Newsletter 2020-12-03



Dolphins face growing pressure as development eats into Borneo’s interior by Carolyn Cowan [12/02/2020]

– The ecosystems of East Kalimantan province in Indonesian Borneo face increasing pressure due to mining, logging, industrial agriculture, infrastructure projects, and a plan to establish a new administrative capital city.
– One of the species imperiled by this rapid transformation is the Irrawaddy dolphin.
– Estuarine populations of the species already face severely negative impacts from increasing shipping traffic and coastal development in Balikpapan Bay.
– A critically endangered population of freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins living in the middle reaches of the Mahakam River are also under increasing pressure due to climate change, oil palm cultivation, coal mining and transport.

‘Turning fear into strength’: One woman’s struggle for justice and land rights in Sulawesi by Febriana Firdaus [12/01/2020]

– 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 stories behind their struggles.
– This article is part three of a series about her journey, which has also been made into a film, Our Mothers’ Land.
– Photos by Leo Plunkett, illustrations by Nadiyah Rizki.

‘Nature is next’: Q&A with Finance for Biodiversity’s Simon Zadek by Rhett A. Butler [11/27/2020]

– The Finance for Biodiversity Initiative wants to get governments, companies and the financial sector to factor nature and biodiversity, and not just carbon emissions, into their decision-making.
– Simon Zadek, the group’s chair, says the COVID-19 pandemic may prove the tipping point toward that end, even if the unprecedented wave of stimulus programs being rolled out now doesn’t reflect that focus yet.
– Zadek says there are multiple routes to greener finance, including linking environmental outcomes to debt relief, but that it will take radical transparency in the financial sector to move in that direction.
– He also says the conservation community must move away from a narrow focus on fundraising and realize that the real challenge is not finance for conservation, but aligning global finance — with its $30 trillion a year in public finance spending — with conservation objectives.



Podcast: Will a newly discovered ape species face a dammed future? by [03 Dec 2020]
– As with many animals in Sumatra, the newly described 8th ape species are unique creatures that are critically threatened, with a maximum of 800 individuals estimated to be living in an increasingly fragmented habitat.
– First described in 2017 after its habits and DNA proved them to be unique, the Tapanuli orangutan faces an uncertain future.
– A hydroelectric dam proposed for the center of the animals’ tiny territory challenges this special species’ chances of survival, as well as that of 23 other threatened species which also live in the area.
– This episode of the podcast speaks with a biologist who helped discover its uniqueness, Dr. Puji Rianti of IPB University in Bogor, and Mongabay staff writer Hans Nicholas Jong in Jakarta, who has been covering the controversy over the project, as it’s been called into question by activists and funders alike and faces numerous delays.

Study identifies mega trends with ‘major consequences’ for forests, livelihoods by Liz Kimbrough [03 Dec 2020]
– A newly published study identifies five large-scale trends that may substantially affect forests in the future in both negative and positive ways.
– These five trends are: changing rural demographics, forest megadisturbances, an increase in the middle class in low-income countries, increased access and use of technology, and the development of large-scale infrastructure.
– Much of the research connecting forests and livelihood has been done on the household and community level, the authors say, but the goal of this study was to address the forest and human link at an intercontinental scale, recognizing connections across space and over time in an increasingly globalized world.
– The study calls for an increase in case study research within these five trends, deeper exploration of the trends over time and space, and a greater focus on the causes of social and environmental changes.

Coronavirus risk grows as animals move through wildlife trade by Stephanie Melchor [03 Dec 2020]
– Animals consumed by people in Vietnam are increasingly likely to carry coronavirus as they move from the wild to markets to restaurants, a new study shows.
– The animals with the highest rates of infection are most likely to come into contact with humans.
– When animals are confined in crowded and stressful conditions, it makes it even easier for the virus to spread.

To save life on Earth, consult this new map by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [03 Dec 2020]
– A new study shows that 50.4% of land on Earth needs to be protected to reverse biodiversity loss, halt climate change and prevent future pandemics, with Latin American countries poised to lead that movement.
– Eric Dinerstein, one of the study’s authors, says regions with rare and endangered species, which represent 2.3% of the Earth’s surface, are an immediate priority and should be protected over the coming three years.
– The authors say more ambitious conservation targets are needed if we are to have a future in which people and nature thrive together.

Money to burn: Study finds fire-prevention incentives in Indonesia don’t work by Hans Nicholas Jong [03 Dec 2020]
– Villages in Indonesian Borneo that were offered financial incentives to not burn their land for farming were just as likely to continue setting fires as villages that received no financial assistance.
– That’s the finding in a new study that concludes that without an alternative land-clearing method that’s as cost-effective as burning, rural communities will continue to set fire to forests to make way for agricultural land.
– The researchers suggested several factors might explain the findings, including the size of the incentive, individual villagers’ wariness that the money would trickle down to them, and the perception that burning is still the cheapest way to add value to the land.
– The researchers also say there’s a poor understanding of the fire problem among policymakers in Indonesia, who tend to overlook the economic drivers of the practice and think that tougher penalties and bans will suffice to end it.

French Guiana soy biofuel power plants risk massive Amazon deforestation by Justin Catanoso [02 Dec 2020]
– The French government, with the support of President Emmanuel Macron, appears eager to approve legislation that would bypass French environmental law banning large scale deforestation to build several soy-fired biofuel power plants in French Guiana — a French overseas department on the northeast coast of South America.
– Currently, 98% of this region is still covered in Amazon rainforest and mangrove forest. The largest of the proposed biofuel plants — Larivot in Cayenne, the French Guiana capital — would require between 84,000 and 140,000 metric tons of soy per year to generate enough liquid biofuel to power the 120-megawatt plant.
– Growing that much soy would require a large amount of rainforest clearing, totaling between 536 square miles and 892 square miles (nearly three times larger than the land area of New York City). Environmentalists are very concerned over the loss in forest carbon sequestration and harm to French Guiana’s Amazon biodiversity.
– “The fact that France is pushing for policy deviations in French Guiana from European Union sustainability standards is incredibly alarming.… There will be an impact on forests if they change the laws and it could be pretty massive,” said Almuth Ernsting, a biomass researcher with Biofuelwatch, an environmental NGO.

Countries fall short of U.N. pledge to protect 10% of the ocean by 2020 by Chris Arsenault [02 Dec 2020]
– A decade ago, the international community pledged to protect 10% of the ocean by the end of 2020, under the auspices of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.
– Despite adding new marine protected areas quickly, the international community is falling well short of that goal: only about 7.5% of the oceans is now protected, according to a generous assessment.
– Even proponents of marine protected areas acknowledge they are not always as effective as they could be.
– Conservationists are now pressing for the adoption of a more ambitious new international goal: protecting 30% of the oceans by 2030.

Reforestation projects should include tree diversity targets, too (commentary) by Andrew Whitworth [02 Dec 2020]
– Trees can rapidly remove carbon from the atmosphere, so climate change mitigation efforts often center on reforestation efforts.
– This should not invite the planting of monocultures, but rather a diversity of native trees adapted to the areas being reforested, which support biodiversity.
– Native tree reforestation can also support local communities: “People can be employed to play the role of the spider monkey, the tapir, and the toucan,” in replanting forests, says botanist Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya who is currently working to propagate the critically endangered rainforest species, Pleodendron costaricense.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

The glaciers of the Greenland Ice Sheet are running away by Nikk Ogasa [02 Dec 2020]
– Greenland’s massive ice sheet will continue shrinking even if snowfall rates return to the higher levels of decades ago, when the ice sheet was stable, a new study shows.
– Rates of ice loss climbed dramatically in the early 2000s before settling at a higher, sustained state of decline.
– For each kilometer that Greenland’s glaciers retreat, their rate of ice loss speeds up by 4 to 5 percent—a bleak trend that will accelerate sea-level rise.

Layers of regulations to protect European seas ‘not working,’ audit finds by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [02 Dec 2020]
– A recent report published by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) found that the European Union (EU) was not doing enough to protect and restore its oceans, despite having various policies in place to support conservation efforts.
– In particular, the ECA report found that only 1% of more than 3,000 marine protected areas (MPAs) in EU waters provided full protection to marine habitats, and that the MPAs generally failed to protect biodiversity.
– The report also found that sustainable fishing and environmental standard targets were not being met, some policies were out of date, and that EU funding was not being adequately utilized for conservation efforts.
– A recent report by the NGO Oceana on trawling activities in sensitive marine habitats in the Mediterranean provides further evidence that EU policies are not doing enough to protect its seas.

Unprecedented sightings of maned wolves in Amazon herald a changing landscape by Sibélia Zanon [02 Dec 2020]
– The maned wolf has been spotted 22 times in the Amazon over the past 25 years, 10 of those times in areas where it had never been seen before.
– Scientists posit that South America’s largest canine is spreading north as human-driven deforestation and climate change eat away at the fringes of the Amazon, turning the rainforest into the dry shrubland that the maned wolf is accustomed to.
– In its traditional range across the Cerrado savanna, the maned wolf is being squeezed into increasingly fragmented spaces and pushed into human areas.
– This puts it at risk of being hit by vehicles, catching disease from domestic pets, and being killed by farmers.

Pulp producers pull off $168 million Indonesia tax twist, report alleges by Hans Nicholas Jong [02 Dec 2020]
– TPL and APRIL, two major pulp and paper producers in Indonesia, may have deprived the country of $168 million in taxes from 2007-2018 by mislabeling a type of pulp that they exported to China, a new investigation alleges.
– The companies, affiliated with the Singapore-based Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) group, recorded their exports as paper-grade pulp, even though they were purchased by factories in China as higher-value dissolving pulp.
– Paper-grade pulp is used to make paper and packaging, while dissolving pulp is used to make viscose for clothing; Zara and H&M were among the reported buyers of the viscose made from the mislabeled pulp from Indonesia.
– The NGOs behind the investigation say it emphasizes the importance of enforcing greater corporate transparency to prevent companies from using offshore tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions to minimize their domestic tax obligations.

Alleged gov’t-linked land grabs threaten Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains by Chris Humphrey [01 Dec 2020]
– The Cardamom Mountains sit off the Gulf of Thailand in southern Cambodia and provide important habitat for a multitude of plant and animal species, many of them already threatened with extinction.
– Due to Cardamoms’ remoteness, they had largely been spared the human encroachment that has razed much of the rainforest across the country – until infrastructure development in 2020 opened up the area to loggers, poachers, and others seeking to exploit the region’s forests.
– Satellite data show deforestation is continuing to surge in the Cardamoms despite most of the range being formally demarcated as protected land.
– Sources familiar with the issues say the Hun Sen government is encouraging land-grabbing in protected areas in a bid to build public support ahead of the 2022 election season, and that Cambodia’s systemic corruption is enabling timber and plantation companies to move in and clear forest.

The New Guinea singing dog, once thought extinct, is alive in the wild by Freda Kreier [01 Dec 2020]
– DNA analysis of three wild dogs living at high altitude on New Guinea reveals that they are part of the same population as captive New Guinea singing dogs.
– These findings confirm that New Guinea singing dogs are not extinct in the wild as previously thought.
– New conservation methods are now being considered to protect what some consider to be the world’s rarest wild dog.

Ecuador’s palm oil law a boon for producers, but not people and planet, groups say by Sol Borja [01 Dec 2020]
– In July, Ecuador’s National Assembly passed the Oil Palm Law, which environmental groups and experts say benefits palm oil producers at the expense of communities, forests and the environment.
– A key concern is that the law will encourage greater deforestation for oil palm plantations, which are already a leading driver of forest loss in the country.
– Groups also say that although the new law includes monitoring and control mechanisms, the regulations to enforce this won’t be ready for several more months, and even then it’s unlikely that they will be implemented.

New snail subspecies with ‘upside down shell’ found in last green frontier east of Manila by [01 Dec 2020]
– Researchers have discovered a subspecies of a microsnail in a protected area east of the Philippine capital Manila.
– Hypselostoma latispira masungiensis is no bigger than an ant and is notable for inverting its shell when resting, unlike other snail species.
– Like many other snails, l. masungiensis thrives on karst formations, but its habitat in Masungi Georeserve has been the target of limestone quarrying companies for years.
– The georeserve is a conservation area where quarrying has been banned since 1993; despite this, three quarrying companies have been operating there since 1998.

What is a white-lipped peccary? Candid Animal Cam is in South America by [01 Dec 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.

Amazon deforestation tops 11,000 sq km in Brazil, reaching 12-year high by [30 Nov 2020]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon topped 11,000 square kilometers for the first time since 2008, according to data released today by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE.
– The loss represents a 9.5 percent increase over the same period last year and is nearly triple the 3,925 square kilometer target established by Brazil’s climate change law.
– The rise in deforestation expected. Data from monitoring systems run by INPE and Imazon, an independent Brazilian NGO, had shown monthly deforestation pacing well ahead of last year’s rate.
– The new data are preliminary. Brazil typically releases the official data a few months into the new calendar year.

‘Certified’ palm oil linked to worse social, ecological outcomes for Indonesian villagers by Loren Bell [30 Nov 2020]
– The development of oil palm plantations across Indonesia, including those certified as sustainable, has had mixed outcomes for the social and ecological well-being of nearby communities, a new study shows.
– In Sumatra, where oil palm has been cultivated for longer than on other islands and where rural residents have largely switched to a market-based economy, there’s a marginal net positive impact from the presence of plantations.
– In Indonesian Borneo, however, where villagers tend to rely on subsistence-based livelihoods, socioecological conditions have worsened in the wake of plantation certification.
– The study authors say their findings flag the risk of “unintended indirect impacts of pushing large-scale industrial oil palm into frontier forest areas where local communities still rely heavily on environmental services.”

Madagascar moves to reopen domestic trade in non-precious timber by Rivonala Razafison [30 Nov 2020]
– Madagascar eased a two-year-old restriction on the domestic sale of stockpiles of so-called ordinary wood — non-precious timber logged from natural forests. The government will not issue any new permits for commercial logging of ordinary wood and its export remains prohibited.
– The move in no way applies to precious timber such as rosewood and ebony, whose stocks remain illegal to log, sell or export. Nor does it apply to exotic species such as pine and eucalyptus.
– The government is currently developing a plan to use stockpiles of confiscated precious timber domestically, for example in the construction of public buildings and the production of handicrafts.
– Law enforcement weakness remains one of the biggest challenges for Malagasy forest management.

Why did the woolly rhino go extinct? by Carolina Cuellar Colmenares [30 Nov 2020]
– Genetic analysis of the remnants of 14 woolly rhinos shows that a warming climate, not hunting, probably killed them off 14,000 years ago.
– The numbers of woolly rhinos remained constant until close to their extinction, and far after humans had migrated to their territory in Siberia.
– Genetic mutations suggest that the rhinos were so adapted to living in cold conditions that they could not survive when the climate rapidly warmed.

The promise of ‘bird-friendly’ cities: Q&A with author Timothy Beatley by John C. Cannon [30 Nov 2020]
– University of Virginia professor Timothy Beatley lays out a case for building cities that are better hosts to birds and the broader natural world in The Bird Friendly City: Creating Safe Urban Habitats.
– His case rests on the benefits that birds provide, and he discusses the need for equal access to nature for all city-dwelling communities.
– From small home improvements to skyscrapers covered in greenery, Beatley covers the adaptations necessary for more “natureful” cities around the world.

Lobster export policy that landed Indonesian minister in jail could resume by Basten Gokkon [30 Nov 2020]
– Indonesia’s interim fisheries minister has indicated a controversial program to export lobster larvae could likely resume, despite being at the heart of an ongoing corruption investigation that has ensnared his predecessor.
– The former minister, Edhy Prabowo, was arrested Nov. 25 on allegations of bribery related to the issuance of permits for the export of lobster larvae.
– Resuming exports was itself a controversial move, reversing a ban imposed by Edhy’s predecessor, Susi Pudjiastuti, to allow Indonesia’s wild lobster populations to replenish after decades of overfishing.
– But Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for maritime affairs, who has taken over as interim fisheries minister, says there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the program and that it could soon continue, following an evaluation.

Meet the 2020 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners by Liz Kimbrough [30 Nov 2020]
– This year marks the 31st anniversary of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, which honors one grassroot activist from each of the six inhabited continents.
– The 2020 prize winners are Kristal Ambrose from the Bahamas, Chibeze Ezekiel from Ghana, Nemonte Nenquimo from Ecuador, Leydy Pech from Mexico, Lucie Pinson from France, and Paul Sein Twa from Myanmar.

Big mammals are at risk in the world’s poorest countries, even within parks by Tess Joosse [27 Nov 2020]
– Forty years of global conservation research reveals that mammal populations are declining due to hunting in poor countries and within preserved areas, especially in Africa.
– Large mammals are particularly vulnerable, since their slow growth and reproduction rates make it harder for them to bounce back from poaching.
– In Asia, protected areas with tighter enforcement actually have higher rates of population loss, likely because the most sought-after species only exist within these strict enclaves.



Fueled by impunity, invasions surge in Brazil’s Indigenous lands by Ana Ionova [11/25/2020]
Mongabay launches in Hindi to expand environmental journalism in India by Rhett A. Butler [11/22/2020]
Philippine ‘raptor boy’ shows it takes a village to protect a migration route by Bong S. Sarmiento [11/22/2020]
Inside the weaving protests of West Timor by Febriana Firdaus [11/20/2020]
Bug bites: Edible insect production ramps up quickly in Madagascar by Emilie Filou [11/19/2020]