Newsletter 2021-04-01



East Africa deploys huge volumes of ‘highly hazardous’ pesticides against locust plague by Leopold Salzenstein [04/01/2021]

– More than 95% of pesticides now being used in East Africa to fight locust swarms are scientifically proven to cause harm to humans and other organisms such as birds and fish.
– Half of the anti-locust pesticides delivered in East Africa since the beginning of the infestation in late 2019 contain chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to brain damage in children and fetuses, which is banned in the EU.- Experts including a former FAO official concede the pesticides being used “are not pleasant things,” but say the lack of safer alternatives and the intensity of the locust plague leave them with little choice.

Mixed fates for captive elephants sent back to villages amid Thai tourism collapse by Carolyn Cowan [04/01/2021]

– With tourism collapsing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2,700 captive elephants used for tourism purposes in Thailand faced a crisis.
– Many elephants and their keepers trekked back to their owners’ native villages, where it was hoped they could forage naturally. Others remained in camps, often in chains and with fewer staff to care for them.
– The welfare of elephants in villages depends greatly on the amount of intact forest available to them. But experts say welfare monitoring is difficult.
– Campaigners are calling on the Thai government and tourism industry to make systemic changes to improve conditions and reduce the number of elephants used for tourism.

‘What other country would do this to its people?’ Cambodian land grab victims seek int’l justice by Gerald Flynn, Phoung Vantha [04/01/2021]

– The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in 2014 estimated that at least 770,000 people had been affected by land grabs that cover some 4 million hectares of land. Sources say Indigenous communities are more adversely affected by land grabs because the land is often central to their animist beliefs and their livelihoods, and they are even less likely to be afforded justice than ethnically Khmer victims.
– FIDH, along with Global Witness and Climate Counsel, submitted an open letter dated March 16 to Fatou Bensouda, the current prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging her to open a preliminary examination into land-grabbing in Cambodia.
– International lawyer Philippe Sands and Florence Mumba – a judge at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – announced they were drafting a definition of ecocide to be included on the list of international crimes that includes such atrocities as genocide and crimes against humanity. Their definition is expected early this year and could mean perpetrators of environmental destruction could be brought to international justice.
– As recently as June last year, the World Bank announced another $93 million would go to fund the third phase of its land tenure project in Cambodia, despite mounting allegations of abuse within the system that has led critics to accuse the World Bank of being complicit in land grabbing and the environmental damage it has caused.

Madagascar: Businesses drive disappearance of a wetland ‘reed forest’ by Rivonala Razafison [03/31/2021]

– Lake Alaotra and its surrounding marshes are Madagascar’s largest wetland, a Ramsar Site that is home to globally significant biodiversity.
– Despite layers of legal protection and conservation programming, around 850 hectares (2,100 acres) of marsh disappear each year to make way for rice cultivation, much of it perpetrated by businesses.
– Local people are keenly feeling the lake’s decline, though, and a commitment to protecting it, along with some success stories, persist in pockets around its shores.
– The government is implementing a zero-tolerance campaign against illegal environmental destruction, but it remains to be seen whether this can reduce the lawlessness and impunity enough to safeguard the lake.

In Sumatra, a vulnerable, ‘mythical’ wild goat lives an unknown life by Ian Morse [03/31/2021]

– The Sumatran serow, a sub-species of the Capricornis sumatraensis goat-antelope, is an animal that’s little-studied and little-understood, according to the handful of researchers interested in it.
– Scientists don’t know its eating habits or its social organization, have very few photos or videos of it, and have rarely recorded any direct sightings of the elusive animal.
– The serow shares the same habitat as better-known species such as the Sumatran tiger and the sun bear, but hasn’t attracted anywhere close to the same level of funding for research and conservation activities as these other, “charismatic” animals.
– Ostensibly protected under Indonesian law, the serow continues to be hunted for food and for traditional medicine, although researchers say there’s a growing awareness among communities about the need to conserve the species.

Global forest loss increases in 2020 by Rhett A. Butler [03/31/2021]

– The planet lost an area of tree cover larger than the United Kingdom in 2020, including more than 4.2 million hectares of primary tropical forests, according to data released today by the University of Maryland.
– Tree cover loss rose in both the tropics and temperate regions, but the rate of increase in loss was greatest in primary tropical forests, led by rising deforestation and incidence of fire in the Amazon, Earth’s largest rainforest.
– The data, which is now available on World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch, indicate that forest loss remained persistently high in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, but “does not show obvious, systemic shifts in forest loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to WRI.
– Destruction of primary tropical forests, the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems, released 2.64 billion tons of carbon, an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of 570 million cars.

Brazil prosecutors cite Mongabay probe in new legal battle against palm oil firms by Karla Mendes [03/26/2021]

– Prosecutors in Brazil say they will use findings from an investigation by Mongabay as evidence to hold a palm oil company accountable for water contamination in an Indigenous reserve in the Amazon.
– The move comes as prosecutors filed an appeal March 26 against a ruling blocking a forensic investigation into water contamination from pesticide use by Biopalma that has impacted the Tembé people of the Turé-Mariquita Indigenous Reserve in Pará state.
– Mongabay’s 18-month investigation, published March 12, revealed evidence of this pollution as well as similar cases involving two other top Brazilian palm oil companies, pointing to a potentially industry-wide pattern of disregard for Amazon conservation and for the rights of Indigenous people and traditional communities.
– The investigation also revealed the clearing of native forests for oil palm cultivation, as shown through satellite imagery, contradicting claims by the companies and the government that oil palm crops are planted only on already deforested land.

Chinese ‘fishing fleet’ anchored on Philippine reef raises tensions by Leilani Chavez [03/26/2021]

– More than 200 Chinese fishing vessels were spotted anchored at Whitsun Reef, a disputed territory in the South China Sea, in early March, sparking tensions in the Philippines, which lays claim to the area.
– Satellite images released today show, however, that the vessels, in varying numbers, have been in Whitsun since December last year.
– The fishing vessels were not seen conducting fishing activities, and their continuing presence there raises fears that the posturing may be a prelude to the type of island-building China is known to conduct in the South China Sea.
– It’s not the first time Chinese fishing vessels have triggered international consternation: Last year, a Chinese fleet loitered at the border of the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador, while another in Malaysian waters prompted the U.S. and Australia to send out their warships in the South China Sea.



Mongabay’s What To Watch list for April 2021 by [01 Apr 2021]
– In March, Mongabay’s coverage from Latin America took a deep look at the conflicts surrounding the expansion of palm oil in Brazil.
– We published multiple videos from Southeast Asia focused on dam expansion in the Philippines.
– Our coverage of interesting species continued through our Candid Animal Cam series and through an animated video on the critically endangered Sumatran rhino.

Can palm oil be grown sustainably? Agroforestry research suggests it can, and without chemicals by Erik Hoffner [31 Mar 2021]
– Oil palms are typically grown in large monocultures worldwide, and aside from the deforestation these plantations are typically associated with, water pollution from heavy chemical application is another problem.
– But must oil palms be grown in monocultures with heavy chemical inputs to produce a profitable crop? Mongabay asked a researcher in Brazil about his group’s findings indicating that they do not.
– Using an ecologically friendly agroforestry system, the researchers have demonstrated higher yields on 18 demonstration farms: 180 kg of fresh fruit bunches per plant, compared with 139 kg per plant from monocultures.
– By growing oil palms in an agroforestry system among other useful and profitable crops–like açaí and passionfruit plus timber trees like mahogany and fertilizer trees plus annuals like cassava–farmers have more crops to eat and sell, enjoy greater resilience to palm oil price variations, and can make a competitive profit without using toxic and expensive chemicals.

Logging company moves into intact Gabon forest as village fights to save it by Benjamin Evine-Binet [31 Mar 2021]
– Transport Bois Négoce International (TBNI), a Chinese forestry company, has built new roads in preparation to cut timber in a concession which includes a previously unlogged forest in northeastern Gabon.
– Residents of the village of Massaha, on the northern edge of this forest, have been managing hunting and other use of this forest since 2019; they formally requested reclassification of the forest as a protected area in August 2020.
– Gabon’s forest code makes explicit provision for local communities to initiate reclassification of sensitive forest as a protected area, and villagers are anxious for the government to respond before TBNI advances any further.

New map shows where the 80% of species we don’t know about may be hiding by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [31 Mar 2021]
– A new study maps out the regions of the world most likely to hold the highest number of species unknown to science.
– The study found that tropical forests in countries like Brazil, Indonesia, Madagascar and Colombia had the highest potential for undescribed species, mostly reptiles and amphibians.
– According to the lead researcher, the main reason for species going undescribed is a lack of funding and taxonomic experts in some parts of the world.
– He added that it’s essential to learn about as many species as possible to protect them, but that undescribed species are currently not taken into account by governing bodies like the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Only 6.5% of global forests are adequately protected, study finds by Liz Kimbrough [31 Mar 2021]
– Designating land as a protected area (PA) reduces, but does not stop, deforestation, according to a recent study that found rates of deforestation are only 41% lower in PAs compared to non-PAs.
– After adjusting for PA effectiveness, they found that only 6.5% of forests are adequately protected — a far cry from the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) Aichi Target of 17%.
– Larger PAs had higher levels of deforestation. Africa, Europe and South America had the highest rate of forest loss within PAs. When the effectiveness of PAs was considered, China had the lowest percentage of truly protected lands.
– As new CBD targets are negotiated, the authors, along with other scientists, propose that new targets and PA establishment include quality measures. The current targets have created “a policy incentive to value total PA area above PA effectiveness,” the paper says.

Study sounds latest warning of rainforest turning into savanna as climate warms by Malavika Vyawahare [31 Mar 2021]
– A recent study from Brazil shows that heat stress is disrupting a critical component of photosynthesis in tree species found in the Amazon and Cerrado belt.
– Leaves heat up faster than the ambient air, and sufficiently high temperatures can cause irreversible damage to them and endanger the tree.
– The area has become hotter in recent decades and faced increasingly intense heat waves, fueled not just by global warming but also local deforestation.
– Tropical forests could look more and more like deciduous forests or savannas in the future, which are better adapted to deal with higher temperatures, the study found.

Deforestation surge threatens endangered species in Tanintharyi, Myanmar by Morgan Erickson-Davis [30 Mar 2021]
– The Tanintharyi region of Myanmar boasts remote, unique forests that provide vital habitat for endangered species found nowhere else in the world.
– But deforestation is mounting in the region, with satellite data showing a surge in tree cover loss so far in 2021.
– Research suggests plantation expansion and small farms have been increasingly eating into native forest over the past couple decades.
– The recent surge in forest loss also coincides with military attacks on Tanintharyi Karen communities, which reportedly have displaced thousands of people who have nowhere to go but into the forest.

Rivers can be climate change solutions, too (commentary) by Michele Thieme [30 Mar 2021]
– The usual avenues for addressing and adapting to climate change–like protecting forests and ramping up clean energy sources–typically overlook one powerful solution: rivers.
– Rivers and their floodplains have the potential to act as shock absorbers to climate change, and are powerful agents for keeping wildlife and communities healthy and resilient.
– The most effective climate action plans will account for this and incorporate rivers into their plans for a climate-resilient future, argues Michele Thieme, a freshwater scientist at World Wildlife Fund.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

The nine boundaries humanity must respect to keep the planet habitable by Claire Asher [30 Mar 2021]
– All life on Earth, and human civilization, are sustained by vital biogeochemical systems, which are in delicate balance. However, our species — due largely to rapid population growth and explosive consumption — is destabilizing these Earth processes, endangering the stability of the “safe operating space for humanity.”
– Scientists note nine planetary boundaries beyond which we can’t push Earth Systems without putting our societies at risk: climate change, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol pollution, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows of nitrogen and phosphorus, land-system change, and release of novel chemicals.
– Humanity is already existing outside the safe operating space for at least four of the nine boundaries: climate change, biodiversity, land-system change, and biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus imbalance). The best way to prevent overshoot, researchers say, is to revamp our energy and food systems.
– In 2021, three meetings offer chances to avoid planetary boundary overshoot: the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Kunming, China; the U.N. Climate Summit (COP26) in Glasgow, U.K.; and the U.N. Food Systems Summit in Rome. Agreements with measurable, implementable, verifiable, timely and binding targets are vital, say advocates.

African swine fever rips through parts of southern Indonesia by Ebed de Rosary [29 Mar 2021]
– An outbreak of African swine fever has flared up in the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara, officials say, killing tens of thousands of pigs.
– The island of Flores, famous for its Komodo dragons, is particularly hard hit, with a single district there losing up to 40% of its pigs.
– An official with a local nonprofit working with farmers and fishers says the death toll may be far higher because many pig farmers aren’t reporting the deaths of their animals to authorities.
– The swine flu outbreak also threatens Southeast Asia’s various wild pig species, many of which are rare and endangered.

Battle at the bat box: Camera trap captures ocelot standoff in restored forest by Liz Kimbrough [29 Mar 2021]
– Rare camera trap footage from Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula captured a tense standoff between an ocelot and a coati. Another video shows an opossum making a daring escape.
– These standoffs occurred at the entrance of bat boxes, built to attract bats to an area that was once cattle pasture and is now being restored back into a forest by the NGO Osa Conservation.
– The bat boxes were installed as part of an ongoing reforestation experiment. Plots of land were planted with different ratios of balsa, a fast-growing, pioneer tree species, and other native trees, while some plots were left alone.
– The bat boxes are among “rewilding elements” aimed to recreate some of the habitat complexity seen in a more mature forest such as large cavities in trees and fallen logs. Habitat complexity brings in more diverse wildlife, which can spread seeds and control pests, aiding forest restoration.

Surge in seizures of giant clam shells has Philippine conservationists wary by Keith Fabro [29 Mar 2021]
– Philippine authorities seized 324 pieces of giant clam shells weighing a combined 80 tons in the province of Palawan on March 3.
– The seizure brings to more than 150 tons the amount of giant clam shells confiscated from traffickers in the past six months in Palawan, the only place in the Philippines where the remaining original wild species was found.
– Giant clam shells, virtually extinct in the Philippines just a few decades ago and brought back through repopulation efforts, are heavily poached as a replacement for ivory, with China as the biggest export market.
– With little data on the poaching of giant clams, it’s hard to say if the trend is driven by the pandemic-triggered lockdown, experts say, but the increase in seizures shows enforcement measures are paying off, they add.

Bolsonaro govt wanted to ‘run the cattle’ through environmental protections. It was a stampede by Suzana Camargo [29 Mar 2021]
– The government of President Jair Bolsonaro accelerated its agenda of environmental deregulation during the COVID-19 pandemic, issuing a slew of measures weakening existing protections and slashing the amount of fines imposed on violators.
– Bolsonaro’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, had made the plans clear at the outset of the pandemic last April, when he suggested “running the cattle” through the regulations while the rest of the country was focused on the health crisis.
– A new study makes clear just how far the government pursued this agenda: 28 of the 57 deregulation measures passed under Bolsonaro came during the first seven months of the pandemic, 16 of them last September alone, while environmental fines during this time dropped by 70%.
– The measures saw, among other things, a reduction in citizen representation on environmental policy councils; replacement of environmental policymakers with inexperienced military and police officers, and the shuttering of several agencies.

New assessment shines a light on the state of North America’s fireflies by Liz Kimbrough [26 Mar 2021]
– For years, naturalists and conservationists have noted, anecdotally, that fireflies seem to be in decline, but little was known about their conservation status, until now.
– An assessment of the extinction risk for firefly species in Canada and the U.S. reveals that 11% are threatened with extinction, 2% are near threatened, 33% are categorized as least concern, and more than half are data deficient, according to IUCN Red List criteria.
– Fireflies need abundant food sources (like snails and slugs), plenty of leaf litter and underground burrows, clean water, diverse native vegetation, and dark nights. Protecting and restoring high-quality habitat is critical for the conservation of fireflies and other insects, which are seeing global declines.
– The article includes a list of things individuals can do to help fireflies including mowing less or replacing lawns with diverse natives, leaving leaf litter, and eliminating pesticides and outside lights.

Ocean protection scheme can yield ‘triple benefits’ study says by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [26 Mar 2021]
– A new study suggests that carefully planned marine protected areas could yield triple benefits for the ocean, helping to maintain biodiversity, while also increasing fish yields and maximizing the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon in seafloor sediment.
– This study is one of the first to quantify the carbon footprint of ocean trawling, which it equates to the yearly emissions of the global aviation industry.
– The researchers suggest that the planning tools in this study could help inform discussions about how to protect 30% of the oceans by 2030, a goal that is expected to be adopted by the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity later this year.
– Other proposals for how to achieve 30% protection by 2030 have mostly focused on the high seas, but this plan takes all parts of the ocean into consideration.

Patagonia’s blue whales besieged by hundreds of boats, study finds by Michelle Carrere [26 Mar 2021]
– Blue whales feeding off Chile’s north Patagonia coast have to dodge hundreds of vessels daily, most of them serving the area’s salmon farms.
– Marine traffic in the area is so intense that scientists have described it as a “neural network” of connections between salmon farms.
– The various impacts range from collisions, which can result in the death of whales, to noise pollution that prevents the whales from feeding properly.
– The researchers behind the study have called for measures to mitigate the vessel traffic intensity and be more mindful of the whales in the area.

From penguins to sharks to whales, swimming in circles is a surprisingly common trait by Basten Gokkon [26 Mar 2021]
– Many marine animals are intentionally swimming in circles consecutively at a relatively constant speed more than twice, according to a new study using data from movement trackers.
– The researchers say the behavior is surprising in part because swimming in a straight line is known to be the most efficient way to move about.
– They found some of the animals swim in circles during different activities, including foraging, courtship, navigation and even possibly geomagnetic observations.

Can ‘Slow Food’ save Brazil’s fast-vanishing Cerrado savanna? by Sharon Guynup [25 Mar 2021]
– The incredibly biodiverse Cerrado is Brazil’s second-largest biome after the Amazon. However, half of the savanna’s native vegetation has already been lost to industrial agribusiness, which produces beef, soy, cotton, corn, eucalyptus and palm oil for export.
– Those wishing to save the Cerrado today are challenged by the lack of protected lands. One response by traditional communities and conservationists is to help the rest of Brazil and the rest of the planet value the Cerrado’s cornucopia of endemic fruits, nuts and vegetables that thrive across South America’s greatest savanna.
– These include the baru nut, the babassu and macaúba coconut, the sweet gabiroba (looking like a small guava), the cagaita (resembling a shiny green tomato), the large, scaly-looking marolo (with creamy pulp and strong flavor), the berry-shaped mangaba, which means “good fruit for eating,” the egg-shaped, emerald-green pequi, and more.
– Small family farmers, beekeepers, traditional and Indigenous communities, Afro-Brazilian quilombolas (runaway slave descendants), socioenvironmental activists, and celebrity chefs have become allies in a fast-expanding slow food network, declaring: “We want to see the Cerrado on the plate of the Brazilian and the world!”



A new environmental education site for kids by [03/25/2021]
Podcast: Palm oil plantations and their impacts have arrived in the Amazon by Mike Gaworecki [03/24/2021]
In Indonesia, an illegal leopard trade thrives out of sight, new study shows by Claudia Geib [03/24/2021]
Melina Laboucan-Massimo: Catalyzing an Indigenous-led just energy transition by Rhett A. Butler [03/22/2021]
Myanmar’s environmental record was weak but improving. Then came the coup by Andrew Nachemson [03/18/2021]