Newsletter 2021-09-16



When COVID shut Broadway, award-winning actress Jane Alexander went birding by Rhett A. Butler [09/14/2021]

– When the COVID-19 pandemic shut theatres across North America and beyond in March 2020, acclaimed film and stage actress Jane Alexander embraced her love of nature by spending the unexpected time off to enjoy the wild landscapes of Nova Scotia.
– Though Alexander is best known for her long acting career, writing, and service as the chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1990s, she has been an active advocate for nature and wildlife for decades, including serving on the boards of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the National Audubon Society, and the Centre Valbio in Madagascar.
– Alexander spoke of her love of the natural world, her conservation efforts, and more during a recent conversation with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

Worked to death: How a Chinese tuna juggernaut crushed its Indonesian workers by Mongabay and Tansa and The Environmental Reporting Collective [09/13/2021]

– One of China’s biggest tuna fishing firms, Dalian Ocean Fishing, made headlines last year when four young Indonesian deckhands fell sick and died from unknown illnesses after allegedly being subject to horrible conditions on one of its boats.
– Now, an investigation by Mongabay, Tansa and the Environmental Reporting Collective shows for the first time that the abuses suffered by workers on that vessel — most commonly, being fed substandard food, given possibly dangerous drinking water and made to work excessively — were not limited to one boat, but widespread and systematic across the company’s fleet.
– Moreover, migrant fishers on many boats were subject to beatings and threats to withhold pay if they did not follow orders. Many have not received their full salaries or been paid at all.
– China has the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet, and Indonesia is widely believed to be the industry’s biggest supplier of labor. In 2019 and 2020, at least 30 fishers from Indonesia died on Chinese long-haul fishing boats, often from unknown illnesses.

‘On the map’: App shines light on 5,000 ‘invisible’ families in Brazil’s Cerrado and beyond by Sarah Sax [09/10/2021]

– A new report shows the results of an application that has mapped out more than 5,000 families in 76 communities from 23 Brazilian states, whose territories amount to 350,000 hectares (865,000 acres) that, until now, have gone unrecognized on official government maps.
– The digital mapping platform, called Tô No Mapa (“I am on the map” in Portuguese), allows traditional communities to demarcate their lands and list significant points of interest and conflict.
– The app was developed by the Brazilian civil society organization Institute for Society, Population and Nature (ISPN), the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) and several other Brazilian NGOs working with traditional communities.
– Traditional peoples and communities play a vital role in conserving biodiversity, and guaranteeing their legal rights to land and territory is increasingly being recognized as a key conservation necessity, according to a wide range of studies and reports.

Should tree plantations count toward reforestation goals? It’s complicated by Analysis by Gianluca Cerullo [09/10/2021]

– Globally, tree-planting projects are becoming all the rage, but many are counting on old habits of planting monoculture plantations and calling them forests.
– Still, some researchers say there are ways to make plantation trees aid in actual restoration projects, including innovative projects in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.- Reforestation and restoration projects will require monitoring and scrutiny to make sure they are living up to their commitments in regard to both climate and biodiversity.

Indonesia lays out plan to rescue 15 lakes under pressure from human activity by Basten Gokkon [09/10/2021]

– Indonesia has announced a plan to restore 15 deteriorating lakes across the country by 2024.
– The ecosystem of these lakes has been degraded largely by human-related activities, such as pollution, logging and destructive fishing practices.
– Observers have welcomed the new policy, saying the strategies outlined appear to address the threats faced by the lakes.
– These lakes are crucial in supporting the livelihoods of local communities as they serve as a source of freshwater, as flood control, and as sites for fish farming and tourism.



Jakarta court finds president, governor liable for city’s air pollution woes by Hans Nicholas Jong [16 Sep 2021]
– An Indonesian court has found seven top government officials, including President Joko Widodo, liable for the poor air quality in the country’s capital, Jakarta.
– The judges order the government to carry out serious actions to improve air quality in Jakarta and ensure the rights of citizens to clean and healthy air.
– Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, one of the respondents in the citizen lawsuit, said he won’t challenge the ruling, after initially refusing to take full accountability for the city’s persistent pollution problem.

Creation of three new northern white rhinos embryos may indicate hope for other rhino species by Ashley Stumvoll [16 Sep 2021]
– In July, BioRescue announced the creation of three new northern white rhino embryos, bringing the total to 12.
– Project leader Thomas Hildebrandt said he hopes to transfer a northern white rhino embryo into a female southern white rhino by the end of the year.
– Researchers and stakeholders are assessing whether it would be possible to employ similar methods to preserve genetic diversity in critically endangered Asian rhino species, weighing the risks of extracting eggs against the need for a backup plan.

Illegal logging reaches Amazon’s untouched core, ‘terrifying’ research shows by Juliana Ennes [15 Sep 2021]
– Satellite imagery shows that logging activity is spreading from peripheral areas of the Amazon toward the rainforest’s core, according to groundbreaking research.
– The satellite-based mapping of seven of Brazil’s nine Amazonian states showed a “terrifying” pattern of logging advance that cleared an area three times the size of the city of São Paulo between August 2019 and July 2020 alone.
– At the state level, lack of transparency in logging data makes it impossible to calculate how much of the timber production is illegal, experts say.
– Evidence of cutting in Indigenous reserves and conservation units — where logging is prohibited — make clear that illegal logging accounts for much of the activity, according to the report.

Podcast: Are tuna doing as well as latest extinction risk assessments suggest? It’s complicated by Mike Gaworecki [15 Sep 2021]
– Today we look at some of the biggest news to emerge from the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which just took place in Marseilles, France.
– Mongabay staff writer Elizabeth Claire Alberts, who attended the Congress in-person, tells us about her experience at the pandemic-era “hybrid event,” why it was so important that Indigenous peoples were admitted as full voting members for the first time ever, and about two of the most important motions that were approved by IUCN members.
– Pew Charitable Trusts’ senior officer for international fisheries Grantly Galland discusses the reassessments of tuna extinction risks released by the IUCN during the Congress, and tells us why species-level assessments don’t tell us the whole story about tuna populations.

Mycoremediation brings the fungi to waste disposal and ecosystem restoration by Carly Nairn [15 Sep 2021]
– Mycoremediation is the process of harnessing fungi’s natural abilities to break down materials for a beneficial effect.
– Recent projects look to restore habitat marred by wildfires, or manipulate fungi in a lab to break down toxic waste and other human-created pollutants.
– Research continues looking at the broad ways fungi can possibly regenerate soils and keep moisture in the ground, which are necessities for creating wildfire-adapted lands.

Leveraging Nature-based Solutions for transformation: Reconnecting people and nature (commentary) by Alexandre Chausson, E.A. Weldon, Marina S. Melanidis [15 Sep 2021]
– Nature-based Solutions (NbS) are highly-discussed in international environmental climate and biodiversity policy spaces. However, NbS can only support transformation if we talk about the concept in ways that reflect, align with, and contribute to transformation.
– The way we frame an NbS idea directly impacts the way we understand both the problem NbS is proposing to solve, and the solution it is suggesting. A narrow framing can result in both a narrow understanding of the problem and a narrow solution.
– If we wish for NbS to be a part of wider societal transformation, it needs to be grounded in the “core frame.” The term needs to be rooted in the interconnectedness between people and nature, and avoid reinforcing an artificial dichotomy between people and nature.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Saving sea turtles in the ‘Anthropause’: Successes and challenges on the beach by Elizabeth Fitt [15 Sep 2021]
– The COVID-19 pandemic has posed tough challenges for sea turtle conservation projects across the planet.
– Conservationists describe how economic issues have put turtles and themselves at risk from poachers, while travel restrictions have crippled operations in Costa Rica and Malaysia.
– The lull in human seashore activities also revealed that tourism pressure affects nesting turtle behavior in the Mediterranean, a study shows.
– In Lebanon, raising awareness has been key to turtle conservation successes despite the country’s economic collapse, conservationists said.

Pepé Le New: Meet the acrobatic spotted skunks of North America by Liz Kimbrough [15 Sep 2021]
– Researchers analyzed spotted skunk DNA and found that rather than the four skunk species previously recognized by science, there are actually seven.
– Spotted skunks are sometimes called the “acrobats of the skunk world” due to their impressive handstands, which warn predators that a noxious spray is coming their way.
– Among the new species, the Plains spotted skunk is in significant decline, with habitat and prey loss during the spread of industrial agriculture likely to blame.
– Figuring out the different species lineages may inform efforts conservation efforts, one of the study’s authors said: “Once something has a species name, it’s easier to conserve and protect.”

Fashions to die for: The fur trade’s role in spreading zoonotic disease by Jenny Gonzales [15 Sep 2021]
– It has long been known that zoonotic diseases, which originate in animals and can jump to humans and back again, have been a prime source and vector for pandemics, with COVID-19 the most recent example. What is less known is the role the global fur-for-fashion industry plays in the spread of zoonotic disease.
– In 2020, COVID-19 spread to minks on EU fur-to-fashion farms; the virus also spread from the animals to a farm worker. Denmark ordered the culling of 17 million farm-raised minks. Mink farms in 10 countries have since been hit by outbreaks, including the U.S., Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Spain and Sweden.
– China is the largest producer and consumer of fur for fashion, with the U.S. and EU both major players as well. In China, government support, producer lobbying, weak regulation and popularity with Chinese consumers has kept that nation’s fur market strong. It is very well supplied by Chinese farms and EU fur farm joint ventures.
– The fashion trend today is not for full-length fur coats, but for fur trim on sports coats, caps, shoes and accessories. Animals killed for their fur include minks, sables, rabbits, chinchillas, foxes and raccoon dogs. All have the potential to serve as zoonotic disease sources and spreaders. Globally, an estimated 95% of fur comes from farms.

COP15 comment: Overlooked rice landscapes can boost biodiversity in Asia (commentary) by Alex Stuart, Oliver Frith [14 Sep 2021]
– Rice covers 138 million hectares of agricultural land in Asia, which teem with life. However, current management of rice landscapes contributes to the biodiversity crisis.
– The Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework being negotiated during the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity conference in China can benefit from making rice landscapes a healthy habitat to stem biodiversity loss on the continent.
– Redesigning public programs to discourage practices harmful to biodiversity in rice landscapes should be a priority, as research has shown nature-positive approaches can deliver the same or higher yields as unsustainable practices prevalent across tropical Asia.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

Study fails to find link between increased deforestation and COVID lockdowns by James Fair [14 Sep 2021]
– Macroeconomic analysis suggests deforestation trends have not changed significantly in the past year as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Lockdowns and layoffs, and the unprecedented stimulus spending in response to them, were expected to lead to a spike in deforestation, but this wasn’t the case, the analysis shows.
– Still, campaign groups say there are signs of unsustainable expansion plans among the forest products sector in Asia.
– Conservationists are calling on world leaders to use the climate change conference later this year to make recovery programs more sustainable.

Oil palms alone can be damaging; with other crops, the benefits abound by Hans Nicholas Jong [14 Sep 2021]
– Intercropping in oil palm plantations can reduce deforestation, increase biodiversity, and boost farmers’ income, all without hurting palm oil yields, new research suggests.
– The approach has been adopted by smallholders, but large companies are still reluctant to implement it.
– Integrating livestock like cattle with oil palm plantations also produces a number of benefits, such as reducing the need for fertilizers and herbicides.

Win for Malaysian forest after government backs down on development plan by Rachel Donald [14 Sep 2021]
– Plans to remove protections from the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve, a protected forest close to Kuala Lumpur in Peninsular Malaysia, have been cancelled by the local government.
– The Selangor state government will regazette the area as a protected forest following an intense civil society campaign against the plans to build a “mixed use” development covering half of the extant forest.
– Selangor state is unique in Malaysia for having laws that require public review of plans to convert protected forests for other use; activists are now calling for these regulations to be adopted more widely.

Marine experts flag new Peru marine reserve that allows industrial fishing by Yvette Sierra Praeli [14 Sep 2021]
– Experts say the establishment of a new marine protected area off Peru that allows large-scale fishing and the capture of deep-sea cod will damage the biodiversity inside the reserve.
– Nazca Ridge National Reserve is the first fully marine protected area in Peru, covering 62,392 square kilometers (24,089 square miles) of the ocean.
– Its establishment in June increased the proportion of the country’s territorial waters under some sort of protection from less than 1% to nearly 8%.

Seaweed farming offers a boost for Sri Lanka’s ‘blue economy’ ambitions by Dennis Mombauer [13 Sep 2021]
– Seaweed farming is an increasingly important part of the global food system and provides a range of benefits, including sustainable coastal livelihoods and economic diversification, food production, export revenue, climate change mitigation and adaptation, pollution control, and organic fertilizer.
– Sri Lanka used to have a prominent seaweed market in the 1930s, but today there’s only limited, small-scale seaweed farming in the country, mostly without processing or value addition.
– With greater investments of money, technology, and know-how, Sri Lanka could offer the perfect location to cultivate seaweed either on its own or as integrated mariculture, for example with shrimps, mollusks, or sea cucumbers, experts say.
– Farming seaweed in Sri Lanka could be a viable and highly beneficial part of expanding the blue economy if initial challenges are overcome and coastal communities engaged with support, guidance, technology, and quality control, experts say.

Lockdowns didn’t stop 2020 being deadliest year yet for earth defenders by Ashoka Mukpo [13 Sep 2021]
– The countries with the highest death tolls overall were Colombia, Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
– Overall, the Americas were the most dangerous for land and environmental defenders, with seven of the top 10 countries by number of killings located in Latin America.
– Nicaragua and Honduras were the deadliest per capita, as threats against Indigenous land by cattle ranchers and economic migrants continue to rise.
– Global Witness said governments need to take more aggressive action to force businesses to monitor and regulate their supply chains.

OECM concept may bring more inclusive approach to conserving biodiversity by Jim Tan [13 Sep 2021]
– Devised under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, “other effective area based conservation measures” (OECM) are an alternative to traditional protected areas, in that they can include any geographically defined area that has a management structure and can show a long-term positive impact on biodiversity.
– OECM supporters say they are potentially a more equitable form of conservation that can work for groups previously disenfranchised or sometimes at odds with traditional conservation, such as some Indigenous groups and local communities as well as sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors.
– A key aspect of the OECM definition is that these areas must effectively contribute toward biodiversity, something currently not required of a protected area; but how that is defined and measured in practice will take time to establish.

Workshop empowers Brazil’s Xakriabá people to publish their own books by Matheus Lopes Quirino [13 Sep 2021]
– In the KMÃNÃÑ HÊSUKA (“Making Books”) workshop, Central Brazil’s Xakriabá people learned the stages of the publishing process in order to make their own publications; imbuing the books with Indigenous voice was the project’s goal.
– The Xakriabá, who number some 9,000 people, are the largest Indigenous population in the state of Minas Gerais, living on two Indigenous lands in the north.
– Five books will be released this year as a result of the project. Topics include ceremonial songs, oral history, woodworking techniques and a biography of Chief Rodrigão, one of the Xakriabá’s foremost leaders.

Project works with farmers to restore Brazilian pine forests by Luís Patriani [13 Sep 2021]
– A project in Southern Brazil aims to restore 335 hectares (827 acres) of Araucaria moist forests and plant 250,000 seedlings of native species inside Conservation Units and Permanent Preservation Areas on small farms.
– The Araucaria tree is the symbol of the Brazilian state of Paraná, yet only 0.8% of its natural forests remain in a good state of conservation — a mere 60,000 hectares (150,000 acres) of the original 8 million (20 million acres) that once existed here.
– Aside from reversing tree cuts in Paraná — the state with the highest rate of deforestation in the Atlantic Forest — the project hopes to transform natural areas into economic assets through compensation programs that pay the farmers for their environmental services for keeping the forest standing.

Myanmar’s snowcapped north is a haven for large mammals, new study finds by Carolyn Cowan [13 Sep 2021]
– A camera-trapping study has confirmed that the snowcapped Hkakaborazi landscape in northern Myanmar is a crucial haven for large mammals.
– The research team deployed 174 cameras in the forests and mountain slopes and interviewed local villagers, detecting 40 large mammal species overall.
– Species included evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered species, such as Chinese red pandas, dholes, Shortridge’s langurs and takins.
– The authors recommend a southern extension of a national park boundary to protect forests that are risk of being lost due to agricultural expansion and overhunting.

Deforestation sweeps national park in Brazil as land speculators advance by Ana Ionova [10 Sep 2021]
– Between January and early September, 3,542 deforestation alerts have been confirmed in primary forest within Campos Amazônicos National Park, according to satellite data, representing a 37% jump over the average amount of forest loss for the previous five years.
– Much of the occupation of the Campos Amazônicos park is happening through illegitimate land claims, fueled by hopes that protections on the park may be loosened in the future, environmentalists say. Even though the park is under federal protection, this hasn’t stopped invaders from falsely registering slices of it as their property.
– Environmentalists warn the social and environmental impacts could be devastating. Campos Amazônicos wraps around the Tenharim do Igarapé Preto Indigenous Reserve, which was until recently under attack by illegal miners who descended on the territory in search of cassiterite; sources say the fresh incursions into Campos Amazônicos could put the area back at risk.
– The park also holds one of the most striking enclaves of cerrado in the Amazon rainforest, housing stretches of shrubs, grasslands and dry forest typical of the savanna biome. Campos Amazônicos is also part of the Southern Amazon Conservation Corridor that represents one of the best-preserved stretches of the rainforest.

After surge, Amazon deforestation slows for second straight month by [10 Sep 2021]
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon declined for the second straight month according to data released today by Brazil’s national space research institute INPE.
– Year to date, INPE’s DETER deforestation alert system has registered 5,822 square kilometers of forest clearance. At this time last year the tally stood at 6,099 square kilometers.
– Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit a 12-year high last year.

Indonesia terminates agreement with Norway on $1b REDD+ scheme by Hans Nicholas Jong [10 Sep 2021]
– The Indonesian government has decided to terminate a $1 billion deal with Norway under which Indonesia preserves its rainforests to curb carbon dioxide emissions.
– The Indonesian government says the decision is made after thorough consultations and cites lack of progress in the payment by Norway as one of the reasons for the termination.
– The Indonesian government says it remains committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions despite ending the agreement.
– The Norwegian government says the two governments had been engaged in discussions on a legal agreement for the transfer of the payment, and the discussions were still ongoing and progressing well up until the announcement.

As tourists flood a Tanzanian park, the Maasai say they’re being pushed out by Ashoka Mukpo [10 Sep 2021]
– A Maasai leader interviewed by Mongabay said that restrictions on crop cultivation and cattle grazing at Ngorongoro are causing widespread hunger and despair.
– On Thursday, the Oakland Institute and Rainforest Rescue delivered a petition with 94,000 signatures to UNESCO and the Tanzanian government, asking them to scrap a rezoning plan that could displace tens of thousands of people.
– While tourism to Ngorongoro has spiked in recent years, the share of profits spent on community development has dropped significantly.

Africa’s montane forests are more carbon-dense than even the Amazon by [10 Sep 2021]
– Mountain forests store nearly 150 metric tons of carbon dioxide per hectare, a new study estimates, which is more than the Amazon Rainforest per unit area.
– The U.N.’s leading scientific body on climate change, the IPCC, pegs the default value for these forests at 90 metric tons per hectare, underestimating their role in regulating the planet’s climate.
– High-altitude forests cover 16 million hectares (40 million acres) of land in Africa, primarily concentrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but about 5% has already disappeared since the turn of the century.
– The study authors say they hope the new estimates will make these forests more attractive for carbon finance initiatives.

What’s fair in conservation to locals? Just ask, study says by Nanditha Chandraprakash [09 Sep 2021]
– In many protected areas, the distribution of funds for conservation seldom considers the Indigenous population’s views on how the money should be spent.
– In Fiji, the Indigenous iTaukei people co-manage Vatu-i-Ra Conservation Park, a marine protected area, under traditional rules and values.
– Researchers did a study at Vatu-i-Ra where they asked the local population what they see as the fairest way to distribute conservation funds.
– They discovered to their surprise that the iTaukei felt the fairest means of fund distribution was according to who has customary rights, and not equal benefits or the opportunity-cost approach, as is typically practiced in Western conservation.

Deep-sea mining gets a resounding rejection from conservation authorities by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [09 Sep 2021]
– Members of the IUCN World Conservation Congress have voted overwhelmingly in support of a moratorium on deep-sea mining, an activity that conservationists say could cause irreversible damage to the ocean.
– The South Pacific nation of Nauru recently triggered a two-year rule, which would require the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to grant it a license to begin mining under whatever regulations are in place by then.
– Conservationists say there is currently little to no understanding of how deep-sea mining could negatively affect the deep-sea environment.

As illegal logging route in Peru nears Brazil, Indigenous groups warn of calamity by Ana Ionova [09 Sep 2021]
– Loggers are illegally reopening an abandoned road in Peru’s Ucayali region, threatening the dozens of Indigenous territories along the country’s border with Brazil, activists say.
– The UC-105 road reportedly cut through the Sawawo Indigenous Reserve in Peru last month, stopping just 11 kilometers (less than 7 miles) from the Brazilian border.
– The project is not authorized by Peru’s government but has forged ahead anyway, with no environmental impact studies or consultation with communities, Indigenous leaders say.
– Critics of the road say it will bring a surge in deforestation, drug trafficking and river degradation for the region’s Indigenous communities, who have been fighting off the loggers for decades and are now demanding authorities act to stop the advance of the road.



Climate philanthropy’s opportunity for impact: Q&A with Bridgespan’s Sonali Patel by Rhett A. Butler [09/07/2021]
Manatee deaths in Florida point to a global decline in seagrass ecosystems by Claudia Geib [09/06/2021]
Drug trafficking threatens Indigenous Shipibo communities in Peru by Enrique Vera [09/03/2021]
In Peru, ancient food technologies revived in pursuit of future security by Illa Liendo Tagle [09/03/2021]