Newsletter 2023-02-16



The $20m flip: The story of the largest land grab in the Brazilian Amazon by Fernanda Wenzel — February 14, 2023


– This is the story of how three individual landowners engineered the single-largest instance of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
– The clearing of 6,469 hectares (or 15,985 acres) of forest in the southern part of Pará state could earn them nearly $20 million in profit at current land prices.
– The case is emblematic of the spate of land grabs targeting unallocated public lands throughout the Amazon, where speculators clear and burn the vegetation, then sell the empty land for soy farms, or plant grass and sell it for cattle ranching.
– This article was originally published in Portuguese by The Intercept Brasil and is part of the Ladrões de Floresta (Thieves of the Forest) project, which investigates the appropriation of public land inside the Amazon and is funded by the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network.

US pledges Amazon Fund donation, renewing hope for the rainforest by Sarah Brown — February 13, 2023


– Recent talks between the presidents of Brazil and the U.S. have spurred hope for a renewed global commitment to protect the Amazon Rainforest.
– The U.S. has pledged to work with Brazil to strengthen the protection of the Amazon, including offering “initial support” to the recently revived Amazon Fund.
– Reports claim the U.S. will initially donate $50 million toward the fund, inciting disappointment among some experts who claim billions, not millions, are required to eliminate deforestation.
– However, many environmentalists praise the collaboration as giving credibility to Brazil’s environmental agenda and claim it could encourage more countries to donate.

Amid global mezcal craze, scientists and communities try out sustainable plantations by Magdaléna Rojo — February 10, 2023


– Mezcal, an increasingly popular Mexican liquor, has seen a 700% increase in production in the last ten years, leading to the over-harvesting of wild agave and the expansion of monoculture plantations which ecologists say is threatening endangered bat species and ecosystems.
– Scientists from universities across Mexico are researching how to develop sustainable organic plantations in five states that can meet rising global demand while also benefiting local communities.
– In one of the projects, they are testing over 45,000 thousand agave plants of two native species in agroecological systems to observe which practices best support their growth.
– Because few studies have been done on the environmental impacts of the booming industry, regional studies are needed, says a biologist.


Fishing communities create marine refuges to protect Chile’s biodiversity by Michelle Carrere — February 16, 2023
– In Chile’s Valparaíso region, artisanal fishers have created grassroots marine reserves to protect marine biodiversity.
– The areas are small, some of them just 15 hectares (37 acres) in size, but they provide a haven for marine creatures to grow and reproduce.
– This growth can contribute to regenerating coastal biodiversity, making the region more resilient to climate change, while the fisherfolk can benefit from a greater availability of resources in the long term.

Failed mangrove tourism project in Sumatra highlights need for community collaboration by Barita News Lumbanbatu — February 16, 2023
– Once a bustling attraction, the Sicanang Mangrove Forest ecotourism project in North Sumatra is padlocked and falling into disrepair.
– Launched in 2019, the project was supported by Sumatra-based NGO Yagasu but fell apart in the wake of claims that the project was improperly established on private land.
– Facing multiple accusations, Yagasu withdrew from the project, which failed without the organization’s support. The outcome, Yagasu staff say, highlights the importance of close collaboration among NGOs, local governments and community groups.

Trees with edible leaves can boost human nutrition: New book, free download by Erik Hoffner — February 15, 2023
– Tree planting is widely promoted as a solution to challenges ranging from climate change to biodiversity loss, desertification, and more.
– One less-appreciated benefit of growing trees is for their leaves for human nutrition, but a new book, “Trees with Edible Leaves: A Global Manual,” details more than 100 species whose leaves are highly nutritious.
– Trees are also much easier to grow than annual vegetables, being very simple to maintain once established, and benefit other crops when grown in agroforestry settings.
– Mongabay interviewed Eric Toensmeier, the author of this new resource, which is available as a free download.

Recent seismic activity in Indian Ocean likely led pilot whales to beach on Sri Lanka shores by Hassaan Shazuli — February 15, 2023
– Marine experts say the seismic activity in the Indian Ocean in the past few days likely pushed a pod of pilot whales onto Sri Lanka’s shores.
– Authorities and volunteers undertook a strenuous 15-and-a-half-hour operation to send a pod of pilot whales safely back into the sea.
– Rescuers managed to push 11 pilot whales back into the sea while three died on the shores.
– Recorded incidents of whales beaching up on Sri Lankan shores go back as far as 1889.

Kew Gardens joins local partners to save tropical plants from extinction by Sue Branford — February 15, 2023
– The U.K.’s Kew Gardens does far more than preserve and display 50,000 living and 7 million preserved specimens of the world’s plants; it also educates the public about the importance of plant conservation via its famous London facility.
– In 2022, Kew Gardens identified 90 plants and 24 fungi completely new to science. They include the world’s largest giant water lily, with leaves more than 3 meters across, from Bolivia; and a 15-meter tree from Central America, named after the murdered Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres.
– The institution is working actively with local partners in many parts of the world, and especially in the tropics, to save these species in-situ, that is, where they were found. When Kew can’t do this, it saves seeds in its herbarium, carrying out ex-situ conservation.
– Kew researchers, along with scientists from tropical nations, are also working together to ensure that local communities benefit from this conservation work. The intention is to save these threatened plants for the long term, helping slow the pace of Earth’s current extinction crisis — the only one caused by humans.

Swinging to safety: How canopy bridges may save Costa Rica’s howlers by Noah Tobias — February 15, 2023
– New research shows that building rope bridges over roads and buildings protects howler monkeys from needless deaths in Costa Rica.
– Breaks in the tree canopy from roads, buildings and other developments pose a threat to howlers, which are often struck by moving vehicles or electrocuted on power lines while trying to cross these gaps.
– Researchers built simple rope bridges over interrupted canopy and monitored them over the course of six years, finding that the bridges have led to a decrease in howler deaths and a rebound in their population.
– Howlers monkeys are vital ecosystem engineers due to their seed dispersal and their ability to live in fragmented, disturbed habitats, so protecting them goes a long way toward protecting the ecosystem.

Potential impact on whales overlooked as deep-sea mining looks set to start by Elizabeth Claire Alberts — February 14, 2023
– Scientists say future deep-sea mining activities could impact cetaceans through noise pollution, which could interfere with their communication processes.
– Most assessments of deep-sea mining impact have focused on species associated with the seabed rather than transitory megafauna that inhabit the proposed mining areas, scientists say.
– They argue that urgent research is needed to understand the impact on cetaceans before deep-sea mining operations are allowed to begin.
– Deep-sea mining in international waters may begin later this year after the Pacific island nation of Nauru, which sponsors a subsidiary of a Canadian mining firm, requested accelerated approval of its mining operation.

Mapping of no-drill areas in Ecuador’s Amazon can be scaled for entire rainforest: Study by Maurício Brum and Sílvia Lisboa — February 13, 2023
– A recent study proposes a new methodology to map parts of the Ecuadoran Amazon where fossil fuel reserves must be kept untapped to meet global climate goals, and says it can be replicated and scaled for the entire Amazon Rainforest.
– This includes reviving the Yasuní-ITT Initiative proposed in 2003, and later abandoned by the Ecuadoran government, to stop oil exploitation in Yasuní National Park.
– Since the initiative was shelved, oil exploration has resumed inside the park, advancing toward areas where isolated Indigenous people live and driving swaths of deforestation in the dense forest.
– Campaigners have successfully pushed for the revival of the Yasuní-ITT Initiative to be put to a referendum this month.

Invisible destruction: 38% of remaining Amazon forest already degraded by Suzana Camargo — February 13, 2023
– According to a new study signed by 35 scientists from all over the world, more than 1 million square miles of what remains of the Amazon Forest are suffering from degradation; this is more than 10 times the size of the UK.
– Unlike deforestation, which can be seen by satellite, degradation is more difficult to measure, but the forests impacted can emit as much carbon as areas where trees have already been cut down.
– The authors state that degradation is being driven by four main disturbances: forest fires, timber extraction, extreme droughts — intensified by climate change — and edge effects (impact of cleared areas on adjacent forests).

Vietnam’s environmental NGOs face uncertain status, shrinking civic space by Hướng Thiện — February 13, 2023
– A wave of recent closures of environment organizations in Vietnam, as well as the arrests of NGO leaders, reflects the difficult position that activists face in the one-party state.
– Nonprofit organizations have an unclear legal status in the country, and are vulnerable to pressure from the state as well as from powerful private interests.
– Though the communist-led government has at times recognized the value of NGOs as partners in implementing social and environmental programs, it has also attacked the concept of civil society as a threat to official ideology and morality.

‘Development’ projects in Ethiopia leave starvation, disease in wake: Report by John Cannon — February 12, 2023
– Indigenous groups in southwestern Ethiopia are suffering from starvation and disease after being displaced from their land for construction of a dam and the installation of large-scale sugarcane plantations, according to a report from the Oakland Institute, a California-based think tank.
– These projects have deprived the communities living in the Lower Omo Valley of their ability to farm and maintain their livestock herds, but this “catastrophe” has gone largely unnoticed in the shadow of even wider hunger and displacement due to civil war in the northern Tigray region, the report says.
– Humanitarian NGO World Vision International delivered some food aid to the region in November 2022.
– But the Oakland Institute said more food and medical care is urgently needed, along with the return of the land back to the Indigenous groups who have lived in this region for centuries, and is urging the government and the humanitarian community to respond immediately.

Costa Rica announces ban on fishing of hammerhead sharks by Maxwell Radwin — February 10, 2023
– Costa Rica announced an all-out ban on the fishing of hammerhead sharks, specifically the smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena), scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran).
– Despite being critically endangered, hammerhead sharks have been bought and sold in Costa Rica for years, with demand being driven by shark fin soup.
– Although some conservation efforts have been made in the past, the government has been heavily criticized up to now for its relaxed approach to dealing with the overfishing of hammerheads.

Biden-Lula meeting: The time is right for U.S. and Brazil to work together for Amazonia (commentary) by Jeffrey Hoelle and Valério Gomes — February 10, 2023
– The Amazon rainforest will be a key point of discussion at today’s summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
– Jeffrey Hoelle, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at UC-Santa Barbara, and Valério Gomes, a Professor at the Amazon Institute of Smallholder Agriculture at the Federal University of Pará, argue that there are a number of opportunities for the U.S. and Brazil to collaborate when it comes to climate change and protecting the environment.
– For example, Hoelle and Gomes say the U.S. could provide financial support for the Amazon Fund, enhance its ability to track illegal commodities that fuel deforestation, and pass legislation that provides support for local communities for forest preservation, among others.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Element Africa: A lawsuit over oil, deaths over mining, and worries over lithium by — February 10, 2023
– A community in Nigeria’s oil heartland is suing Shell in a U.K. court for oil-related pollution and compensation dating back to 1989.
– Two teenage boys fleeing a raid by forestry officers on illegal gold mining in Ghana’s Ashanti region have been found drowned, but the district chief alleges they were assaulted before being thrown into the river.
– A lithium boom in Zimbabwe looks set to benefit foreign mining firms and exclude local communities, activists say, drawing a parallel to an earlier diamond bonanza that has left many communities mired in poverty today.
– Element Africa is Mongabay’s bi-weekly bulletin rounding up brief stories from the commodities industry in Africa.

In Nepal, conservationists suspect link between canine distemper and human-leopard conflict by Abhaya Raj Joshi — February 10, 2023
– A new study shows for the first time that leopards in Nepal are exposed to canine distemper virus.
– Researchers suggest the virus could make the big cats less fearful of humans and thus more likely enter settlements in search of food.
– Conservationists have long warned of the risk of feral dogs passing on diseases like canine distemper to wildlife in Nepal, including tigers and leopards.
– Other studies show that while initial infections may have come from dogs, multiple strains the virus are now circulating among wildlife, making the latter carriers too.

Brazil-U.S. cooperation is key for global forest conservation (commentary) by John Reid and Paulo Moutinho — February 9, 2023
– On Friday, Brazilian President Lula visits President Biden in Washington, D.C., to discuss topics including the U.S. joining the multilateral Amazon Fund, aimed at fighting deforestation in Brazil: a commitment could be announced during the meeting.
– In the early 2000s, then President Lula’s Brazil slowed Amazon deforestation, designating 60 million acres of new protected areas and Indigenous territories, mounting anti-deforestation law enforcement operations, and cutting off farm credit to landowners who leveled forests illegally.
– The U.S. joining the Amazon Fund would be very important, but a genuine partnership is about more than money, a new op-ed argues: “The U.S. and Brazil should share their cutting-edge science, technology and data to monitor forests. Both sides have world-class space agencies and innovations to track and manage land use,” they write.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Lula’s government must go far beyond undoing Bolsonaro policies on Amazon forest & Indigenous rights (commentary) by Rodolfo Nóbrega and Ed Atkins — February 9, 2023
– Despite the hope embodied in Brazil’s new president, the protection of Indigenous peoples and reducing deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon still face an uphill struggle.
– “To ensure continued protection for Brazil’s environment and Indigenous communities, Lula and his government institutions need to go beyond merely undoing Bolsonaro’s previous policies. They must expand the work that they do,” the authors of a new op-ed argue.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Updated guide gives practical advice for buyers of tropical forest carbon credits by John Cannon — February 9, 2023
– An updated guide written by eight conservation and Indigenous organizations offers a detailed path forward for companies that want to compensate for their carbon emissions in addition to decarbonizing their supply chains.
– Though the carbon market faces criticism over the true value it brings to climate change mitigation, proponents say it can complement earnest efforts to decarbonize supply chains if used properly.
– The updated Tropical Forest Credit Integrity guide calls for due diligence on the part of companies to ensure the credits they purchase will result in climate gains.
– The authors of the guide also stress the importance of including Indigenous peoples and local communities in decisions about offset efforts.

New reserve in Ecuador secures over 3 million acres of forest by Maxwell Radwin — February 9, 2023
– The Tarímiat Pujutaí Nuṉka Reserve covers 1,237,395 hectares (3,057,671 acres) of Andean and Amazonian forests in the Morona Santiago province of eastern Ecuador.
– The area has cloud forests, sandstone plateaus, Amazonian lowlands and floodplain forests that are home to thousands of species, many of them endemic.
– The reserve is intended to help protect against drivers of deforestation like mining, logging and cattle ranching.
– Indigenous Shuar and Achuar communities participated in a thorough consultation process to ensure that the reserve was meeting their vision for the future of the area.

No croak: New silent frog species described from Tanzania’s ‘sky island’ forests by Liz Kimbrough — February 9, 2023
– Scientists have described a new-to-science species of frog from Tanzania’s Ukaguru Mountains with a unique trait: it’s silent.
– The males of this species have tiny spines on their throats, which may serve as a means of species recognition for the females.
– Researchers encountered the species during an expedition in search of another species, the elusive Churamiti maridadi tree toad, which has only been spotted twice in the wild and is feared to be extinct.
– The Ukaguru Mountains have a high degree of endemism, and describing this new species highlights the vast amount of knowledge still to be gained about this biodiversity-rich area.

Win for science as BP pressured into cleaning up offshore gas plans by Elodie Toto — February 9, 2023
– BP is launching an offshore gas platform with a pipeline through the world’s largest cold deep-water coral reef off the coast of Senegal and Mauritania.
– The project’s environmental impact assessment has been described as “nonsense” by a group of marine biologists
– A group of scientists has been fighting for four years to change this. Their proposals are currently being studied.

Peatland restoration in temperate nations could be carbon storage bonanza by Jeremy Hance — February 9, 2023
– Much maligned and undervalued over the centuries, temperate peatlands have seen a lot damage in that time — drained for agriculture, planted with trees, mined for horticulture and fuel. But in an age of escalating climate change, people are now turning to restoration.
– As potent carbon sequesters, peatlands have only recently been given new attention, with active restoration taking place in many nations around the world. This story focuses on groundbreaking temperate peatland restoration efforts in the U.S. Southeast, Scotland and Canada.
– Every temperate peatland is different, making each restoration project unique, but the goal is almost always the same: restore the natural hydrology of the peatland so it can maximize carbon storage and native biodiversity, and improve its resilience in the face of climate change and increasingly common fires in a warming world.

Saving Masungi, a last green corridor of the Philippines: Q&A with Ann Dumaliang by Jewel S. Cabrera — February 9, 2023
– The Masungi Georeserve is an important geological region about 30 miles from Manila, within a watershed and conservation area that is home to more than 400 species of flora and fauna, several of which are rare and threatened.
– Ann Dumaliang is a co-founder of the foundation that manages conservation and geotourism in the reserve, which is threatened by illegal quarrying, logging and development.
– Masungi’s rangers have faced violent attacks in recent months, but Dumaliang, her family and colleagues are working with numerous organizations and individuals to reforest and preserve the area.

Climate change makes its presence felt in the Amazon’s shrinking fish by Sibélia Zanon — February 9, 2023
– Studies show that the effects of climate change can already be seen in Amazonian fish, which are growing smaller and less abundant in wetlands and streams; female fish are also reproducing at a younger age.
– It’s estimated that half of all threatened fish species in the Brazilian Amazon are sensitive to the impacts of climate change.
– A project by the National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA) is documenting these impacts through the perspective of Indigenous communities, and has found that they match what the scientific data already show.
– Indigenous communities like the Ticuna and the Kokama in the Upper Solimões region are reporting the disappearance of large fish, the need to travel longer distances to find places to fish, and warmer waters in rivers and streams.



Podcast: Moths vs. mines in Ecuador’s astounding biodiversity hotspot by Mike DiGirolamo — February 8, 2023
Sustainable fish farming & agroecology buoy Kenyan communities by David Njagi — February 8, 2023
Electricity day and night: Solar power is changing isolated Amazon communities by Ignacio Amigo, Sam Cowie and Avener Prado — February 6, 2023
An El Niño is forecast for 2023. How much coral will bleach this time? by Elizabeth Claire Alberts — February 2, 2023