Newsletter 2023-02-23



Amid war, Ukrainian biologists fight to protect conservation legacy by Marlowe Starling — February 22, 2023

– As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues into a second year, conservation biologists have been forced to implement new solutions to protect their country’s conservation legacy.
– Dangerous conditions have made it difficult to go afield and survey threatened species such as the sandy blind mole-rat, the Black Sea bottlenose dolphin, wetland birds and native plants, so finding ways to work away from field sites and conservation areas, has become key.
– Missile strikes, fires and thefts have threatened both digital and physical conservation data, spurring the scientific community to digitize and upload as much information as possible to an international biodiversity database.
– So far, 310,600 records have been added to the database, and physical assets like Kherson’s entire herbarium have been moved to safety in western Ukraine.

Podcast: Goodbye to blue skies? The trouble with engineered solutions by Mike DiGirolamo — February 21, 2023

– Humanity has created a lot of ecological problems, and many of the proposed solutions come with giant price tags — or the things lost can even be priceless, like the sight of a blue sky — with no guarantee of solving the situation in the long term.
– Many such solutions — like Australia’s deliberate introduction of the toxic cane toad, which has wreaked havoc on the country’s wildlife — create new problems.
– Solar geoengineering to slow climate change would have the most visible effect to all, likely making the sky appear white: No more blue skies—but how would this affect the global plant community’s ability to photosynthesize, would it harm agriculture?
– Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert joins the Mongabay Newscast to talk about her latest book, “Under a White Sky,” which examines these interventions, the problems they come with and humanity’s seeming inability to stop turning to them.

Finland’s debate over Indigenous identity and rights turns ugly by John Last — February 21, 2023

– In Finland, a controversial new bill would redefine who is eligible to vote and stand for the assembly of the country’s Indigenous Sámi community, removing a criteria that allows those with distant northern ancestors to participate.
– Critics say the bill will disenfranchise hundreds of people who identify as Sámi, but community leaders, legal experts and historians say these groups fail to meet the definition of an Indigenous community.
– Sámi leaders say the bill will reinforce their right to free, prior and informed consent on any new developments affecting their livelihoods and territories’ ecosystems, but its passage is uncertain in the face of strong opposition.
– The Sámi community across northern Europe is facing increasing pressure from “green energy” developments, such as wind farms and rare earth mines.

‘They’re everywhere out there’: Three new nautilus species described by Elizabeth Claire Alberts — February 21, 2023

– Researchers have described three new species of nautilus found in the Coral Sea and the South Pacific.
– The three species can be differentiated due to genetic structure, shell size and coloration, and geographic location.
– Scientists generally know very little about nautiluses but are working to fill in the data gaps to understand how to protect them.
– Nautiluses are highly threatened by the shell trade, as well as pollution and the impacts of climate change.


Six steps to tackle exploitation in Indonesia’s palm oil smallholder scheme (commentary) by Tom Walker — February 23, 2023
– An investigation by Mongabay, The Gecko Project and BBC News found villagers across Indonesia gave up their land to corporations in exchange for a share of the palm oil boom but have been left with empty promises.
– Some villagers got nothing at all and others are languishing in debt, while companies operate in flagrant violation of Indonesian law.
– Tom Walker, head of research at The Gecko Project, argues that increasing transparency, accountability and investigations of errant companies are critical steps that could be taken to solve the problem.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Carbon uptake in tropical forests withers in drier future: Study by John Cannon — February 23, 2023
– A new study incorporating satellite data on organic material, or biomass, in tropical forests with experimental data about the effects of temperature and precipitation suggests that forests may lose substantial amounts of carbon by the end of the 21st century.
– Even with low continued carbon emissions, tropical forests, especially those in the southern Amazon, could lose between 6.8 and 12% of their aboveground carbon. With higher emissions, they could lose 13.3 to 20.1% of their carbon stores.
– The results highlight the need to reduce global temperatures rapidly to maintain the healthy forests best able to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.
– The team reported their findings Feb. 6 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Experts pushing for high-seas fishing ban win ‘Nobel Prize for environment’ by — February 22, 2023
– Fisheries experts Daniel Pauly and Rashid Sumaila have won the 2023 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, an award administered by the University of Southern California.
– The prize has been referred to as the “Nobel Prize for the environment” and comes with a $250,000 award to be shared between the two laureates.
– Both Pauly and Sumaila have said they would like to use the prize opportunity to spread the message that it’s necessary to ban all fishing on the high seas, those parts of the ocean that don’t fall under any national jurisdiction.

Nepal’s community forest program misses the biodiversity for the trees by Abhaya Raj Joshi — February 22, 2023
– Nepal increased its forest cover from 26% to 45% in two-and-a-half-decades, but the success has translated into a limited win for biodiversity conservation, experts say.
– The reforestation gains came largely from the country’s community forestry program, which encourages communities to grow, manage and harvest their own forest resources.
– As such, the program’s focus has been an economic one, with many of the newly forested areas consisting of pine monocultures that are ideal for providing wood but make for poor wildlife habitat.
– Experts say there needs to be a greater emphasis on wildlife management in the community forestry program to address growing issues such as human-wildlife conflict and the spread of “green deserts” devoid of biodiversity.

Deforestation could pose disease threat to Amazon’s white-lipped peccaries by Sean Mowbray — February 22, 2023
– White-lipped peccaries are vital ecosystem engineers and an important source of food for people living in the Amazon.
– Deforestation has reduced their habitat and, in addition, researchers highlight that disease is an understudied factor in their conservation.
– Scientists say it could represent an additional threat to an already vulnerable species, as continuing deforestation and expanding agricultural frontiers can bring greater contact between domestic animals and wildlife, potentially leading to spillover events.

New gecko species from Timor-Leste hints at island’s unknown diversity by Liz Kimbrough — February 21, 2023
– Scientists have described a new species of bent-toed gecko from a remote cave in Timor-Leste.
– The new species was confirmed through DNA analysis and further examination of collected specimens and is named after the young nation’s first national park, Nino Konis Santana National Park.
– Timor-Leste, in Southeast Asia’s Wallacea region, has high levels of biodiversity, including numerous endemic species of birds and other animals.
– Continued research and exploration in Timor-Leste is expected to uncover many more new plant and animal species, possibly from the same cave where the new gecko was found.

Element Africa: The platinum ‘bully’ and the secret oil deal by — February 21, 2023
– South African authorities have extended the deadline for compensation talks over a platinum mine, after a no-show by the mining company that affected communities say is “run by bullies.”
– Also in South Africa, a community that only recently reclaimed land it was driven from during apartheid faces fresh eviction for a planned coal plant and steel mill.
– In the Democratic Republic of Congo, NGOs say a secret deal to allocate two of 30 oil blocks to a company with no industry experience should be grounds for suspending the whole auction.
– Element Africa is Mongabay’s bi-weekly bulletin rounding up brief stories about land rights & extractives in Africa.

U.S. grocery chains flunk sustainability, human rights tests for tuna sourcing by Monica Evans — February 21, 2023
– Greenpeace has scored the 16 largest U.S. grocery retailers on human rights and environmental sustainability in their tuna sourcing, giving just one, ALDI, a “passing” overall grade.
– The report gave just two of the retailers, ALDI and Whole Foods Market, passing grades for addressing sustainability issues.
– None of the retailers received a passing grade for efforts to rid their supply chains of forced labor and other human rights abuses.
– The U.S. is the world’s second-largest tuna importer and its retailers wield significant clout within the tuna sector, according to the report.

Mating season rings death knell for cheer pheasants in Nepal’s western Himalayas by Abhaya Raj Joshi — February 21, 2023
– In Nepal, springtime is marked by the distinctive mating calls of male cheer pheasants (Catreus wallichii) as they echo through the forests.
– Hunters hear these calls, enabling them to kill the birds for meat, exacerbating the threats against the species.
– Conservationists call for further study and efforts to protect cheer pheasants and their habitat, along with local surveys and community involvement.

Bolivia has a soy deforestation problem. It’s worse than previously thought. by Maxwell Radwin — February 21, 2023
– Recently released satellite data from Bolivia shows that soy plantations were responsible for over 900,000 hectares (2.2 million acres) of deforestation between 2001 and 2021.
– Nearly a quarter of the deforestation was caused by Mennonite communities, who purchased the land legally in hopes of expanding their simple, rural lifestyles.
– This better understanding of Mennonite activity in Bolivia comes from a new data set from Global Forest Watch, which combined soy plantation mapping with forest loss imagery to determine soy-driven deforestation.

Biodiversity credits: An opportunity to create a new crediting framework (commentary) by Mariana Sarmiento and Simon Morgan — February 20, 2023
– Biodiversity credits have the potential to accelerate funding for biodiversity conservation while benefiting local communities and biodiversity custodians.
– To make voluntary biodiversity credits work for nature and its custodians, we need to step out of the carbon credit framing for technical, social and practical reasons.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of Mongabay.

‘Mercury is a complex problem’: Q&A with Colombian Mining Minister Irene Vélez Torres by Charlie Espinosa and Charles Lyons — February 20, 2023
– Illegal gold mining has long plagued Colombia’s ecosystems and communities, while small-scale miners have lamented the difficulties they face in formalizing their operations.
– Despite Colombia’s 2018 ban on the use of mercury in mining, the highly toxic metal continues to be widely used to extract gold.
– The new government of President Gustavo Petro has vowed to tackle the problem of illegal mining and mercury contamination, but the prevailing mining legislation is outdated and ineffective.
– Authorities are developing a new Mining Code that aims to be inclusive, help formalize artisanal and small-scale miners, and eliminate mercury from the industry.

For some Colombians, vows of mining reform are just a flash in the pan by Charlie Espinosa and Charles Lyons — February 20, 2023
– Afro-Colombian communities practicing mercury-free gold mining say a reform of the country’s mining industry is urgently needed, but aren’t convinced the new government can deliver.
– Gustavo Petro took office in 2022 as Colombia’s first-ever left-wing president, campaigning to end the use of mercury in mining and to formalize artisanal miners.
– Existing laws should in theory be sufficient to address both these issues, but enforcement remains sketchy, with many mining regions still in the control of criminal gangs and guerrilla groups.
– Colombia’s minister of mines, Irene Vélez, says the government is working to amend the laws, collaborate with local communities, and ensure the new Mining Code benefits all Colombians.

Companies, big banks are still lagging on deforestation regulations: report by Maxwell Radwin — February 20, 2023
– Global Canopy’s annual Forest 500 report reviews the top 350 most influential companies and 150 financial institutions exposed to deforestation risk in their supply chains and investments.
– While many entities have developed some policies on deforestation, they’re not keeping up with the best practices needed for improving forest-risk supply chains, the report said.
– However, a new deforestation supply chain law in the European Union could force many of the largest companies and financial institutions to implement stricter regulations moving forward.

Russian invasion hinders global biodiversity conservation, study shows by John Cannon — February 20, 2023
– A new policy paper outlines the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on biodiversity and conservation efforts.
– The authors found that the escalation of the war has isolated Russia, a key party to many international conservation agreements and a vital country for protecting biodiversity because of its diverse habitats, as well as the threatened and migratory species it hosts.
– That isolation has impeded international cooperation on species conservation, they write.
– The invasion has also shifted the priorities of many countries faced with the knock-on effects of the war, such as potential food shortages.

Bauxite mining in Pará poisons Quilombola people by João Paulo Guimarães — February 20, 2023
– Since Brazil’s military dictatorship, the town of Barcarena, in Pará state, has been home to an industrial complex that comprises several mining companies — the largest of which is Norway-based Norsk Hydro.
– However, the area is Quilombola territory, and documents and archaeological research confirm the ancient presence of traditional communities.
– In addition to the struggle for land, the Quilombola have also been suffering from contamination of water, soil and air by heavy metals dumped by mining companies.
– Laboratory analyses found high levels of lead and nickel in residents’ hair, and they report symptoms ranging from itching and sores all over their bodies to cases of cancer.

End of the tuna FAD? Indonesia hopes so, but EU isn’t giving up just yet by Basten Gokkon — February 20, 2023
– Indonesia has welcomed measures to cut back on the use of fish-aggregating devices, which critics blame for Indian Ocean tuna being caught at unsustainable rates.
– A senior Indonesian fisheries official says all countries on the Indian Ocean coast have a shared interest in tackling the overuse of FADs and in improving the conservation and management of the region’s tuna populations.
– In 2022, the Indian Ocean’s bigeye tuna population was declared overfished, while skipjack tuna was assessed as being fished at unsustainable levels.
– The European Union, whose fleet accounts for a third of the Indian Ocean tuna catch, has reportedly said it will object to the new resolution; in that event, its vessels will simply continue deploying FADs as usual, since the new measure isn’t enforceable.

Brazilian Indigenous anthropologists turn the tables from ‘objects of study’ to active voices by Max Baring — February 20, 2023
– Three Indigenous women leaders who are also artists and anthropologists are reshaping the relationship between the peoples anthropologists study and those who do the studying.
– A meeting with the leader of the Scottish Green Party provided an opportunity to understand the connections between Scotland’s highland clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries and the land struggles faced by Brazil’s Indigenous peoples today.
– Bamff Wildland, a Scottish rewilding project, shows that as Brazil continues to be deforested, attempts are underway across the UK and Europe to reforest, increasing biodiversity and the land’s ability to capture carbon.
– These women leaders assert that Indigenous voices need to be heard and Indigenous relationships with nonhumans need to be understood and respected, if humanity is to turn the tide on climate change and biodiversity loss.

On Lombok, rising sea levels force fishers into different jobs by Falahi Mubarok — February 20, 2023
– Residents of the Indonesian island of Lombok say sea levels are rising at alarming levels, swallowing seaside towns.
– People are abandoning their family trade of fishing to instead grow seaweed or leave the island for stable employment.
– The provincial government created a climate adaptation task force to address the compounding problems of climate change, as families send their children to school and hope they choose a life different from fishing.

New species of ‘Tolkien frog’ emerges from Middle Earth of Ecuadoran Andes by Liz Kimbrough — February 17, 2023
– A new species of frog has been described from the tropical Andes of Ecuador and named after J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of famous works of fantasy literature.
– Only one individual of the species has been found, within the bounds of Río Negro-Sopladora National Park.
– Río Negro-Sopladora was declared a protected area in 2018 and serves as a critical link in the highly diverse Sangay-Podocarpus Corridor, home to many rare and endemic plants and animals.
– The scientists who described the frog say research and monitoring are urgently needed to better understand this unique species and assess potential threats to its survival such as invasive species, emerging diseases, or climate change

Four-day music festival in Sri Lanka elephant territory set to continue, despite protests by Hassaan Shazuli — February 17, 2023
– A music festival in Sri Lanka is set to continue despite environmental concerns. The festival will take place from February 17 to 20 and feature over 50 local and foreign artists.
-The organizers of the event claim their aim is to promote sustainable tourism in Sri Lanka.
-However, the event’s location is surrounded by forestland and a natural reserve that serves as a habitat for several species, including the endangered Sri Lankan elephant. The main concerns are the light and sound emissions that could negatively impact wildlife.
-The Divisional Forest Office has granted conditional approval for the event, requiring organizers to limit the sound emissions through devices like loudspeakers. Environmental groups are skeptical about the adherence to these limits and the potential impact on animal populations.

Biodiversity conservation needs a more ecological context and transformational concept (commentary) by Anthony Schultz, Ole Sandberg, Ragnhildur Guðmundsdóttir and Skúli Skúlason — February 17, 2023
– Halting biodiversity loss is one of the great challenges of the 21st century, and if we want international conservation policies that work, we need to urgently re-evaluate how we think ecosystems work, argue the authors of this op-ed.
– We can do so by measuring some core processes of the many unique ecosystems, by employing factors like proxy measuments and analyzing the local ecological and environmental processes taking place in an ecosystem.
– Nations must move away from simplistic policy based on a desire for general rules and instead embrace the complexity of their ecosystems, with the help of researchers and scientists. “Only by protecting this complexity can we protect our diversity into a changing future.”
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Palm oil plantation linked to Wilmar faces accusations in Liberia by Ashoka Mukpo — February 17, 2023
– A report released by the Liberian and Dutch affiliates of Friends of the Earth says the Maryland Oil Palm Plantation in Liberia is abusing its workers and rural villagers.
– The company is owned by Côte D’Ivoire-based SIFCA, which is itself nearly 30% owned by the Singapore-based agribusiness giant Wilmar.
– Friends of the Earth’s Liberian affiliate said the company has polluted local waterways, beaten villagers it accuses of stealing palm fruit, and withheld pay from its contractors.

For key Bangladesh wetland, bid for Ramsar status is no guarantee of protection by Mahadi Al Hasnat — February 17, 2023
– Bangladesh has proposed designating a third Ramsar site in the country, but the current state of its two other important wetland ecosystems suggests such a designation won’t be of much protection.
– The Sundarbans, the world’s biggest mangrove forest, and Tanguar Haor, a freshwater swamp forest, have been severely degraded by deforestation, hunting of wildlife and fish, overexploitation of natural resources, and water pollution.
– Hakaluki Haor, the largest marsh wetland ecosystem in South Asia, which the government wants designated a Ramsar site, is already facing similar threats.
– “The problem is, the government does nothing after the recognition. They completely fail to take necessary measures, in the interest of vested quarters in the government,” says environmental lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan.

Avian flu hits Peru, killing thousands of sea birds and infecting some marine mammals by Tim Vernimmen — February 16, 2023
– H5N1, a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus carried generally by wild birds, has arrived in Latin America, causing unprecedented mortality in sea bird colonies along the west coast.
– The virus has killed tens of thousands of sea birds in Peru alone, including some species that are considered endangered in the country, and scientists worry other vulnerable species like the Andean condor might also become infected.
– Hundreds of sea lions and a dolphin have also been infected, which raises concerns regarding transmission to humans and is especially worrisome if it is confirmed that mammals can infect each other.
– The outbreaks also threaten Peru’s guano industry, which provides affordable fertilizer to many small-scale farmers in the region, and could expose people harvesting guano to H5N1.

Lula wants to mirror Amazon’s lessons in all biomes, but challenges await by Sarah Brown — February 16, 2023
– A new decree intends to protect all of Brazil’s biomes and promote sustainable development in arguably one of the country’s most ambitious environmental policies to date.
– The mandate establishes action plans for the Amazon Rainforest, Cerrado savanna, Atlantic Forest, semi-arid Caatinga, Pampas grasslands and Pantanal wetlands, based on past strategies in the Amazon that have already proven successful against deforestation.
– Environmentalists have welcomed the decree amid the country’s surging deforestation levels and rising greenhouse emissions during the past four years under Jair Bolsonaro’s rule.
– The decree’s implementation won’t be easy, experts warn, and its success depends on coordinated action across all levels of the government, increased personnel in struggling environmental enforcement agencies and highly tailored plans for each biome.


The $20m flip: The story of the largest land grab in the Brazilian Amazon by Fernanda Wenzel — February 14, 2023
US pledges Amazon Fund donation, renewing hope for the rainforest by Sarah Brown — February 13, 2023
Amid global mezcal craze, scientists and communities try out sustainable plantations by Magdaléna Rojo — February 10, 2023