Newsletter 2021-08-26



Farmers regreen Kenya’s drylands with agroforestry and an app by David Njagi [08/26/2021]

– In Kenya, less than 20% of farmland is suitable for crops due to inadequate rains and degraded soils, and many farmers have seen their land produce less to the point of needing food aid.
– Dried-out soils create a hard pan that rains and roots can’t penetrate, but in Kenya, more than 35,000 farmers have joined the Drylands Development Programme to regreen their lands with agroforestry, joining peers in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali and Niger.
– By planting annual crops among useful trees like mango, orange and neem, vegetables and animal forage crops receive enough cooling shade and moisture for them to take hold out of the scorching sun.
– As each farmer learns what combination of crops and trees works for them, the results are rapidly shared with researchers and fellow farmers through an app, speeding the rate at which all the program participants can benefit from the knowledge.

It’s time to scrutinize who’s in the room when conservation decisions are made, says Laly Lichtenfeld by Rhett A. Butler [08/25/2021]

– Worldwide concern about injustice and inequity, the impacts of the pandemic, and the worsening effects of global environmental degradation has accelerated change in the conservation sector, a field that has historically been relatively slow to evolve.
– But for the shifts underway to be more than just a passing fad, many would argue that conservation requires fundamental structural changes that put more decision-making power in the hands of people who’ve been traditionally sidelined or ignored and recognize the importance of contributions from a wide range of stakeholders in achieving conservation outcomes.
– African People & Wildlife, a Tanzania-based NGO, has been working on these issues since its founding in 2005 by Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout. Lichtenfeld says that conservation now must take “concrete action” to move forward.
– “Currently, there are big questions out there as to whether organizations and the global conservation culture will truly change or whether things will revert to the status quo,” she told Mongabay during a recent interview. “If the much-needed challenge is really taken on, well then again, we have a lot of work ahead on this—particularly in terms of scrutinizing who is in the room when conservation decisions are made, understanding and overcoming the power dynamics at play, and considering how we can better communicate with and listen to one another.”

New study shows where to focus efforts to save long-neglected small mammals by Shreya Dasgupta [08/23/2021]

– Two small mammal groups — Rodentia (like mice, beavers, squirrels) and Eulipotyphla (like shrews, moles and hedgehogs) — together contain nearly half of all known mammal species.
– A new study provides an updated picture of where all of the globally threatened species from the two groups occur.
– The study also identified regions that are home to rodents and eulipotyphlans currently classified as data deficient or DD — species whose conservation status we simply don’t know.
– The authors say they hope the study will not just get people excited about working with small mammals, but also encourage funders to invest in conservation or research projects focusing on these long-neglected but species-rich animal groups.

Not just for humans — scientists turn to vaccines to save endangered species by Gloria Dickie [08/20/2021]

– Vaccines developed for animals, including rabies or swine fever shots, have historically been aimed at protecting humans rather than the animals themselves.
– Scientists are now increasingly looking at animal vaccines as a means of saving wild populations of threatened species.
– As with vaccines for humans, development cycles can take a decade or more, and the challenge of administering doses is far more complex.
– But some initiatives have shown promise in protecting wildlife from infectious diseases that could otherwise lead to entire species being decimated.

Burning forests to make energy: EU and world wrestle with biomass science by Justin Catanoso [08/19/2021]

– A major political and environmental dispute is coming to a boil in the run-up to COP26 in Scotland this November, as the EU and the forestry industry push forest biomass (turning trees into wood pellets and burning them to make electricity), claiming the science shows biomass is sustainable and produces zero emissions.
– Forest advocates and many scientists sit squarely on the other side of the argument, providing evidence that biomass burning is destructive to forests and biodiversity, is dirtier than coal, and destabilizing for the climate. Moreover, they say, the carbon neutrality claim is an accounting error that will greatly increase carbon emissions.
– These views collided in July when the European Commission called for only minor revisions to its legally binding Renewable Energy Directive (REDII) in regard to biomass policy as part of the EU Green Deal. Critics say the plan, if approved by the EU Parliament in 2022, will fail to protect global forests from the wood pellet industry.
– Here, Mongabay offers a review of the science on both sides of the biomass debate, summarizing key studies and reports, and providing links to primary sources for enhanced insight into these complex issues. The EU decision to include wood pellets as part of its clean energy mix could help shape global biomass policy at COP26.



A ‘sleeping beauty’ awakens to join Sri Lanka’s list of endemic plants by Malaka Rodrigo [26 Aug 2021]
– A new species of flowering plant has been described from Sri Lanka’s Peak Wilderness rainforest, part of the Strobilanthes genus of plants that put on spectacular blooming displays periodically.
– Sri Lanka has 33 known Strobilanthes species, 27 of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
– The newly described species, Strobilanthes medahinnensis, was first spotted in 2015 by botanist Nilanthi Rajapakse, who returned to the same spot over the course of the next five years to wait for the plant to finally bloom.
– The genus is understudied, in part because its flowering cycle can take up to 12 years; at the same time, 21 of the Sri Lankan species are threatened with extinction.

As COP15 approaches, ’30 by 30’ becomes a conservation battleground by Ashoka Mukpo [26 Aug 2021]
– In July, the U.N. released a draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which called for 30% of Earth’s land and sea areas to be conserved.
– Known as “30 by 30,” the plan has drawn fire from Indigenous rights activists and their allies, who say that it could prompt mass evictions.
– Earlier this month, 49 foundations sent a joint letter to the plan’s drafters, saying a focus on creating new protected areas would “lead to human rights abuses across the globe.”
– “30 by 30” is exposing fault lines in the modern conservation movement over who should control biodiversity protection and where funding should be directed.

Dam builder denies responsibility as logjam chokes river in Malaysian Borneo by Rachel Donald [26 Aug 2021]
– Tons of wood debris has clogged up the Baleh and Rajang rivers in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo.
– The logjam originated in the headwaters of the Baleh, where a hydroelectric dam is currently under construction and logging activity is being carried out nearby.
– The logjam originated in the headwaters of the Baleh, where a hydroelectric dam is currently under construction and logging activity is being carried out nearby.
– But the state-owned utility building dam denies responsibility, pointing to logging upstream.

Loss of forests turns up the heat, literally, on giant anteaters by Romina Castagnino [26 Aug 2021]
– A new study shows that giant anteaters, which are relatively poor at regulating their own body temperature, need forest patches as thermal shelters.
– It found that giant anteaters living in less forested habitats tended to travel farther to access forest fragments as a refuge from extreme temperatures.
– Researchers highlight the importance of understanding the spatial requirement of animals to guide management strategies and suggest conservation efforts focused on protecting forest patches within anteaters’ home ranges to help them regulate their body temperature.

‘Carving up my country’: Land clearing reignites fracking debate in Western Australia by Nick Rodway [25 Aug 2021]
– A recent data analysis shows that a single energy company has cleared 14,000 kilometers (8,700 miles) of vegetation for roads in the Kimberley, the northernmost part of Western Australia, Australia’s largest state, for fracking and mining exploration.
– The exploration occurred on First Nations’ territory, including those of the Yawuru people, recognized as “Traditional Owners” for their cultural associations with the land.
– Despite years of talk from government departments and industry, there is still no certainty about the rights of Traditional Owners to approve or veto such developments.
– Conservationists also warn this fracking exploration will enable the spread of feral cats who prey on native and endangered animals, one of Australia’s most pressing biodiversity issues.

On board Ghana’s trawlers, claims of human rights abuses and illegal fishing by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [25 Aug 2021]
– A report and video published by the Environmental Justice Foundation describes a range of human rights abuses experienced by fisheries crew members and official observers on board industrial vessels operating in Ghana’s waters.
– According to the report, most of these vessels are involved in illegal fishing practices, including the use of undersized nets, the catching and dumping of juvenile fish, and the transshipment of large quantities of pelagic fish that should be reserved for artisanal fishers, which is helping to push Ghana’s fishery to the point of collapse.
– Human rights abuses are prevalent on industrial fishing vessels across the world, and tend to be entwined with issues of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
– While many experts validate the allegations of human rights abuse in the report, some in positions of power suggest the issues aren’t as straightforward as they might appear.

Though nefarious, Russian hack of JBS should prompt environmental debate over meat “oligopoly” (commentary) by Nikolas Kozloff [25 Aug 2021]
– The recent cyberattack on Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS attracted a lot of attention, but Author Nikolas Kozloff said that most of analysis and discussion neglected to focus on broader issues associated with the industry.
– “Public discussion has missed the mark by focusing far too narrowly on mere supply chain issues: however nefarious, the JBS hack exposes wider concerns ranging from food justice to animal rights to public health to the environment and climate change,” Kozloff.
– “It is highly ironic, and that is putting it mildly, that it has taken Russian cyber-crime to highlight such systemic and underlying problems, yet perhaps such high-profile incidents might succeed in prompting long-overdue debate.”
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Calls mount for Indonesian ban on new palm oil plantations to be extended by Hans Nicholas Jong [25 Aug 2021]
– Calls are mounting from within the government and civil society for Indonesia’s ban on new oil palm plantations, in force since 2018 and set to expire this September, to be extended.
– They argue the moratorium has brought some improvements to the plantation industry, which has long been associated with deforestation, conflicts with traditional communities, and labor rights abuses.
– At the same time, they say, the moratorium has failed to address a litany of other issues, and renewing it will give the government and stakeholders more time to make the necessary progress.

Kenya port and ship-breaking projects threaten livelihoods and environment by Anthony Langat [25 Aug 2021]
– Plans to build an industrial fishing port and a ship-breaking yard along the Wasini Channel off Kenya’s coast threaten the livelihoods of local communities who depend on fishing, seaweed farming, and ecotourism, residents say.
– Underwater drilling carried out as part of surveys for the proposed port last November damaged coral reefs, while drilling for the ship-breaking yard destroyed seaweed crops.
– Community members say they fear even more devastating impacts once the projects, which also include a smelting plant, get underway in earnest.

Keeling Curve Prize awarded to solar cooking and other climate change-reducing projects by [24 Aug 2021]
– The ten 2021 winners of the Keeling Curve Prize for climate change solutions are recognized for innovations in grid-scale energy storage, e-bikes, seaweed farming, and solar cooking, among others.
– Cooking with the sun is a fuel-free way to cook food and purify water that reduces pressure on forests and keeps climate-warming CO2 and soot out of the air.
– Solar Cookers International has enabled millions of people to begin cooking with the sun, which prevents over 5.8 million tons of CO2 emissions annually.

Illegal mining in Colombia’s Amazon threatens Indigenous communities by Carol Sánchez [24 Aug 2021]
– In June 2021, Indigenous communities observed boats carrying out illegal gold mining in the Caquetá River in the Colombian Amazon.
– Satellite images showed as many as 19 boats that month on the Puré River, one of the Caquetá’s tributaries.
– Research shows mercury contamination from gold mining has contaminated Indigenous communities in the Caquetá River Basin.
– Researchers and Indigenous advocates warn the influx of miners into the remote Colombian Amazon may compromise the health and well-being of uncontacted peoples who depend on isolation for their way of life.

Convergence, community and justice: Key emerging conservation trends of the pandemic era (commentary) by Fred Nelson [24 Aug 2021]
– As a product of the profound impacts of climate-induced disasters, the pandemic, and rising awareness of social injustice, the conservation sector is in the midst of a period of rapid change.
– Fred Nelson, the CEO of Maliasili, which works to scale the impact of local conservation and natural resource organizations in Africa, identifies four key trends that are “significantly reshaping the conservation field” and what these mean for the sector.
– “Conservation organizations should anticipate greater support for locally-led or community-based organizations and initiatives, continued and increasing interest in the intersection of the environment and social justice, and more funding and policy support for the central role of healthy ecosystems in addressing climate change,” Nelson writes. “Ultimately these trends are all creating important opportunities for strengthening the conservation field in crucial ways—with more resources, deeper partnerships, greater diversity, and stronger local and grassroots leadership—during this critical period.”
– This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

To count Sumatran rhinos in the wild, look for their poop, study says by Basten Gokkon [24 Aug 2021]
– Sumatran rhino droppings could help researchers solve the decades-long question of how many of the critically endangered rhinos are left in the wild.
– This method allows researchers to collect DNA samples without bothering rhinos in the wild.
– For more accurate estimates, the researchers also identified “microsatellite markers” that they can use to help distinguish between individual animals.
– Current estimates suggest there are fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos left on Earth, scattered in isolated populations on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Nature takes a beating after chemical explosion in South Africa civil unrest by Tony Carnie [23 Aug 2021]
– Unknown quantities of toxic agricultural chemicals spilled into an estuary on the Indian Ocean following an arson attack on a warehouse during civil unrest and looting in South Africa in July.
– The fire burned for 10 days, exposing thousands of people to clouds of poisonous fumes and soot, with poor communication of the health risks to affected communities.
– Thousands of fish and other aquatic organisms were killed by a torrent of turquoise effluent that flowed from warehouse, which held as many as 1,600 different types of chemicals.
– The incident has exposed significant weaknesses in the regulation of hazardous installations, along with major flaws in emergency and pollution control response by South African authorities.

Brazil punching below its weight in getting forest products to the world by Juliana Ennes [23 Aug 2021]
– Brazil may have given its name to the Brazil nut, but it exports less than 6% of the global export market of the nut, while Bolivia supplies 52%.
– That’s one of several key findings from new research that shows that Brazil, home to a third of all tropical forests, is punching well below its own weight when it comes to the value of its exports of forest-derived commodities.
– Experts highlight several key obstacles preventing production and export of these commodities from being scaled up, including logistics, lack of technical expertise and equipment, and costly certification requirements for breaking into markets like the EU.
– Proponents say ramping up production and exports of forest commodities could be the key to achieving economic and social development in the Brazilian Amazon, as well as a way of reviving vast swaths of degraded and abandoned areas.

Highway cutting through Heart of Borneo poised to be ‘very, very bad’ by Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [23 Aug 2021]
– With Indonesia planning to shift its capital from Jakarta to the Bornean province of East Kalimantan, infrastructure development pressures on the island have intensified.
– Neighboring Malaysia is adding new stretches to the Pan Borneo Highway to capitalize on spillover economic benefits; within Indonesia, East Kalimantan’s developmental gains are also expected to trickle to other provinces through the transboundary highway.
– While the new roads could spur economic development in remote villages, they also carve into protected areas in the Heart of Borneo, opening them up for resource extraction.
– In particular, the roads could fast-track development of a new “oil palm belt,” with disastrous consequences for the wildlife and Indigenous peoples of Borneo, and for global climate, experts say.

Deforestation surge continues amid deepening uncertainty in Myanmar by Carolyn Cowan [23 Aug 2021]
– Satellite data from the University of Maryland show a surge in forest clearing in northern parts of the Tanintharyi region in southern Myanmar, including within a protected area.
– Major drivers of deforestation are commercial oil palm and rubber plantations, small-scale agriculture, and infrastructure development.
– In the region’s south, forest loss is affecting the already fragmented habitat of globally threatened Gurney’s pittas and tigers, among other rare species.
– Meanwhile, activists say the political turmoil following the Feb. 1 military coup has effectively halted community-led forest protection work.

A bouquet of discovery: Three new orchid species described from Ecuador by Liz Kimbrough [20 Aug 2021]
– Three new orchid species from the evergreen montane forests and shrublands of the Ecuadoran Andes have been described by scientists.
– Two of the new orchids have been preliminarily assessed as critically endangered according to IUCN Red List criteria.
– All three of the new-to-science species are in the genus Lepanthes, an extremely diverse group that boasts an estimated 1,100 species.
– Researchers found the flowers while studying plant-hummingbird interactions in cloud forests with different levels of disturbance. Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, where the interactions between many species have not yet been studied.

Half of burned forests across Latin America don’t survive, study finds by Nicolás Bustamante Hernández [20 Aug 2021]
– Researchers monitored the forests of 22 Latin American countries from 2003 to 2018, and analyzed their resistance to fires.
– According to the researchers, 48% of these ecosystems that suffered burning in 2003 were wiped out in subsequent years.
– The study found that all forests in Latin America are susceptible to fires, with severe implications for greenhouse gas emissions, particulate matter, and biodiversity.

Stranded dugong in Indonesia reportedly cut up for traditional medicine by Nurdin Tubaka [20 Aug 2021]
– Two dugongs stranded earlier this week on an island in eastern Indonesia, but only one survived and returned to the sea.
– With conservation authorities unable to go to the site due to COVID-19 restrictions, some locals reportedly cut up the dead dugong’s body and distributed the parts for use in traditional medicine.
– Dugongs are a protected species under Indonesian law, and possession of their body parts, even after a natural death, is a crime.
– Strandings of marine animals, particularly sea mammals, are common in Indonesia as its waters serve as both a habitat and an important migratory route for dozens of species.

Indonesian pulpwood firms told to protect peat are doing the opposite: Report by Hans Nicholas Jong [20 Aug 2021]
– Pulpwood companies in Indonesia are continuing to plant on degraded peatlands inside their concessions, despite being required to protect and restore these ecosystems, a new report shows.
– The report focuses on 16 pulp and paper producers and found all of them in violation of peat protection and rehabilitation regulations.
– Among the violations are planting and harvesting acacia trees in previously burned peatlands, and digging new canals to drain peatland.
– Among the companies highlighted in the report are subsidiaries of two of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world, APP and APRIL.

They safeguarded nature, but now Malaysia’s Mah Meri face eviction for an eco-resort by Rachel Donald [20 Aug 2021]
– Members of the Mah Meri Indigenous community in Malaysia are fighting an attempt to evict them to make way for the expansion of a beach resort.
– The notice, served by the Selangor state government, says the land in question belongs to the government, and has threatened legal action if the Mah Meri settlement is not cleared.
– In a countersuit, the Mah Meri say the land should have been legally recognized as Indigenous territory long before this dispute developed.

Deforestation-free supply chains in Vietnam rely on working with small scale farmers (commentary) by Phuc Xuan To [20 Aug 2021]
– Almost all of the forest-based commodities produced in Vietnam are destined for other countries, which through their market requirements and laws, have a growing sway on deforestation-related trends and practices.
– Recent studies have found that nearly 70% of the tropical deforestation related to such commodities between 2013-2019 was illegal.
– Smallholder farmers play a vital role in producing these commodities, so for the sector to be sustainable, they need fair and equitable access to export markets: governments and businesses in consumer and producer markets have vital roles to play in this regard.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

End of deforestation tracker for Brazil’s Cerrado an ‘incalculable loss’ by Fernanda Wenzel [19 Aug 2021]
– For 20 years, Brazil’s space agency, INPE, has run a program monitoring deforestation and fire risk in the Cerrado savanna, a global biodiversity hotspot.
– But that program may be shut down at the end of this year due to a lack of money, after a funding agreement with the World Bank ended last year.
– Scientists, civil society groups, and the soy industry have all spoken out against allowing the program to end, calling it an “incalculable loss”; soy traders, in particular, depend on the data to prove their commodity is deforestation-free.
– INPE’s data is also crucial in guiding the work of environmental regulators, which has grown increasingly urgent in light of projections that the entire biome could collapse within 30 years under current rates of deforestation.

In saving the ozone layer, we avoided even more intense global warming by [19 Aug 2021]
– The Montreal Protocol, a 1987 agreement to stop using ozone-depleting chemicals, also helped combat climate change in more ways than one, a study published in Nature found.
– The group of synthetic gases called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that deplete atmospheric ozone are also potent greenhouse gases, so phasing them out has protected the planet from warming above and beyond what we’re seeing today.
– At the same time, by preventing damage to plant life from harmful UV radiation, actions taken under the Montreal Protocol have safeguarded carbon reserves to the tune of 690 billion metric tons.
– The protocol’s success shows that collective action taken in time can make a difference in tackling global environmental challenges.

Underwater gardeners restore seagrass meadows to keep oceans healthy by Lucrezia Lozza [19 Aug 2021]
– The more than 70 known species of seagrass play a key role in helping mitigate climate change by sequestering large amounts of carbon, as well as providing habitats for fish and invertebrates.
– But their importance in maintaining healthy oceans has long been overlooked, with seagrasses threatened by anthropogenic activities such as destructive fishing and water pollution, often to the extent that they can’t self-recover.
– Several initiatives around the world are trying to restore seagrass meadows, including an ongoing project off the coast of Wales in the U.K., and a successful one around the coastal bays of Virginia.
– Seagrasses are important nurseries for a rich diversity of marine life, including commercially important fish, which means their loss threatens the food security of many communities that depend on these fisheries.



Even as the government bets big on carbon, REDD+ flounders in Madagascar by Malavika Vyawahare [08/18/2021]
Indigenous Amazonian communities bear the burden of Ecuador’s balsa boom by Diego Cazar Baquero [08/17/2021]
China joins the foreign fleets quietly exploiting Madagascar’s waters by Edward Carver [08/16/2021]