland.

More than 470 oil spills in the Peruvian Amazon since 2000: Report by Yvette Sierra Praeli [06 Oct 2020]
– A recent report called “The shadow of oil” revealed that 474 oil spills occurred along the NorPeruano Pipeline in Peru and on several oil blocks between 2000 and 2019.
– About 65% of those spills were caused by corrosion in pipelines and failures in oil infrastructure, despite being blamed by authorities on “third-party” saboteurs.
– The report showed that 344 of the spills were located in just two oil blocks.
– The work of Peru’s Indigenous environmental monitors, whom proponents credit with accurately recording instances of spills that may have otherwise gone unnoticed, is still not formally recognized by the government.

Meet the red fox found in the Northern Hemisphere on Candid Animal Cam by [06 Oct 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.

‘Deforestation-free’ isn’t working: It’s time to go forest positive (commentary) by Charlotte Opal [05 Oct 2020]
– Charlotte Opal, the Executive Director of the Forest Conservation Fund, argues for “forest positive” supply chains where companies are not only buying from suppliers who aren’t deforesting, but are also actively protecting standing forest in those supply chains.
– “Directly supporting forest conservation is a simple, cheap, and fast way for companies to get out in front of the problem and stop deforestation at the frontier, while in parallel they do the expensive, complex, and slower work of cleaning up their supply chains.”
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Forest degradation outpaces deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: Study by Claire Asher [05 Oct 2020]
– Brazilian Amazon deforestation rates have declined from, and stayed below, their 2003 peak, despite recent increases. However, this decline was offset by a trend of increased forest degradation, according to an analysis of 23 years of satellite data. By 2014, the rate of degradation overtook deforestation, driven by increases in logging and understory burning.
– During the 1992-2014 study period, 337,427 square kilometers suffered a loss of vegetation, compared to 308,311 square kilometers completely cleared, a finding that has serious implications for global greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.
– Forest degradation has been connected to outbreaks of infectious diseases as a result of increased contact between humans and displaced wildlife. Degradation can also facilitate the emergence of new diseases and some experts warn that the Amazon could be the source of the next pandemic.
– These findings could have major implications for Brazilian national commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as international agreements and initiatives such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and REDD+, which rely on forest degradation monitoring.

On a Philippine island, a tricky balancing act between development and water by Francesca Edralin [05 Oct 2020]
– Philippine authorities are preparing to lift the protected wilderness area status of the Bantayan island group in the central Philippines.
– The status, imposed in 1981, limits the construction of buildings and infrastructure on the main island of Bantayan and 22 nearby islets, and prohibits residents from owning titles to the land.
– A long-running campaign by residents and business owners to have the protected status lifted to allow for development has culminated with authorities agreeing to open up the coastal areas for new development while retaining a core protected area inland of 540 hectares (1,334 acres).
– While most residents have welcomed the move, some say the area under protection should be expanded to safeguard the island group’s sole source of fresh water — the rain-fed aquifer on Bantayan — from contamination, saltwater intrusion, and blockage.

Indian embassy in Madagascar becomes first to go fully solar by [02 Oct 2020]
– A solar power plant was inaugurated at the Indian embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar, to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on October 2.
– It became the first Indian embassy in the world to be run entirely on solar power from the 8 KW plant.
– Madagascar has huge potential to develop solar energy, with almost all regions receiving 2800 hours of sunshine in a year.
– The environment minister acknowledged that with less than 15% of people having access to grid electricity embracing solar power was a way for Madagascar to develop and meet its climate goals.

Top award for Indigenous alliance is most recent in a series of wins for the Amazon by Sarah Sax [02 Oct 2020]
– On Wednesday, the Ecuadoran Indigenous NGO Ceibo Alliance received the biennial Equator Prize Award from the UN in honor of its integral strategies to protect Indigenous Rights and the Amazon, and its leadership of Indigenous-led strategies to protect the rainforest.
– By unifying four Indigenous groups, the Alliance has been able to work effectively across a variety of different areas, including legal advocacy, local development, media training, and territorial monitoring.
– The success of the Ceibo Alliance suggests that these kinds of Indigenous-led alliances could become a model for confronting extractive industries worldwide.

Hotter tropics may worsen climate change, reforestation could lessen it: Studies by Taran Volckhausen [02 Oct 2020]
– Researchers know tropical forests play an important part in regulating the global climate, but there is great uncertainty still as to how various forest mechanisms will work as the world warms in the years ahead.
– Two new studies shed light on the problem: one finds that a hotter global climate could release far more carbon from tropical soils than currently believed. The research conducted in Panama found that soil carbon emissions increased by 55% over two years when those soils were heated by four degrees Celsius.
– However, more research is needed to see if such large losses would be maintained over time, as well as what future results might be in other tropical forests and soils around the world.
– In another study conducted in Malaysia, scientists determined that active restoration of degraded tropical forests could be a key tool for lowering atmospheric CO2 concentrations, potentially curbing climate change and helping moderate global temperatures.

As predators return to Sweden’s wild, ecotourism looks to change mindsets by Johan Augustin [02 Oct 2020]
– Top carnivores such as bears, wolves and lynxes are thriving in the wild in Sweden, where many of them were once extinct or nearly wiped out.
– Policies such as hunting restrictions and compensation for herders affected by livestock predation have allowed these species to recover.
– However, the growing presence of these animals, in particular the wolf, has been controversial, especially among farmers and hunters.
– Ecotourism operators, who expect the predator populations to hold steady over the long term, want locals to see that they can coexist with, and even profit from, the wildlife in their midst.

Alcoa vs. the Amazon: How the ribeirinhos won their collective land rights by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [02 Oct 2020]
– In 2009, communities of ribeirinhos (traditional riverine settlers) launched a major land rights protest in the Amazon against Alcoa, the transnational mining company. Their action led to an agreement that proved decisive not only for the ribeirinhos, but for collective land rights activists across Brazil.
– Alcoa came to Juruti, Pará state, Brazil in 2000 with big plans to mine for bauxite. At first, the 44 communities on the south bank of the Amazon River, made up of Indigenous and traditional peoples, supported the plan, hoping it would bring jobs and prosperity.
– But land rights organizers argued the mine would be a disaster for the environment, traditional livelihoods and culture. Attempts to block the mine failed. But efforts to get collective land rights recognized, along with financial compensation, were successful.
– The government granted full collective land rights, and Alcoa agreed to pay rent for occupying community land, compensate for losses and damages, and give locals an annual share in mine profits. Land rights activists have pursued similar goals — with varying success — in the Amazon ever since.

When roads cross wilderness areas, plant pathogens can hitch a ride by Ian Morse [02 Oct 2020]
– Statistical analysis of the spread of a fungal plant pathogen across a Finnish island demonstrates that roads serve as corridors for the transmission of disease in wild plants.
– According to the researchers, their data indicate that vehicles traveling along roads are directly involved in spreading diseases, not just that roadsides make good habitats for pathogens.
– The research is based on a detailed data set maintained in southern Finland’s Åland Islands, but experts say the findings could apply to other similar pathogens.

A Philippine tribe’s plant-based medical tradition gets its moment by Bong S. Sarmiento [02 Oct 2020]
– A newly published study highlights the importance of medicinal plants that thrive on the ancestral lands of the Manobo Indigenous group in the southern Philippines.
– The Manobos of the highland Agusan region have for generations depended on their vast compendium of ethnomedicinal plants to treat a wide range of ailments.
– The popularity of this folk medicine has spread beyond the members of the tribe, with many of the treatments showing similar properties to established Western medicines.
– Further documentation and study of these ethnomedicinal plants could help in the preservation and conservation of the Indigenous group’s lands, say the authors of the recent study.

Oil tanker fire in Sri Lanka’s rich waters highlights need for preparedness by Malaka Rodrigo [01 Oct 2020]
– Sri Lanka is seeking $2.4 million from the owners of an oil tanker that caught fire off the country’s eastern coast in early September.
– A joint team from Sri Lanka and India managed to put out the fire, contain a leak of fuel oil, and secure the cargo of 270,000 tonnes of crude oil, averting a potentially catastrophic disaster.
– Authorities say the incident is an “eye-opener” that highlights the need to improve preparedness to quickly respond to spills off Sri Lanka, whose waters are heavily traversed by ships carrying oil from the Persian Gulf to East Asia.
– Sri Lanka’s waters are also home to a wealth of marine biodiversity, including coral reefs, whales, and economically vital fisheries — all of which would be impacted by oil spills.

Land grab, logging, mining threaten biodiversity haven of Woodlark Island by Gianluca Cerullo [01 Oct 2020]
– Woodlark Island lies off the coast of Papua New Guinea and is home to dozens of unique species and a more than 2,000-year-old human culture.
– A recent court ruling has seen the land rights granted to Woodlark islanders in 2016 revoked and returned to an agricultural company that in 2007 planned to transform 70% of the island into oil palm plantations.
– Meanwhile, the status of an application submitted to the PNG Forest Authority by a logging company to clear 40% of the island under the guise of an agricultural project remains unknown, despite an ongoing petition signed by more than 184,00 people.
– A mining company has also started expanding infrastructure and clearing forest in preparation for a long-planned open-pit gold mine, but has faced backlash from villagers unhappy with the replacement housing offered as part of a relocation project to make way for the mine. The company also intends to dispose of mining waste via a controversial pipeline into a nearby bay.

World’s plants and fungi a frontier of discovery, if we can protect them: Report by Liz Kimbrough [01 Oct 2020]
– The “State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020” report, released this week, was born of the collaborative effort of 200 scientists from 42 different countries and delves into a global assessment of plants and fungi as food, fuel, medicine, tools for urban resilience, and more.
– In 2019 alone, 1,942 plants and 1,886 fungi were newly described by scientists, some closely related to known medicinal species and potentially new sources of medicine.
– More than 7,000 edible plants hold potential as future crops, according to the report, meeting the criteria of being nutritious, robust and historically used as food.
– Nearly 40% of plant species are estimated to be threatened with extinction.

World’s protected areas lack connections, recent study finds by John C. Cannon [01 Oct 2020]
– A recent study, published in the journal Nature Communications, has found that 9.7% of the world’s protected areas are connected by land that’s considered intact.
– The study used the human footprint database, which maps out human impacts, such as roads and farmland, across the planet.
– The research showed that, while some countries have protected 17% of their land — a goal set forth in the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi targets — others, including repositories of biodiversity such as Vietnam and Madagascar, are lagging with little to no connectivity in their networks of reserves.
– The authors suggest that the research could help guide decisions on which areas of land to protect and how to connect them in a way that gives species the best shot at survival.



Brazil moves toward transfer of deforestation and fire monitoring to military by Jenny Gonzales [09/20/2020]
Exploring the history of the Amazon and its peoples: an interview with John Hemming by Rhett A. Butler [09/27/2020]
Video: In this Philippine community, women guard a marine protected area by Sarah Trent; Rosa Amanda Tuirán [09/25/2020]
As the Amazon burns, what happens to its biodiversity? by Liz Kimbrough [09/24/2020]
BlackRock’s $400m stake in Amazon meatpackers defies sustainability cred by Fernanda Wenzel, Pedro Papini and Naira Hofmeister [09/24/2020]
TIME’s list of 100 most influential people in 2020 includes Indigenous Waorani leader by Kimberley Brown [09/24/2020]