Newsletter 2020-11-19



A Philippine community sees life-saving payoffs from restoring its mangroves by Jun N. Aguirre [11/18/2020]

– For more than 30 years, a community in the central Philippines has been actively involved in reforesting and protecting a mangrove site, which has expanded from 50 hectares to 220 hectares (124 acres to 544 acres).
– Their efforts have resulted in the successful transformation of a once-barren mudflat into one of the few remaining large patches of mangrove forests in the country.
– Replanting the mangroves has paid off, with the forest shielding the community from the extreme impacts of the typhoons that routinely tear through the Philippines.
– While the community has successfully managed the mangrove reserves, it continues to grapple with illegal fishing, cutting of mangrove for fuelwood, and climate change.

Deadly anniversary: Rio Doce, Brazil’s worst environmental disaster, 5 years on by Ana Ionova [11/17/2020]

– On November 5, 2015, the Fundão iron mine tailings dam failed, pouring 50 million tons of mud and toxic waste into Brazil’s Rio Doce, killing 19 people, polluting the river, contaminating croplands, devastating fish and wildlife, and polluting drinking water with toxic sludge along 650 kilometers (400 miles) of the waterway.
– Five years on, the industry cleanup has failed to restore the river and watershed, according to residents, with fisheries and fields still poisoned and less productive. Access to clean water also remains difficult, while unexplained health problems have arisen, though some cleanup and livelihood projects are yielding hope.
– Rio Doce valley inhabitants remain frustrated by what they see as a slow response to the environmental disaster by the dam’s owner, Samarco, a joint venture of Vale and BHP Billiton, two of the world’s biggest mining companies, and also by the Brazilian government. Roughly 1.6 million people were originally impacted by the disaster.
– The count of those still affected is unknown, with alleged heavy metal-related health risks cited: Maria de Jesus Arcanjo Peixoto tells of her young grandson, sickened by a mysterious illness: ”We’re left in doubt… But he was three months old when the dam burst. And all the food, the milk, the feed for the cows — it all came from the mud.”

More Indonesian sailors repatriated from deadly Chinese fishing fleet by Basten Gokkon [11/16/2020]

– Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry says another 88 of its citizens have been repatriated from a Chinese fishing fleet where six of their compatriots died under harsh working conditions.
– At least 257 Indonesian crew members have now returned this year from working on board vessels owned by Dalian Ocean Fishing; six sailors are known to have died while working, one of them dumped at sea.
– The returning sailors allege dangerous and likely illegal working conditions on board the boats, including 18-hour workdays and being forced to catch and fin sharks, including protected species, despite the vessels being tuna-fishing boats.
– Officials from three Indonesian recruitment agencies have been charged with human trafficking in connection with the case.

Could China become a partner in Galapagos marine conservation? Yolanda Kakabadse thinks so by Rhett A. Butler [11/16/2020]

– Yolanda Kakabadse has been an environmental leader since the late 1970s; first heading up small Ecuadorian NGOs before eventually rising to senior ranks at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). She was Ecuador’s Minister of Environment from 1998 to 2000.
– In those roles, Kakabadse became used to making arguments that bring stakeholders with divergent views together around common interests. She’s currently trying to engage the Chinese government as a potential conservation partner in the Galapagos, where a Chinese fleet has been accused of unsustainable fishing practices.
– In a November 2020 interview with Mongabay, Kakabadse talked about her approaches to finding common ground, changes she’s observed in the conservation sector over the course of her career, and the opportunity to shift toward more equitable and sustainable economic models in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Multiplying Amazon river ports open new Brazil-to-China commodities routes by Manuela Andreoni; Dialogo Chino [11/16/2020]

– Nearly 100 major industrial river ports have been built on the Brazilian Amazon’s major rivers over the past two decades. Many of the projects have been internationally financed and built by commodities companies with little government oversight.
– These ports have transformed the region, opening it to agribusiness and the export of commodities, especially soy, to China and the rest of the world. However, this boom in port infrastructure often came at the expense of the environment and traditional riverine communities.
– Today, more than 40 additional major river ports are planned in the Amazon biome on the Tapajós, Tocantins, Madeira and other rivers, projects again being pursued largely without taking cumulative socioenvironmental impacts into account.
– “What resources do these soy men bring to our city?” asked Manoel Munduruku, an Indigenous leader. “They only bring destruction.”

The women of Kendeng set their feet in cement to stop a mine in their lands. This is their story. by Febriana Firdaus [11/13/2020]

– Across Indonesia, hundreds of communities are in conflict with companies seeking control of their resources. In some cases, the resistance has been led by women.
– Journalist Febriana Firdaus travelled across the country to meet grassroots female activists and delve into the story behind their struggles.
– This article is part one of a series about her journey, which has also been made into a film, Our Mothers’ Land.

Activists in Malaysia call on road planners to learn the lessons of history by John C. Cannon [11/13/2020]

– To its proponents, the 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) Pan Borneo Highway holds the promise of economic development for the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo.
– But activists in Sabah say that poor planning and an emphasis on extracting resources mean that the highway could harm communities and ecosystems in Sabah’s forests and along its coastlines.
– A new film captures the perspectives of people living closest to the highway’s proposed path and reveals the struggles that some have faced as the road closed in on their homes.
– Meanwhile, an environmental historian argues that Pan Borneo Highway planners are repeating the same mistakes British colonists made in focusing on extraction, rather than trying to find ways to benefit Sabah’s communities.



The Amazon’s Yanomami utterly abandoned by Brazilian authorities: Report by Sue Branford [19 Nov 2020]
– A new report highlights the escalating existential crisis among the 30,000 Indigenous people living in the Yanomami Territory, covering 9,664,975 hectares (37,317 square miles) in northern Brazil. Data shows that the Yanomami reserve is in the top ten areas now most prone to illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
– The report accuses Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazilian government of abandoning the Yanomami to the invasion of their territory by tens-of-thousands of illegal miners. While the administration has launched sporadic operations to stop these incursions, the miners return as soon as police leave the reserve.
– Bolsonaro is also accused of having done little to combat COVID-19 or provide basic healthcare. As a result, pandemic case numbers have grown by 250% in the last three months, now possibly infecting 10,000 Yanomami and Ye’kwana, about a third of the reserve’s entire population, with deaths recorded among adults and children.
– “Children, young people and the generations to come deserve to live healthy lives in their forest home. Their futures should not be cut off by the actions of a genocidal administration,” says the report compiled by the Yanomami and Ye’kwana and a network of academics. Brazil’s Health Ministry denied the charge of negligence.

Brazil art exhibition showcases an Indigenous worldview and poses questions by Sibélia Zanon [19 Nov 2020]
– The exhibition “Véxoa: We know” at São Paulo’s Pinacoteca museum runs until March 22, 2021, showcasing works by 23 Indigenous artists and art collectives from different ethnicities and areas across Brazil.
– It’s the first exhibition of Indigenous-only art in the museum’s more than 100 years.
– Through paintings, sculptures, videos, photographs and installations, the artists seek to turn art into a form of activism, drawing attention to the impacts of agribusiness, politics and climate change on their territories.
– Ailton Krenak, a leading Indigenous artist and thinker in Brazil who is showing two works at the exhibition, Véxoa is “an opportunity to expose the extremely adverse times that Indigenous people are experiencing as a result of political violence perpetrated against [their] rights by the Brazilian State.”

Podcast: Sumatra’s deforestation demystified by [18 Nov 2020]
– Sumatra contains some of the largest tracts of intact rainforest left in the world, which are relied upon by Indigenous and local peoples plus a massive diversity of wildlife found nowhere else.
– These vast forests are under threat from the rapid expansion of industrial-scale agribusinesses that market both palm oil and pulp and paper products to the global market.
– To understand the causes of the threat better, this episode of the podcast interviews Nur Hidayati, director of top Indonesian environmental group Walhi, and Mongabay editor Philip Jacobson.
– They share that while there are some signs of progress, corruption and a lack of corporate transparency must be dealt with, and alternatives to the production of commodities like palm oil should be pursued.

For sustainable business, ‘planetary boundaries’ define the new rules by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [18 Nov 2020]
– The Science Based Targets Network (SBTN), an initiative of the Global Commons Alliance (GCA), recently launched a corporate engagement program to help companies, consultancies and industry coalitions set science-based targets that could help protect all aspects of nature, including biodiversity, land, ocean, water, as well as climate.
– The SBTN uses the concept of planetary boundaries, which refers to nine Earth system processes that contain thresholds for safe operating limits, to inform its work.
– The SBTN is still in a formational stage and will not finalize its methodologies until 2022, but will actively engage with companies over the next two years.

Without planting more trees in the tropics, we can’t fix the climate (commentary) by Edward Mitchard [18 Nov 2020]
– Planting ‘the right tree in the right place’ is key to restoring forests and halting climate change.
– To be effective though, planting should largely be done in the tropics, where they can grow with maximum rapidity vs northern regions (where tree planting can also add to the albedo effect, canceling out some carbon sequestration benefit).
– Other benefits of focusing on the tropics are those that accrue to developing nations, where tree planting can improve both local environments and economies, through projects like agroforestry.
– This article is a commentary, the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

‘CSI Amazon’: Epic study looks at what’s killing the rainforest’s trees by Liz Kimbrough [18 Nov 2020]
– A newly published study provides insight into why trees die in the Amazon, and why the rate of tree death may be increasing. The main risk factor explaining tree death was the mean growth rate of species.
– More than half, 51%, of tree deaths observed over the 30-year study were attributed to structural damage, mostly from windstorms.
– Different regions of the Amazon showed different risk factors for trees: Overall, the southern and western Amazon had higher mortality rates; wind seemed to do more damage in the western Amazon, whereas the southern Amazon had more tree death due to water stress and drought.
– The findings have major implications for the fight against climate change, given that the Amazon accounts for 12% of land-based carbon sink, but is losing that capacity as tree mortality increases.

A Malagasy community wins global recognition for saving its lake by Malavika Vyawahare [18 Nov 2020]
– A community association charged with managing Lake Andranobe in central Madagascar has won this year’s Equator Prize from the UNDP in the category “Nature for Water.”
– The association’s efforts, including implementing fishery closures, regulating water use, and reforestation, have led to increased fish catches and helped revive the lake ecosystem.
– As in the rest of the world, Madagascar’s wetlands are often overlooked in conservation priorities, despite the fact that freshwater species are even more threatened than terrestrial or marine biodiversity.
– The prize highlights the benefits of community-driven management, which often works better than initiatives undertaken by outsiders but also carries considerable challenges.

The Amazon’s short-eared dog was thought to be a scavenger. Now there’s video by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [17 Nov 2020]
– After installing a camera trap near a dead armadillo, a biologist unexpectedly recorded video of the elusive short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis) scavenging on the carcass, and subsequently published a field report about the incident.
– While there was previous anecdotal evidence that short-eared dogs scavenge, this field report provides the first published documentation of this behavior, according to its author.
– In general, very little is known about the short-eared dog, including information about the species’ biology and ecology, although researchers are working to fill these gaps.

The riddle of Madagascar’s megafauna extinction just got trickier by Malavika Vyawahare [17 Nov 2020]
– Madagascar saw a relatively recent mass extinction event about 1,000 years ago, when gorilla-sized lemurs, towering elephant birds, and grand tortoises were all wiped out from the island.
– A recently published paper complicates the widely-held understanding that humans were to blame for the crash, by drawing attention to a megadrought that the authors say also played a role.
– The new study uses geological evidence from Madagascar and Rodrigues, an island now part of Mauritius about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) east of Madagascar, to construct a climatic record.
– Some scientists have questioned whether the geological record from Madagascar paints an accurate picture of past climate, or whether the data from Rodrigues can shed light on conditions in Madagascar.

What is a tayra? Candid Animal Cam is in the Americas by [17 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.

As 2020 Amazon fire season winds down, Brazil carbon emissions rise by Liz Kimbrough [16 Nov 2020]
– 2,500+ major blazes burned across Brazil’s Legal Amazon between late May and early November. Many were on recently deforested lands, indicative of land grabbers converting forests to pastures and croplands, while others were within conserved areas and Indigenous reserves. Of concern: 41% of burns were in standing forests.
– Estimates say that nearly 5.4 million acres (2.2 million hectares) of Brazil’s Amazon standing rainforest burned this year — an area roughly the size of the country of Wales in the United Kingdom.
– Brazil’s soaring deforestation rates and Amazon fires point to another problem: the nation is not on track to meet its 2020 goals under the Paris Climate Agreement for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, carbon emissions in Brazil did not fall, but rose by 9.6%, in 2019, the first year of President Jair Bolsonaro’s four-year term.
– Under its UN climate commitments, Brazil is only required to measure fire-related greenhouse gas emissions from newly deforested lands, not from fires in standing forests. A questionable practice, say some critics, as fires in the Amazon are routinely set by people and escape into forests. The highest CO2 emissions from forest fires in the Amazon don’t happen during the burn, but years later, a new study concludes, complicating emission estimates.

Brazil’s Bem Querer dam: An impending Amazon disaster (commentary) by Philip M. Fearnside [16 Nov 2020]
– Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has announced his administration’s priorities for Amazon dams, including the planned Bem Querer dam on the Rio Branco in the far-northern state of Roraima.
– Bem Querer is primarily intended to increase the energy supply to industries in locations outside of Amazonia, rather than for residents of Roraima.
– Probable environmental impacts include blocking fish migrations and flooding a riparian forest that possesses extraordinary bird diversity. Downstream flow alteration would impact protected areas, including two Ramsar wetland biodiversity sites. Riverside dwellers would also be impacted.
– Sediment flow blockage would impact fisheries and the unique Anavilhanas Archipelago, a spectacular Brazilian national park. These adverse impacts need to be fully evaluated before a decision to build is made. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

One Health: A necessary blend of biodiversity and human health goals (commentary) by Annie Mark [16 Nov 2020]
– This week, the German Federal Foreign Office & WCS will co-host “One Planet, One Health, One Future: Moving forward in a post-COVID19 world.”
– The One Health approach acknowledges the interconnectedness of human, animal, and ecosystem health.
– COVID-19 provides an unfortunate but essential opportunity to demonstrate the fundamental importance of the One Health approach, and make connections with important biodiversity targets.
– This article is a commentary, the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Conserve freshwater or land biodiversity? Why not both, new study asks by Claire Asher [16 Nov 2020]
– Freshwater ecosystems, such as rivers, lakes and streams, are home to 10% of all described species, but are often overlooked in conservation planning and their populations have shown rapid declines in recent decades.
– An analysis of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity in two regions of the Amazon Basin found that conservation planning aimed only at plants and animals on land tends not to benefit freshwater species, whereas taking a freshwater focus benefited species in both realms.
– The widest benefits can be achieved with an integrated approach, the study found: considering the needs and sensitivities of both terrestrial and freshwater creatures increased freshwater benefits by 62-345% on average, with just a 1% trade-off to terrestrial benefits.
– The study highlights the urgent need for freshwater biodiversity conservation in the Amazon, and comes as policymakers and stakeholders prepare to negotiate new goals, targets and conservation frameworks for the coming decades.

Amazon deforestation shoots higher in October, reversing 3-month trend by [14 Nov 2020]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose 50 percent in October, ending a streak where the deforestation rate had declined for three straight months, according to data released Friday by the national space research institute INPE.
– The news came days after Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro appeared to threaten the use of military force against the United States should it attempt to impose sanctions on the South American country for its failure to slow rising deforestation.
– Bolsonaro is known for making contentious statements, including blaming environmentalists, Indigenous peoples, and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio for deforestation in the Amazon.
– Bolsonaro has presided over a sharp increase in deforestation since he took office in January 2019.

Graphic novel version of classic science memoir aims for new audiences by [13 Nov 2020]
– Published in 1994, Edward O. Wilson’s “Naturalist” has long been known as one of the best scientific memoirs of its time.
– A 21st-century graphic adaptation of the novel brings Wilson’s journey of discovering the natural world as a child, and that journey’s influence on his career choices later in life.
– The adaptation was led by longtime graphic novelist, Jim Ottaviani, with illustrations by C.M. Butzer.

Biden’s election is good news for the climate. But what comes next? by Ashoka Mukpo [13 Nov 2020]
– U.S. president-elect Joe Biden’s climate agenda has been described as the most ambitious of any U.S. presidential candidate in history.
– If Republicans retain control of the U.S. Senate, it will be difficult to pass sweeping climate legislation, but analysts say there are opportunities for bipartisan cooperation.
– Biden has pledged to sign a series of climate-related executive orders, including a ban on fossil fuel extraction on public land.
– His administration will have wide leeway to align U.S. foreign policy with his climate goals, most prominently by immediately rejoining the Paris Agreement.

Bribery-tainted coal plant in Indonesia held up as landowners hold out by Basten Gokkon [13 Nov 2020]
– Landowners in Indonesia have refused the compensation offered by a power plant developer seeking to build on their land.
– This marks the latest setback for the Cirebon 2 coal-fired power plant project, which says it only wants to rent the land and not buy it outright.
– Construction of the 1,000-megawatt plant has already been held up by the COVID-19 pandemic, while the project developers also face allegations of bribing local officials to greenlight the venture.
– Other coal power plant projects in Indonesia have also been mired in corruption, with activists saying the confluence of money, politics and power makes them a “bribery hotspot.”

Snare traps decline, but still pose a threat to Leuser’s Sumatran rhinos by Junaidi Hanafiah [13 Nov 2020]
– The number of wire snares being found in Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem has declined in recent years, but the traps continue to pose a severe threat to the region’s critically endangered rhinos.
– Poachers set the snares to catch anything ranging from wild boars for bushmeat to trophy animals — including the native Sumatran rhinos, elephants and tigers.
– Increased patrols have managed to reduce the numbers of snares found in Leuser, from 1,069 in 2016 to 241 in 2019.
– Conservationists say the Indonesian government must crack down harder on the entire supply chain of the illegal trade in Sumatran rhino parts, from poachers to buyers overseas.

Surrounded by intruders, the last of Brazil’s Piripkura hold out in the Amazon by Maurício Angelo [13 Nov 2020]
– The Piripkura Indigenous Territory in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state is home to two of the last three members of this once isolated tribe.
– The territory has long been the target of land grabbers and loggers, with the deforestation rate increasing in recent years on the back of policies that effectively whitewash illegal land grabs.
– The ordinance that designates the Piripkura Indigenous Territory as a protected area expires in September 2021, and its renewal beyond that date depends on the fate of the two Indigenous people still living there.
– Experts say the federal agency for Indigenous affairs, Funai, has not only failed to formalize and protect the territory, but even encouraged its illegal occupation and destruction.

Brazil sees record number of bids to mine illegally on Indigenous lands by Eduardo Goulart de Andrade, Hyury Potter, Naira Hofmeister and Pedro Papini [13 Nov 2020]
– An exclusive investigation shows Brazil’s mining regulator continues to entertain requests to mine in Indigenous territories, which is prohibited under the country’s Constitution.
– There have been 145 such applications filed this year, the highest number in 24 years, spurred by President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-Indigenous rhetoric and a bill now before Congress that would permit mining on Indigenous lands.
– Prosecutors and judges say that by maintaining these unconstitutional mining applications on file and not immediately rejecting them, the mining regulator is granting them a semblance of legitimacy.
– Mining represents a real threat to the Brazilian Amazon, where the protected status of Indigenous territories is the main reason the forests they contain remain standing.

Myanmar’s new langur species is ‘very beautiful,’ but critically endangered by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [12 Nov 2020]
– Researchers recently described a new primate species, the Popa langur (Trachypithecus popa), in Myanmar.
– The new species is one of about 20 known langur species in the Trachypithecus genus, and a close cousin to Phayre’s langur (T. phayrei).
– The species is considered to be critically endangered, with only about 200 to 260 left in the wild, according to researchers.
– Scientists and conservationists are working to protect the species through various measures, including outreach and awareness campaigns.



Satellites, maps and the flow of cattle: Brazilian solutions for reducing deforestation are already in use by Naira Hofmeister, Fernanda Wenzel and Pedo Papini [11/12/2020]
Podcast: Lemur love and award-winning plant passion in Madagascar by Mike Gaworecki [11/11/2020]
One year on: Insects still in peril as world struggles with global pandemic by Jeremy Hance [11/11/2020]
Conservationists replant legal palm oil plantation with forest in Borneo by Jeremy Hance [11/09/2020]
Chinese demand and domestic instability are wiping out Senegal’s last forests by Louise Hunt [11/05/2020]
Brazilian and international banks financing global deforestation: Reports by Sue Branford, Thais Borges and Diego Rebouças [11/05/2020]