Newsletter 2020-11-05



REDD+ carbon and deforestation cuts in Amazon overestimated: Study by Peter Yeung [11/02/2020]

– A new study analyzed 12 REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) voluntary projects conducted in the Brazilian Amazon.
– Researchers found that the projects’ claimed reductions in forest loss and carbon emissions were seriously overstated due to poorly set deforestation rate baselines that didn’t properly account for other successful forest loss reductions that were achieved separately by the Brazilian government.
– To correct this problem in future, the researchers expressed the “need to better align project- and national-level carbon accounting,” while at the same time striking a balance between “controlling conservation investment risk and ensuring the environmental integrity of carbon emission offsets.”
– Suggestions for achieving more reliable carbon accounting include: only taking into account the most recent years of deforestation, relying on more complex models that look at the price of agricultural commodities, and comparing deforestation to similar areas not involved in REDD+ projects.

In mangrove restoration, bespoke solutions trump one-size-fits-all approach by Mark Hillsdon [10/30/2020]

– The loss of mangrove forests worldwide is slowing, except in Asia, where there’s been a massive increase in deforestation over the past 30 years.
– Previous mangrove restoration projects have proved unsustainable over the long term due to a focus on planting “in the wrong place, the wrong species, the wrong density.”
– A new approach, called ecological mangrove restoration (EMR), accounts for an area’s altered hydrology and encourages natural restoration, resulting in better survival rates, faster growth, and a more diverse, resilient forest.
– Proponents say restoration projects must be supported by robust legal frameworks that protect mangroves across national jurisdictions if they are to be successful over the long term.

Peruvian Indigenous groups thwart oil drilling in their territory — for now by John C. Cannon [10/30/2020]

– An immense oil concession known as Lot 64 overlaps with much of the Indigenous Achuar Nation’s 8,020-square-kilometer (3,100-square-mile) homeland, as well as a portion of the neighboring territory of the Wampis people.
– The Achuar and the Wampis say they do not consent to drilling for oil on Lot 64, and thus, any exploitation of the lot would be illegitimate under Peruvian law.
– They argue that drilling for oil and transporting it to the coast would almost certainly contaminate rivers vital to their existence in this corner of the Amazon.- In July, the private company that had a 75% stake in the concession withdrew from its contract, but the Indigenous communities see this as a temporary victory, as the government-backed oil company, Petroperu, has indicated it will seek a new partner to tap into Lot 64’s reserves.

Esri co-founder Jack Dangermond: ‘People and planet are inextricably linked’ by Rhett A. Butler [10/30/2020]

– The digital mapping platforms developed by Esri, including ArcGIS, have revolutionized conservation and environmental planning, management and policymaking.
– Esri co-founder Jack Dangermond calls geographic information systems (GIS) “a sort of intelligent nervous system for our planet at a time when humanity desperately needs one to address the environmental and humanitarian crises at hand.”
– He credits Esri’s success to a sustainable trajectory of heavy investment in R&D, not being beholden to outside investors, and providing discounted and free use of its software to environmental nonprofits.
– In this interview with Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler, Dangermond says that technology, amid the current fractured political climate, should be employed to encourage understanding rather than dwell on divisions.



Video: ‘Don’t give up!’ The last known Loa water frogs produce 200 tadpoles by Liz Kimbrough [05 Nov 2020]
– The last known 14 Loa water frogs (Telmatobius dankoi) were evacuated from a swiftly vanishing stream in northern Chile last year and taken to a zoo in the capital, Santiago.
– In late October this year, after more than a year of meticulous care, they have produced 200 tadpoles.
– Because water frogs require very specific conditions for survival, they are especially vulnerable to threats from development, drought, pollution and disease.
– The goal for the captive Loa water frogs is to breed enough healthy individuals to release them back into to the wild. But until they have a safe home to go to, they will remain in the protection of the zoo.

Sri Lankans save pilot whales in epic rescue after mass stranding by Malaka Rodrigo [05 Nov 2020]
– Volunteers braved a pandemic lockdown, darkness and risk of personal injury to help push over 100 short-finned pilot whales out to sea after they beached in southwestern Sri Lanka.
– The rescue effort, which involved towing the whales out using Jet Skis, ran overnight as the exhausted animals kept being washed ashore by the waves.
– In all, the rescuers managed to push back more than 100 whales, although at least five of the animals died.
– It was one of the largest mass strandings in Sri Lanka. Pilot whales are the cetacean group most susceptible to mass strandings, although the cause for the latest incident is still unclear.

Video: Vets hail ‘victory’ as jaguar burned in Pantanal fires returns to wild by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [05 Nov 2020]
– This year, fires in the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland region, burned through about 4.1 million hectares (10.1 million acres), which constitutes about 28% of the region.
– A 3-year-old jaguar caught in the fires suffered third-degree burns on all four of his paws as he ran across burning peat.
– In September, the jaguar was rescued by a group of veterinarians and delivered to a clinic that helped treat his wounds.
– A month later, rains had extinguished most of the fires, and the jaguar was released in the same spot from which he was rescued.

Where to patrol next: ‘Netflix’ of ranger AI serves up poaching predictions by Claudia Geib [05 Nov 2020]
– The PAWS AI system, developed out of Harvard University, uses data about past poaching and game theory to predict where rangers are most likely to find poaching activity next.
– PAWS has been field tested in Cambodia and Uganda, and will soon roll out worldwide, available with the next update of a global data tool called SMART.
– Subsequent versions of the system will also feature a tool that recommends the best route for rangers to travel in their patrols.

Philippines declares no new coal plants — but lets approved projects through by Leilani Chavez [05 Nov 2020]
– The Philippines’ energy department says it will issue a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, but will allow projects that have already been approved to be built.
– Coal accounts for nearly half of the Philippines’ energy mix, and is expected to increase to 53% by 2030, when the 22 proposed plants that have already been approved come online.
– No new coal power plants have been built in the country since 2017, amid massive community pushback, excess energy supply, and a Supreme Court ruling that voids power supply agreements.
– Despite the new moratorium, the Philippines is continuing to exploit its coal resources: days after the announcement, it opened the bidding to mine two new coal blocks in the country’s south.

Indigenous Colombians mount a spiritual defense of the Amazon by Ocean Malandra [04 Nov 2020]
– UMIYAC is an alliance comprised of spiritual leaders from five different Amazonian ethnic groups deemed to be in danger of extinction.
– The ancestral lands of these five groups are located near deforestation hotspots in the Colombian Amazon, making them the front-line defense for the rainforest.
– Presided over by spiritual leaders, the traditional yagé ceremonies that tie these ethnic groups together reinforce the spiritual wisdom needed to retain their territories and autonomy.

Indonesia’s omnibus law a ‘major problem’ for environmental protection by Hans Nicholas Jong [04 Nov 2020]
– Global investors have joined local activists in raising concerns about the potential impact of environmental deregulation measures contained in a new law passed by Indonesia’s parliament.
– Among the many criticisms of the so-called omnibus law on job creation is that it restricts the public’s ability to consult on or challenge projects that may cause environmental and social harm.
– Provisions in the law also open the door for increased deforestation, which is the main driver of Indonesia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
– Activists say the law, ostensibly aimed at attracting foreign investment into Indonesia, is likely to draw investors who have little regard for environmental protection.

11 workers killed in landslide at illegal coal mining site in Indonesia by Taufik Wijaya [03 Nov 2020]
– Eleven workers were killed by a landslide at an illegal coal mining site in Muara Enim district in Indonesia’s South Sumatra province.
– South Sumatra has Indonesia’s largest known coal resources, which have drawn both legal and illegal miners.
– Illegal mining continues to be a problem in the province. The local government shut down eight such sites in 2019, some of which were in the same district as the site of the accident.
– The area’s large coal reserves prompted the Indonesian government, in cooperation with China, to build a power plant near the site of the accident.

Ice breakers in the Arctic: Let’s talk Inuit safety (commentary) by Martin Robards and Beverly Maksagak [03 Nov 2020]
– A little-considered impact of warming temperatures in the Arctic is the increased activity of ice breakers.
– Martin Robards, Regional Director for the Arctic Beringia Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Beverly Maksagak, Manager of the Ekaluktutiak Hunters and Trappers Organization, write that ice breakers potentially pose a threat to traditional Inuit ways of life.
– Robards and Maksagak write about the Proactive Vessel Management (PVM) initiative, which last year brought together communities, industry, and vessel operators find solutions to issues of concern on Arctic waterways.
– This post is a commentary: the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

BR-319: The beginning of the end for Brazil’s Amazon forest (commentary) by Philip M. Fearnside [03 Nov 2020]
– Brazil’s planned reconstruction of the BR-319 (Manaus-Porto Velho) Highway paralleling the Purus and Madeira rivers would give deforesters access to about half of what remains of the country’s Amazon forest, and so is perhaps the most consequential conservation issue for Brazil today.
– The highway route is essentially a lawless area today, and the lack of governance is a critical issue in the battle over licensing the highway reconstruction project.
– The BR-319 upgrade would link the current “arc of deforestation” to central Amazonia, allowing movement of deforestation actors to all forest locations with road links to Manaus, while a planned BR-319 connecting road would open the vast forest area between the BR-319 and the Peruvian border.
– The BR-319 Environmental Impact Assessment has many flaws, including ignoring impacts beyond those adjacent to the highway. The EIA also contains passages admitting to some disastrous project impacts. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Rewilding key to averting mass extinctions and reducing carbon emissions by Meghie Rodrigues [03 Nov 2020]
– A recent study that analyzed data from biomes all over the world, covering an area of almost 3 billion hectares (7 billion acres) that were turned from natural habitats into farmlands, concluded that rewilding is key to recovery.
– Restoring 30% of this area and preserving remaining natural habitats could remove almost half the carbon dioxide surplus humans have emitted since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
– Restoring this area would also save 71% of animal species from extinction compared with current extinction rates, according to researchers.
– High-priority areas are concentrated in the tropics. Wetlands restoration has the highest positive impact for biodiversity conservation and forests the highest importance for climate change mitigation.

Report: Soy, cattle industries trail palm oil, timber on deforestation risk by Ashoka Mukpo [03 Nov 2020]
– The report says the soybean and cattle industries lack certification bodies like the RSPO that were created after consumer pressure.
– Among soybean and cattle producers, Glencore Agriculture, JBS and Minerva scored worst on indicators for forest risk.
– The two industries have a significant role in the deforestation of the Amazon and Brazil’s Cerrado biome.

Are wolves related to dogs? Candid Animal Cam meets the largest member of the dog family by [03 Nov 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.

Guyana’s future and challenges in oil: Q&A with filmmaker Shane Thomas McMillan by [02 Nov 2020]
– A new documentary by a German team explores Guyana’s offshore oil discoveries and environmental risks.
– The offshore natural resources found off the coast of South America include an estimated 13.6 billion barrels of oil and 32 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
– The discoveries, which have been accumulating during the past five years, present significant challenges in protecting other natural resources put at risk by the exploitation.

A chameleon not seen in a century reappears in a Madagascar garden by [02 Nov 2020]
– Researchers recently rediscovered the Voeltzkow’s chameleon (Furcifer voeltzkowi) in an untamed hotel garden in northwestern Madagascar, after the species was “lost” for more than 100 years.
– The female chameleons were found to change color and pattern when interacting with males or when being handled by humans.
– While the species still needs to be officially evaluated by the IUCN, the researchers suggest that it should be considered an endangered species.

For lonely elephant Kaavan, music therapy helps prepare for move to sanctuary by Malaka Rodrigo [02 Nov 2020]
– Veterinarians working to relocate an elephant dubbed the world’s loneliest from a zoo in Pakistan to a sanctuary in Cambodia say the animal is responding well to therapy.
– Kaavan was born in Sri Lanka but has spent the past 35 years in confinement at Islamabad Zoo.
– During that time, he’s grown obese as a result of a poor diet; developed cracked nails that put him at high risk of a deadly infection; and developed behavioral issues stemming from loneliness and boredom.
– A global campaign to free him culminated in a court order in May to move him out of the zoo; Kaavan is expected to be airlifted to the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary by the end of November.

Lemurs might never recover from COVID-19 (commentary) by Malavika Vyawahare [30 Oct 2020]
– This World Lemur Day, it is worth pointing out that the Covid-19 pandemic poses a threat to Madagascar’s endemic primates, which are some of the planet’s most endangered species.
– Almost all 115 species of lemurs are threatened with extinction and their habitats are rapidly disappearing on the island nation.
– The pandemic and the resulting economic crisis has emerged as a moment of reckoning for conservation efforts, exposing the risks of relying heavily on foreign revenue and not focusing enough on communities at the frontline of safeguarding biodiversity.
– This post is a commentary: the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

For global wetlands, intensifying droughts pose a ‘diabolical’ threat by Liz Kimbrough [30 Oct 2020]
– Covering almost one-tenth of the land area of Earth, places with wet soils provide an estimated $27 trillion in benefits to humanity per year, but, according to a newly published review paper, researchers still have much to learn about the effects of drought on wet soils.
– The review, which draws upon more than 200 published studies, says “drought poses a significant threat to wet soils, a threat which can be difficult to determine before an event but which poses a catastrophic risk to some sites.”
– Among the “most pressing” findings of the review are that published information on the effects of drought on wet soils is absent for most parts of the world outside Europe, North America and Australia, and that there’s very little research that can be applied to water management.
– The review also discusses the ramifications of droughts to climate change: As wet soils dry, increased oxygen content in the soil speeds up decomposition, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

IPBES report details path to exit current ‘pandemic era’ by John C. Cannon [30 Oct 2020]
– A new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) calls for a “transformative change” in addressing the causes of virus outbreaks to prevent future pandemics and their devastating consequences.
– Human-driven climate change, the wildlife trade, and conversion of natural ecosystems all increase the potential for the spillover of viruses that infect animals to people.
– The current COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cost the global economy trillions of dollars, yet preventive measures that include identification of the hundreds of thousands of unknown viruses that are thought to exist would cost only a fraction of that total.

Years after defeating a giant gold mine, activists in Colombia still fear for their lives by Juan Zuleta Valencia [29 Oct 2020]
– Residents of the municipality of Cajamarca in eastern Colombia said “no” to what would have been the second-largest open-pit gold mine in the world.
– Now they are afraid that the government will not respect their decision.
– Leaders who promoted the popular referendum that banned large-scale mining in the municipality continue to be threatened. Some of their colleagues have been killed.

Philanthropist Wendy Schmidt: ‘Solutions are always local’ by Rhett A. Butler [29 Oct 2020]
– Coming from respective backgrounds of design and technology, Wendy Schmidt and her husband, Eric, are the driving force behind some of the charitable organizations and investment vehicles working to address the challenges of climate change, clean energy, ocean health, and more.
– Wendy Schmidt says they bring a systems-thinking approach to these challenges, to allow stakeholders to see connections that may not be obvious on the surface and work toward more resilient solutions.
– “Humans need to develop new systems that work in harmony with the natural world, that are resilient in the face of a changing planet,” she says.
– In this interview with Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett A. Butler, Schmidt advocates for the role of technology, but also explains why the idea that technology can be “scaled” to meet any challenge is problematic.



Philanthropist Wendy Schmidt: ‘Solutions are always local’ by Rhett A. Butler [10/29/2020]
Breaking: Deaths of 2 more Indonesian crew uncovered on board Chinese tuna fleet by Basten Gokkon, Philip Jacobson [10/29/2020]
2020 fires endangering uncontacted Amazon Indigenous groups by Liz Kimbrough [10/28/2020]
American Forests CEO Jad Daley: ‘We are one nation under trees’ by Rhett A. Butler [10/28/2020]
‘Potentially lethal’ police assault on Indigenous Papuan man was caught on camera by The Gecko Project and Mongabay [10/27/2020]
Amazon botanist Sir Ghillean Prance: ‘The environmental crisis is a moral one’ by Rhett A. Butler [10/27/2020]
Despite COVID, political divides, conservation can advance: Hansjörg Wyss by Rhett A. Butler [10/26/2020]
Camila Chindoy, the Indigenous daughter poised to lead her Amazon community by Nicolas Bustamante Hernandez [10/22/2020]