Newsletter 2021-08-12



Mexico devises revolutionary method to reverse semiarid land degradation by Sue Branford [08/11/2021]

– Land degradation is impacting farmlands worldwide, affecting almost 40% of the world’s population. Reversing that process and restoring these croplands and pastures to full productivity is a huge challenge facing humanity — especially as climate change-induced drought takes greater hold on arid and semiarid lands.
– In Mexico, a university-educated, small-scale peasant farmer came up with an untried innovative solution that not only restores degraded land to productivity, but also greatly enhances soil carbon storage, provides a valuable new crop, and even offers a hopeful diet for diabetics.
– The process utilizes two plants commonly found on semiarid lands that grow well under drought conditions: agave and mesquite. The two are intercropped and then the agave is fermented and mixed with the mesquite to produce an excellent, inexpensive, and very marketable fodder for grazing animals.
– The new technique is achieving success in Mexico and could be applied to global degraded lands. It is, says one expert “among the most soil regenerative schemes on Earth … deployed on degraded land, basically overgrazed and unsuitable for growing crops, with no irrigation or chemical inputs required whatsoever.”

What can seashells tell us about the health of the oceans? by Mike Gaworecki [08/10/2021]

– On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast we discuss what seashells can tell us about the state of the world’s oceans, and we hear about the challenges facing the Philippines’ marine protected area system.
– Environmental journalist Cynthia Barnett joins us to discuss her newly released book, The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans. She tells us about the many ways humans have prized seashells for years, using them as money, jewelry, and art, and how seashells can help us examine the challenges marine environments are facing today.
– We’re also joined by Mongabay staff writer Leilani Chavez, who tells us about the incredible marine biodiversity found in Philippines waters and why there’s a movement amongst scientists and conservationists to expand marine conservation efforts beyond the Philippines’ extensive coral reef systems.

Soil and its promise as a climate solution: A primer by Mareli Sanchez-Julia [08/10/2021]

– We know that soil feeds plants, but do we know how it got there in the first place? Soil forms via the interaction of five factors: parent material, climate, living beings, a land’s topography, and a “cooking” time that occurs on a geologic scale. Variations in these 5 factors make the world’s soils unique and extremely diverse.
– Soil acts as a carbon sink in the global carbon cycle because it locks away decomposed organic matter. But deforestation, various agricultural practices, and a changing climate are releasing it back into the atmosphere and oceans as carbon dioxide, resulting in an imbalance in global carbon budgets.
– Tropical soils and permafrost hold the most soil carbon out of other biomes, making them conservation and research priorities in soil-centered climate solutions.
– Reforestation of previously forested lands is a viable solution to return carbon belowground, but it is not a fix-all. Changing industrial agricultural practices and giving high-carbon storage areas conservation status are key steps toward harnessing the soil’s carbon storage power.

Meet the kitten-sized, clown-faced monkey that’s leaping toward extinction by Jeremy Hance [08/10/2021]

– The buffy-headed marmoset is down to no more than 2,500 individuals scattered across dwindling patches of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest.
– It faces a range of threats, from yellow fever to climate change, but the biggest one is hybridization with other marmoset species released into its habitat from the pet trade.
– Conservationists working to save the species warn that populations are declining rapidly, with little funding for studies or captive-breeding programs, and a lack of political will under the current government to act urgently.
– One possible conservation solution is to establish “safe haven” forests for unmixed buffy-headed marmosets that will exclude hybrid animals, but this will difficult and costly, experts say.

Debt deal with deforester BrasilAgro puts UBS’s green commitment in question by Fernanda Wenzel, Olivier Christe [08/6/2021]

– Despite its sustainability rhetoric, Swiss bank UBS has financed controversial land developer BrasilAgro with a bond issuance that raised $45.5 million. The operation is part of a broader strategy to profit from Brazilian agribusiness, including the consolidation of a joint venture with the Brazilian bank.
– BrasilAgro is allegedly responsible deforesting nearly 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of native vegetation in its farms in Brazil’s Cerrado region and was fined $1.1 million by Brazil’s environmental protection agency for illegal deforestation.
– The financial product chosen to raise money for BrasilAgro, a CRA or “agribusiness receivable certificate,” is backed by future harvests and has been a favored tool used to raise record amounts of money from the capital markets for Brazilian agribusiness firms over the past several years.
– Although there are hopes that CRAs could support sustainable practices in Brazil, financial data reviewed by Mongabay show that the largest issuances in recent months have all been for highly controversial companies such as BrasilAgro, JBS and Minerva.



Geopolitical standoff in South China Sea leads to environmental fallout by Leilani Chavez [12 Aug 2021]
– Satellite images show significant growth in the occurrence of algal blooms in contested areas in the South China Sea.
– Images suggest that these algal blooms or phytoplankton overgrowth are linked to the presence of vessels anchored in the area and to island-building activities in the region.
– While satellite images help give a preview of the ecological state of the South China Sea, on-site observations are necessary to validate the findings, experts say.
– Decades of territorial and maritime disputes, however, have limited the conduct of studies and dissuaded the establishment of conservation zones in the South China Sea.

In Peru, a corrupt land-titling scheme sees forests sold off as farms by Yvette Sierra Praeli [12 Aug 2021]
– An irregular land titling system is behind the deforestation of a swath of Amazon rainforest now occupied by a Mennonite colony in Masisea municipality, in Peru’s Ucayali department.
– In 2015, more than 40 land registry files were filled out with false information to give forests titles that made them appear to be farmland.
– This system, used in several places in Ucayali department, allowed for the deforestation of more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of forests in Masisea and within Indigenous communities.

Color-changing robo-chameleon showcases promising camouflage tech by Malavika Vyawahare [12 Aug 2021]
– A robot modeled on a chameleon and developed by South Korean researchers can change colors to match its surroundings.
– Like real chameleons, the robo-chameleon collects information from its environment in real time, but the way it reproduces the colors on its artificial “skin” is different.
– The researchers say they hope the system will in future be able to read and mimic patterns as well.
– If colors and patterns can both be replicated in real time, it could pave the way for clothing that essentially makes the wearer invisible.

To save salt marshes, researchers deploy a wide arsenal of techniques by Lisa Golden [12 Aug 2021]
– Salt marshes sequester significant carbon in their sediment — more per hectare than tropical rainforests.
– They protect the land from storm surges and sea level rise, and they shelter a variety of birds, fish and crustaceans.
– However, salt marshes are being lost quickly to erosion and development.
– Governments, institutions and researchers around the world are looking into low-cost ways to protect and restore these vulnerable and valuable habitats.

On World Elephant Day (and every day) humans should stay away from wildlife (commentary) by Shermin de Silva [11 Aug 2021]
– Though we appreciate wild animals like elephants on World Elephant Day (August 12) and every day, travelers and the tourism industry need to stop seeking and promoting hands-on experiences with wild animals, a new op-ed by an elephant researcher argues.
– When humans insist upon touching, feeding, and taking photos with wild animals like elephants, it changes their behavior in ways that can be dangerous, as in the cases of begging for food and habituation.
– The COVID era underscores this: humans have become vectors for the disease, and both wild and captive animals have caught it, so we should exercise caution and limit interactions especially with endangered species.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Indigenous Brazilians fear surge in violence as ‘land-grab bill’ nears passage by Ana Ionova [11 Aug 2021]
– Brazil’s lower house of Congress has approved a controversial bill that could help legalize claims by land grabbers occupying public forests and Indigenous territories awaiting demarcation.
– The bill, approved last week and now headed to the Senate for a vote, is likely to further embolden invaders, activists say; Indigenous groups say they fear that violence on Indigenous territories without full federal protection will escalate in the coming months.
– The roughly 800 Indigenous territories still awaiting full demarcation are especially vulnerable as the bill could also make it more difficult for Indigenous communities to achieve full recognition of their ancestral lands, activists say.
– The legislation in question is just one of a slew of state and federal bills threatening Indigenous rights, which in turn are part of a wider pattern of attacks and violence on Indigenous lands throughout the country.

Platform presents unpublished data on Brazilian biodiversity by Ronaldo Ribeiro | Alan Azevedo | Letícia Klein [11 Aug 2021]
– Partnership between scientists and journalists translates scientific data into visual information to warn of the importance of preserving Brazil’s biomes.
– Brazil alone accounts for 17% of the entire terrestrial territory of the tropics with a biodiversity that is more abundant than entire continents: over 20% of the freshwater fish on the planet and 17% of all birds are found in Brazil.
– One problem is the lack of investment in research to survey biodiversity, which usually comes at a slower pace than changes in ecosystems – animals and plants are at risk of disappearing before scientists are able to get to know them.

UNESCO calls for closure of road running through World Heritage park in Papua by Hans Nicholas Jong [11 Aug 2021]
– UNESCO has called for the closure of a long stretch of road that runs through Lorentz National Park, a World Heritage Site, in Indonesia’s Papua region.
– Experts have identified an increase in deforestation and logging activities inside the park since the road was completed.
– The government says efforts to mitigate the environmental impacts of the road began in 2017 but ended prematurely a year later due to security reasons, which UNESCO calls “deeply concerning.”

On the Colombian plains, a leader stands up for her people against land theft by Ginna Santisteban, Óscar Parra, Pilar Puentes [11 Aug 2021]
– Ana Villa has fearlessly confronted agribusiness multinationals and armed groups that have tried to take over the land where rural communities and Indigenous people live in the Colombian plains.
– She risks her life fighting for the rights of vulnerable communities in the municipality of Cumaribo, a region that serves as the intermediate zone between the savanna and the Amazon rainforest in eastern Colombia’s Vichada department.
– The communities’ support has empowered her to continue her fight in a dangerous region for environmental defenders.

New species of “killer tobacco” found at Australian truck stop by Liz Kimbrough [11 Aug 2021]
– Found at truck stop in Australia, Nicotiana insecticida is the first wild tobacco species reported to kill insects.
– The new tobacco does not appear to be carnivorous, but rather uses its sticky hairs to trap insects and protect itself from being eaten.
– This sticky killer is one of seven newly named species of Nicotiana (wild tobacco) from Australia’s harsh, arid regions.
– “The fact that we have only now found it,” said one of the researchers,“means that there are probably a lot more similarly interesting species out there to be found.”

Seagrass-grazing dugongs and green sea turtles supercharge the seeds they eat by Carolyn Cowan [11 Aug 2021]
– By consuming and pooping seagrass seeds, dugongs and green turtles play a vital role in maintaining vital, carbon-sequestering seagrass meadows, a new study reveals.
– Scientists working in the Great Barrier Reef found that seagrass seeds germinated up to 60% faster after they had passed through the gut of dugongs or green turtles, and also had two to four times greater germination probability.
– The research highlights the mutual relationship between seagrass and marine mega herbivores, and underscores the shared vulnerability if either party is undermined.
– Experts say we must do what we can to protect dugongs, turtles and other grazing marine animals if we wish to protect seagrass ecosystems and their many benefits.

In Indonesia, an unassuming brown bird is proof of turbo-charged evolution by Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [10 Aug 2021]
– Scientists are proposing to add two new subspecies to four existing ones within the Sulawesi babbler (Pellorneum celebense) species.
– The team identified the new subspecies based on differences in DNA, body measurements and song recordings from dozens of babblers.
– Taxonomic implications aside, the study also sheds light on the phenomenon of rapid evolution, as the babblers’ genetic divergence occurred over just tens of thousands of years, rather than millions.
– But the nickel-rich soils believed to have given rise to the birds’ divergence could be hastening its demise, with mining companies eyeing their habitats for resource extraction.

Shoe-leather science helps quadruple protected area in Peruvian Amazon by Yvette Sierra Praeli [10 Aug 2021]
– Rapid biological and social inventories produced by a team from Chicago’s Field Museum were the basis for new areas dedicated to conservation in Peru, a new study shows.
– In the Amazonian department of Loreto, territory covered under some category of conservation went from 2 million hectares to 8.5 million hectares (4.9 million acres to 21 million acres).
– The study found that advances in protecting Loreto allowed not only the region, but also Peru as a whole, to meet the Aichi Goal of getting 17% of the country’s territory under some category of protection.

Planned dam in Philippine national park catches flak from activists, officials by Jun N. Aguirre [10 Aug 2021]
– A subsidiary of the San Miguel Corporation, one of the largest companies in the Philippines, has proposed a $500 million hydroelectric project that will overlap with a national park on Panay Island.
– Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park holds some of the central Philippines’ last stands of intact lowland rainforest, is home to endangered species including hornbills and the Visayan warty pig, and is a vital watershed for Panay and neighboring islands.
– The project is still not approved, and a growing coalition of activists and local governments opposes the plan.

Seed dispersal is just as important as pollination (commentary) by Ariek Norford [10 Aug 2021]
– Why does it seem like conservationists only care about pollination, and the creatures like bees that do it?
– Seed dispersal is every bit as important, and to ensure a future with the greatest plant diversity, we should focus effort on conserving the animal groups known for this activity, known as ‘zoochory.’
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Reforestation holds promise for Europe’s increasingly drier summers by Jim Tan [10 Aug 2021]
– A new study in Nature Geoscience suggests that if all land suitable for reforestation was forested in Europe, average summer rainfall would increase by 7.6%, partially ameliorating drier summers predicted as a result of climate change.
– While the study is based on all the potentially reforestable land in Europe after accounting for food security and biodiversity, the amount of land people are willing and able to reforest is likely to be lower in practice.
– As a statistical model, the study helps scientists and policymakers understand the relationship between forests and precipitation and highlight the benefits beyond carbon sequestration.

New artificial intelligence tool helps forecast Amazon deforestation by Juliana Ennes [09 Aug 2021]
– A new tool co-developed by Microsoft using artificial intelligence to predict deforestation hotspots has identified nearly 10,000 square kilometers of the Brazilian Amazon that’s in imminent danger.
– Called PrevisIA, it uses artificial intelligence to analyze satellite imagery from the European Space Agency, and an algorithm developed by the Brazilian conservation nonprofit Imazon to find the areas most prone to deforestation.
– The tool, which the developers say could potentially be applied to any forested area on Earth, will be used for preventive actions, in partnerships with local governments, corporations and nonprofits.
– The next step of the project is to build partnerships with local governments and institutions to act on preventing deforestation, which is the most challenging phase of the project, according to Imazon researcher Carlos Souza Jr.

Black Death aside, we know surprisingly little about rodents and disease by Liz Kimbrough [09 Aug 2021]
– Rodents make up 40% of all mammal species on the planet, and an estimated 10.7% of them are known hosts of zoonotic diseases, such as cat scratch disease, bartonella, hantavirus, Lyme disease, leishmaniasis, leptospirosis, and the plague.
– A recent letter in the journal Conservation Biology calls for more attention and funding to be directed toward studying small rodents, “the wildlife species most likely to be abundant, come into contact with humans, and be potential reservoirs in future zoonotic outbreaks.”
– Controlling and mitigating the risk of zoonotic diseases through rodent control is another area that lacks research, with the current approach of killing and poisoning rodents in urban areas actually posing the risk of causing more disease.
– Experts call for evidence-based, whole-system approaches to control rodents and champion the One Health approach to address zoonotic disease, acknowledging that human, environmental, and animal health are all interconnected.

Protecting Colombia’s shark paradise: Q&A with Sandra Bessudo by Rhett A. Butler [09 Aug 2021]
– 500 kilometers off the Pacific coast of Colombia lies Malpelo Island, a barren rock that marks the center of the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary World Heritage Site and is renowned for its biodiversity, especially its shark population.
– It was Malpelo’s world-class diving that first brought French-Colombian marine naturalist Sandra Bessudo to the island. Moved by its biodiversity as well as the threats from overfishing and damaging tourism practices, Bessudo went on to become Malpelo’s best-known advocate, founding the Malpelo Foundation and successfully pushing for the island’s listing as a World Heritage Site in 2006.
– Bessudo has also produced dozens of publications and documentaries, served as Colombia’s environment minister and a presidential advisor, and influenced conservation policy through her marine research.
– Bessudo spoke about her marine conservation efforts, the challenges facing oceans, and other topics during a recent interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

Maleos bounce back in Sulawesi after villagers resolve to protect their eggs by Carolyn Cowan [09 Aug 2021]
– The maleo (Macrocephalon maleo), an endangered bird endemic to Sulawesi, Indonesia, lays a single gigantic egg in a hole that is then incubated solely by the geothermal heat in the sand or soil.
– Maleo eggs are prized as a high-status delicacy and are frequently dug up to be eaten or sold illegally online, consequently pushing maleo populations into rapid decline.
– Two community-led projects that protect maleo nesting grounds from poaching and ensure maleos can nest naturally have reported the first sustained increases in maleo numbers due to conservation efforts.
– The projects have quadrupled and tripled local maleo numbers over a 14-year and five-year period, respectively, and experts are calling for other maleo conservation projects across Sulawesi to adopt this community-led, low-intervention method.

Humans’ role in climate warming ‘unequivocal,’ IPCC report shows by John C. Cannon [09 Aug 2021]
– The greenhouse gases humans have released into the atmosphere over the past 100 to 150 years has led to a 1.1°C (2°F) rise in global temperatures, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.
– The authors of the IPCC’s latest report use the strongest language yet to connect human activity to climate change, calling the link “unequivocal.”
– The report draws on the findings of thousands of studies, pointing to the need to cut CO2 emissions immediately while also suggesting that many of the impacts of climate change are irreversible.
– This report focuses on the science behind climate change and will be combined with two subsequent reports on the adaptation and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and ways to mitigate its effects to produce the IPCC’s sixth assessment, scheduled for publication in September 2022.

Protecting undesignated forests seen as key to slowing Amazon deforestation by Sibélia Zanon [09 Aug 2021]
– Forests in the Brazilian Amazon not designated as Indigenous territories, conservation parks, extractive reserves or other types of protected areas span an area the size of Spain and Portugal combined.
– These forests have not been designated for both technical reasons, such as the need for a management plan, and political ones: standing forest is seen by many in power as an impediment to economic activities like cattle ranching and mining.
– More than 18 million hectares (44 million acres) of this land has been illegally claimed as private property, with the number of claims surging by 232% since 2016 — a strong indication of land grabbing.
– New legislation at the federal and state levels now promises to legalize these land grabs, effectively rewarding environmental violators with legally recognized land ownership.

Nigeria seizes scales from 15,000 dead pangolins by [07 Aug 2021]
– Authorities at the Nigeria Customs Service have announced the seizure of 7.1 tons of pangolin scales that smugglers were attempting to ship out of the country.
– According to customs officials, a raid last month in Lagos turned up 196 sacks of pangolin scales representing about 15,000 dead pangolins.
– According to the Wildlife Justice Commission, the the Netherlands-based NGO which provided intelligence to the customs service, the seizure is the ninth largest of pangolin scales since March 2019, and Nigeria’s third largest during that time span.
– Nigeria said it had arrested three foreign nationals in association with the bust.

July data put Brazil on track for slight reduction in Amazon deforestation by [06 Aug 2021]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is on track for the first year-over-year decline since President Jair Bolsonaro took office, according to data released today by the country’s national space research institute INPE.
– INPE’s satellite-based deforestation alert system has recorded 1,417 square kilometers (547 square miles) of forest clearing through the first 30 days of July. Final figures for the month are expected next week.
– But the new data won’t ease worries about trends in the Amazon. On Tuesday, Brazil’s lower house of Congress passed a bill that critics say will legalize illegal land-grabbing in the Amazon.
– Environmentalists and scientists are also concerned that forest loss could worsen in coming months due to abnormally dry conditions across vast swathes of the Amazon.

Drive toward green cars shouldn’t rely on mining seabed, conservationists say by [06 Aug 2021]
– Conservationists are urging electric car and technology companies not to support or use resources derived from deep-sea mining, an activity that could potentially cause irreparable damage to the marine ecosystem in the process.
– The burgeoning electric car industry relies on a number of minerals for batteries, including lithium, manganese, nickel and cobalt, which are not easily accessible from terrestrial sources.
– Deep-sea mining proponents say that mining polymetallic nodules offers an alternative way to procure much-needed minerals for electric car batteries, but conservationists argue that the risks are too great to ignore.
– Instead of mining the deep sea, conservationists say that the focus should shift to developing electric car batteries that do not require hard-to-get minerals, improving terrestrial mining practices, and expanding battery recycling.

In a drier Amazon, Indigenous people recalibrate their relationship with fire by Suzana Camargo [06 Aug 2021]
– For thousands of years, Indigenous people in the Brazilian Amazon have used fire in their farming practices to preserve natural resources and regenerate the soil.
– But a rapidly changing climate and a drier forest have made these fires more difficult to control.
– In Xingu Indigenous Park, native people and researchers are developing alternative management methods to prevent uncontrolled burning, including removal of dry leaves and the use of less flammable plants.
– Drought has reduced the yield of traditional Indigenous crops like sweet potatoes and peanuts.

Why we need the government to curb Amazon deforestation? (commentary) by Daniela Castro, Silvia Gonçalves [05 Aug 2021]
– Deforestation is rising in the Brazilian Amazon, with last year’s forest loss reaching the high level since 2008.
– Brazilian lawyers Daniela Castro, the founder and CEO of Impacta Advocacy, and Silvia Gonçalves, head of projects at Impacta Advocacy, argue that combatting deforestation in Brazil requires government intervention.
– “Without government action, there won’t be better days for the rainforest,” write Castro and Gonçalves. “The fact is only the government has the resources, institutions and power on a scale capable of halting deforestation.”
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

USAID redirects funding in Cambodia as future of Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary hangs in the balance by Gerald Flynn [05 Aug 2021]
– In June, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it would be ending its assistance to Cambodian government entities through the USAID Greening Prey Lang project.
– In its statement, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh said the decision is due to continued and unprosecuted illegal logging and wildlife crimes in the protected area, along with efforts by the Cambodian government to “silence and target local communities” and activists. The Cambodian government, however, maintains that the cessation of funding from USAID was due to the ministry having reached capacity to protect Prey Lang without foreign funding.
– Satellite data show Prey Lang has lost nearly 9% of its forest cover over the past five years, and researchers and activists say its remaining forest is being eyed by logging companies.
– While USAID’s decision to stop funding the Cambodian government has been well-received by many academics and environmentalists, there is fear that the move could give the green light to government-supported logging operations.

New study says changes in clouds will add to global warming, not curb it by Conrad Fox [05 Aug 2021]
– Best estimates for global temperature increases due to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 since the start of the industrial era are between +1.5C and +4.5C. A major reason for this huge range of uncertainty is how clouds will perform in a warmed world, with some modelers saying clouds will help cool the planet, while the majority say clouds will further warm it.
– Clouds add immense uncertainty to climate models because they contain so many variables (including altitude, size, turbulence, amount of ice crystals, quantity and particle chemistry), and also because they don’t fit neatly inside the global grid cell system that modelers use to estimate warming.
– A new study used a machine learning model to bypass previous cloud modeling problems. The researchers concluded that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 will most likely lead to a 3.2C (5.76F) global temperature increase, almost exactly in the middle of the range estimated by the majority of current U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models.
– Researchers within and outside the study agree more data and research is needed to confirm or alter these results.

New study finds that minority of animals host majority of zoonotic viruses by Michael Tatarski [05 Aug 2021]
– After contracting COVID-19, a scientist in India delved into data on what mammal species pose the greatest risk for future pandemics.
– Researchers found that 26.5% of mammals in the wildlife trade housed 75% of known zoonotic diseases.
– The findings present an opportunity for greater risk management by governments more closely focusing on these species.



Address risky human activities now or face new pandemics, scientists warn by Sharon Guynup [08/03/2021]
Old and new solutions pave way to net-zero emissions farming, studies show by Claire Asher [07/30/2021]
Spanish farmers fight forest fires with agroforestry (and many sheep) by Monica Pelliccia [07/29/2021]