Newsletter 2021-02-18



Podcast: Where oh where are the Sumatran rhinos? by [02/18/2021]

– Sumatran rhinos are one of the most endangered large mammals on the planet, with no more than 80 left in the wild.
– Not only that but biologists are challenged to even find them in the dense rainforests they call home in order to conserve them via captive breeding.
– To shed light on the animal’s precarious situation and mysterious whereabouts, this episode of the Mongabay Explores podcast series speaks with conservation biologist Wulan Pusparini.
– This ‘rhino search and rescue’ is a big challenge she tells host Mike DiGirolamo in this episode of the podcast.

Big dream: NGO leads in creating 1,615-mile Amazon-Cerrado river greenbelt by Jenny Gonzales [02/17/2021]

– The Black Jaguar Foundation plans to reforest 1 million hectares (2.4 million acres) along Brazil’s Araguaia and Tocantins rivers in the Amazon and Cerrado biomes. The 2,600 kilometer (1,615 mile) long natural corridor will require the planting of around 1.7 billion trees. Tens-of-thousands have already been planted.
– This natural corridor will be established on private lands, and it will have dual ecological and economic goals, resulting in both land conservation and sustainable agroforestry production. It would cross six Brazilian states (Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins, Pará and Maranhão).
– BJF is well funded and well organized, so the greatest barriers to accomplishing the NGO’s goals are many initially resistant rural property owners who need to be sold on the economic benefits of the green corridor. 24,000 privately owned lots are included in the planned green corridor.
– “Brazil has a huge liability in degraded areas, and the BJF [green corridor] initiative is a huge outdoor laboratory for ecosystem restoration in the center of the country, in the agricultural frontier region,” said one researcher.

‘A better world is within reach’: Q&A with Greenpeace’s Jennifer Morgan by Rhett A. Butler [02/16/2021]

– Founded more than 50 years ago to protest nuclear testing, Greenpeace has grown to become one of the world’s most influential environmental groups. Greenpeace is best known for its attention-grabbing, non-violent direct actions to pressure companies and governments, but the organization also employs a variety of other tactics, from in-depth research to strategic engagement, to drive change.
– Greenpeace’s power is such that when it mobilizes a campaign against a target around a specific issue, even the mightiest of companies finds it difficult to ignore. This approach has pushed a number of Fortune 500 companies to enact a range of policies, from how they source commodities to how they produce energy. Greenpeace campaigns have pressured governments to disclose data on deforestation, carbon emissions, and fishing practices.
– In an interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler, Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan discussed Greenpeace’s approach, including when it decides to pursue broader cultural change instead of corporate and government targets.
– “While politics and leaders certainly can influence culture and norms, we believe culture has much more influence on politics and leaders,” she said. “Where culture goes, politicians either follow or lose elections, and companies either change or go bankrupt.”



A tale of two seas: Closed season is a mixed bag for Philippine sardines industry by Bong S. Sarmiento [18 Feb 2021]
– Since 2011, the Philippine government has imposed a closed fishing season on various major fishing grounds during the sardine spawning season.
– Implemented during the tail end of the year until March the following year, the closed fishing season has been both a boon and bane for communities.
– In the sardine capital of the Zamboanga Peninsula in the country’s south, the ban has boosted catch sizes for artisanal fishers, while in the Visayan Sea in the central Philippines, catches have dwindled.
– Experts point to different implementations of the fishing ban in the two regions and highlight the need to assess the economic implications of the measures, particularly to marginalized fishers.

Indonesian police may probe coal miners over deforestation-linked floods by Hans Nicholas Jong [18 Feb 2021]
– The Indonesian police say they might investigate coal companies for their alleged role in recent deadly floods that struck southern Borneo.
– Critics accuse the companies of degrading the water catchment in South Kalimantan province through deforestation and sedimentation, which they allege amplified the impact of the rain-fueled floods.
– The government, meanwhile, is under fire for issuing more permits than the previous three administrations.
– Activists warn the environmental degradation in the province will only get worse under a slate of controversial deregulation measures passed by the government last year, which they say caters to coal companies at the expense of the environment.

Wasting away: Sea urchins suffer deformities from plastic chemicals by Claire Wordley [17 Feb 2021]
– Chemicals found both in new plastics and those washed up on a U.K. beach caused deformities in sea urchin larvae, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Pollution.
– Sea urchin larvae raised in water tainted by chemicals found in plastics showed serious deformities; plastics that had never been chemically treated did not cause deformities.
– Chemicals are added to some plastics to enhance their properties, while plastics at sea can accumulate and concentrate chemicals already polluting the oceans.
– Researchers say more needs to be done to prevent plastics from reaching the ocean.

Indigenous community wins recognition of its land rights in Panama by John C. Cannon [17 Feb 2021]
– A ruling by Panama’s Supreme Court of Justice in November 2020 led to the official creation of a comarca, or protected Indigenous territory, for the Naso Tjër Di people in northern Panama.
– The 1,600-square-kilometer (620-square-mile) comarca is the result of a decades-long effort to secure the Naso’s land rights.
– Panama’s former president had vetoed legislation creating the comarca in 2018, which he said was unconstitutional because it overlapped with two established protected areas.
– Other Indigenous groups in Panama with longstanding comarcas still struggle to hold back outside incursions for projects such as dams and power transmission lines.

In the fight to save the vaquita, conservationists take on cartels by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [16 Feb 2021]
– The critically endangered vaquita porpoise, a species endemic to the Sea of Cortez in the Upper Gulf of California in Mexico, is at severe risk of extinction due to illegal gillnet fishing for the critically endangered totoaba fish.
– Andrea Crosta of Earth League International (ELI) says the key to saving the species is arresting all criminals involved in the illegal totoaba trade, while other NGOs work to patrol the Sea of Cortez for illegal gillnet use or to introduce seafood sanctions.
– With only nine vaquita porpoises believed to be left in the world, most experts agree that this year will be critical to the vaquita’s survival.

European public roundly rejects Brazil trade deal unless Amazon protected by Jenny Gonzales [16 Feb 2021]
– The gigantic trade agreement between the European Union and the Mercosur South American bloc (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), if ratified, would be the biggest trade deal in history, totaling US $19 trillion.
– However, an extremely poor environmental record by the Mercosur nations, especially Brazil, has become a stumbling block to clinching the agreement. In new polling 75% of respondents in 12 European nations say the EU-Mercosur trade pact should not be ratified if Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil doesn’t end Amazon deforestation.
– France, the Parliaments of the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium’s Walloon region, have announced they will not endorse the trade pact. The ratification also finds resistance by Ireland and Luxembourg. Portugal’s government appears ready to move forward with ratification without environmental safeguards put in place.

Cat corridors between protected areas is key to survival of Cerrado’s jaguars by Romina Castagnino [16 Feb 2021]
– Only 4% of the jaguar’s critical habitat is effectively protected across the Americas, and in Brazil’s Cerrado biome it’s just 2%.
– A survey in Emas National Park in the Cerrado biome concludes that the protected area isn’t large enough to sustain a viable jaguar population, and that jaguars moving in and out could be exposed to substantial extinction risk in the future.
– The study suggests that improving net immigration may be more important than increasing population sizes in small isolated populations, including by creating dispersal corridors.
– To ensure the corridors’ effectiveness, conservation efforts should focus on resolving the conflict between the jaguars and human communities.

Grim toll from Indonesia’s abandoned mines may get even worse, report warns by Hans Nicholas Jong [16 Feb 2021]
– The proliferation of abandoned mining pits throughout Indonesia has led to the deaths of 168 people, mostly children, from 2014-2020, according to a new report.
– Mining companies are required to fill in and rehabilitate their mining sites after their operations end, but many fail to do so, allowing the pits to fill with rainwater and become a drowning hazard.
– There has also been little to no law enforcement against companies that fail to rehabilitate their mining pits, leaving the families of those killed without any recourse to justice, activists say.
– They warn the problem will only get worse as operations at thousands of mines draw to a close and new deregulation measures undercut environmental and social safeguards.

Zero convictions as impunity blocks justice for victims of Brazil’s rural violence by Daniel Camargos/Repórter Brasil [15 Feb 2021]
– Throughout 2019, the first year of the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, 31 people were killed in a wave of rural violence that activists say was driven by the Brazilian government’s rhetoric.
– Since then, there have been no convictions in any of the cases, and the police are still investigating 19 of the murders; the sole closed case was ruled a drowning, despite evidence of violence against the Indigenous victim.
– Those killed in 2019 were mostly men who lived in Brazil’s Amazonian states, were affiliated with landless workers’ or Indigenous people’s movements, and who died defending their territories.
– “Killers feel they have a license to kill,” says former environment minister Marina Silva. “They listen to the government’s discourse against Indigenous people, environmentalists, extractivist populations, and they feel they’re covered while the victims are helpless and unprotected.”

As forests shrink, mammals are stressed out— with possible fallout for humans by Liz Kimbrough [15 Feb 2021]
– Fur samples collected from small rodents and marsupials in the Atlantic Forest of Paraguay showed that the animals in the smaller forest fragments had elevated levels of stress hormones.
– While small amounts of acute stress can help an animal to get out of a bad situation, prolonged stress levels weaken the immune system, making them more susceptible to disease.
– Pathogen spillover (from animals to humans) seems more likely in all animals that are crowded together in forest fragments and stressed out, underscoring the importance of the One Health approach, which recognizes the connection between human, environment, and animal health.

More meat and playtime can calm your killer kitty by Liz Kimbrough [15 Feb 2021]
– A new study found that feeding cats a grain-free, high-meat-protein diet and engaging in 5 to 10 minutes of daily object play reduce predation by cats by up to 36% and 25%, respectively.
– High densities of cats have been linked to devastating effects on populations of small vertebrates at continental scales including billions of small mammals and birds killed each year in the United States alone.
– Although keeping your cat indoors is the only way to prevent it from hunting, those involved in the study expressed hope that these preventative measures will be simple enough for pet owners with indoor/outdoor cats to adopt, sparing the lives of many small and wild creatures.

500+ experts call on world’s nations to not burn forests to make energy by Justin Catanoso [15 Feb 2021]
– Last week, more than 500 top scientists and economists issued a letter to leaders in the US, EU, Japan, South Korea, and the UK, urging them to stop harvesting and burning forests as a means of making energy in converted coal burning power plants.
– The burning of forest biomass to produce electricity has boomed due to this power source having been tolerated as carbon neutral by the United Nations, which enables nations to burn forest biomass instead of coal and not count the emissions in helping them meet their Paris Climate Agreement carbon reduction targets.
– However, current science says that burning forest biomass is dirtier than burning coal, and that one of the best ways to curb climate change and sequester carbon is to allow forests to keep growing. The EU and UK carbon neutrality designations for forest biomass are erroneous, say the 500 experts who urge a shift in global policy:
– “Governments must end subsidies… for the burning of wood…. The European Union needs to stop treating the burning of biomass as carbon neutral…. Japan needs to stop subsidizing power plants to burn wood. And the United States needs to avoid treating biomass as carbon neutral or low carbon,” says the letter.

‘Hungry’ palm oil, pulpwood firms behind Indonesia land-grab spike: Report by Hans Nicholas Jong [15 Feb 2021]
– Land conflicts in Indonesia escalated in 2020, with palm oil and pulpwood companies taking advantage of movement restrictions to expand aggressively, according to a new report.
– These disputes have historically waned during times of economic downturn, but last year’s increase was driven by “land-hungry” companies, according to the NGO Consortium for Agrarian Reform (KPA).
– Most of the conflicts involved palm oil and pulpwood companies, while infrastructure developments backed by the government were also a major contributor.

Researchers urge better protection as wetlands continue to vanish by Morgan Erickson-Davis [13 Feb 2021]
– Wetlands provide many benefits to ecological and human communities alike, from nutrients and nurseries to flood control and climate change mitigation.
– However, as much as 87% of the world’s wetlands has been lost over the past 300 years, with much of this loss happening after 1900.
– In response, nations banded together and in 1971 ratified the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty designed to facilitate wetland conservation and sustainable use around the world.
– But 50 years on, researchers say the convention has not led to effective protection and wetlands continue to blink out.

As Bahamas offshore project falls flat, oil driller island-hops across Caribbean by Malavika Vyawahare [12 Feb 2021]
– Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC), which started oil exploration in Bahamian waters last December despite opposition from environmental groups, has failed to find commercially viable reserves.
– An exploratory well the company drilled between Dec. 20 and Feb. 7, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from the Florida coast, will now be sealed and abandoned.
– It is not clear if BPC has stopped its drilling activities for good, but activists are calling for a permanent ban on oil drilling in Bahamian waters.
– BPC said it would now focus its activities on Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname, where heavyweights like ExxonMobil and Total already have a presence.

Nearly one-third of all oak species threatened with extinction, report says by Liz Kimbrough [12 Feb 2021]
– Nearly one-third of all oak species (31%) are considered threatened with extinction, according to a new report.
– Of all 430 species of oaks, the highest number of species under threat are found in China, Mexico, Vietnam, and the United States, respectively.
– Globally, agriculture poses the biggest threat to oaks. Urban development, climate change, invasive species, plant diseases, and human disturbance have also strained oaks globally. And in Latin America, which has the highest number of endemic oak species, the use of oak for charcoal is a threat.
– Many of the threats to oaks must be tackled with “transformative systemic change,” but individual actions such as monitoring the oaks in your area, donating to local conservation NGOs, spreading awareness, and switching to more efficient fuels and stoves that do not rely on charcoal could relieve some of the pressures on threatened species.

The controversial hunt for a multibillion-dollar treasure in a Chilean park by Barinia Montoya [12 Feb 2021]
– The treasure is thought to consist of 800 barrels of gold coins, jewels and precious stones, and is estimated to be worth $10 billion.
– In 2020, crews searching for the treasure began to use backhoes, causing erosion in Archipiélago de Juan Fernández National Park in the Pacific Ocean west of Chile.
– The crews began using heavy machinery without an environmental impact evaluation because SEA, the government’s Environmental Evaluation Service, dismissed the need for one.

Southeast Asian wild pigs confront deadly African swine fever epidemic by John C. Cannon [12 Feb 2021]
– A recent study in the journal Conservation Letters warns that African swine fever, responsible for millions of pig deaths in mainland Asia since 2018, now endangers 11 wild pig species living in Southeast Asia.
– These pig species generally have low populations naturally, and their numbers have dwindled further due to hunting and loss of habitat.
– The authors of the study contend that losing these species could hurt local economies and food security.
– Southeast Asia’s wild pigs are also important ecosystem engineers that till the soil and encourage plant life, and they are prey for critically endangered predators such as the Sumatran tiger and the Javan leopard.

‘What’s at stake is the life of every being’: Saving the Brazilian Cerrado by Peter Yeung [11 Feb 2021]
– The Cerrado boasts a third of Brazil’s biodiversity and is the largest savanna in South America with 44% of its 10,000 species of plants endemic. And yet, since the colonial period, this semi-arid region was largely ignored, and has even been portrayed as an “infertile, uninhabited region,” nothing more than “a place between places.”
– That all changed over recent decades with agribusiness declaring the Cerrado to be Brazil’s last great agricultural frontier. Today, half of the vast savanna which covers two million square kilometers (770,000 square miles) has been converted to crops of soy, cotton, corn and eucalyptus, or to pasture covered in massive cattle herds.
– As the savanna has been lost, its communities have simultaneously risen to save what’s left. The National Campaign in Defense of the Cerrado, launched in January 2016, has fought an uphill political battle to preserve the region’s native vegetation and biodiversity. The effort has grown more dogged during the Bolsonaro presidency.
– Working with Indigenous and traditional peoples, the organization is striving to build global awareness of the Cerrado’s natural significance and to get more of the region declared as World Heritage sites. “Defending the Cerrado is defending its people,” declares one activist.

Women and girls: Let’s transform the ocean by including everyone (commentary) by Leandra Gonçalves, Paulina Chamorro [11 Feb 2021]
– On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, co-founders of the international, Brazil-born Women’s League for the Ocean (Liga) say the healthy future of our planet’s oceans requires the indispensable presence of women in positions of leadership.
– Liga is an international women’s network co-founded by a journalist, a photographer and a scientist that seeks to be part of a movement that empowers women to engage in actions to protect the ocean – from a feminine perspective.
– The more than 2,600 global members of Liga includes scientists, activists, sportswomen, photographers, documentary filmmakers, NGO leaders and journalists.
– Liga’s founders say they want their work to contribute toward healing humanity’s interdependent relationship with the ocean, and promote more sustainable practices from their network outward. This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.



Brazil flower-gatherers win acclaim: ‘Efficient, long-lasting, resilient’ by Thais Borges and Sue Branford [02/08/2021]
With shared knowledge, ‘we could build a new world’: Q&A with Lisbet Rausing by Rhett A. Butler [02/08/2021]
Investigation: Dutch, Japanese pension funds pay for Amazon deforestation by Fernanda Wenzel, Naira Hofmeister, Pedro Papini from ((O))ECO [02/05/2021]
Fewer than 100 of these giant whales make up a newly described species by Teresa L. Carey [02/04/2021]