Newsletter 2021-06-03



Threat of legal action against Indigenous Borneans protesting timber company by Danielle Keeton-Olsen [06/01/2021]

– For more than a year, Indigenous communities in Malaysian Borneo have been campaigning against timber conglomerate Samling and its subsidiaries.
– Indigenous groups and environmental NGOs allege the company failed to obtain free, prior and informed consent of communities affected by its certified-sustainable timber production plantations; the company denies the allegations.
– In late May, Samling subsidiaries threatened to take legal action against Indigenous communities alleging the company was involved in trespass, damage or destruction of forest.
– NGOs describe the letters as an attempt to silence Indigenous communities who have spoken out against the company.

From Flores to Papua: Meet 10 of Indonesia’s mangrove guardians by Loren Bell [06/01/2021]

– Indonesia is home to 3.2 million hectares (7.9 million acres) of mangroves, more than any other country.
– These coastal forests, which serve as nurseries for countless fish species and help mitigate tidal flooding and tsunami waves, are being cleared for fish farms, charcoal production, and other commercial activities.
– The Indonesian government in 2020 announced a plan to replant 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) of mangroves on degraded coastline by 2024.
– But an unsung army of ordinary Indonesians has been toiling around the country for decades to save and grow mangrove forests. These are some of their stories.

‘Inspiring behavior change so people and nature thrive’: Q&A with Rare’s Brett Jenks by Rhett A. Butler [06/01/2021]

– Rare, a conservation group that has run programs in more than 60 countries since starting in the 1970s, puts behavior change at the center of its work, combining design thinking and social marketing to drive conservation outcomes.
– Brett Jenks has helmed Rare since 2000, helping greatly expand the organization and launching initiatives like the Center for Behavior & the Environment.
– Jenks says Rare’s approach sets it apart from other conservation groups: “Rare is decidedly different from other conservation organizations: We are highly focused on one thing — inspiring behavior change so people and nature thrive,” Rare president and CEO Brett Jenks told Mongabay during a recent interview.
– “We work directly with local leaders and communities, advocating for giving them rights to their resources, equipping them with data for decision-making, connecting them to the formal economy, and empowering them with knowledge and skills to sustain change,” Jenks said. “We are steadfast believers in the cumulative power of individual and collective action as a vital pathway to safeguarding and restoring our shared waters, lands and climate.”

The key to averting environmental catastrophe is right beneath our feet by Claire Asher [06/01/2021]

– Billions of years ago, the first soils served as a cradle for terrestrial life. Today, the land beneath our feet underpins a multitrillion-dollar, global agricultural industry and provides food for nearly 8 billion humans, along with countless wild and domestic species. But soils are in global crisis.
– We are now living in the “danger zone” for four of the nine planetary boundaries: climate change, biodiversity, land-use change, and biogeochemical flows. All four are intimately linked to soil health. Soils hold 80% of all the carbon stored on land.
– Deteriorating soil health is already gravely impacting lives and livelihoods. Land degradation due to human activities costs around 10% of global gross product. When combined with climate change effects, soil degradation could reduce crop yields by 10% globally by 2050.
– There is an inevitable delay between recognizing global problems and enacting solutions, and seeing the resulting boost to ecosystem services. That’s why we must act now if we are to leverage soil ecosystems in the fight against disastrous global environmental change.

Wildlife trafficking, like everything else, has gone online during COVID-19 by Imelda Abano, Leilani Chavez [06/01/2021]

– Regional and national reports show a decline in illegal wildlife trade activities in Southeast Asia in 2020, with operations down by more than 50% across the most-traded animals.
– Despite the decrease, experts say traders have shifted from face-to-face interactions and increased their presence on online platforms.
– Authorities also reported confiscating caches of stockpiled animal parts, indicating that the trade continues amid the pandemic. Traders may be waiting for looser border controls to carry on with business, experts say.
– While these trends suggest that the trade will bounce back in a post-COVID-19 era, experts suggest strengthening enforcement collaboration, improving wildlife laws, and increasing awareness of the health risks posed by illegally poached wildlife.



Podcast: Can Biden’s 30×30 plan put U.S. on a positive conservation track? by Mike Gaworecki [03 Jun 2021]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we discuss the 30×30 conservation plan recently released by the administration of US President Joe Biden and its potential to transform the way the US conserves its natural resources.
– Joe Walston, executive vice president of global conservation for the Wildlife Conservation Society, tells us that the Biden 30×30 plan has been welcomed by environmentalists, even though many important details of the plan still need to be hammered out, and that it sends a signal to the rest of the world that the US is once again looking to lead the world in conservation.
– Sarah Derouin, a Mongabay contributor and a producer of the weekly radio show and podcast “Big Picture Science,” tells us about two agroforestry programs that are already changing the way food is produced in the US and how agroforestry might help meet the 30×30 targets.

In Peru, officials play a losing game of whack-a-mole with illegal miners by Enrique Vera [03 Jun 2021]
– A crackdown in 2019 on illegal mining in Peru’s La Pampa area has displaced the destructive activity to the region around the Pariamanu River, where deforestation rates are accelerating, according to a recent report.
– Since 2017, Pariamanu has lost 204 hectares (504 acres) of forest to illegal mines, one and a half times the size of London’s Hyde Park, with the monthly deforestation rate nearly doubling in 2019 from the previous two years.
– Indigenous Amahuaca communities living near the sites of the new mines have reported water pollution and an increase in violent crime and illegal cantinas and bordellos in the area.
– Authorities acknowledge that the illegal mining problem has simple been displaced from one area to another, but say they lack the funds to tackle all the problem areas at the same time.

West Papua revokes quarter of a million hectares of land from palm oil by Hans Nicholas Jong [03 Jun 2021]
– The local government Indonesia’s West Papua province has revoked permits for 12 oil palm concessions that cover an area twice the size of Los Angeles.
– The move comes after a recent audit of palm oil concession holders found widespread administrative and legal violations, such as lack of necessary licenses and land abandonment.
– Activists have called on the government to follow up on the revocation by granting Indigenous peoples access to the rescinded concessions so that they can be managed in a sustainable manner, instead of granting new licenses to other investors.
– The West Papua government has vowed to do so, saying it has made various commitments to protect the province’s remaining rainforests, which are increasingly threatened by the expansion of industrial agriculture, mining and logging.

Land conflicts in Brazil break record under Bolsonaro by Juliana Ennes [02 Jun 2021]
– Land conflicts in Brazil broke a record in 2020 for the second year running, reaching 1,576 cases — the highest since 1985, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).
– Activists have identified government actions as the main driver for the increase in conflicts over land, labor and water, citing cuts to environmental and social initiatives and rhetoric favoring land grabbers and illegal miners.
– Conflicts involving Indigenous peoples accounted for more than 40% of the total; Indigenous people also made up seven of the 18 victims of murders linked to land conflicts recorded by CPT last year.
– Attacks on Indigenous reserves have escalated in recent weeks, with illegal gold miners attacking the homes of Indigenous leaders on May 26 in the Munduruku reserve in the Amazon, prompting state authorities to demand a continuous presence of security forces in the region.

Deforestation intensifies in northern DRC protected areas by Morgan Erickson-Davis [02 Jun 2021]
– Satellite data from the University of Maryland are showing recent spikes in deforestation activity in the northern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
– Forest loss appears to be affecting protected areas, including Okapi Wildlife Reserve and Bili-Uéré.
– Major drivers of deforestation in the DRC include logging, charcoal production, agriculture and informal mining, which sources say are aided by government inaction.

Efforts to restore tropical peatlands need fire-free plantations (commentary) by Evi Wulandari | Dilva Terzano [02 Jun 2021]
– In Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia, peatlands have been extensively drained and cleared using fire for agricultural purposes.
– One important step to reverse peatland degradation is to transition to fire-free sustainable peatland management in plantations.
– Insufficient law enforcement, lack of inter-agency coordination, relatively weak governance, and poor institutional capacity for forest and peatland management have been barriers to implementation of National Action Plans on Peatlands in ASEAN countries.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Talks break down over crumbling Yemeni tanker threatening massive oil spill by Elizabeth Fitt [02 Jun 2021]
– The FSO Safer, an oil supertanker anchored for decades off Yemen, risks a catastrophic humanitarian and environmental disaster in the Red Sea.
– The civil war in Yemen has suspended essential maintenance on the increasingly fragile vessel with more than 1 million barrels of oil in its hold and hindered disaster preparedness.
– On June 1, talks appeared to break down between the U.N. and the Houthi administration, which controls the vessel. The two sides had spent months negotiating access for a U.N. team to investigate and stabilize the vessel.
– A spill would jeopardize corals with the best-known chance of surviving predicted global climate change.

On the Mongolian steppe, conservation science meets traditional knowledge by Jacopo Pasotti [02 Jun 2021]
– Rangelands and the pastoralists who rely on them are an overlooked and understudied part of global conservation.
– Tunga Ulambayar, country director for the Zoological Society of London’s Mongolia office, says she wants to change this by complementing the scientific understanding with pastoralists’ traditional knowledge of nature.
– “There is no university teaching that kind of traditional knowledge, but if we really aim to care about these regions and their resources, even from an economic perspective, we need this knowledge,” she says.
– Ulambayar also notes that pastoralism, widely practiced in less industrialized countries, is increasingly recognized as an efficient system of resource management and a resilient culture.

How many members can a giant river otter family have? Candid Animal Cam by Romina Castagnino [02 Jun 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.

Mining linked yet again to another severe flood in Indonesian Borneo by Hans Nicholas Jong [01 Jun 2021]
– Recent floods that hit the eastern part of Indonesia Borneo may have been exacerbated by massive deforestation for coal mines.
– There are as many as 94 coal-mining concessions in Berau district, which was hit by floodwaters as high as 2 meters (6.5 feet).
– Twenty of the concessions are located along the two rivers that overflowed during the floods.
– Illegal mining is also rampant in the area, and the police have launched an investigation to identify whether mining was a factor in exacerbating the scale of the flooding.

Chocolate giant funds high resolution carbon map to protect forests by Aurora Solá [01 Jun 2021]
– A new carbon map based on high resolution satellite imagery that will help companies avoid deforestation in their supplies chains is expected to be published by the end of 2021.
– The map builds on the High Carbon Stock (HCS) approach, a methodology that differentiates between six categories of vegetation cover, from native forest areas that conservationists say should be protected to degraded lands low in carbon and biodiversity that may be appropriate for conversion to other uses.
– The map was developed by the EcoVision Lab at ETH Zurich and financed by Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest chocolate maker.
– The initial release of the map covers Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

Area impacted by land use change four times higher than previously thought by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [01 Jun 2021]
– A new study has found that global land use changes due to human impacts are four times greater than previously thought.
– It found that humans have generated changes to 43 million square kilometers (17 million square miles) of land, which is about a third of global land surface, between 1960 and 2019.
– The researchers used high-spatial-resolution remote-sensing data to detect when land had changed multiple times — for instance, forest being turned into pasture and then into cropland, or a reverse scenario in which cropland transforms back into forest.

Mongabay’s What-To-Watch list for June 2021 by [01 Jun 2021]
– Does reforestation help mitigate climate change? And how effective is reforestation? In May, Mongabay delved into these questions through video explainers and on-the-ground reporting.
– In May, we also published a few behind-the-scenes videos for anyone who wants to take a peek behind the curtain and learn more about how Mongabay does its reporting.
– May was also another big month for stories on animals and new discoveries about animal behavior.
– Add these videos to your watchlist along with your favorites from Netflix, Disney+ or Prime.

With fire contained, Sri Lanka faces plastic pellet problem from stricken ship by Malaka Rodrigo [31 May 2021]
– Sri Lanka faces an uphill task to clean up countless plastic pellets that have washed up on its beaches from a cargo ship that caught fire off the island’s west coast.
– The fire, linked to the X-Press Pearl’s cargo of nitric acid, was brought largely under control by May 30 after it broke out on May 21, authorities say.
– The plastic pellets, or nurdles, that fell overboard during the incident have spread with the ocean current down to southern Sri Lanka, carpeting beaches along the coast and posing a threat to marine life and humans.
– Experts say the cleanup operation will be long and difficult, given the scale of the problem and the fact that Sri Lanka is under a COVID-19 lockdown that limits the mass mobilization needed to mount a cleanup effort.

Lean times leave orangutans wasting away. Habitat loss makes things worse by Hans Nicholas Jong [31 May 2021]
– Bornean orangutans experience muscle loss when fruit is scarce, as the fat reserves they build up during periods of high fruit availability aren’t enough to meet their needs, a new study has found.
– The researchers say this is surprising because orangutans are known for their tendency to store fat in order to adapt to periods of low food availability.
– The findings highlight that any further disruptions of their fruit supply — including climate change and habitat loss — could have dire consequences for their health and survival.

In the International Year of Caves and Karst, Brazilian caves are at high risk (Commentary) by Enrico Bernard | Rodrigo Lopes Ferreira | Francisco W. Cruz | Luís Piló | Allan Calux [31 May 2021]
– 2021 has been designated the International Year of Caves and Karst (IYCK), aimed to celebrate and draw attention to spectacular habitats that would go unnoticed by most of the population.
– In the case of Brazil, the IYCK is also an opportunity to alert society to the increasing risks experienced by Brazilian caves.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Book Review: ‘Planet Palm’ reveals a world map stained by red oil by Ashoka Mukpo [31 May 2021]
– From the Niger Delta in the 1850s to modern-day Indonesia and Honduras, Planet Palm weaves a nuanced and gripping narrative out of the history of palm oil.
– The book meticulously covers the colonial beginnings of the industrial palm oil trade and the fortunes made from its popularity in Europe and later, Asia.
– As battles rage over the ecological and labor rights track record of the palm oil industry, Planet Palm is an excellent and readable overview of one of the biggest issues in environmentalism.

Declining fish biodiversity in Peruvian Amazon affecting human nutrition by Liz Kimbrough [28 May 2021]
– Declining fish diversity in the Peruvian Amazon could affect nutrition for many of the region’s 800,000 people, according to a new study.
– In Loreto region, fishers have been catching fewer large migratory fish species, which are being replaced by smaller fish. Although protein levels are roughly the same, smaller fish contain more omega-3 fatty acids but less iron and zinc, overall—an issue in a region where people already have high rates of anemia and malnutrition.
– Inland communities are already transitioning toward eating more farmed fish and chicken, but these foods may not be an adequate replacement for the range of nutrients these communities get from a diverse diet of wild fish.
– Although this study focused on regional fish, other wild foods such as plants, insects and bushmeat are an important source of nutrition across the globe. Therefore, policies and practices that preserve biodiversity are not only important for conservation but also a means towards greater food security and public health.

Illegal miners fire shots, burn homes in Munduruku Indigenous Reserve by Ana Ionova [28 May 2021]
– Illegal gold miners set fire to homes of several Indigenous leaders in the Munduruku Indigenous Reserve in the Brazilian Amazon this week, before attempting to destroy police equipment used to expel outsiders, authorities and activists say.
– Indigenous groups say the attack was in retaliation to police operations aimed at expelling illegal gold miners from the Munduruku reserve, which is supposed to be under federal protection.
– The Munduruku people have been battling invasions for decades but miners have grown bolder amid expectations that the federal government may legalize wildcat mining on Indigenous lands; police forces withdrew from the region following the attacks, leaving Indigenous people vulnerable to further violence, federal prosecutors say.
– The attacks in the Munduruku reserve follow a wave of violence in the Yanomami reserve, where 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of land have been degradaded since January, according to a recent aerial survey, setting the stage for a new record for deforestation in the reserve.

Hold the scuba: These lizards can breathe underwater by [28 May 2021]
– Researchers recently discovered that several species of semi-aquatic anole lizards can breathe underwater — or rebreathe — for up to 18 minutes.
– They observed that anoles have hydrophobic skin that allows a thin layer of air to form around their bodies when they dive underwater, which they believe aids their rebreathing process.
– When the anoles exhale underwater, a bubble of air forms over their snout and then goes back into their nostrils when they inhale.
– The researchers believe that anoles evolved to rebreathe underwater to avoid predators, although more research is needed to confirm this.

Tale of two traffickers is a rare spell of Congolese conservation convictions by Soraya Kishtwari [28 May 2021]
– Serial elephant poacher Rombo Ngando Lunda was given a 20-year prison sentence and fined $25,000 in a landmark ruling in March.
– Wildlife trafficker Salomon Mpay sentenced to just two years and a $2,000 fine after being caught with 35 kilos of ivory and 2.5 metric tons of pangolin scales.
– Lawyers for conservation groups whose investigations led to Mpay’s arrest are appealing what they say is a lenient sentence.

Oil palm plantations a ‘threat to global health,’ says study on outbreaks by [28 May 2021]
– From Ebola in Africa to malaria in Brazil to tick-borne illnesses in the U.S., there is a common thread linking outbreaks of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases: fluctuating forest cover, according to a recent study.
– Deforestation and even increases in green cover can fuel the rise of diseases, the research shows, citing the link between oil palm plantations and outbreaks of malaria and dengue as a case in point.
– The study examined linkages between forest cover changes with vector-borne and zoonotic diseases between 1990 and 2016 and found that outbreaks of both types of infections have increased.
– The evidence that human health can suffer even as a result of misguided afforestation or plantation shows that more research is needed on the role of forests in modulating diseases.

Drugs, fire, settlers poised to wipe out one of Paraguay’s most biodiverse forests by Aldo Benítez [27 May 2021]
– San Rafael National Park/Proposed National Reserve encompasses one of the most unique, biodiverse and threatened forests in Paraguay.
– Fires in late 2020 burned an estimated 45% of the reserve, and biologists say it may take decades for the area to recover.
– Meanwhile, drug traffickers are expanding illegal marijuana plantations within San Rafael and on May 21, more than a hundred outsiders reportedly crossed into the reserve where they are clearing trees and establishing settlements.
– Despite its international categorization as a national park, a 2002 recategorization error left San Rafael unrecognized as a protected area in Paraguay, making the area ineligible for proper protection.

Brazil’s Xingu River Basin feels the heat from Bolsonaro’s fiery rhetoric by Sam Cowie [27 May 2021]
– An area six times larger than New York City has been destroyed by loggers, land grabbers and illegal miners from 2018 to 2020 in the basin straddling the states of Pará and Mato Grosso.
– A green corridor of Indigenous reserves and conservation units risks being severed in two with land grabbers advancing on both sides from municipalities with high levels of deforestation.
– Experts say the dramatic increase of destruction reflects a generalized sense of impunity in the region, fueled by the anti-Indigenous and anti-environmental rhetoric of President Jair Bolsonaro.
– Suspension of environmental inspections led to a notable uptick in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon; the number of fines imposed for environmental crimes fell by 34% in the first year of the Bolsonaro administration.

New clearing of forest in protected area in Brazil linked to mining by Liz Kimbrough [27 May 2021]
– An expansive clearing of primary forest has been detected in Tapajós Environmental Protection Area in the Brazilian Amazon, possibly driven by illegal mining activities.
– Satellite imagery from Planet confirms that the deforestation, which covers around 1,250 hectares (3,090 acres), or an area the size of a large international airport, occurred between January and February of this year.
– Mining activity is the suspected driver of this forest loss, as the cleared area surrounds a long-standing feature resembling an airstrip and partially overlaps a proposed gold mining concession.
– Several bills are pending in both Brazil’s houses of Congress that would, if approved, create loopholes for mining on Indigenous territories and grant amnesties to land grabbers.



Indigenous in Brasília: The fight for rights in Brazil’s power base by Leticia Casado [05/25/2021]
Science refutes United Cacao’s claim it didn’t deforest Peruvian Amazon by John C. Cannon [05/25/2021]
Brazil court orders illegal miners booted from Yanomami Indigenous Reserve by Shanna Hanbury [05/21/2021]