Newsletter 2021-07-22


Planned Brazil-Peru highway threatens one of Earth’s most biodiverse places by Fabiano Maisonnave [07/22/2021]

– Serra do Divisor National Park on Brazil’s border with Peru is home to numerous endemic animals and more than a thousand plant species, but faces a double threat from a planned highway and a bid to downgrade its protected status.
– The downgrade from national park to “environmental protection area” would paradoxically open up this Andean-Amazon transition region to deforestation, cattle ranching, and mining — activities that are currently prohibited in the park.
– The highway project, meant to give Acre another land route to the Pacific via Peru, has been embraced by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro, which has already taken the first steps toward its construction.
– Indigenous and river community leaders say they have not been consulted about the highway, as required by law, and have not been told about the proposed downgrade of the park, both of which they warn will have negative socioenvironmental impacts.

As soy frenzy grips Brazil, deforestation closes in on Indigenous lands by Ana Ionova [07/21/2021]

– A large swath of rainforest has been cleared and was burned on the edge of the Wawi Indigenous Territory in the Brazilian Amazon.
– The fire is one of many being set to clear land for soy cultivation, much of it legally mandated, as demand for the crop sees growers push deeper into the rainforest and even into Indigenous and protected areas.
– Enforcement against forest destruction has been undermined at the federal level, thanks to budget cuts and loosened restrictions by the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro.
– The burning threatens to compound health problems in Indigenous communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while the use of agrochemicals on the soy plantations poses longer-term hazards.

Turning Kenya’s problematic invasive plants into useful bioenergy by Anthony Langat [07/21/2021]

– The shores of Lake Victoria are clogged with water hyacinth, a South American invasive plant that is hurting Kenya’s freshwater fishery, economy and people’s health. While manual removal is effective, it is labor intensive and can’t keep up with the spreading plant.
– Kenyans are innovating to find ways to reduce water hyacinth by finding practical uses for the invader. In 2018, a program was launched to turn the exotic species into biogas which is then offered to economically vulnerable households to use as a biofuel for cooking.
– One proposal being considered: a scaled up industrial biogas plant that would use water hyacinth as a primary source of raw material. Efforts are also underway to convert another invasive plant, prickly pear into biogas used for cooking. A biocontrol insect is also proving effective, though slow, in dealing with prickly pear.
– These economically viable and sustainable homegrown solutions are chipping away at Kenya’s invasive species problem, though to be truly effective, these various projects would need to be upscaled.

Brazil government faces heat over plan that could underreport forest fires by Juliana Ennes [07/19/2021]

– The Brazilian government faces a new controversy over how it monitors, and ultimately responds to, forest fires, after rolling out a new centralized information system.
– The National Meteorology System (SNM) will collate date from the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE), the National Institute of Meteorology (INMET) and the Managing and Operational Center of the System to Protect the Amazon (Censipam).
– But the government has sent out mixed messages about how the system will work, raising concerns among scientists and environmentalists that the comprehensive and reliable data sets from INPE will be quashed in favor of underreported deforestation and fire information from INMET.
– The government has sought to allay those fears, saying INPE’s data stream will be maintained, but critics say this isn’t the first time the Bolsonaro administration has tried to undermine INPE for exposing the rising trend in deforestation and fires under the administration.



Next stop, the sea: Sri Lanka’s old buses are a new home for marine life by Malaka Rodrigo [21 Jul 2021]
– The Sri Lankan government has recently been sinking decommissioned buses and boats at selected sites off the country’s coast to serve as fish-breeding sites.
– Initial observations are encouraging, with marine life starting to flock to these artificial structures; conservationists say the project needs to be regularly monitored.
– Shipwrecks abound around Sri Lanka, thanks to its position on the Indian Ocean shipping route, with many decades-old wrecks now serving as artificial reefs hosting an abundance of marine life and doubling as tourist attractions.
– Conservationists have welcomed the new program, but say there also needs to be greater enforcement against destructive fishing practices that target and damage natural fish-breeding sites such as coral reefs.

Great Barrier Reef in danger: Don’t fight the diagnosis, fight the threats (commentary) by John Tanzer [21 Jul 2021]
– At the end of June, UNESCO issued a draft decision to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” due to multiplying threats. The Australian government reacted by saying the decision was politically motivated, without addressing the problems.
– The “in danger” proposal is currently being debated by the World Heritage Committee during its Extended 44th Session hosted virtually in Fuzhou, China.
– “My plea to the government and to my fellow Australians: don’t let politics thwart science. Don’t fight the diagnosis. Fight the threats. The world is watching and the clock is ticking,” writes the former executive director of the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority in this new opinion piece for Mongabay.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Protected areas keep adjacent lands safe, but face losing their own protection by Liz Kimbrough [21 Jul 2021]
– Safeguarding nature in one area can displace harmful activities, such as illegal logging or mining, into another, a phenomenon known as leakage or spillover; but how big is the problem?
– The first systematic review of studies examining the effects of protected areas around the globe on their surrounding areas found that less than 12% showed evidence of leakage or spillover, while the majority (54%) reduced deforestation in surrounding areas.
– Another study found that protected areas in the Brazilian Amazon overwhelmingly blocked deforestation in the surrounding forest, again suggesting that protected areas inhibit deforestation both within and outside of their boundaries.
– Experts say environmental and regulatory rollbacks that loosen restrictions on land use, shrink boundaries, or altogether eliminate protections pose a much greater threat to the Amazon than leakage, and efforts should focus on keeping protected areas permanent and improving management and enforcement of regulations.

Philippines banks on new fisheries management system, but rollout is rocky by Keith Anthony Fabro [21 Jul 2021]
– The Philippines introduced a new fisheries management framework to curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in 2019.
– Under the fisheries management area (FMA) mechanism, the Philippines’ seascapes are delineated into 12 areas with each co-managed by the country’s fisheries agency and a network of local governments.
– The program has seen drastic delays in its implementation, with only six scientific advisory groups established out of the 12. Experts and various groups say the delay was in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the reallocation of state funds, and a lack of action from local mayors.
– Amid the slow rollout of the framework, artisanal fishers say they are threatened by a new bill in Congress that seeks to allow domestic commercial vessels within municipal waters, a practice that is banned under the prevailing fisheries law.

For monitoring mammals, eDNA boasts ‘killer feature’ over other methods by Carolyn Cowan [21 Jul 2021]
– Mounting evidence suggests that the fast-developing tool of eDNA could be a game-changer for terrestrial mammal monitoring.
– A new study demonstrates that eDNA analysis of stream water can reveal the diversity of terrestrial mammals in a large landscape as effectively as camera trapping and for a fraction of the cost.
– Traditional mammal survey methods can be time-consuming, expensive and far from failsafe; eDNA is a reliable and comparatively inexpensive way for conservationists to gain a snapshot of an ecosystem’s mammal fauna, scientists say.
– It could also have a big impact on conservation, since eDNA data allows timely decisions on which species to prioritize and which areas to protect.

For manta rays, parasitic hitchhikers can be a pain in the rear, study finds by [20 Jul 2021]
– A new study has found that 13 species closely associate with reef manta rays and oceanic manta rays in the Maldives.
– The associations between the manta rays and these other species are not always mutually beneficial, with the “hitchhiking” species usually gaining more benefits than they give to the manta rays.
– The study is based on more than 76,5000 sightings of the two manta ray species over a 30-year period.

Indonesia eyes less severe fire season, but COVID-19 could turn it deadly by Hans Nicholas Jong [20 Jul 2021]
– This year’s forest fire season in Indonesia is expected to be less severe than in previous years, but the haze from the burning could still compound the coronavirus crisis in the country.
– Favorable weather conditions and ongoing efforts to restore peatlands point to a “relatively benign” fire season, and hence less risk of severe haze, a new report says.
– Even before the pandemic, haze from forest and peat fires was known to increase cases of respiratory infections fourfold in the hardest-hit areas; combined with COVID-19, haze this time around could stretch the country’s overwhelmed hospitals beyond breaking point.
– Indonesia has recently become the global epicenter of the disease, registering more daily cases than India and Brazil, with the country’s doctors’ association warning the health care system has “functionally collapsed.”

Gabon becomes first African country to get paid for protecting its forests by Jim Tan [20 Jul 2021]
– Gabon recently received the first $17 million of a pledged $150 million from Norway for results-based emission reduction payments as part of the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI).
– Gabon has 88% forest cover and has limited annual deforestation to less than 0.1% over the last 30 years, in large part possible due to oil revenues supporting the economy.
– With oil reserves running low, Gabon is looking to diversify and develop its economy without sacrificing its forests by building a sustainable forest economy supported by schemes such as CAFI.

Hotter and drier: Deforestation and wildfires take a toll on the Amazon by Ignacio Amigo [20 Jul 2021]
– Drought and high temperatures amplify the destructive effects of deforestation and wildfires.
– Across the Amazon Basin, tree species adapted to drier conditions are becoming more prevalent, and in the Central Amazon, savannas have replaced floodplain forests in just a few decades.
– While deforestation remains a main concern, the impacts of forest degradation are becoming increasingly important.

Rising temperatures further threaten already endangered African wild dogs by Jansen Baier [20 Jul 2021]
– Researchers examined three populations of African wild dogs in Botswana, Kenya and Zimbabwe to understand if high heat correlates with increased mortality.
– In two out of the three sites, there was a strong relationship between extreme temperatures and increased mortality, with intentional human killings, snare traps, road fatalities, and disease transmission from domesticated dogs responsible for 44% of the deaths.
– The researchers say high heat is pushing both wild dogs and pastoralists out of their typical grounds, creating a higher likelihood of human-wildlife conflict and mortalities for the dogs.

As humans close in on their habitat, crocodiles in the Philippines snap back by Chelsy Mae Abdulmuti [20 Jul 2021]
– In mangrove-rich Palawan, residents are advised to steer clear of crocodile habitats as the hatching season makes the reptiles more aggressive.
– There are two crocodile species in the Philippines: the endemic Philippine crocodile and the bigger and more aggressive saltwater crocodile, found throughout Asia and the Pacific.
– Crocodile attacks on humans have increased in recent years, which experts attribute to the encroachment of houses within crocodile habitats, particularly mangrove swamps.
– To minimize the risk to lives, both human and crocodile, NGOs say Palawan should implement its crocodile conservation program, which includes, among other things, relocating residents away from crocodile habitats.

Javan leopards, the dwindling ‘guardians’ of Java’s forests by Erik Hoffner [19 Jul 2021]
– Tradition holds that the Javan leopard is a symbol of prosperity, and a guardian of forests that provide people with healthy water and fresh air.
– However, this big cat species is critically endangered and relegated to small patches of forest scattered about the heavily populated Indonesian island of Java.
– Mongabay spoke with biologist Hariyo “Beebach” Wibisono about its status and the conservation strategies which could be successful, if supported by officials, citizens and donors.

‘What’s your real footprint on the animal world?’: Q&A with author Henry Mance by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [19 Jul 2021]
– Henry Mance’s debut book, “How to Love Animals: In a Human-Shaped World,” considers humanity’s complex relationship with animals in terms of the food we put on our plates and the activities we partake in that directly affects animals’ lives.
– Much of the book explores the troubled relationship between humans and animals, but it also looks at the positive aspects of the human-animal relationship that manifests in our treatment of pets.
– The author grapples with some difficult questions, such as whether hunting can actually be an ethical activity and whether zoos have conservation value.
– He concludes that animals should be treated with more respect and kindness than we currently give them, and that we should look for ways to redefine our relationship with animalkind, not only for ethical reasons but for environmental reasons as well.

Road construction imperils tree kangaroo recovery in PNG by John C. Cannon [19 Jul 2021]
– The Torricelli Mountains of northwestern Papua New Guinea are home to a wide variety of wildlife, including three species of tree kangaroos.
– Recently, construction of a road that could potentially be used by loggers has pushed closer to the border of a proposed conservation area that, if gazetted, would be the country’s second-largest.
– The Tenkile Conservation Alliance, a Papua New Guinean NGO, has worked with communities for around two decades in the Torricellis with the goal of improving the lives of humans and wildlife living in the mountains.
– Now, the group’s leaders fear that the road could jeopardize a tenuous recovery by several of the area’s threatened tree kangaroo species.

Biogas from animal manure improves life in Brazil’s semi-arid northeast by Sibélia Zanon [19 Jul 2021]
– The use of biodigesters inspired by those used in India is allowing small farmers in Brazil’s semi-arid Caatinga biome to produce their own cooking fuel from a renewable source: animal manure.
– About 2,000 biodigesters have been built and new projects are underway to spread the technology in this region, where it largely benefits women.
– In addition to having a positive impact on the household economy, human health and the environment, biodigesters generate biofertilizer, which can be used on family farms as an organic alternative to chemical fertilizers.
– Biodigesters are best utilized when combined with other strategies for strengthening families, such as cisterns to combat the long dry spells.

Indonesian former fisheries minister jailed for bribery in lobster exports by Basten Gokkon [18 Jul 2021]
– Indonesia’s former fisheries minister Edhy Prabowo has been sentenced to five years in jail for taking bribes to lift a ban on lobster larvae exports in 2020.
– A court in Jakarta also fined Edhy and barred him from running for elected office for three years after his release from jail.
– Despite the conviction, anti-corruption experts were left disappointed by the relatively low sentence, given his status as a high-profile active government official at the time.
– Lobsters are among Indonesia’s top fisheries commodities, but the illegal export of lobster larvae cost the country some $62 million in lost revenue in 2019 alone, and depleted the wild population.

Tallying the toll on marine life from the X-Press Pearl sinking (commentary) by Ranil P. Nanayakkara [17 Jul 2021]
– The recent spate of marine species deaths in Sri Lanka points to the burning and sinking of the MV X-Press Pearl freight ship carrying a cargo of hazardous chemicals.
– Conservationists are calling adequate action to ascertain the cause of death of these animals, especially as there is reason to believe that the majority died due to chemical contamination.
– Further research will be required to effectively mitigate impacts of such marine disasters, to which Sri Lanka is vulnerable, given its location in a busy shipping lane connecting the world with East Asia.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazil prosecutors seek ban on all gold mining in hard-hit Amazonian region by Fernanda Wenzel [16 Jul 2021]
– Gold mining activities may be suspended in the southwest of Pará state, in the Brazilian Amazon, if authorities fail to implement measures to increase control and traceability over the country’s gold mining industry.
– That’s the main request of a lawsuit filed this week by the Federal Public Ministry based on a new study pointing to the municipalities of southwest Pará as being responsible for 85% of cases of gold laundering in Brazil in 2019 and 2020.
– The study, by researchers from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), also concluded that almost 30% of the 174 metric tons of gold sold in Brazil in the last two years was associated with some kind of irregularity, amounting to 9.1 billion reais ($1.8 billion) of potentially illegal gold — a value more than three times the Ministry of Environment’s 2020 budget.
– Experts say Brazilian law leaves the door open to gold laundering, by permitting miners to self-declare the origin of their gold and not requiring any verification; the process remains manual, with no electronic invoices to control the gold trade in the country.

FSC dumps palm oil giant Korindo amid rights, environmental issues in Papua by Hans Nicholas Jong [16 Jul 2021]
– Indonesian-South Korean palm oil giant Korindo has been expelled from the Forest Stewardship Council after both parties couldn’t come into an agreement on how to verify the company’s compliance.
– Korindo was in the process of keeping its membership at the FSC, which required the company to make significant social and environmental improvements and provide remedy to the damage it had done from its operations in the Indonesian province of Papua.
– The FSC was supposed to verify the progress but the certification body and Korindo failed to agree on the process.
– Korindo plans to reenter the FSC and says it remains committed to sustainability, but activists say the disassociation means the company has failed to meet sustainability standards and sends a message to other firms accused of environmental and social violations.

‘Laundering machine’: Furniture giant Ikea implicated in logging protected Siberian forests by [16 Jul 2021]
– The world’s biggest furniture retailer, Ikea, has for years sold children’s furniture made from wood linked to illegal logging in protected forests in Russia, an Earthsight investigation has found.
– The brand’s popular Sundvik children’s range are among the items likely tainted with illegal wood. Investigators estimate that shoppers around the world have on average been purchasing an Ikea product containing the suspect Russian lumber every two minutes.
– Using undercover meetings, visits to logging sites, satellite imagery analysis and scrutiny of official documents, court records and customs data, Earthsight traced wooden furniture on sale in Ikea stores around the world to forests in Siberia, finding that they were controlled by companies owned by one of Russia’s wealthiest politicians, Evgeny Bakurov.

Scientists turn to eDNA to curtail the freshwater extinction crisis by Caitlin Looby [16 Jul 2021]
– Freshwater ecosystems are understudied and underfunded, resulting in a lack of information on what species are at risk of extinction.
– The eBioAtlas program, a partnership between the IUCN and NatureMetrics, uses environmental DNA gathered from freshwater samples to figure out what freshwater ecosystems to conserve and what species to prioritize.
– So far, a pilot study in southeast Liberia has successfully picked up environmental DNA from nearly 170 species, including some that are critically endangered.
– The new data will provide up-to-date information for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and empower local communities to maintain ownership of their land and water resources.

‘Animal rights will be part of our DNA’: Q&A with Bogotá councilor Andrea Padilla by John Edward Myers [16 Jul 2021]
– After nearly two decades on the front lines of animal rights advocacy, Bogotá native Andrea Padilla won a seat on the Colombian capital’s City Council.
– Padilla was propelled to victory last October thanks to thousands of votes from Bogota’s animal rights activists, many of them also pet-owning vegetarians.
– Less than a year in office, Padilla has tallied a series of legislative victories, yet remains a lightning rod for criticism, including from conservationists.
– In a one-on-one interview with Mongabay, Padilla spoke about her origins as an activist, the moment she stopped eating meat, her journey to the City Council, what to do about Pablo Escobar’s hippos, and how she plans to deploy her political power.

‘Mismanaged to death’: Mexico opens up sole vaquita habitat to fishing by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [16 Jul 2021]
– The Mexican government has eradicated a “no tolerance” zone in the Upper Gulf of California meant to protect the critically endangered vaquita porpoise.
– The former refuge will now be open for fishing and there will be minimal monitoring and enforcement of illegal activity, experts say.
– Conservationists say this move will certainly lead to the extinction of the vaquita, whose numbers have recently dwindled down to about nine.

The only species of bear in South America: the spectacled bear | Candid Animal Cam by Romina Castagnino [16 Jul 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.

Israel-U.A.E. pipeline deal ‘invitation to disaster’ for globally important corals by Elizabeth Fitt [16 Jul 2021]
– Israel and the U.A.E are moving to extend oil operations using Israel’s “land bridge,” an alternative to the Suez Canal, following the signing of the Abraham Accords peace treaty.
– Tanker traffic is set to increase in the northern Red Sea, with a tanker terminal close to Eilat’s coral reefs endangering species that are very resilient to high temperatures.
– Scientists, environmentalists and politicians are campaigning for a reversal of the decision, citing the environmental track record of the state-run company in charge of the pipeline’s operations, fears of ecological damages and economic consequences for coral reef tourism.

Nine principles for the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (commentary) by Cara Nelson, Jim Hallett [15 Jul 2021]
– Oil drilling on Russia’s Arctic coast has led to loss of vegetation and the organic soil layer, with sediments now running into rivers: permafrost thawing is also increasing due to carbon emissions.
– Without clear parameters for what constitutes successful restoration, restoration projects in places like this may achieve one narrow objective, such as carbon capture, but may not also benefit biodiversity, or the health, wellbeing, and livelihoods of people and local communities.
– In April, a group of restoration experts met to define ‘net gain’ from restorative activities, establish a framework to help prioritize nature-based restorative activities and draft common principles for all types of ecosystem restoration, in support of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Chinese cities are among biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, study finds by [15 Jul 2021]
– Cities are conspicuous culprits for climate change: they occupy only 2% of the planet’s surface yet account for 70% of annual carbon dioxide emissions.
– A new analysis of 167 cities in 53 countries found that Chinese cities like Handan, Shanghai and Beijing are some of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, with per capita emissions comparable to those of developed countries.
– Historically, the U.S. is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas output and the EU’s share is the second-highest at 22%, but in recent decades developing nations like China have overtaken them in annual emissions.
– The 25 most polluting cities, located in both developed and developing nations, are responsible for half of all urban greenhouse emissions, the study authors estimated, arguing that if governments in these urban centers step up their climate ambition it would make an outsized dent in tackling climate change.

Killings, invasions escalate in fight for land in Brazil’s Maranhão state by Juliana Ennes [15 Jul 2021]
– Violence has escalated in Brazil’s northeastern state of Maranhão, where rights groups have recorded a spate of land conflicts targeting Indigenous people and rural workers.
– A rural worker was killed on July 11 in the municipality of Codó after having relocated in 2019 to seek refuge from death threats related to land conflicts in the interior of the state, according to Catholic Church-affiliated Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).
– A rural worker was killed on July 11 in the municipality of Codó after having relocated in 2019 to seek refuge from death threats related to land conflicts in the interior of the state, according to Catholic Church-affiliated Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).
– Maranhão has a history of impunity surrounding crimes against Indigenous people, according to a recent report that notes that most killings of Indigenous people there between 2003 and 2019 remain unresolved and are directly related to land conflicts.

As Arctic warms, scientists wrestle with its climate ‘tipping point’ by Conrad Fox [15 Jul 2021]
– A leaked version of the newest science report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of looming, potentially catastrophic tipping points for Arctic sea ice melt, tundra thaw, savannification of the Amazon rainforest, and other planetary environmental thresholds beyond which recovery may be impossible.
– But what are tipping points, and how does one pinpoint what causes them, or when they will occur? When studying a vast region, like the Arctic, answering these questions becomes dauntingly difficult, as complex positive feedback loops (amplifying climate warming impacts) and negative feedback loops (retarding them) collide with each other.
– In the Arctic, one working definition of a climatic tipping point is when nearly all sea ice disappears in summer, causing a Blue Ocean Event. But attempts to model when a Blue Ocean Event will occur have run up against chaotic and complex feedback loop interactions.
– Among these are behaviors of ocean currents, winds, waves, clouds, snow cover, sea ice shape, permafrost melt, subarctic wildfires, aerosols and more, with many interactions still poorly understood. Some scientists say too much focus is going to tipping points, and research should be going to the “radical uncertainty” of escalating extreme local events.



Podcast: Reforestation done right, from Haiti to Honduras and Ho Chi Minh City by Mike Gaworecki [14/07/2021]
How to make conservation more effective: Q&A with Nick Salafsky by Rhett A. Butler [14/07/2021]
‘Indigenous communities in Brazil reinvent grief in the time of COVID by Maurício Angelo [12/07/2021]