Newsletter 2021-03-18



Cambodians fight the ‘cancer’ eating away at Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary by Gerald Flynn, Phoung Vantha [03/18/2021]

– Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected area in eastern Cambodia and is home to some of the country’s last large tracts of old-growth rainforest, as well as endangered wildlife and Indigenous communities.
– Like many of Cambodia’s protected areas, Prey Lang is beset by Illegal logging; satellite data show deforestation, which dropped for two years after Prey Lang was gazetted as a protected area in 2016, has been rising quickly since 2019.
– Sources say timber companies are behind the illegal logging in Prey Lang, and that the situation is being facilitated by government corruption and international complicity.
– Meanwhile, environmental activists say they are being jailed for documenting illegal logging operations in Prey Lang and silenced when speaking out against deforestation.

Podcast: Sumatran conservation solutions that empower kids, women and communities by [03/17/2021]

– The giant Indonesian island of Sumatra faces many environmental challenges, but there is also tremendous hope and good progress thanks to the work of educators and activists like those on our podcast this week.
– Farwiza Farhan is the founder of Forest, Nature & Environment Aceh (HAkA) which works to protect the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, by empowering communities in general and women in particular with trainings and opportunities that inspire them to protect their forests.
– Pungky Nanda Pratama also joins the show to describe how through the Jungle Library Project & Sumatra Camera Trap Project he works to open the eyes of kids to the need for protecting their fabulous natural heritage.
– This is the final installment in our special 10 episode podcast series about the astounding natural richness–and huge conservation challenges–of Sumatra.

King Coal: How Indonesia became the fossil fuel’s final frontier by Nithin Coca [03/17/2021]

– Since 2000, Indonesia has transformed from a bit player in the global coal industry to a leading exporter and consumer of the fuel.
– While much of the world is shifting away from coal due to its contribution to global warming and water and air pollution, Indonesia’s government is taking steps that further entrench the country’s production and consumption of coal, and that make it difficult for alternative energy sources to gain a foothold.
– Proponents of coal in Indonesia’s government, including politicians who own shares in coal companies, point to the role coal plays in Indonesia’s economy and in promoting energy independence.

Traditional healers are preserving their knowledge, and with it, the biodiversity of Brazil’s savanna by Sarah Sax [03/12/2021]

– The Brazilian savanna contains almost a third of Brazil’s biodiversity but less than 10% is officially protected and its native vegetation is threatened by a rapidly-advancing agricultural frontier.
– Much of the flora and fauna remain unknown to conventional science.
– A network of traditional healers is at the forefront of finding ways to protect, sustainably manage, and document the biodiversity based on their in-depth knowledge of medicinal plants.
– Experts say that finding ways to value the savanna more, such as through recognizing its immense botanical and pharmacological value, could aid in its conservation.

Déjà vu as palm oil industry brings deforestation, pollution to Amazon by Karla Mendes [03/12/2021]

– Palm oil, a crop synonymous with deforestation and community conflicts in Southeast Asia, is making inroads in the Brazilian Amazon, where the same issues are playing out.
– Indigenous and traditional communities say the plantations in their midst are polluting their water, poisoning their soil, and driving away fish and game.
– Scientists have found high levels of agrochemical residues in these communities — though still within Brazil’s legal limits — while prosecutors are pursuing legal cases against the companies for allegedly violating Indigenous and traditional communities’ rights and damaging the environment.
– Studies based on satellite imagery also disprove the companies’ claims that they only plant on already deforested land.



Hope blooms for an ‘extinct’ Sri Lankan tree that reemerged under threat by Malaka Rodrigo [18 Mar 2021]
– The rediscovery of a Sri Lankan legume tree (Crudia zeylanica) in 2019 was rare good news of a species still surviving despite being declared extinct years earlier.
– But that tree is now threatened by a road project, prompting an outcry from conservationists, the general public, and even Buddhist monks, who anointed it in a ritual meant to discourage anyone from cutting it down.
– There’s still hope for the species, however, with botanists finding C. zeylanica specimens in six other locations and managing to germinate its seeds in a lab.
– The botanist responsible for the tree’s rediscovery, Himesh Dilruwan Jayasinghe, also rediscovered two other plant species declared extinct in Sri Lanka’s 2012 red list; an update to the red list is due in the next few weeks.

JBS, other Brazil meatpackers linked to devastating Pantanal fires, Greenpeace says by Ashoka Mukpo [17 Mar 2021]
– A new report by Greenpeace says that JBS, Marfrig and Minerva sourced cattle from ranches in the Pantanal where fires were illegally set last year.
– A Denmark-sized area of the Pantanal — 4.5 million hectares — burned between July and December in what researchers described as an “unprecedented disaster.”
– Of 15 ranches where satellite data showed fire activity, 13 were operated by “tier-one” suppliers to the three companies.

Threats loom large over Amazon’s Arrau turtles, despite record number of hatchlings by Suzana Camargo [17 Mar 2021]
– The Amazonian Chelonian Program counted 120,000 Arrau turtle hatchlings (Podocnemis expansa) in Cantão State Park in Brazil’s Tocantins state last year, a 300% increase from just four years earlier.
– But researchers also noticed changes in nesting behavior, including the choice of a new nesting beach, and eggs buried deeper in the sand.
– They suspect nearby fires forced the turtles to find a new nesting site, and warn of a potential gender imbalance in the population if the turtles continue to bury their eggs deeper.
– Other threats to the species include plans to widen the Araguaia and Tocantins rivers for freight ships, and the main problem that has plagued the species for centuries: hunting for human consumption.

Brazil’s isolated tribes in the crosshairs of miners targeting Indigenous lands by Hyury Potter and Fabio Bispo [17 Mar 2021]
– The Amazônia Minada reporting project has revealed 1,265 pending requests to mine in Indigenous territories in Brazil, including restricted lands that are home to isolated tribes.
– Brazil’s federal agency for Indigenous affairs, Funai, holds 114 reports of isolated tribes, of which 43 are within Indigenous lands targeted by mining.
– In addition to the spread of diseases such as COVID-19 and malaria, mining activity poses health threats from the mercury used in gold extraction, which contaminates rivers and fish.
– Indigenous groups have filed a lawsuit with Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court against the government, demanding protection for isolated Indigenous peoples.

As Arctic sea ice hits annual maximum, concern grows over polar ice loss: Studies by Gloria Dickie [16 Mar 2021]
– Arctic sea ice reaches its annual maximum extent in March. But while ice extent is high this year, scientists are far more concerned by the drastic loss of sea ice volume, which continues its steady decline.
– A new study has documented drastic ice loss in both the north and south polar regions; scientists found that the single biggest reduction came from Arctic sea ice — the Earth lost 7.6 trillion metric tons of it in the last three decades.
– Another new study shows that the last bastion of old, thick multiyear ice in the Arctic, north of Greenland and Ellesmere Island, is diminishing as the stability of the Nares ice arches declines — blockages which work like a cork in a bottle to stop multiyear ice from flowing out into the Atlantic.
– Meanwhile, researchers warn about the urgent need for new Arctic monitoring satellites. Currently there is just one in operation, the DMSP-F18 satellite, and it has already been in orbit more than a decade. Its failure could leave researchers blind and disrupt an Arctic ice database continuous back to 1978.

Peatland on fire again as burning season starts in Indonesia by Hans Nicholas Jong [16 Mar 2021]
– Indonesia’s annual fire season has started again, with hotspots detected in 10 provinces.
– Some of the fires have been detected in protected areas with large swaths of peatland.
– The government says it’s preparing to carry out cloud seeding to induce rainfall in affected areas.
– However, environmentalists have called for more traditional methods of law enforcement to prevent fires breaking out in the first place.

Freight train project that railroads Indigenous rights still on track by Jennifer Ann Thomas [16 Mar 2021]
– A controversial project to build a rail line for transporting soybeans and other commodities through Indigenous lands in the Brazilian Amazon may get its environmental license as soon as April.
– Prosecutors in the state of Pará, where the line will terminate at the Miritituba river port, have filed a court request for a suspension of the project until prior consultation with the affected Indigenous communities have been carried out.
– The request seeks to challenge the project on its economic viability, with prosecutors arguing that without detailed data on costs and compensation measures, there is no way of knowing how the project will impact on public coffers.
– This is the first time that prosecutors have highlighted a project’s viability to seek its suspension.

Dying of curiosity: Why people shoot harpy eagles by Claire Wordley [16 Mar 2021]
– A recent study in the Journal of Raptor Research collected records of harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) persecution across Central and South America.
– They found 132 documented cases of people killing the birds in 11 of the 18 countries in the species’ range.
– Researchers say that curiosity and a desire to see the birds up close is a major reason that people shoot the birds, followed by fears that they may threaten livestock, hunting of the eagles for meat, and capturing them for the illegal wildlife trade.
– Conservationists have established programs trying to protect the birds in several countries across the harpy’s range, but these projects often suffer from a lack of funds.

Brazil must do more to protect its people, forests, and the planet (commentary) by Steve Trent [15 Mar 2021]
– Amid skyrocketing deforestation and destruction of Brazil’s natural environment, the Bolsonaro government is weakening climate commitments and rolling back domestic environmental protections, driving Brazil’s people and the planet ‘off a cliff.’
– This destruction threatens Indigenous communities, wildlife and the global climate, and it is also unpopular in Brazil, as it threatens the country’s economic standing, with reports emerging that rampant deforestation is blocking Brazil’s accession to the OECD.
– Urgent solutions to this existential threat for irreplaceable biomes include stronger climate targets, restoration of effective environmental legislation, and international pressure on the Bolsonaro government.
– This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

New age of sail looks to slash massive maritime carbon emissions by Andrew Willner [15 Mar 2021]
– If ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. International shipping accounts for about 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. International Maritime Organization.
– But change is on the way. Wind, solar electric, and hydrogen-powered ships offer innovative low- or no-carbon alternatives to fossil fuel-powered cargo vessels, with wind about to make a huge comeback in shipping, say experts. New experimental sail designs include hard sails, rotating vertical cylinders, and even kites.
– Today, startup companies like Fair Transport (with its retrofitted wooden vessels Tres Hombres and Nordlys); modest sized proof-of-concept firms, with purpose-built vessels like Grain de Sail; and large cargo ship retrofits and purpose-built vessels like Neoline’s new large cargo vessels, are starting to address CO2 emissions.
– Through the late 1940s, huge steel sailing ships carried cargos on some ocean routes. By 2030 — less than 100 years since the end of the last great era of sail — fossil fuel-powered cargo vessels may give way to high- and (s)low-tech sailing ships thanks to a revolution in energy technology, that reduces shipping costs with less emissions.

Thailand’s Indigenous Peoples fight for ‘land of our heart’ (commentary) by Pirawan Wongnithisathaporn, Thomas Worsdell [15 Mar 2021]
– Thailand’s legal frameworks for biodiversity conservation and international climate commitments omit the important role that its Indigenous Peoples play as stewards of the environment.
– A militarized conservation approach has seen Indigenous communities evicted from their ancestral lands, prosecuted for enacting traditional practices, and even assaulted and killed.
– At the heart of the problem is lack of legal recognition of Indigenous groups, and therefore a refusal to grant them tenure rights.
– This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Palm oil conflicts persist amid lack of resolution in Indonesian Borneo by Hans Nicholas Jong [15 Mar 2021]
– Efforts to resolve land conflicts between palm oil companies and local communities in western Indonesian Borneo have largely failed, with many disputes festering for more than a decade, a new study shows.
– Of 32 conflicts analyzed, 66% haven’t been resolved, even though 72% have been mediated by local governments, lawmakers and police.
– The researchers say the authorities tend to not enforce the law on companies and have instead tended to take a harder line on community members protesting against the companies.
– The study also found that other avenues of redress for the community, such as filing a complaint with certification bodies like the RSPO, remain underutilized because of complicated procedures and a lack of trust in institutions.

Pig nest-building promotes tree diversity in tropical forest: Study by John C. Cannon [15 Mar 2021]
– New research from a tropical forest in Malaysia reveals that wild pigs, better known for their destructive tendencies on farms and in ecosystems, may actually help encourage tree diversity in forests.
– Expectant mother pigs will build nests amid clumps of saplings, which are usually from a set of tree species common to the forest.
– When the sow kills these saplings for the nest, she’s effectively providing a check on any one species becoming dominant in the forest.
– The research demonstrates the benefits that pigs can bring to forest health, but they also note that pig populations that grow too numerous could — and do, in places — keep the forest from regenerating.

The Hungry Mills: How palm oil mills drive deforestation (commentary) by Rob McWilliam [12 Mar 2021]
– In this commentary, Earthworm Foundation’s Rob McWilliam argues that palm oil mills are playing a large role in driving the palm oil industry’s destruction of the world’s rainforests, and that this role is often ignored.
– McWilliam writes that new research shows how to end the damage palm oil mills are causing.
– This article is a commentary and the views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Scaling up tree nurseries is key to unlocking U.S. reforestation potential: Study by Mike Gaworecki [12 Mar 2021]
– Restoring forests in areas where they once stood is an important step toward halting climate change.
– Across the 48 states of the continental U.S., there is enough land to plant forests that could sequester the equivalent of about 5% of the greenhouse gases the country emitted in 2019.
– But to take advantage of just half of that carbon sequestration potential over the next couple decades, the country’s tree nurseries will need to more than double production in order to supply an additional 1.7 billion seedlings every year, a recent study found.
– The study also highlighted the need to develop a workforce capable of producing and planting 30 billion trees over the next two decades, something the authors say could be built into post-pandemic economic recovery measures.

When a tree falls in the forest, it’s the birds that don’t make a sound, study finds by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [12 Mar 2021]
– A new study evaluated soundscape saturation in a tropical forest in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, before, during and after selective logging activities.
– It found that animal sounds promptly dropped after selective logging, but that the soundscape would recover after about a year. But two or three years after logging, soundscape saturation diminished again.
– Insects appeared to be less affected by selective logging than birds, the study found.
– Another expert not involved in the study says more realistic findings would have been obtained by recording the sounds from random locations in the forest instead of at the specific logging sites.

Rare black jaguars caught on camera in Panama by Yvette Sierra Praeli [12 Mar 2021]
– Two melanistic jaguars have been documented by camera traps in Panama’s Mamoní Valley.
– Researcher Kimberly Craighead with the Kaminando—Habitat Connectivity Initiative working there says they have identified 15 individual jaguars in the area, which is covered in primary and secondary forest.
– In addition to the two melanistic animals there, the team knows of three others elsewhere in Panama.
– Melanism is thought to be caused by habitat characteristics, particularly humidity: studies indicate that it occurs more frequently in humid forests.

Conservation actions see Iberian lynx claw back from brink of extinction by Johan Augustin [12 Mar 2021]
– By 2002, the Iberian lynx was extinct in its native Portugal and down to fewer than 100 animals in Spain, well on track to becoming the first cat species to go extinct since the saber-toothed tiger 12,000 years ago.
– But a battery of conservation measures targeting the wide range of threats to the species has seen it bounce back from the brink, with a wild population today of around 1,000.
– Reintroduction of captive-bred lynx has been complemented by rewilding of historical lynx ranges, along with boosting of prey species and the creation of wildlife corridors and highway tunnels to reduce deaths from road collisions.
– The species is one of a handful highlighted in a study showing how targeted conservation solutions can save species from going extinct, although threats still remain, including climate change.

Amid South China Sea dispute, Philippines’ Palawan is besieged by political split by Criselda Yabes, Leilani Chavez [12 Mar 2021]
– The Philippine province of Palawan is set to decide on a law that will divide the province into three: Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental and Palawan del Sur.
– Palawan stands on the Philippines’ western border and is the country’s sentinel in the maritime dispute in the South China Sea.
– Anti-division groups have raised concerns that the split will weaken the implementation and management of environmental programs Palawan has been known for, and in the process, endanger the province’s already threatened ecology.
– Palawan’s marine ecosystems have been under constant threat from illegal fishing and poaching by foreign vessels encroaching on its waters.

Sri Lanka’s budding biologists get their science on with iNaturalist by Malaka Rodrigo [11 Mar 2021]
– iNaturalist, a global citizen science platform where users collaborate to identify uploaded photos of fauna and flora, saw its observations from Sri Lanka hit the 50,000 mark, the second-highest in South Asia and 14th in Asia.
– Sri Lanka’s first observation was uploaded in 2011, but it was only in the past two years that a significant increase in observations were recorded, with more young naturalists getting involved in the global initiative.
– The country’s iNaturalist observations have already led to the identification of a range of overlooked species, proving the tool’s successful use in processing field observations.

Developing nations pay for rich countries’ hunger for healthy, exotic food by Malavika Vyawahare [11 Mar 2021]
– A new study shows that high-income countries place enormous demands on developing countries’ by importing crops that rely heavily on pollinators.
– The researchers apply the principle of Virtual Water, where goods are seen not just as movements of things but also of raw materials and services, in this case of pollinators.
– A growing demand in places like the U.S. and Europe for healthier diets, rich in fruits and beans, is also putting pressure on scarce pollination services.
– Pollination services may be free, but there are hidden costs to maintaining them, and it is communities in developing countries who pay them, the study suggests.

Never mind the mercury: Indonesia says coal ash isn’t hazardous by Basten Gokkon [11 Mar 2021]
– The Indonesian government has taken fly ash and bottom ash from coal burning out of its list of hazardous waste.
– The distinction is crucial as the handling of “hazardous” waste is subject to different and far more stringent regulations than non-hazardous waste.
– The delisting comes in response to lobbying efforts by industry groups, which want to be allowed to sell coal ash to the construction industry.
– Indonesia is one of the world’s top coal producers, and the fossil fuel accounts for the majority of the country’s power generation.



The Covid-19 question: How do we prevent future pandemics? by Jeremy Hance [03/09/2021]
Rewilding public lands in Patagonia and beyond: Q&A with Kris Tompkins by Rhett A. Butler [03/09/2021]
Slash-and-burn farming eats away at a Madagascar haven for endangered lemurs, frogs by Edward Carver [03/02/2021]