Newsletter 2021-04-22



Nature is no longer “a nice to have,” it’s “a must-have”: Q&A with André Hoffmann by Rhett A. Butler [04/21/2021]

– André Hoffmann, from the family behind Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, has been pushing for environmental sustainability in business for a quarter of a century now.
– Throughout a career that has also seen him serve as vice president of WWF, Hoffmann says he’s been bothered by the business-as-usual principle of making money first and thinking about nature afterward.
– “If you destroy nature to make a profit then you are creating the problem that you then try to solve with philanthropy,” he says. “So, you need to be much better at sensibly making money rather than making money at all costs.”
– In an interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler, Hoffmann talks about the growing realization of nature’s importance, the responsibility of companies to society beyond shareholders, and the need to transform the current, fragile economic system.

Momentum is building for a ‘robust’ biodiversity framework: Q&A with Elizabeth Mrema by Rhett A. Butler [04/20/2021]

– One of the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to rally global ambition for a biodiversity framework that sets the world on a path to a sustainable future, says Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.
– Mrema, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), says there’s growing awareness of the importance of biodiversity for everything from food security to the regulation of water and air quality, to pest and disease regulation.
– “World leaders fully recognize that the continued deterioration and degradation of Earth’s natural ecosystems are having major impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people around the world,” she says.
– In an interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler, Mrema talks about building a robust post-2020 framework after the Aichi Biodiversity Targets fell short, how the conservation sector has changed over her career, and her hopes for the CBD summit coming up later this year.

Deploying art to care for nature: Q&A with Tom Eddington by Dave Martin [04/19/2021]

– Lack of funding for conservation nonprofits is among the obstacles to saving biodiversity around the planet.
– Business adviser and executive coach Tom Eddington is leading an effort to address this by organizing a campaign to raise nearly $30 million that will go to various selected environmental nonprofits.
– Eddington is working with top artists, musicians, actors and other creative influencers, who will create original artwork and content that will be sold to raise the funds.
– Editor’s note: Mongabay is a selected beneficiary of the ENDANGERED campaign.

Cattle-driven clearing continues in Brazil’s Triunfo do Xingu protected area by Liz Kimbrough [04/16/2021]

– Triunfo do Xingu Environmental Protection Area lies in the ecologically rich Xingu Basin in the Brazilian Amazon and spans some 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) — an area more than half the size of Belgium.
– Despite its protected status, the area has been heavily deforested, losing 476,000 hectares (1.18 million acres) of humid primary forest between 2006 and 2020, according to satellite data from the University of Maryland (UMD), a 32% decrease in total forest cover.
– 2020 saw the highest amount of forest loss since the creation of the protected area, nearly 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) — an area nearly the size of New York City; preliminary data show clearing of Triunfo do Xingu’s forests has continued into 2021, with “unusually high” levels of deforestation detected the week of March 15.
– Deforestation in the region is largely driven by cattle ranching, and sources say the invasions of Triunfo do Xingu are aided by its remoteness as well as lax enforcement of environmental regulations.

As COP26 looms and tropical deforestation soars, REDD+ debate roars on by Peter Yeung [04/16/2021]

– The United Nations REDD+ program (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) has been operating for more than 13 years as a multipurpose initiative, intended to curb deforestation in tropical nations, sequester forest carbon, combat climate change, protect biodiversity, and aid poor rural communities.
– The REDD+ mechanism is largely paid for by wealthy industrialized countries contributing funds to less developed tropical nations, including those in the Amazon, Congo Basin and Indonesia.
– Some 600 REDD+ projects have been initiated to date (with some 400 still active), mostly implemented by socioenvironmental NGOs or for-profit project developers, and financed by more than $10 billion in donor funds in more than 65 countries. But evidence of avoided deforestation and reduced carbon emissions is controversial.
– With the COP26 Glasgow climate summit looming in November, Mongabay invited experts to weigh in on the global initiative’s successes and failings, with some supporting expansion of REDD+ via revised program rules and funding, while others support major reforms, or even the initiative’s replacement.

South Korea faces a public reckoning for financing coal plants in Indonesia by Seulki Lee [04/15/2021]

– The coastal town of Suralaya in Indonesia’s West Java province has eight coal-fired power generating units in its vicinity, which residents blame for respiratory ailments and declining fish catches.
– South Korean public financial institutions are financing the expansion of the Suralaya facility through the construction of two new units that will be built by South Korean firm Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction and operated by a power company partly owned by a South Korean public utility.
– Support for the project is ongoing, despite South Korea’s own domestic transition away from coal power and attempts by some lawmakers to bar public funds from being directed to the coal industry.
– Activists view the South Korean government’s support for the project as an attempt to prop up the ailing Doosan, and to boost its ties with countries in Southeast and South Asia amid tensions with China.



No monkey business: For Zanzibar’s red colobus, speed bumps are lifesavers by Malavika Vyawahare [22 Apr 2021]
– Half of the 6,000 remaining Zanzibar red colobus monkeys, a species endemic to the island, are found in Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, where getting hit by a vehicle is a leading cause of their death.
– Speed bumps significantly reduce road mortality for this endangered African monkey, an analysis by primatologists at Bangor University in the U.K. and researchers at the Zanzibar forest department found.
– About half of the roadkill on a stretch of a paved road that cuts across the southern edge of the national park were red colobus.
– Understanding how animals respond to human-made features that have cropped up in their environment is a key question in behavioral ecology today, experts say.

Indonesia’s bid to control deforestation wildly off-target, experts say by Hans Nicholas Jong [22 Apr 2021]
– Indonesia aims to transform its forests into a carbon sink by 2030 by reducing deforestation and increasing reforestation, as the country targets going carbon neutral by 2070.
– Experts say the plan is unrealistic given the current pace of deforestation and the fact that prevailing government policies still allow for a substantial amount of forest clearing for agriculture.
– A surge in global palm oil prices could also drive further deforestation in Indonesia, the world’s top producer of the commodity.

Researchers rush to understand kelp forests as harvesting increases by Michelle Carrere [22 Apr 2021]
– A growing seaweed industry based on the production of alginate, a thickener used in the food, textiles and pharmaceutical industries, has driven a boom in harvesting of kelp off the coasts of Chile and Peru.
– At the same time, researchers are warning that kelp remains relatively understudied, and that large-scale harvesting of kelp forests could have significant ecosystem impacts.
– To fill this information gap and push for sustainable management of this resource, scientists are carrying out important research, but have been stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The birds of Zoom (commentary) by Enrique Ortiz [22 Apr 2021]
– This Earth Day, let’s forget for a moment the concerns of the pandemic and politics, and pay attention to that natural soundscapes of cities … and the little birds of the Zoom calls, says Enrique Ortiz, Senior Program Director at the Andes Amazon Fund.
– The Spanish version of this piece originally appeared in RPP.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

New beef scorecard measures brands against their deforestation promises by Aurora Solá [21 Apr 2021]
– A new scorecard ranks major beef retailers such as Sainsbury’s, McDonald’s, Costco, and Carrefour against their own pledges to eliminate deforestation from their supply lines.
– These beef retailers, supermarkets and fast-food chains, are lagging behind industry commitments to be deforestation-free by 2020.
– Imports of beef from Brazil to the United States and Europe are on the rise, linking unwitting customers in developed nations to tropical rainforest destruction.
– Food companies have shown themselves to be sensitive to pressure, responding to shifts in consumer habits and demands.

Hunger, disorientation blamed for pilot whale mass stranding in Indonesia by Luh De Suriyani [21 Apr 2021]
– Indonesian officials have announced their findings into the cause of the mass stranding and death of 52 short-finned pilot whales earlier this year.
– They cited inflammation in the alpha whale’s echolocation organ as the cause of the stranding, and hunger and lung damage as the causes of death.
– The Indonesian fisheries ministry has called for more necropsies to be done more regularly after strandings to better understand these events and inform policies on how to handle them.
– Whale and dolphin strandings are common in Indonesia, which has the longest coastline in Asia and whose waters serve as both a habitat and an important migratory route for dozens of cetacean species.

Deadly new snake named after mythical Chinese goddess of healing by Liz Kimbrough [21 Apr 2021]
– Researchers have described a new species of venomous snake, from one of the deadliest and most medically significant groups of snakes in Asia.
– The Suzhen’s krait is found in rice fields and streams in monsoon forests in southwestern China and northern Myanmar.
– Understanding the differences between lethal snakes provides essential information for antivenin development and proper snakebite treatment, the authors say.
– The researchers chose to name the snake after Bai Su Zhen, a snake goddess from the popular traditional Chinese myth Legend of White Snake, “in honor of her courage to true love and kindness to people.”

Environmental art initiative aims to help paint a better future for Southeast Asia by Carolyn Cowan [21 Apr 2021]
– Supported by Wildlife Asia, the PARDICOLOR Creative Arts Fund subsidizes artists producing works that highlight environmental issues in Southeast Asia.
– The arts initiative is intended to complement conservation work in locations like Salween Peace Park in Myanmar and Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem.
– “If we can only create what we can imagine, then art and ideas are an integral part of creating an Earth that is sustainable and thriving with biodiversity,” says Pardicolor founder Demelza Stokes.

Dams drove an Asian dolphin extinct. They could do the same in the Amazon by Sibélia Zanon [21 Apr 2021]
– The tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis), a river dolphin endemic to the Amazon, has been declared endangered on the IUCN Red List, meaning all the world’s freshwater dolphins are now at threat of extinction.
– The species faces the same threats as another Amazonian cetacean, the pink river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), ranging from hydropower dams, to bycatch, to mercury poisoning.
– Researchers warn that if these threats intensify, the Amazon’s dolphins could go the way of the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) in China, which is now considered extinct following a dam-building spree along the Yangtze.
– Researchers across South America are collaborating through the River Dolphins Dashboard to share 20 years of data and help inform conservation and development policies.

Food systems drive a third of greenhouse gas emissions, study estimates by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [20 Apr 2021]
– A new study provides a comprehensive look at how food systems — from the growing of food to its distribution to its consumption and even its disposal — contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions.
– It suggests that food systems are responsible for a third of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions, reinforcing previous research that provided similar estimates.
– According to one expert, the dietary habits of people in developed nations can largely determine the greenhouse gas emissions in low-income countries, although the study does not explicitly state this.
– Experts say that reform is needed to make food systems more sustainable, and to function within the Earth’s planetary boundaries.

Some guitar makers in pursuit of sustainable manufacturing by Stephan Boissonneault [20 Apr 2021]
– Guitar manufacturers use a small volume of some of the rarest exotic woods, but have come under the most pressure to adopt sustainable practices because of their high profile.
– Over the past decade, manufacturers like Czech-based Furch Guitars and Taylor Guitars in the U.S. have rolled out initiatives such as tree replanting and funding for forest communities in the areas they source their timber from.
– Furch Guitars CEO Petr Furch says the sustainability drive is about more than just the material used to make the instruments, but also the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process.
– The company says it has shifted to 100% renewable energy at its Velké Němčice plant, and reduced its carbon footprint by two-thirds in the process.

With British Columbia’s last old-growth at risk, government falters: Critics by Justin Catanoso [20 Apr 2021]
– British Columbia’s ruling New Democratic Party last autumn pledged to conserve 353,000 hectares (1,363 square miles) of old-growth forest. But so far, the NDP has largely failed to act on this pledge, even as forestry companies rush to procure and cut old-growth in the Canadian province.
– Unless the government acts quickly on its commitment, BC’s last old-growth could be gone in as little as 5-10 years say some forest ecologists. In addition, intense logging could mean that Canada is not going to meet its Paris Climate Agreement carbon-reduction goals.
– While the NDP promised a new policy boosting forest perseveration over forestry, critics say that — despite its rhetoric — the government continues to prop up an industry in decline to help rural communities in need of jobs.
– While it’s not now cutting BC old-growth, activists worry over the acquisition by U.K. Drax Group of BC’s largest wood pellet producer, Pinnacle Renewable Energy and its seven BC pellet mills. Drax provides up to 12% of the U.K.’s energy at the world’s largest pellet-burning plant. Its BC exports to Japan are also expected to grow.

Caring for those ‘just like us’: Q&A with vet and great ape advocate Rick Quinn by [20 Apr 2021]
– Veterinarian Rick Quinn is the founder of Docs4GreatApes, a charitable organization that supports health care for great apes while also helping the communities surrounding them and the environment they share.
– His new book, with an introduction by Jane Goodall, chronicles the lessons he learned about ape conservation in Africa and Asia, accompanied by his own photos of gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans; all proceeds go back into supporting his foundation’s work.
– He emphasizes the importance of community well-being and empowerment as part of effective conservation, pointing to initiatives where building trust and creating goodwill led to communities becoming willing partners in gorilla conservation.
– In an interview with Mongabay, Quinn discusses his new book, his discomfort with the kind of selfie tourism that puts great apes at potential risk, the COVID-19 pandemic, and his role as an activist veterinarian.

Did you know that a group of warthogs is called a sounder? Candid Animal Cam by Romina Castagnino [20 Apr 2021]
– Every two weeks, 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.

The U.S. reptile most at risk from rising seas is one you likely haven’t heard of by Marlowe Starling [20 Apr 2021]
– The Florida reef gecko is the most vulnerable reptile to sea level rise in the U.S, according to biologists at the University of Miami.
– The Florida reef gecko is the only native gecko in the eastern United States and one of the few reptiles native to Florida, the state with the largest number of invasive species.
– Researchers have submitted a petition to the state of Florida to list the species as endangered or threatened, but its success may hinge on the question of whether the species is truly native to Florida.
– While climate change and habitat destruction remain imminent threats to the gecko’s Florida populations, little is known about the species as a whole, including other populations that inhabit the Caribbean.

Countries can transform the climate crisis with ocean-based action (commentary) by Waldemar Coutts [19 Apr 2021]
– Protecting coastal “blue carbon” ecosystems like mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes is 10 times more effective at sequestering carbon per area than terrestrial forests, and is just one ocean-based solution that can help mitigate climate change.
– But lacking such action, an IPCC report estimated that climate-induced declines in ocean health will cost the global economy $428 billion by 2050 and $1.979 trillion by 2100.
– As world leaders meet at the upcoming Leaders Summit on Climate, Chile calls for countries to advocate for the adoption of new international objectives on biodiversity, such as protecting 30% of the global ocean by 2030.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Total’s East African oil pipeline to go ahead despite stiff opposition by [19 Apr 2021]
– The $3.5 billion heated oil pipeline will connect oil fields in the Lake Albert basin in western Uganda to the port of Tanga on the Tanzanian coast.
– Developed by French oil major Total and Chinese state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, the project has faced staunch opposition from environmentalists who point out that it cuts through some of East Africa’s most biodiversity-rich areas.
– The path of the pipeline will impact almost 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) of protected areas, a quarter of that the habitat of eastern chimpanzees and African savanna elephants, and displace more than 12,000 families.
– Three agreements signed this month will now have to be ratified by the parliaments in Uganda and Tanzania, with construction expected to start in July and the first oil exports anticipated in 2025.

Skin in the game? Reptile leather trade embroils conservation authority by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [19 Apr 2021]
– The reptile skin trade is a controversial issue, with some experts saying that harvesting programs help conserve species and provide livelihood benefits, while others say that the trade is fraught with issues and animal welfare concerns.
– From a conservation standpoint, there is evidence that the reptile skin trade is sustainable for some species and in some contexts, but other research suggests that the trade could be decimating wild populations and doing more harm than good.
– Exotic leather is falling out of favor in the fashion industry: Numerous companies and brands have banned products made from reptile skin as well as fur, replacing them with products made from materials such as apple, grape or mushroom leather.
– Experts connected with the IUCN have written open letters and op-eds to lament the decisions of companies to ban exotic leather, arguing that these bans have damaged conservation efforts, but other experts question the IUCN’s unfailing support of an imperfect trade.

Shark catastrophe points to failure to enact global biodiversity agreements by Anna Nordseth [19 Apr 2021]
– A high-profile study published in Nature found a 70% decline in shark and ray populations over the last half century.
– Like many other taxonomic groups, shark and ray declines are driven by human actions — in this case, overfishing by commercial fisheries.
– Experts are calling for a retention ban by the EU to prevent the collapse of threatened shark populations.

Illegal coal mine tunnels threaten a Sumatran village by Jaka Hendra Baittri [19 Apr 2021]
– In 2018, after houses in nearby villages began to collapse into abandoned mine shafts below, residents of Sikalang village in West Sumatra province began to suspect that a nearby coal company was tunneling outside of its permitted area.
– Villagers, assisted by green group Walhi, successfully pushed the provincial authorities to investigate potential violations by miner CV Tahiti Coal.
– The investigation revealed that the company was illegally tunneling outside of its concession boundaries, and recommended law enforcement take up the matter.
– Police say investigations are ongoing, while activists say the case should serve as a cautionary example for other mining firms in the region.

Indigenous peoples are being shortchanged as forest guardians: Report by Nicolás Bustamante Hernández [16 Apr 2021]
– A new report shows that Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) in tropical forest countries are not getting enough funding to preserve ecosystems despite their key role as environmental guardians.
– Not only are local communities underfunded, but some of the donations from the OECD club of rich countries do not go directly to them, flowing instead via intermediaries, according to the report published by Rainforest Foundation Norway.
– The researchers behind the report, covering the period 2011-2020, warn that this lack of funding could result in the loss of territories and ecosystems that IPLCs have maintained for generations.
– Brazil received 45% of the donor financing for Latin America, while Indonesia took in 26% in Asia; the two countries host more than half of the remaining tropical rainforests in their respective regions.

Peru to establish rainforest reserve for isolated Indigenous peoples by Yvette Sierra Praeli [16 Apr 2021]
– After nearly twenty years of discussion, the Peruvian government has moved to establish a new Indigenous reserve for “uncontacted peoples” deep in the Amazon rainforest.
– Yavarí Tapiche Indigenous Reserve, which covers 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres) in the department of Loreto on the Peru-Brazil border, is home to Matsés, Remo, and Marubo peoples, as well as other groups that have yet to be identified.
– Yavarí Tapiche will be established under Peru’s law governing territories for peoples in isolation and initial contact (PIACI).
– Yavarí Tapiche has been officially categorized as the first PIACI reserve in Loreto, but its protection plan still must be approved by the Ministry of Culture within 60 days.

Brazilian Cerrado savanna: Wildcat miners descend on Indigenous reserve by Ana Ionova [16 Apr 2021]
– The Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous reserve in Brazil’s Roraima state covers 1.75 million hectares (4.32 million acres) along the nation’s border with Venezuela and Guyana. It is home to 26,705 Indigenous people.
– The territory has been under pressure from invaders for decades, even after being demarcated in 2005. But illegal incursions are reaching a new peak now, with an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 gold miners operating in the reserve.
– Incendiary speeches by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have emboldened the miners, say experts, while attempts to crackdown on wildcat mining in the Yanomami Territory in the Amazon rainforest may have pushed illegal miners operating there into the Cerrado savanna where most of Raposa Serra do Sol is located.
– The illicit miners are causing deforestation and contamination of the Cotinga River and other waterways with sediment and toxic mining waste, including mercury used to process gold. They’re also putting Indigenous people at risk from Covid-19, violence, and social ills including alcohol abuse and prostitution.

Sharks on a knife’s edge as Maldives mulls lifting 10-year fishing ban by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [16 Apr 2021]
– Eleven years ago, the Maldives created a 90,000-square-kilometer (34,750-square-mile) sanctuary that banned shark fishing, but fisheries minister Zaha Waheed said recently that the government may be planning to lift the ban.
– Conservationists say reopening shark fisheries in the Maldives would have devastating effects on shark populations and adversely affect tourism, which brings millions of dollars into the country each year.
– There are unofficial reports the Maldivian government will not be lifting the shark fishing ban, possibly in response to the local and international outcry.
– But a local expert says there are still grounds for concern if long-line fisheries are allowed to operate in the shark sanctuary, or if a legislative loophole is introduced that would allow shark fishing to recommence in some capacity.

Human impact on South America expanded by 60% since 1985 by [16 Apr 2021]
– Humanity’s impact on South American ecosystems expanded by 268 million hectares (1 million square miles) — an area of land the size of Kazakhstan or Argentina — since 1985, finds an analysis published in Science Advances.
– Using satellite imagery to detect change in land cover, a team of researchers from the University of Maryland and other institutions found that 713 million hectares (2.75 million square miles), or 40% of South America’s landmass, had been impacted by human activity by 2018.
– The study found that the area of natural tree cover in the region decreased by 16% during the period, whereas pasture use rose 23%, cropland use 160%, and plantation extent 288%. Conversion to cattle pasture accounted for the largest share of natural tree cover loss in the region.

Bills before Brazil Congress slammed for rewarding Amazon land grabbers by Fernanda Wenzel [15 Apr 2021]
– Two bills, one each in the upper and lower houses of Congress, would grant invaders of public forests with land titles, instead of punishing them and returning the land to the state.
– The proposals also increase the area of properties eligible for regularization without an on-site inspection, and risk exacerbating land conflicts in Brazil.
– Both bills were born from an executive order from President Jair Bolsonaro that expired in May last year.
– The backers of the bills say they would facilitate the regularization of the lands of small farmers, but environmental and land issues experts say the main beneficiaries will be land grabbers and large farmers.



Cambodia puts its arduous titling process for Indigenous land up for review by Danielle Keeton-Olsen [04/15/2021]
Recognizing the true guardians of the forest: Q&A with David Kaimowitz by Rhett A. Butler [04/14/2021]
‘We’re at a tipping point with coal’: Q&A with Bloomberg’s Antha Williams by Rhett A. Butler [04/13/2021]
‘We are made invisible’: Brazil’s Indigenous on prejudice in the city by Karla Mendes [04/12/2021]