Newsletter 2021-06-10



‘Listening to communities must go beyond ticking compliance boxes’, says Peter Kallang, a Kenyah leader by Rhett A. Butler [06/09/2021]

– The Malaysian state of Sarawak was until recently home to some of the last nomadic peoples of Borneo, who roamed its wild and rich rainforests as they had done since time immemorial. Starting in the early 1980s, industrial logging companies moved deep into Sarawak’s hinterland, tearing down forests, forcing forest peoples from their traditional lands, and laying the groundwork for large-scale conversion of biodiverse ecosystems into monoculture plantations.
– Sarawak’s Indigenous peoples put up resistance against these state-backed incursions into their traditional territories. One of the most dramatic outcomes of these efforts came in 2016, when the Chief Minister of Sarawak cancelled the Baram mega-dam project.
– Peter Kallang, a member of the Kenyah people who runs the NGO SAVE Rivers, was one of the leaders of the Baram campaign, helping coordinate, organize, and mobilize Indigenous communities that would have been most impacted by the dam. Now Kallang, SAVE Rivers, and other groups are fighting to defend traditional Indigenous lands against logging by Samling, a Malaysian timber company.
– Kallang spoke about his background, Indigenous-led advocacy, the conservation sector’s shortcomings in recognizing Indigenous rights, and other topics during a June 2021 interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

For Africa’s great apes, a post-pandemic future looks beyond tourism by Heather Richardson [06/09/2021]

– From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, primatologists assumed great apes would be susceptible to the virus and took measures to avoid transmission to captive and wild populations.
– Precautionary measures like closing parks and sanctuaries to visitors have so far prevented an outbreak in wild apes, but have had a massive impact on the ability of conservation groups and government agencies to fund themselves via tourism.
– A year into the pandemic, the revenue shortfall is prompting a serious rethink of funding models for ape conservation that don’t rely on tourism.

Unregulated by U.S. at home, Facebook boosts wildlife trafficking abroad by Ian Morse [06/08/2021]

– The world’s largest social media company, Facebook, regularly connects wildlife traffickers around the world, and advocates are stepping up the pressure to address the problem in the company’s home country.
– Proposed U.S. legislation targets a decades-old law that protects online companies’ content as free speech on their platform. Advocates say wildlife crime is not speech, and that online companies lack the regulation that other “real-life” companies must follow.
– Trafficking has increased since Facebook chose to self-regulate in 2019, researchers say. The company could cooperate with law enforcement or conservationists, but it has rarely chosen to do so.
– Meanwhile, researchers are gathering more and more evidence that wildlife trafficking is one of the biggest threats to global biodiversity.

Brazil’s environment minister faces second probe linked to illegal timber by Shanna Hanbury [06/04/2021]

– Brazil’s highest court has authorized an investigation into alleged obstruction of justice by Environment Minister Ricardo Salles, who has admitted to siding with suspected illegal loggers targeted in a police operation.
– Following the country’s biggest ever bust of illegal timber in March, Salles traveled to the site in the Amazon and declared on social media accounts that he had personally checked the origin of a sample of the wood and found it was not of illegal origin, despite the police’s evidence to the contrary.
– The new investigation into Salles comes two weeks after the Federal Police began a probe into allegations that the minister was involved in exports of illegal timber to the U.S. and Europe.
– Salles’s term as environment minister has been marked by skyrocketing deforestation rates, a record-high number of rural land conflicts, the gutting of environmental regulators, and an increase in invasions and attacks on Indigenous lands.



New areas of primary forest cleared in Brazil’s ‘lawless’ Lábrea by Liz Kimbrough [09 Jun 2021]
– Satellite imagery reveals several areas of primary rainforest were cleared alongside agricultural fields in Lábrea municipality in the Brazilian Amazon.
– The deforestation occurred in four areas and covers around 2,115 hectares (5,226 acres), all in close proximity to Indigenous and protected lands.
– Lábrea municipality has been called a “crime factory,” where its remote location and lack of law enforcement act as a catalyst for illegal deforestation and land grabbing.
– Forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon hit a 14-year high for the month of May, amounting to 118,000 hectares (292,000 acres), an area roughly 20 times the size of Manhattan.

As U.K. eyes new environmental rules, some firms want to pump the brakes by Ashoka Mukpo [09 Jun 2021]
– A long-anticipated U.K. environmental bill is currently in the House of Lords and is expected to pass before the global climate summit takes place in Scotland later this year.
– Environmental advocates have criticized the bill for failing to include human rights protections and allowing forms of deforestation deemed legal under local laws.
– In a consultation held by a U.K. government agency, some representatives of the meat and oilseed industries pushed back against the threat of fines for importing products or commodities linked to illegal deforestation.

Indonesia’s biodiesel program fuels deforestation threat, report warns by Hans Nicholas Jong [09 Jun 2021]
– A new report adds to warnings that Indonesia’s biodiesel program will drive greater deforestation by boosting demand for palm oil.
– It says contradictory and opaque government policies “create conditions for producers to maintain business-as-usual production systems, instead of investing in more sustainable production innovations, such as increasing land productivity.”
– Experts also say the biodiesel program should only serve as a transition to more sustainable forms of renewable energy, and not the long-term solution that the government is touting.
– Palm oil plantations are the single biggest driver of deforestation in Indonesia.

Chinese banks pouring billions into deforestation-linked firms, report says by Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [09 Jun 2021]
– New analysis from Global Witness has revealed that Chinese banks and investors provided more than $22.5 billion to deforestation-linked companies worldwide from January 2013 to April 2020.
– Global Witness found that five of the biggest Chinese commercial banks accounted for 45% of all funds provided by Chinese financiers during this period.
– With the Chinese law regulating commercial banks set to be revised later this year, the eco-watchdog is calling for policymakers to prohibit Chinese banks from financing businesses linked to environmental and social damage.

The secret bears of Bolivia’s lost dry forests by Claire Wordley [09 Jun 2021]
– Researchers have discovered a secret population of spectacled bears in a remnant, endangered forest in the highlands of Bolivia.
– The forest is one of the last surviving patches of the highly imperilled inter-Andean dry forest.
– While the spectacled bear population is small and has many threats, researchers say they hope to connect it with other populations.

No oil spill reported, but Sri Lanka braces for worst after X-Press Pearl sinks by Malaka Rodrigo [09 Jun 2021]
– Days after the ill-fated Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl cargo ship erupted in flames, attempts to tow the vessel toward deep waters to reduce its impact failed as it began to sink off Sri Lanka’s western coast.
– The newly commissioned freighter was carrying 300 metric tons of fuel oil in its tanks, but no oil leaks have been reported as of June 8, according to the Sri Lanka Navy.
– But there’s already fallout from the disaster, with tons of grain-sized plastic pellets from the ship’s cargo washing up on beaches along the island’s western coast, posing a massive cleanup headache.
– Sri Lanka is pursuing compensation from the ship’s owner, while experts say the disaster highlights the need for the country to strengthen its capacity to respond to such incidents.

In Gabon, a new partnership for sharks and rays announced on World Ocean Day by Gaspard Abitsi, Godefroy De Bruyne, Luke Warwick [08 Jun 2021]
– The diversity of habitat in Gabon’s waters creates a perfect home for a wide range of shark and ray species: from whale sharks to giant manta rays, scalloped hammerheads, and guitarfish.
– A partnership between the government and conservation NGO Wildlife Conservation Society highlights a new global initiative to save the world’s sharks and rays, launched this World Ocean Day.
– The first new law fully regulates shark and ray catches and special authorization will now be needed to target sharks and rays, and a second adds a wide range of sharks and rays to Gabon’s list of fully protected marine species.
– This article is an analysis. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

NGOs back Maldives’ ambitious plan to save Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna by Malavika Vyawahare [08 Jun 2021]
– As the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission begins its 2021 annual meeting, the item at the top of its agenda: how to save the overfished Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) stock from collapse.
– The crisis has pitted a group of distant-water fishing nations led by the EU, which hauls in the largest share of yellowfin, against Indian Ocean states like the Maldives, Kenya and South Africa.
– Two proposals are currently under discussion, one from the Maldives, backed by coastal states, many of whom are developing countries, and the other from the EU, which enjoys the support of other distant-water fishing nations like South Korea and Japan.
– Experts say the Maldives’ plan would result in deeper reductions to catches, a starting point to end overfishing and rebuild the stock, and is more equitable than the EU’s proposal.

In less than a generation, legal mining in Colombia deforested over 120,000 hectares by Nicolás Bustamante Hernández [08 Jun 2021]
– A study by researchers in Colombia found that forest clearing by legal mining operations has increased sharply in recent years.
– The study shows that just 1% of the 8,600 legal mining concessions in the country account for 60% of the deforestation associated with the sector.
– The authors say that if mining titles continue to be granted at current rates, Colombia could lose 400,000 hectares (990,000 acres) of forest from legal mining alone over the next two decades.

Indonesia to retire coal-fired power plants while also adding more by Hans Nicholas Jong [08 Jun 2021]
– Indonesia’s state-owned utility says it will start shutting down coal-fired power plants and phase them all out by 2055, amounting to 50 gigawatts of capacity.
– At the same time, it’s building 21 GW of new coal plants that will have an operating life until 2065 — a contradiction that activists say undermines the coal phase-out plan.
– The mixed message is the latest from a government that still doesn’t have a unified policy on a clean energy transition, and which continues to lavish generous subsidies and incentives on coal miners and power plant operators.
– Energy policy experts say the president needs to publicly weigh in on the issue, including declaring a deadline for Indonesia to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

Brazil ‘Adopt-a-Park’ program may negatively impact traditional peoples by Sue Branford and Maurício Torres [08 Jun 2021]
– Brazil has launched an ambitious “Adopt-a-Park” program, inviting local and transnational companies to provide goods and services and help manage 132 conservation units of all types in the Brazilian Amazon. Should the program be successful, it would be extended to preserves across Brazil.
– Private response has been weak so far, with only eight companies, five Brazilian and three transnationals, signing up. That includes French-owned supermarket chain Carrefour, U.S. beverage maker Coca-Cola, and Dutch brewer Heineken. Details as to how the initiative will function have been scant.
– The Jair Bolsonaro government says it hopes that during a time of deep federal budget cuts to environmental programs, Adopt-a-Park will add the equivalent of $600 million in goods and services to conservation coffers. But the initiative has unleashed a firestorm of criticism from socioenvironmental NGOs and traditional communities.
– They say Adopt-a-Park is a way of greenwashing Bolsonaro’s anti-environmental agenda, that the program is failing to carry out required consultations with traditional peoples — such as rubber tappers and Brazil nut gatherers, who live inside extractive reserves — and that it could further the dismantling of federal agencies.

Our 10 most popular conservation stories in May 2021 by [08 Jun 2021]
– Mongabay published nearly 400 stories across its various bureaus during the month of May.
– Here are the ten most read stories on the global English news site.

A buffer zone for Thailand, last great hope for wildlife in Southeast Asia (commentary) by Gregory McCann [07 Jun 2021]
– Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam form a kind of buffer zone around Thailand against the onslaught of the illegal wildlife trade that has engulfed Southeast Asia’s forests.
– If animals like the Indochinese tiger are to be saved from extinction, Thailand may be its only hope.
– Conservationists and donors should set their sights on Thailand: if there is to be a regional recovery of wildlife, Thailand is where it will start.
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

CSI, but for parrots: Study applies criminological tool CRAAVED to wildlife trade by Grace Dungey, Nick Rodway [07 Jun 2021]
– Parrots as the most traded animal taxon have the potential to provide a primary source of data for investigating the causes and consequences of the animal trade.
– A new study applies the CRAAVED model analysis to shed new light on key drivers of the illegal parrot trade in Indonesia, home to the highest diversity of the birds and a thriving wildlife market.
– The analysis identified three main factors for which species were targeted by traffickers: how accessible parrot species are to people and traders; whether legal export of the species is possible; and whether the species is enjoyable through its color, size or mimicry.
– Other experts have welcomed the findings and their implications, but point to limitations in the CRAAVED model and the importance of considering other factors such as harvest quotas and the motivation behind wildlife crime.

Study shows it took the Amazon as we know it over 6 million years to form by Claire Asher [07 Jun 2021]
– An asteroid impact near Mexico 66 million years ago triggered an ecological catastrophe that claimed nearly half of all plant species and took Amazon forests more than 6 million years to recover from.
– Colombian researchers analyzed fossilized pollen and leaves and found plant diversity declined by 45% after the impact; when plant diversity finally recovered, open forests of ferns and conifers had been replaced by dense, closed-canopy forests dominated by flowering plants.
– The researchers suggested three interlinked explanations for the sudden transition: the extinction of large-bodied dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous reduced forest disturbance; dust from the impact acted as a fertilizer; conifers were more likely to go extinct.
– In the time periods studied, Earth’s climate was warmer and CO2 levels were higher, showing that climate alone is not enough to trigger a forest-to-savanna transition, with the pace of warming and deforestation the crucial puzzle pieces that determine whether today’s forests can survive.

World’s richest tin mine pollutes rivers serving Amazon Indigenous villages by Maurício Angelo [04 Jun 2021]
– Prosecutors in Brazil have demanded immediate remedial action following a leak of waste from the Pitinga tin mine into rivers that serve Indigenous communities in the Amazonian reserve of Waimiri-Atroari.
– Federal authorities and Indigenous expeditions confirmed the leak of tailings waste from six dams managed by Mineração Taboca, the Brazilian subsidiary of Peruvian tin mining giant Minsur, which has affected the water supply for 22 Waimiri-Atroari villages.
– Indigenous residents say they fear a catastrophic disaster from the potential failure of Taboca’s main dam; the structure is four times the size of Brazilian miner Vale’s dam in Brumadinho municipality whose collapse in 2019 killed 270 people.
– Besides the Pitinga mine outside the reserve, Taboca and a subsidiary have 37 applications pending to mine inside the Waimiri-Atroari Indigenous Territory — an activity currently prohibited by Brazil’s Constitution, but which would be permitted under a bill currently before Congress.

May deforestation in the Amazon hits 14-year high, with 4 days of data still to process by Rhett A. Butler [04 Jun 2021]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rose sharply in May, reports the country’s national space research institute INPE.
– According to INPE’s satellite-based deforestation tracking system, DETER, forest destruction in the Brazilian portion of the Amazon through the first 27 days of the month amounted to 1,180 square kilometers, an area 20 times the size of Manhattan.
– Deforestation in May was the highest for any May dating back to at least 2007. The next highest May on record is May 2008, when 1,096 square kilometers was cut down.
– Scientists are bracing for a bad fire season in the southern and eastern Amazon due to below average rainfall during the most recent rainy season. A resurgence of fire and deforestation in the Amazon is heightening concerns about the fate of Earth’s largest rainforest, which some researchers say could be approaching a point where vast areas transition toward drier habitat.

‘We guard the forest’: Carbon markets without community recognition not viable by Dimitri Selibas [04 Jun 2021]
– Researchers looked at 31 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that hold almost 70% of the world’s tropical forests and 62% of the total feasible natural climate solution potential, and found that most of the tropical forested countries looking to benefit from carbon markets still need to define community carbon rights.
– There is significant public and private interest to use carbon markets to fight climate change and work toward the goals of the Paris Agreement, with the global LEAF coalition pushing to mobilize at least $1 billion to tackle deforestation and forest degradation.
– While carbon markets appear to be a win-win for protecting the forests and promoting developing economies, if implemented without meaningfully including communities, they could worsen risks faces by these communities including increasing land grabs and efforts to capture associated rents, and increasing threats of human rights violations, criminalization and conflicts.
– Studies increasingly show that Indigenous peoples and local communities are the best stewards of tropical forests, and that granting them land rights is a highly cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions.

New Attenborough film sounds alarm on planetary boundaries, but offers hope by [04 Jun 2021]
– A newly released Netflix documentary, “Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet,” features David Attenborough and Johan Rockström, one of the scientists who introduced the concept of planetary boundaries.
– Planetary boundaries are Earth system processes essential for the planet’s functioning but have an environmental limit to which they can tolerate changes.
– According to experts, if these limits are transgressed, the Earth can be pushed into a new, dangerous state.
– While the film suggests that the planet requires urgent repair, it also offers a clear path forward — and a message of hope.

As the world’s biggest users of water, business must act to save it (commentary) by Roan du Feu | Georg Kell [04 Jun 2021]
– Water is a problem that has historically been overlooked, but the conversation around water is growing, and companies no longer have the excuse to turn a blind eye.
– The World Bank has found that failure to tackle the current water crisis by implementing better water management practices could cause 6% regional GDP losses by 2050.
– Investors who want to consider water could make decisions on companies based on how those companies address the value of water throughout their operations by, for example, reporting on and managing their water-related risks.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

A novel tree nursery gives the Caatinga a fighting chance against desertification by Luís Patriani [04 Jun 2021]
– Nearly half of the Caatinga, the only exclusively Brazilian biome, has been destroyed and 13% of its territory has already been lost to desertification.
– A project at Rio Grande do Norte Federal University is using PVC pipes to lengthen and accelerate root growth in native plant species that have trouble drawing water from degraded soil.
– Previous restoration methods in the Caatinga resulted in mortality rates near 70% after transplant, but this new method reverses that figure, raising survival rates to 70%.

US, UK join Norway and Germany in effort to protect Peru’s rainforests by [04 Jun 2021]
– Britain and the United States have joined Norway and Germany in supporting efforts by the Peruvian government to reduce deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon.
– The U.S. and U.K. have signed on to the existing reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) program established in 2014 by Norway and Germany with the government of Peru.
– Norway and Germany have agreed to extend their participation in the program through 2025, pledging 1.8 billion Norwegian Krone ($215 million) and 210 million euros ($255 million), respectively, based on Peru’s progress in curbing deforestation.
– Deforestation in Peru has been trending upward since the mid-2010s, according to data from the World Resource Institute’s Global Forest Watch. Primary forest loss reached 190,000 hectares in 2020, the highest level since at least 2002.

The Brazilian Amazon is burning, again by Liz Kimbrough [03 Jun 2021]
– In recent weeks, nine major fires have been burning in the Brazilian Amazon, heralding an unsettling start to another fire season—which experts say could be a bad one after a particularly dry year.
– The first major fire of the year occurred on May 19, near the border of Serra Ricardo Franco State Park in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, where all of the nine major fires have occurred averaging around 200 hectares (494 acres) each.
– All of the 2021 fires are on land deforested in 2020, emphasizing the connection between deforestation and fire in the Brazilian Amazon.
– Looking ahead, one expert says we can expect to see patterns similar to last year, with fires in deforested areas early in the season (June through August), with a possible shift to standing forests as the dry season intensifies.

‘Dark’ ships off Argentina ring alarms over possible illegal fishing by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [03 Jun 2021]
– A new report from the NGO Oceana revealed that 800 foreign vessels from China, Taiwan, South Korea and Spain conducted 900,000 hours of visible fishing near Argentina’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but that there were more than 600,000 additional hours in which fishing vessels went “dark” by turning off their automatic identification systems (AIS).
– When ships turn off their AIS, there is a strong likelihood that they’re engaging in some kind of illegal activity, such as entering Argentina’s EEZ to illegally fish, the report suggests.
– While China had the highest number of incidences of AIS gaps, the report notes that the Spanish fleet went dark three times as often as the Chinese fleet, and that they spent nearly twice as long with no AIS signal as they did visibly fishing.
– The report also documents that more than 30% of dark vessels eventually traveled to the Port of Montevideo in neighboring Uruguay, a location favored by those involved in illegal fishing. It also notes that more than half of the dark vessels engaged with other ships at sea, most likely to transfer illegally caught fish without needing to go to port.



Threat of legal action against Indigenous Borneans protesting timber company by Danielle Keeton-Olsen [06/01/2021]
From Flores to Papua: Meet 10 of Indonesia’s mangrove guardians by Loren Bell [06/01/2021]
‘Inspiring behavior change so people and nature thrive’: Q&A with Rare’s Brett Jenks by Rhett A. Butler [06/01/2021]
The key to averting environmental catastrophe is right beneath our feet by Claire Asher [06/01/2021]
Wildlife trafficking, like everything else, has gone online during COVID-19 by Imelda Abano, Leilani Chavez [06/01/2021]