Newsletter 2020-10-15



Can an art museum drive sustainability? Q&A with MOCA’s Klaus Biesenbach by Dave Martin [10/14/2020]

– Contemporary art may seem tangential to environmental concerns for many people, especially those who are active practitioners of conservation, but The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles is looking to shift that perception.
– MOCA has formed an Environmental Council that aims to address some of today’s most pressing environmental issues. The council, composed of a diverse grouping of high-profile environmentalists, will specifically focus on climate, conservation and environmental justice and its cross-section with art in Los Angeles and “beyond”, according to a recent press release provided to Mongabay.
– In this exclusive interview, Director of MOCA Klaus Biesenbach speaks about the formation of MOCA’s Environmental Council and what it aims to achieve.

Which version? Confusion over environmental fallout of Indonesia deregulation law by Hans Nicholas Jong, Philip Jacobson [10/13/2020]

– A rule allowing subsistence farmers to burn small plots of land has been reinserted into the Job Creation Act passed last week.
– Other provisions affecting the plantation industry have also been adjusted in a new version of the law that appeared this week.

The post-COVID opportunity for the environment: An interview with the GEF’s Carlos Manuel Rodriguez by Rhett A. Butler [10/12/2020]

– The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is one of the largest and most influential environmental funders in the world. Since its inception in 1992, the GEF has provided more than $20 billion in grants for over 4,800 projects and 170 countries, engaging some 24,000 civil society and community groups.
– Over the summer, the GEF elected former Costa Rican Environment and Energy Minister Carlos Manuel Rodriguez as its CEO and Chairperson. Rodriguez served in key leadership roles when Costa Rica pioneered key conservation innovations, transformed itself into an ecotourism mecca, and assumed an international leadership role on environmental issues.
– Rodriguez joins the GEF at a pivotal moment for international efforts to combat a range of dire environmental issues. 2020 was originally intended to be a critical year for meetings that would chart the future of international collaboration around environmental issues, but the postponements and cancellations of summits has instead has come to reflect the past decade’s lack of progress on key high level environmental goals.
– Rodriguez sees the setbacks of 2020 as an opportunity to reset society’s relationship with the environment and shift business-as-usual approaches toward more sustainable models.

In Bali, the pandemic unravels a hard-won campaign to save Benoa Bay by Alaine Johnson [10/12/2020]

– In late August, officials in Bali ratified a new zoning plan, which critics say was passed without sufficient public review or participation.
– The new regulation allows for sand mining, expansion of Benoa Harbor, and development of Ngurah Rai International Airport.
– Plans to develop Benoa Bay have prompted years of protests, and a previous proposal was shelved in October 2019.
– The sea mining zone in the new plan is close to a proposed marine conservation nursery area for dolphins and whales.

New Indonesian law may make it harder to punish firms for haze-causing fires by Philip Jacobson [10/09/2020]

– A sweeping new law passed this week in Indonesia makes it easier to prosecute subsistence farmers for using fire to clear small plots of land.
– It also erodes the “strict liability” provision in existing law used by authorities to sue companies for causing fires.

Singapore embarks on a million-tree planting spree to protect its future by Claire Turrell [10/09/2020]

– Between 1953 and 2018, Singapore lost nearly 90% of its mangroves to urban expansion and other human activities.
– Singapore has launched a new nature park that covers 400 hectares (990 acres), in an area that serves as a refueling site for migratory birds and a home to oriental hornbills, otters and crocodiles.
– The initiative is part of a larger effort to plant 1 million trees across the city-state by 2030.
– In addition to adding wildlife habitat, researchers say reforestation will help sequester carbon, lower the temperature of the city, and provide buffers against erosion and a rising sea.

In a drier Amazon, small farmers and researchers work together to reduce fire damage by Leticia Klein and Thiago Medaglia [10/08/2020]

– Traditional Amazonian communities have used fire for centuries to open up small farming plots in a rotational system that allows the forest to regenerate and biodiversity to be preserved.
– By contrast, the fires used to clear livestock pasture or to clear away vegetation after forest clearing tend to burn uncontrolled and permanently destroy vast swaths of the rainforest.
– With the climate crisis rendering the forest drier and more flammable, villagers living alongside the Tapajós River, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, have had increasing difficulty maintaining their traditional fire management practice.
– Traditional safeguards such as creating fire breaks can help, but a project in the Brazilian state of Pará is bringing residents and researchers together to both create a fire warning and prediction system and transition away from the use of fire for farming.

The murky process of licensing Amazonian meat plants by Flávia Milhorance / Diálogo Chino [10/08/2020]

– Decades of growth in cattle ranching have meant that Pará is now the state with the largest herd nationwide. At 20.6 million heads, it has 2.5 cattle for every human inhabitant.
– 14 of the 22 Brazilian meat plants approved to export to China since 2019 are in the Amazon.



Harvard fund evades justice in land-grabbing case over Cerrado farm by Caio de Freitas Paes [15 Oct 2020]
– In September, the court in Brazil’s Bahia state ruled that a company in which Harvard University’s endowment fund was invested had illegally acquired the land for a large farm in the Cerrado grasslands.
– The Gleba Campo Largo farm, spanning 140,000 hectares (346,000 acres), has for years been the focus of violent land disputes.
– The farm’s registered owner is Caracol Agropecuária Ltda., a company that the Harvard Management Company is believed to have poured an estimated $59 million into over the course of about a decade.
– The Harvard Management Company, which fully divested from Caracol in June 2019, told Mongabay it “does not have and has never had any ties to Caracol.”

Podcast: A radio program is helping save critically endangered gorillas in Nigeria by Mike Gaworecki [14 Oct 2020]
– Community-based conservation measures are key to protecting the Cross River gorilla, and a radio program that reaches as many as 4 million listeners in Nigeria is encouraging local community members to become active participants in conservation.
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we speak with Hillary Chukwuemeka, host of the radio program, which is called “My Gorilla My Community.” Chukwuemeka talks about why radio is an effective medium for community engagement in Nigeria and the impacts he’s seen from time spent in local communities on the front lines of conservation.
– We’re also joined by Inaoyom Imong, program director for the Cross River landscape with Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria and a member of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group, who discusses the major threats to Cross River gorillas, the main barriers to their conservation, and why community-based conservation measures are so important in this context.

Indonesia’s new deregulation law to hurt small fishers, coastal communities by Basten Gokkon [14 Oct 2020]
– A recently passed deregulation law in Indonesia is poised to hurt the country’s small fishing and coastal communities to benefit large-scale fisheries and tourism developers.
– Among the changes: a vague definition of “small fisher” that would allow large operators to qualify for subsidies and other benefits; reopened access for foreign fishing vessels into Indonesian waters; and allowing reclamation and geothermal projects in marine ecosystems.
– Fishers, environmental activists and law experts have called for the annulment of the new law.

Lots of suspects but few leads in mystery sea turtle deaths in Sri Lanka by Malaka Rodrigo [14 Oct 2020]
– Ten olive ridley sea turtles washed ashore on the beaches of Colombo, Sri Lanka, over a two-day period in early October, leaving experts puzzled about the cause of death.
– Necropsies conducted on several of the bodies show they appeared to have been healthy prior to death and exhibited none of the injuries consistent with entanglement in fishing nets.
– Initial suspicion also pointed to a recent oil spill from the MT New Diamond crude carrier, but experts say oceanic current and wind conditions make this unlikely.
– Another possible cause is blast fishing, which would explain the lack of external injuries, but doesn’t fit with known trends of blast fishing practice in the area where the bodies washed up.

‘Luckiest people’: Encountering a newborn Sumatran rhino in the wild by Basten Gokkon [14 Oct 2020]
– In 2018, five rangers had a rare encounter with a newborn Sumatran rhinoceros in the forests of Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem.
– Leuser is known as one of the last strongholds of the Sumatran rhino, one of the most endangered large mammals on Earth.
– Conservationists have called for beefing up security across the Leuser Ecosystem to allow the rhinos there to feel secure enough to continue breeding.
– The species is down to no more than 80 individuals in the wild, with forest fragmentation and a low birth rate driving it toward extinction.

For Amazon’s harpy eagle, nesting trees are also coveted for timber by Richard Kemeny [13 Oct 2020]
– A new study finds that nesting trees for the harpy eagle in the Amazon are almost all targeted by the commercial timber industry.
– The eagles were found to select trees with specific architecture to support their nests and young.
– Tightening legal logging regulations and enforcement could help with the problem, but stamping out illegal logging is a more pressing challenge.

China still making pangolin-based treatments despite banning use of scales, report says by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [13 Oct 2020]
– A new report has found that medicines containing pangolin scales are still being produced and sold throughout China, despite a recent ban on pangolin scales from the official list of approved ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine.
– According to the report, 56 companies are actively producing and selling 64 medicines containing pangolin scales, and that an additional 165 companies and 713 hospitals have the authority to produce such medicines.
– The only legal way for pharmaceutical companies and hospitals to obtain pangolin scales is through government-registered stockpiles, but conservationists say these stockpiles are poorly regulated and allow for the possibility of illegal trade.

Mexico: Four decades of community lessons from the forests of Durango by Marco A. Hernández T. [13 Oct 2020]
– Almost 44 years ago, the General Emiliano Zapata Union of Ejidos and Forest Communities (UNECOFAEZ) was founded in the Mexican state of Durango.
– UNECOFAEZ’s sustainable forest management has made profitable community development possible, benefiting 10,500 families in Durango, in addition to guaranteeing the conservation of nearly a million hectares of forest.
– A tree nursery, high school, credit union, workshops, infrastructure improvements, ecotourism projects and more have all been financed by the union’s community management of forests.

What is the Mexican hairy dwarf porcupine? Candid Animal Cam heads to Mesoamerica by [13 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.

In Bolivia, more than 25% of major fires this year burned in protected areas by Liz Kimbrough [12 Oct 2020]
– More than 120 major fires have been detected in Bolivia since March, more than a quarter of them in protected areas, including Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Copaibo Municipal Protected Area, where an area of forest half the size of New York City has burned this year.
– Most of this year’s major blazes, 54%, were detected in savanna in the department of Beni, while more than 38% burned in forests, both in the Amazon rainforest and the dry forests of Chiquitano, according to the nonprofit MAAP.
– This year, there have been more fires detected but they have burned less area compared to last year’s devastating blazes. Nevertheless, the fires have been severe enough for Bolivia’s interim president to declare a state of emergency in mid-September.
– “We have some weeks (maybe more) when more fires might occur and it is difficult to predict the final impact for this year,” researchers from Bolivian nonprofit ACEAA say.

New evidence suggests China’s ‘dark’ vessels poached in Galápagos waters by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [09 Oct 2020]
– A fleet of Chinese-owned fishing vessels crowded along the edge of Ecuador’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) near the Galápagos Islands between June and September, prompting international concern that they would illegally fish in Ecuador’s territorial waters.
– Several vessels turned off their GPS-based automatic identification systems (AIS), possibly to avoid discovery while partaking in illegal activities, several sources found.
– An analysis of new data, this time from radio signals, not GPS, detected unidentified ships within the Galápagos EEZ, with several of the boats operating immediately adjacent to the Chinese fleet.
– The new data provide additional, but still inconclusive, evidence that the Chinese fleet may have entered Ecuador’s EEZ.

Madagascar’s top court criticizes government handling of mining project by Edward Carver [09 Oct 2020]
– Australian firm Base Resources has been trying to develop a large mineral sands mining project in southwest Madagascar.
– A year ago, the project appeared close to securing the permits it needs to break ground, but its fortunes changed when the government suspended the project last November.
– Now, a branch of Madagascar’s Supreme Court has issued a report on the governance of the project that cites irregularities in the issuance of permits, the transference of land rights, the management of a protected area, and the consultation process with local people.
– Civil society groups are calling for the government to cancel the project, but it’s not yet clear when the government will make a definitive decision or how much the court’s report might influence it.

Brazil reports lower deforestation, higher fires in September by [09 Oct 2020]
– Brazil’s national space research institute INPE reported a third straight monthly drop in Amazon deforestation in September, but its data also showed a sharp increase in the area affect by fires.
– According to INPE’s deforestation alert system, deforestation in the “legal Amazon” during the month of September amounted to 964 square kilometers, down 34% from September 2019. That follows a 27% decline in July and a 21% decline in August relative to a year ago when deforestation in the region hit the highest level since 2008.
– However the reported decline in recent months does not match the trend reported by Imazon, an independent NGO, which reported increases of more than 30% in July and August, but hasn’t published September analysis yet. The discrepancy could be due to the different methodologies used by the two systems, though normally INPE and Imazon’s data show strong correlation.
– Since January, INPE has reported more than 7,000 square kilometers of deforestation in the Amazon, down 10% from the same period last year, but the second highest on record since 2008.

Mining covers more than 20% of Indigenous territory in the Amazon by John C. Cannon [09 Oct 2020]
– A new report from the World Resources Institute and the Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network reveals that mining has impacted more than 20% of the Amazon’s Indigenous territory.
– The analysis shows that deforestation rates are as much as three times higher on Indigenous lands with mining compared to those without.
– The study’s authors suggest that improved law enforcement, greater investment in Indigenous communities and stricter environmental protections are necessary to combat the surge of mining in the Amazon.

We’re not protecting enough of the right areas to save biodiversity: Study by Liz Kimbrough [09 Oct 2020]
– In 2010, the member nations of the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 195 countries plus the EU, agreed that at least 17% of global land and 10% of the ocean needed to be protected by 2020.
– A new global review finds that many countries have fallen short of these targets, and the expansion of protected areas over the past 10 years has not successfully covered priority areas such as biodiversity hotspots and areas providing ecosystem services.
– The research team overlaid maps of protected areas, threatened species, productive fisheries, and carbon services, and found that 78% of known threatened species do not have adequate protection.
– Adequate protection of the world’s biodiversity will require conservation areas in the right places, the involvement of Indigenous peoples and local communities in decision-making and management, ecologically connectivity between protected areas, and much more financing.

On a Philippine mountain, researchers describe a ‘fire flower’ orchid species by Keith Anthony Fabro [09 Oct 2020]
– A new wild orchid species, Dendrochilum ignisiflorum, has been described in the Philippine province of Benguet in the northern Cordilleras mountain range.
– This fiery orange orchid belongs to a genus found in high-elevation forests in Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines, Borneo and Sumatra.
– The scientists who described it say the species is threatened by climate change, which could make its niche range uninhabitable.
– The mountain where it’s found is also an increasingly popular tourist spot, while the forests in the area around it are being cleared for agriculture.

As Brazil burns, Indigenous fire brigades face an uncertain future by Maurício Angelo [09 Oct 2020]
– More than 1,000 Indigenous people volunteer as firefighters throughout Brazil, protecting 14 million hectares (35 million acres) of Indigenous lands.
– However, in a year of record fires, the very continuity of the Indigenous fire brigades is at risk, with the government failing to provide the coordination, recognition, funding or support that they need.
– Fire-prevention measures that were supposed to start in April, before the dry season, were instead delayed to July, once the burning had already begun, with the COVID-19 pandemic one of the factors blamed for the delay.
– Insiders in the federal agencies overseeing environmental protection and Indigenous affairs also point to an official culture of neglect of Indigenous communities, which in many cases has forced Indigenous firefighters to work unpaid.

The social network of coral reef fish: Q&A with ecologist Mike Gil by Claudia Geib [08 Oct 2020]
– Mike Gil, an ecologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, deployed video cameras to “spy” on coral reef fish over months and found that they have surprisingly strong social networks.
– This research uncovered that reef fish pay close attention to when others leave the safety of the reef to eat in open water, and when they flee from predators.
– Fish were more likely to stay out in dangerous feeding areas when other fish were nearby, essentially finding safety in numbers the same way humans do.
– Computer models showed that this social network makes reefs much more sensitive to overfishing, and that if fishing is scaled up slowly, reefs can adjust and survive.

The Amazon savanna? Rainforest teeters on the brink as climate heats up by [08 Oct 2020]
– A new study has found that 40% of the Amazon is at risk of turning into savanna due to decreases in rainfall.
– The paper’s authors used satellite data, climate simulations and hydrological models to better understand the dynamics of rainfall across the tropics and their impacts on the stability of tropical forest ecosystems.
– The team’s simulations suggest that sustained high greenhouse gas emissions through the end of the century could shrink the minimum size of the Amazon by 66%.

Our most read conservation stories for September 2020 by [08 Oct 2020]
– Mongabay continued to see growth in readership in September, with traffic across our websites rising 25% over last September to 10.97 million pageviews. We’ve already surpassed 2019’s readership (110 million versus 101 million) with three months still left to go in 2020. Note: the traffic data presented below is only for the month of September […].



Stock indices let Brazil meatpackers shed ties to deforestation, draw investors by Fernanda Wenzel, Naira Hofmeister, Pedro Papini [10/06/2020]
Diary of a top environmental journalist and bad traveler: Q&A with Jeremy Hance by Erik Hoffner [10/06/2020]
Battle over proposed Colombian port at Tribugá puts sustainable development in focus by Dimitri Selibas [10/05/2020]
Brazilian dry forests are chronically degraded even in non-deforested areas by Meghie Rodrigues [10/01/2020]