Newsletter 2021-05-06



‘I never give up’: Q&A with Chinese environmental lawyer Jingjing Zhang by Rhett A. Butler [05/05/2021]

– Jingjing Zhang has been dubbed the “Erin Brockovich of China” for her work litigating against polluting companies on behalf of affected communities within the country.
– Now living in the U.S., she has switched her focus to Chinese companies operating overseas, many of them under the aegis of Beijing’s ambitious and far-reaching Belt and Road Initiative.
– But jurisdictional issues mean courts in China don’t yet hold Chinese companies accountable for their actions overseas.
– In an interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler, Zhang talks about her career, what strategies could lead the Chinese government to establish regulations governing overseas investment, and the influence of government policy on Chinese companies.

“How do we manage fisheries in the midst of climate change?” Q&A with EDF’s Eric Schwaab by Rhett A. Butler [05/03/2021]

– The world’s oceans are the ultimate global commons, and as such, profits have been realized privately, but costs are borne by the public, with often the most marginalized and disadvantaged facing the greatest burdens.
– Eric Schwaab, who current serves as the Senior Vice President of Ecosystems and Oceans at Environmental Defense Fund, says there are solutions to the ocean challenges we’ve created.
– “What gives me hope is the combination of awareness, commitment and ingenuity coming from many different parts of the world,” Schwaab told Mongabay during a recent interview. “Despite all our environmental and geopolitical challenges, the oceans are providing solutions.”
– Schwaab spoke about how to increase the resilience of fisheries to climate change; U.S. oceans policy, including what the country has gotten right and wrong; and more in a recent interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.



Popular opposition halts a bridge project in a Philippine coral haven by Keith Anthony S. Fabro [05 May 2021]
– The Philippine government has suspended work on a bridge that would connect the islands of Coron and Culion in the coral rich region of Palawan.
– Activists, Indigenous groups and marine experts say the project would threaten the rich coral biodiversity in the area as well as the historical shipwrecks that have made the area a prime dive site.
– The Indigenous Tagbanua community, who successfully fought against an earlier project to build a theme park, say they were not consulted about the bridge project.
– Preliminary construction began in November 2020 despite a lack of government-required consultations and permits, and was ordered suspended in April this year following the public outcry.

Absorbent and yellow and … mobile? Sea sponges on the move in Arctic Ocean by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [05 May 2021]
– A new study suggests that sea sponges are moving across the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, which challenges the idea that these creatures are primarily immobile.
– Previous research has shown that sponges can make limited movements in a laboratory setting, but this is the first time sea sponge trails have been observed in the ocean and attributed to sponge movement.
– The researchers hypothesize that the sponges are moving to find food or disperse juveniles, although further research is needed before conclusions can be drawn.

The HFC challenge: Can the Montreal Protocol continue its winning streak? by Jane Palmer [05 May 2021]
– Since the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987, countries have phased out most of the ozone-damaging gases, but their replacements, the HFCs, are powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
– In 2016, national delegates agreed on the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which calls for cutting the production and use of HFCs by 80–85% by the late 2040s. The amendment entered into force at the start of 2019, with the goal of avoiding additional warming by up to 0.4°C (0.72 °F) by the end of the century.
– The future success of the Kigali Amendment faces several challenges, including countries inaccurately estimating their emissions of HFCs, the need for affordable alternatives, and the fact that the major producers of HFCs (China, the United States and India) have not yet signed the treaty.
– Scientists and policymakers continue to address these challenges, with the U.S. and China having recently announced their intent to ratify the treaty. Also, the U.S. this week signaled its commitment to aggressively cutting the use and production of HFCs via a new, proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule.

Deforestation-free beef stymied by Brazil’s unequal supply chain by Naira Hofmeister [05 May 2021]
– A decade after signing agreements to ban deforestation caused by the beef industry, cattle ranching continues to be the leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
– A study reveals disparities between ranchers and meatpackers that make it difficult for the industry to comply with the agreements and that allow deforestation to persist.
– Only 100 out of 160 meatpacking plants in the study area, in southeast Pará state, have signed zero-deforestation agreements; of these, only 56 have been audited for their compliance.
– Among ranches, bigger ones have the financial resources and access to technology to boost productivity without clearing forest for new pasture, while smaller ones tend not even to be formally registered, depriving them of incentives to aim for compliance.

Water crisis in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara linked to mining, observers say by Ebed de Rosary [05 May 2021]
– Many parts of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province have experienced a shortage of clean water shortage since last year.
– Environmental activists attribute the problem to environmental degradation in forested water catchment areas, including by mining companies.
– Women and children in several areas have to walk up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) to get water from privately run tanker trucks.
– Even in the provincial capital, Kupang, 36% of households reportedly lack access to clean water.

Ecuadoran water fund transforms consumers into conservationists by Dimitri Selibas [04 May 2021]
– The Regional Water Fund of Southern Ecuador (FORAGUA) operates in 14 municipalities, serving 500,000 residents, and has restored 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of land and put an additional 337,000 hectares (833,000 acres) under conservation.
– By 2030, the fund aims to work in 39 municipalities, serving 1 million people and conserving 600,000 hectares (1.48 million acres) of land.
– A pilot project to incentivize landowners to rewild their properties and take up alternative livelihoods shows that where landowners could earn 50 times more per hectare cultivating guanabana, a local fruit, than raising cattle.
– Municipal residents pay on average $1 per month to FORAGUA for their water consumption, with 90% of funds raised going to conservation projects.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro vowed to work with Indigenous people. Now he’s investigating them by [04 May 2021]
– At least two top Indigenous leaders in Brazil, Sônia Guajajara and Almir Suruí, were recently summoned for questioning by the federal police over allegations of slander against the government of President Jair Bolsonaro.
– Both probes were prompted by complaints filed by Funai, the federal agency for Indigenous affairs, just a week after Bolsonaro pledged at a global leaders’ climate summit to work together with Indigenous peoples to tackle deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
– The NGO Human Rights Watch said it’s “deeply concerned” about the government’s moves and called any retaliation against Indigenous peoples a “flagrant abuse of power,” while APIB, Brazil’s main Indigenous association, called the government’s approach a “clear attempt to curtail freedom of expression.”
– Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in Brazil has reached its highest level since 2008, invasions of indigenous territories increased 135% in 2019, and the persecution of government critics under a draconian national security law has skyrocketed.

Did you know how many insects a Giant Anteater can eat in a day? Candid Animal Cam by Romina Castagnino [04 May 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.

A Colombian national park reveals its natural secrets through camera traps by Maria Fernanda Lizcano [04 May 2021]
– Forty-four camera traps have recorded various species in El Tuparro National Natural Park in Colombia’s Orinoco region, from jaguars and pumas, to deer, tapirs and peccaries, reflecting the park’s healthy ecosystems.
– A separate survey also recorded a Guianan white-eared opossum (Didelphis imperfecta), a species never before recorded in Colombia.
– The protected area has just turned 40 years old, and although it represents a rare conservation success story, rangers and researchers say it continues to face pressures from fires, sport and commercial fishing, and hunting.
– Compounding the problem is the growing human presence in and around the park, as the economic and political crises in neighboring Venezuela drives an influx of people across the border in search of food.

We can prevent the next pandemic (commentary) by Sonila Cook and Nigel Sizer [04 May 2021]
– Research has shown that agriculture, urbanization, and other human activities that degrade forests and other ecosystems can trigger viruses to jump from other species into humans, a process known as “spillover.”
– In this commentary, Prevent Pandemics at the Source co-founders Sonila Cook and Nigel Sizer argue that “it’s only when we prevent new diseases before they start — at the source, where humans and animals come into close contact – that we will become less vulnerable to pathogens.”
– Cook and Sizer say that prevention is much less costly than fighting pandemics once they start. “We can protect forests, clean up and reduce wildlife trade, improve farming practices and expand surveillance to detect spillovers as they are occurring for about $10 billion per year,” they write. “Compared with the massive human and economic cost of another pandemic, this price tag is tiny.”
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Relocating mangroves for Indonesian highway ‘not that easy,’ expert warns by L. Darmawan [04 May 2021]
– Indonesia is building a toll road and levee along the north coast of Java Island in an effort to reduce congestion and prevent tidal flooding.
– But the project will cut through swaths of mangrove forest, some of which will be relocated, according to officials.
– An environmental expert has warned against the mangrove relocation plan, noting that poor procedures will likely lead to failed growth of trees at the new sites.

Casinos, condos and sugar cane: How a Cambodian national park is being sold down the river by James Fair [04 May 2021]
– Botum Sakor National Park in southern Cambodia has lost at least 30,000 hectares of forest over the past three decades.
– Decades of environmental degradation go back to the late 1990s when the Cambodian government began handing out economic land concessions for the development of commercial plantations and tourist infrastructure.
– NGOs in Cambodia are said to be unwilling to speak out against the destruction of Botum Sakor because they are afraid they will not be allowed to operate in the country if they do.
– The government says economic activity is vital to improve people’s livelihoods and reduce poverty.

‘Zero illegal deforestation’ – One more Bolsonaro distortion (commentary) by Philip M. Fearnside [03 May 2021]
– At U.S. President Joe Biden’s virtual climate summit on Earth Day, 22 April, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro promised “zero illegal deforestation by 2030.”
– “Zero illegal deforestation” can be achieved in two ways: by stopping deforestation, and by legalizing the deforestation that is taking place. The second path is in full swing.
– A series of laws facilitating “land grabbing” (which in Brazil means large-scale illegal appropriation of government land) is being fast-tracked in the National Congress with support from Bolsonaro.
– Once grabbed land is legalized, the deforestation on it can be “amnestied” and subsequent deforestation legally permitted. The end result is more deforestation. All deforestation, legal or not, causes climate change. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

With baby animals, patience pays: Photographer describes new book of intimate portraits by Erik Hoffner [03 May 2021]
– Suzi Eszterhas was recently named Outstanding Nature Photographer of the Year by the North American Nature Photography Association, only the second woman to receive this honor in 24 years.
– Her book “New On Earth: Baby Animals in the Wild” now in bookstores showcases her specialty: photographing newborn and young wildlife.
– Her secret is speed and great patience: she travels at a moment’s notice to capture newborn animals on camera, but can wait weeks for cautious parents to relax enough with Eszterhas nearby for truly candid, natural scenes to happen.
– She spoke with Mongabay during a May 2021 interview.

South Africa pulls the plug on controversial captive lion industry by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [03 May 2021]
– The South African government has made a critical decision to ban captive lion facilities in South Africa, and to halt the commercial use of captive lions and their derivatives, according to a new report.
– This move is being hailed by conservationists and animal welfare advocates who have worked for years to expose the myriad of welfare issues associated with this industry.
– The recommendations in the report still need to go through a legal ratification process, but experts are hopeful that things will move forward in a positive way.
– There are between 8,000 and 12,000 lions being held in captive facilities, many of which have historically offered canned hunting, lion petting and lion walking experiences.

Criticizing Brazil over Amazon conservation will likely backfire (commentary) by Andrea Garcia, Gustavo Macedo [03 May 2021]
– Although Brazilians share a concern for the Amazon, and even hosted the groundbreaking Earth Summit in 1992, polls show less consensus on who is responsible for Amazon deforestation, who is best addressing this problem, or the role of foreign actors.
– When activists or leaders from abroad single out Brazil and its president as bad actors on the environment, they risk potential backlash from Brazilians who often view such attacks as a double standard.
– The heavy-handed tone that the Biden Administration has adopted may create unfortunate roadblocks to the progress which is possible, argue two authors from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute and the University of São Paulo.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Mongabay’s What-To-Watch list for May 2021 by [01 May 2021]
– In April we published the result of a year-long dive into census data from Brazil that identified Indigenous populations living in cities. We interviewed people across Brazil about their experiences as Indigenous people in urban spaces.
– We published multiple videos from Indonesia on vulnerable ecosystems affected by plastic pollution and overfishing.
– As part of our ongoing explainer series, we looked at two planetary boundaries: freshwater and the ozone layer.

Drugs and agriculture cause deforestation to skyrocket at Honduran UNESCO site by Karen Paredes, Leonardo Guevara, Lesly Frazier [30 Apr 2021]
– Honduras’ Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve occupies a large portion of the country’s eastern region.
– However, despite official protection and recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Río Plátano is plagued by deforestation; satellite data show the biosphere reserve lost 13% of its primary forest cover between 2002 and 2020.
– Deforestation shot up in 2020, nearly doubling the amount of forest loss over 2019. 2021 may be another rocky year for the biosphere reserve, with satellite data showing several “unusually high” spikes of clearing activity so far this year.
– Sources say deforestation in the reserve is being driven by logging, agriculture and the drug trade.

Behind the buzz of ESG investing, a focus on tech giants and no regulation by Fernanda Wenzel [30 Apr 2021]
– Despite its exponential growth in the last few years, environment, social and governance (ESG) investment is still very unclear and controversial, which makes it hard to define what it means.
– According to a study by financial markets data provider Refinitiv, the largest and best-known ESG funds invest most of their clients’ money in big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Facebook — companies with a small carbon footprint and high returns for shareholders.
– Some experts say this focus on carbon means the financial market often ignores other ESG issues like data security and labor rights, where big-tech companies have tended to fall short.
– There are some initiatives, mainly in Europe, to create rules and standards for ESG financial products, but for now, almost any company can be bundled into an ESG index and sold as sustainable.

Deadly landslide hits Indonesian dam project in orangutan habitat, again by Hans Nicholas Jong [30 Apr 2021]
– A landslide at the site of a hydropower plant located in the only known habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan has claimed the lives of three people, with nine others still missing.
– It’s the second deadly landslide here in the past five months, with the project sitting in an area that’s prone to natural disasters, including earthquakes.
– Activists say the back-to-back landslides are reason enough for the area to be protected, instead of being licensed for large-scale projects, such as mining and infrastructure.

South African dehorning initiative aims for ‘zero poached’ white rhinos by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [30 Apr 2021]
– Conservationists recently dehorned the entire white rhino population of Spioenkop Nature Reserve in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province to decrease poaching incidents.
– Rhino poaching in South Africa has been steadily declining over the past several years, with dehorning efforts likely playing a part in protecting local populations.
– However, experts say there are still grave concerns for this near-threatened species, especially as wildlife reserves struggle to maintain security during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Project Amazônia 2.0, communities and technology team up for nature by Débora Pinto [30 Apr 2021]
– Since 2017, Project Amazônia 2.0 has used the latest developments in information technology to strengthen monitoring and conservation of Indigenous territories and traditional communities in six countries in the Amazon region.
– Community members work as monitors to report on any violations or changes in the environment, and the reports and data are entered into the online platform GeoVisor in near-real-time.
– In Brazil, the project began operating in 2019 in two Indigenous territories and a state park, where a total of 16 Indigenous monitors use a cellphone app to report threats to the forest.
– In Peru, Amazônia 2.0 is already acknowledged by the government as a management and governance model for forests and indigenous lands.

Time is running out for embattled Pacific leatherback sea turtles by Marlowe Starling [30 Apr 2021]
– Marine biologists warn that the western Pacific leatherback could go extinct without immediate conservation measures and transnational cooperation.
– This subpopulation has decreased at a rate of 5.6% each year for an overall 80% decline over a 28-year period, according to a recent study.
– While the IUCN lists the species as a whole as vulnerable, the Pacific populations are critically endangered partly because of their long migratory routes through the high seas, where they face threats like drift gillnet fishing, ship strikes and pollution.
– The eastern Pacific subpopulation, which nests in Mexico and Central and South America, faces similar threats. Both populations are at high risk of extinction.

Death of a Sri Lankan icon highlights surge in elephant electrocutions by Malaka Rodrigo [30 Apr 2021]
– Revatha, an iconic male elephant in North Central province in Sri Lanka, died in early March after being electrocuted by an electric fence.
– Four other elephants died the same way in the same region that week, highlighting the growing danger posed by illegally electrified fences in a country with high rates of elephant density and human-elephant conflict.
– In the first three months of 2021, 100 elephants were killed across Sri Lanka, 21 of them from electrocution, 18 from eating explosive-packed bait, and 12 from being shot; the cause of death for the remaining elephants wasn’t immediately known.
– Farmers in rural Sri Lanka often hook up their fences directly to power lines, which is illegal and also the leading cause of human deaths from electrocution in the country.

A year after Ecuador oil spill, Indigenous victims await justice, reparations by Vincent Ricci [29 Apr 2021]
– Following an oil spill in the Ecuadoran Amazon that contaminated the Coca River last year, local Indigenous groups reliant on the river are still struggling to adapt to alternative livelihoods.
– At the same time, the land around the Coca River has become increasingly unstable due to an accelerated rate of soil erosion, raising concerns about the integrity of nearby infrastructure, including a hydropower dam.
– Indigenous groups led a march in the city of Puerto Francisco de Orellana on April 7, the anniversary of the spill, to protest a ruling rejecting their bid for reparations.

Arctic biodiversity at risk as world overshoots climate planetary boundary by Gloria Dickie [29 Apr 2021]
– The Arctic Ocean biome is changing rapidly, warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. In turn, multiyear sea ice is thinning and shrinking, upsetting the system’s natural equilibrium.
– Thinner sea ice has led to massive under-ice phytoplankton blooms, drawing southern species poleward; fish species from lower latitudes are moving into the peripheral seas of the Arctic Ocean, displacing and outcompeting native Arctic species.
– Predators at the top of the food chain, such as polar bears, are suffering the consequences of disappearing ice, forced onto land for longer periods of time where they cannot productively hunt.
– The Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries Agreement has been signed by 10 parties to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the basin until the region and climate change impacts are better understood by scientists. International cooperation will be critical to protect what biodiversity remains.

A fatal stabbing sends a Gambian fishing village into turmoil over fishmeal by Louise Hunt [29 Apr 2021]
– Three Chinese-owned fishmeal factories have opened in the Gambia since 2016, sparking tensions over allegations of competition with local fishers, overfishing, illegal fishing, and pollution.
– In the town of Sanyang, unresolved disputes with the Nessim Trading fishmeal factory reached a flashpoint on March 15, triggered by the stabbing death of a Sanyang resident, allegedly by a Senegalese worker at the factory.
– Hundreds of people took to the streets in protest, some of them torching the local police station and the fishmeal factory, and destroying boats and equipment belonging to Senegalese fishers.
– The violence drove more than 250 Senegalese residents to flee to the nearby town of Batakonko.

Malaysian firm bidding to clear Papua forest loses land bid, but deforestation persists by Philip Jacobson, Tom Johnson [29 Apr 2021]
– A conglomerate that hoped to clear 80,000 hectares of rainforest in Indonesian Papua to plant oil palms has lost a court case over its control of the land.
– Maxim Global received permits a decade ago, but saw them revoked a few years later by local officials and the land granted to another conglomerate, Digoel Agri, which has already started clearing forest.



Sumatran rhinos show low inbreeding — but when it happens, collapse is quick by Carolyn Cowan [04/29/2021]
At Vietnam’s southern tip, mangroves defend the land from the encroaching sea by Michael Tatarski [04/28/2021]
Nuts about agroforestry in the U.S. Midwest: Can hazelnuts transform farming? by Sarah Derouin [04/28/2021]
Indigenous in São Paulo: Erased by a colonial education curriculum by Sarah Derouin [04/28/2021]
The Nature Conservancy’s Jennifer Morris is an ‘impatient optimist’ by Rhett A. Butler [04/27/2021]
We need more rewilding and connections to nature, says Enrique Ortiz by Rhett A. Butler [04/26/2021]
Governments, companies pledge $1 billion for tropical forests by Aurora Solá, Rhett A. Butler [04/23/2021]
Novelizing wildlife crime investigations: Q&A with author Bryan Christy by Rhett A. Butler [04/23/2021]