Newsletter 2021-08-19



Even as the government bets big on carbon, REDD+ flounders in Madagascar by Malavika Vyawahare [08/18/2021]

– The Malagasy government’s decision to ban the sale of carbon credits as it reworks its REDD+ strategy has left all existing REDD+ projects in a limbo.
– The island nation only has a handful of projects, all helmed by foreign NGOs, which take advantage of the U.N.’s reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) program to raise money by selling carbon credits.
– Madagascar’s environment minister singled out an initiative by U.K.-based nonprofit Blue Ventures, criticizing it for striking a deal promising too little: $27,000 per year for 10 villages. The NGO disputes this appraisal.
– The government’s move to nationalize carbon ownership comes against the backdrop of familiar concerns about REDD+, in particular: how much do communities benefit from keeping forests standing?

Indigenous Amazonian communities bear the burden of Ecuador’s balsa boom by Diego Cazar Baquero [08/17/2021]

– Ecuador is the world’s biggest exporter of balsa wood, most of it shipped to China.
– Indigenous communities in Ecuador’s Pastaza River Basin say balsa is being logged illegally in their territories.
– Sources say balsa logging is damaging the ecological integrity of the region and hurting Indigenous communities.
– The problem has reportedly spread to neighboring Peru, where Indigenous communities accuse Ecuadoran balsa loggers of felling commercially valuable trees and even kidnapping a child.

China joins the foreign fleets quietly exploiting Madagascar’s waters by Edward Carver [08/16/2021]

– For decades, fleets of industrial vessels from several nations have fished in Madagascar’s waters.
– Now China appears to have joined the fishing spree, sending at least 14 industrial longliner fishing vessels in the last several years, new evidence shows.
– Clues from official documents indicate that Madagascar’s government may have authorized these vessels to fish, at least since 2019.
– If so, the authorization process was not public, raising renewed concerns about the lack of transparency in Madagascar’s offshore fishing sector.



Malaysian timber giant Samling takes conflict over logging activity to court by Danielle Keeton-Olsen [19 Aug 2021]
– Plywood company Samling Group has filed a $1.18 million defamation suit against an Indigenous-led green group in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.
– The company says its business has been harmed by web posts in which advocacy group SAVE Rivers alleges the company failed to properly secure free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous communities in and around forest concessions.
– SAVE Rivers plans to challenge the lawsuit, the organization’s lawyers say.
– While the lawsuit is pending, the Malaysian Timber Certification Council has halted it review of conflicts between Samling and several Indigenous groups in Sarawak, saying the issues raised in the review are too close to the claims that will be argued in the lawsuit.

Everything is traceable – unless you don’t want it to be (commentary) by Aida Greenbury [18 Aug 2021]
– Aida Greenbury, the former Managing Director of Sustainability at APP Group and currently a board member and advisor to several organizations including Mongabay, argues that companies need to stop making excuses for the lack of traceability of commodities and materials in their supply chains.
– “Consumers have the right to know where the products they buy come from, and to trace them back to the source of the raw materials to ensure that they are not linked to anything dodgy, such as deforestation and human rights violations,” she writes. “Consequently, brands, retailers, and manufacturers have the responsibility to provide this traceability information to consumers.”
– Greenbury argues that traceability must extend throughout a company’s supply chain, including third party suppliers and smallholders.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

As populations grow, how will thirsty cities survive their drier futures? by Petro Kotzé [18 Aug 2021]
– The world’s rapidly expanding cities are on a collision course with climate change, presenting unprecedented challenges to municipal and national governments as they work to continue providing residents with access to safe and sufficient water.
– Increasingly, calls are made to rethink the way we develop urban watersheds and the way we live in them — with water sourcing, transport, use and reuse planning key to the process. One approach, water-sensitive urban design (WSUD) entails a complete reimagining of the role and use of water in urban areas.
– WSUD embraces the water cycle, and considers the entire watershed where cities are located. It uses green infrastructure such as permeable pavements, green roofs and rain gardens, to greatly reduce stormwater runoff. Conscious design allows water to be recycled and reused repeatedly for various purposes. Waste is greatly reduced.
– Some cities are already changing their development pathways to be more resilient to inevitable future climate extremes, with Singapore and Cape Town leading the way. Future water stress can be overcome, but work needs to start now before extreme weather events, including mega droughts and floods, hit.

Scientists look to wheatgrass to save dryland farming and capture carbon by Sarah Derouin [18 Aug 2021]
– Intermediate wheatgrass is an imported grain that has been grown in the U.S. Great Plains and Intermountain West since the 1930s; but could it be used in marginal fields in dryland areas?
– Kernza, an intermediate wheatgrass bred by the Land Institute, is being planted in eastern Wyoming, where researchers from the University of Wyoming are uncovering whether the crop can help farmers stabilize and bolster their soils, while providing a profitable crop.
– Planting perennial crops, like Kernza, can help soil health and stability, retain moisture, and cut down on planting costs and greenhouse gas emissions from annual plantings.

Climate change threatens to squeeze out Indonesia’s medicinal plants by Basten Gokkon [18 Aug 2021]
– More than half of medicinal plant species in Indonesia won’t be able to grow in most of their current range by 2050 due to climate change, a new study says.
– Researchers say medicinal plant species on the islands of New Guinea, Java and Sulawesi will see the largest reduction in distribution area, in part due to sea level rise in these regions.
– The economic value of medicinal plants in Indonesia, coupled with other threats and a lack of resources for their conservation, makes it urgent that active conservation programs be put in place, the researchers say.
– Medicinal plants are valuable species not only for personal health but also for their economic value as they are traded by local and Indigenous communities.

An Ecuadoran town that survived illegal miners now faces a licensed operator by Antonio José Paz Cardona [18 Aug 2021]
– The town of La Merced de Buenos Aires, in Ecuador, gained notoriety when it was invaded by illegal miners in 2017; for almost two years, the area was plagued by violence, prostitution and drug addiction.
– Authorities evicted the miners in 2019, but now the land may become home to legal mining operations, which many residents emphatically oppose.
– More than 300 people spent over a month blocking the path of the machinery, trucks and employees of Hanrine Ecuadorian Exploration and Mining S.A.
– The Ombudsman’s Office warns that confrontations will arise and has called on local, regional and national authorities to take immediate action.

In Brazil’s Acre, smoke from fires threatens health, could worsen COVID-19 by Liz Kimbrough [18 Aug 2021]
– Fires are gaining momentum in Acre, a state in southwesten Brazil 80% covered in old-growth Amazon rainforest, where a historic drought and high levels of deforestation have experts worried that this will be a bad year for fires
– Wildfires generate small particulate matter which, when inhaled, can travel into the lungs, bloodstream, and vital organs, causing serious damage, akin to cigarette smoke.
– Data from Acre’s air-quality monitoring network, the largest in the Amazon, show that during the peak burning seasons in 2019 and 2020, the rates of particulate matter hovered well above the level recognized by the World Health Organization as clean and safe for breathing
– Wildfire smoke has been linked to higher COVID-19 mortality rates, threatening to compound what is already one of the worst burdens of coronavirus infections and deaths in the world. At particular risk are Indigenous populations, who suffer mortality rates 1.5 times the average in Brazil.

Weak controls fuel surge in wildlife trafficking by air across Latin America by Aldem Bourscheit [18 Aug 2021]
– A new report gives an unprecedented look into wildlife trafficking from Latin America and the Caribbean by commercial aviation, identifying Mexico, Brazil and Colombia as the top sources of the illegal trade.
– Between 2010 and 2020, 65 different species from the region were confiscated at airports; live specimens were mostly stashed in carry-on bags, while animal parts like jaguar teeth were concealed in checked luggage.
– According to the report, 40% of the seized animals were live specimens, which increases the risk of spreading diseases.

Cambodian dam a ‘disaster’ for local communities, rights group says by Carolyn Cowan [18 Aug 2021]
– Rights activists allege that a Chinese-financed hydroelectric project in northeastern Cambodia has been a human rights “disaster” after it displaced nearly 5,000 Indigenous and ethnic minority people.
– In a recent report, advocacy group Human Rights Watch says communities were largely coerced into accepting inadequate compensation and provided with substandard resettlement arrangements.
– The scheme also had wide-ranging environmental impacts, affecting fishery yields across the wider Mekong Basin and flooding vast areas of forest.
– The report highlights the humanitarian and environmental shortcomings of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is advancing many similar projects across Africa and Asia.

Trawling bycatch increases risk of marine life extinction in Brazil by Aldem Bourscheit [18 Aug 2021]
– Up to 50 kilos of fish caught in Brazil are thrown away for every kilo that arrives on land; more than 400,000 tons of marine life were discarded between 2000 and 2018 in just four states.
– Less than 10% of the 25,618 fishing boats registered by the Brazilian government are monitored by satellites, and the program that tracks fishing boats by these satellites is not publicly open and not integrated with worldwide monitoring initiatives.
– At the global level, 19 countries, regions and territories have prohibited trawling in their waters, including two in South America: Chile and Peru.

A bad fire year predicted in Brazil’s Acre state. What’s to be done? by Liz Kimbrough [17 Aug 2021]
– As of Aug. 15, 29 major fires have been set this year in the southwestern Brazilian state of Acre, burning more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres), compared to just one major fire reported by the same date last year, which burned 20 hectares (50 acres).
– A recent study found that unprecedented levels of fires burned in standing rainforest in 2019, which was neither a drought nor an El Niño year, meaning the risk of forest fires is rising, even when rainfall is normal.
– The authors say this adds to mounting evidence that the discourse and policies of President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, which began in January 2019, have relaxed regulations and emboldened land grabbers and those who set illegal fires.
– Researchers say they hope that new platforms to monitor and predict fires, as well as educational programs about fires and fire alternatives in schools, communities and on the radio will lead to behavioral changes and less fire, but say government support and investment is needed.

Brazil a wreck on trawling control by Aldem Bourscheit [17 Aug 2021]
– The country’s lack of statistics and technical information made way for greater deregulation and private sector influence in Jair Bolsonaro’s extremist government
– The lack of control amplifies the impacts of trawling, a technique that uses fine-mesh nets to “scrape” the seabed, sweeping up everything in their path; species of low commercial value return to the waters, almost always dead.
– The sardine catch in Brazil has already fallen from 80,000 tons to about 15,000 tons annually, and stocks of mullet and other species are also shrinking; commercial species that could disappear from the map jumped from 17 to 64 (376%) between 2004 and 2014.

Indonesia reports two new Javan rhino calves in the species’ last holdout by Basten Gokkon [17 Aug 2021]
– Indonesia has reported the sighting of two Javan rhino calves on different occasions in April and June.
– The new calves have boosted hopes of stable population growth for the nearly extinct species in its last habitat on Earth.
– While strict conservation measures have helped stabilize the population, the species still faces other threats from natural disasters, a resurgence in human encroachment, and the risk of contagious disease from livestock herds.

X-Press Pearl sinking shines a light on seafood safety in Sri Lanka by Malaka Rodrigo [17 Aug 2021]
– Fears of possible chemical and plastic contamination of seafood and salt have driven down consumption of fish in Sri Lanka, the main animal protein for the country’s majority Buddhist population.
– Consumers are concerned that pollutants from a cargo ship that caught fire and sank off Colombo in May could end up in the fish they eat, and the government has not given any reassurances while it continues to investigate the incident.
– Experts say there are reasons to be concerned but note that Sri Lankans are already eating seafood and salt that’s contaminated with heavy metals and microplastics.
– They say the ship sinking should serve as impetus for the government to take measures to reduce marine pollution in general and set guidelines for safe levels of seafood consumption.

In Chile, a prickly coalition tries to bring a salt flat back to life by Michelle Carrere [17 Aug 2021]
– Indigenous communities, environmental activists and a mining company have agreed on a set of measures to try to save the Salar de Punta Negra salt flat in northern Chile.
– Communities say the extraction of groundwater by copper miner Minera Escondida has drained the salt lake and caused irreparable environmental harm.
– Under a court-mediated settlement, all sides have agreed to a series of scientific studies to help identify the cause of the problem and options for addressing it.
– Not everyone is happy about the agreement, however, with some criticizing the meager budget allocation for carrying out the studies compared to the much larger funding for publishing the results.

Scientists, communities battle against Philippine land reclamation project by Aprille Roselle Vince Juanillo [17 Aug 2021]
– A land reclamation project in the central Philippines spanning 174 hectares (430 acres) faces strong opposition from various organizations and civil society groups.
– The $456 million “smart city” project is a joint venture between Dumaguete City and E.M. Cuerpo, a local construction firm.
– While the project promises economic benefits, critics say these will be negated by its environmental impact, which includes covering 85% of Dumaguete City’s coastline and burying four marine protected areas.
– Critics also say the project has ignored the public consultation process, a requirement for a venture of this scale in the Philippines.

Plantations and roads strip away Papua’s forests. They’re just getting started by Hans Nicholas Jong [16 Aug 2021]
– Indonesia’s Papua region, comprising the western half of the island of New Guinea, lost an area of rainforest five times the size of London since 2001, according to a new study.
– Deforestation in Papua has ramped up in the past two decades as companies clear forests to make way for large-scale plantations and the government embarks on a massive push for infrastructure development.
– More forests are set to disappear in the future as the government has allocated millions of hectares of land to be developed into industrial plantations and the development of new roads, exacerbating the risk of deforestation, the study warns.
– The study authors call for giving Indigenous Papuans greater autonomy to manage their forests, given that some communities have been able to maintain their forests in near-pristine condition even though government oversight has largely been absent.

Indonesian farmers refuse to budge for train line through karst landscape by Eko Rusdianto [16 Aug 2021]
– Farmers in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province have rejected government offers to buy their land for a railway project, saying they depend on it for their livelihood.
– The residents of Salenrang village say protecting their lands and farms will be more beneficial than selling them for the railway line, which the government is touting as a boost for the economy.
– The farmers also say the government is shortchanging them with its offers, arguing that the market rate for the land is more than five times higher.
– The land conflict in Salenrang village is one of hundreds that have popped up across Sulawesi as the government splurges on infrastructure projects.

2015-2016 El Niño caused 2.5 billion trees to die in just 1% of the Amazon by Nicolás Bustamante Hernández [16 Aug 2021]
– New research shows how a combination of high temperatures, intense drought, and human-caused fires resulted in dramatic forest loss in the Lower Tapajós Basin in the Brazilian Amazon.
– According to the authors, forest reduction meant that one of the world’s largest carbon sinks generated almost 500 million tons of CO2 emissions, an amount higher than the annual emissions of developed countries such as the U.K. and Australia.
– Due to climate change, more frequent extreme droughts are predicted to affect most of the Amazon basin in this century; in this scenario, the 2015 El Niño could be seen as a window into the future.

Loss of mangroves dims the light on firefly populations in Malaysia by Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [15 Aug 2021]
– Firefly populations along the banks of the Rembau River in Malaysia have declined drastically in the past decade due to habitat loss, a new study has found.
– Researchers, who used satellite imagery to monitor changes in land use, found that conversion of Rembau’s mangroves to oil palm plantations and dryland forests were the top two factors behind the loss.
– Remote-sensing technology could help locals better understand the impact of various land use types on mangrove ecosystems and more efficiently prioritize areas for conservation.

Swarm technology: Researchers experiment with drones to battle crop pests by Ashley Stumvoll [13 Aug 2021]
– A June special edition of the Journal of Economic Entomology focuses on the potential for using drones in a number of different ways for pest management.
– Proponents of the strategy believe that drone delivery of biocontrols can be used to reduce or, in some cases, replace the use of pesticides, allowing growers to take advantage of the higher prices commanded by organic produce.
– Strict airspace regulations, limited payload capacity and high starting cost are some of the speed bumps to widespread drone usage in agriculture, but experts remain optimistic that drone-based pest management strategies will become more common in coming years.

In Sri Lanka, biologists and divers build a Facebook for sea turtles by Malaka Rodrigo [13 Aug 2021]
– An initiative in Sri Lanka stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic is looking to get back on track to identifying individual marine turtles in the island’s waters.
– The Turtle ID project uses photos taken by recreational divers to build up a database of turtles based on their unique facial patterns.
– The initiative was launched in August 2019, but soon came to a halt as dive centers, among other tourism businesses, closed during the lockdown imposed in early 2020.
– There’s now a greater sense of urgency around sea turtle conservation in Sri Lanka, following a high number of turtle deaths linked to the sinking in June of the X-Press Pearl cargo ship that was laden with tons of plastic beads and toxic chemicals.

Amazon forest loss hits second highest level since 2008 by [13 Aug 2021]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon declined slightly over the past 12 months but still reached the second highest level since 2008, according to data from the country’s national space research institute, INPE.
– INPE’s satellite-based deforestation alert system registered 1,498 square kilometers (578 square miles) in July, bringing the 12-month total to 8,591 square kilometers, 6.8% below the total this time last year when the extent of deforestation reached the highest level since 2008.
– Deforestation between January 1 and July 31, 2021 is up 3.4% over last year.
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for about two-thirds of Earth’s largest rainforest, has been trending upward since 2012.

Advocates raise alarm over proposal to reopen DRC forests to loggers by Ashoka Mukpo [13 Aug 2021]
– In 2002, the DRC imposed a moratorium on new logging concessions under pressure from environmental campaigners concerned about deforestation and corruption.
– Eve Bazaiba, the current minister of environment, submitted a plan in July that would end the moratorium.
– Advocates say a round of new concessions could lead to massive carbon emissions and the violation of community land rights.

‘Shared earth’ conservation promises to prioritize nature and people by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [13 Aug 2021]
– A new article in Science calls for conservation in Africa to take a “shared earth” approach that prioritizes both nature and people.
– According to the authors, this approach would empower local communities, Indigenous people and governments to make decisions that would meet both equity and biodiversity goals.
– The authors suggest retaining or restoring 20% of living and working areas to help address global conservation targets while giving local people the benefits of nature and building resilience against climate change.

The Kichwa woman fighting drug traffickers and loggers in the Peruvian Amazon by Gloria Alvitres [13 Aug 2021]
– Marisol García Apagüeño is the first woman to serve in the leadership of her Indigenous federation in the Peruvian Amazon, where she has made it her mission to support the struggle for the recognition and land titling of the Kichwa people.
– Drug traffickers and illegal loggers have encroached onto Indigenous lands and threatened community leaders, including García Apagüeño, for reporting the problems to the outside world.
– Indigenous leaders and legal experts say a key obstacle to driving out the criminal groups is the government’s failure to issue land titles to the Indigenous communities, which leaves them with no legal standing to complain about the invasions.
– García Apagüeño says the communities need government support and economic livelihood alternatives to avoid being co-opted by the loggers and traffickers.

The most widespread pig species on Earth: wild boar | Candid Animal Cam by Romina Castagnino [13 Aug 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.



Mexico devises revolutionary method to reverse semiarid land degradation by Sue Branford [08/11/2021]
What can seashells tell us about the health of the oceans? by Mike Gaworecki [08/10/2021]
Soil and its promise as a climate solution: A primer by Mareli Sanchez-Julia [08/10/2021]
Meet the kitten-sized, clown-faced monkey that’s leaping toward extinction by Jeremy Hance [08/10/2021]
Debt deal with deforester BrasilAgro puts UBS’s green commitment in question by Fernanda Wenzel, Olivier Christe [08/6/2021]