Newsletter 2019-01-31


Current threats and future hopes for the greater Mekong’s mangroves by Michael Tatarski [01/30/2019]

– Critical to the health of rivers, shorelines and forests globally, today only 150,000 square kilometers (57,900 square miles) of mangroves remain, down from 320,000 square kilometers (123,550 square miles) 50 years ago.
– Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar are home to the largest mangrove forests in the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia, but rapid economic growth and illegal logging for fuelwood collection have damaged these forests.
– Technical advancements such as floating mangroves, along with increased public awareness, do offer hope for the future of these trees in the region, as some are protected and recovering.

Of concrete and corruption: Resistance kills Andes Amazon dams by Saul Elbein [01/24/2019]

– In 2010, the presidents of Peru and Brazil made a deal to build 22 major Andes Amazon dams on the Marañón River – the Amazon River’s mainstem. The energy generated by those dams would go to vastly expand Peru’s Conga gold and copper mine, making it one of the biggest in the world.
– The Conga mine expansion would have dumped 85,000 tons of toxic, heavy metal-laden tailings into the Ucayali River watershed daily. The Marañón dams would have blocked vital nutrient and sediment flow, likely doing irreparable harm to Amazon River and Amazon basin ecology.
– Odebrecht, a Brazilian mega-construction firm, was picked to spearhead building. The projects were strongly opposed by the rural people they’d impact, and by an international alliance of environmental NGOs and river adventure tourists who see the Marañón as Latin America’s Grand Canyon.
– Nine years later, the Peruvian and Brazilian presidents and Odebrecht executives involved in the deal are in jail or charged with corruption. All but two of the dam projects have been abandoned. The result came about largely due to the astonishingly successful resistance of local rural people.


Commentary: Will President Bolsonaro withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement? by Philip Fearnside [01/31/2019]
– Early in his presidential campaign, candidate Jair Bolsonaro stated that he planned to pull Brazil out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Then, just before his election, the media reported that he was committed to keeping the nation in the accord.
– However, what Bolsonaro actually said was that he would keep Brazil in the agreement “for now,” but only if several conditions were met, allowances that would likely require alterations in the international accord.
– As there is no one who can make these assurances, Bolsonaro’s conditions cannot be met. Meanwhile, Amazon deforestation is rising, and the new government has announced massive plans for Amazon development. Brazil has also withdrawn its sponsorship of the 2019 United Nations Climate Conference (COP25).
– Bolsonaro may yet choose to leave Paris, or may stay in the accord, feigning international cooperation while promoting deforestation. Either path poses great risks to the climate and Amazonia. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Wildlife rangers in DRC park report waning motivation, job satisfaction by [01/31/2019]
– Surveys of more than 60 rangers in Kahuzi-Biega National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo cite poor salaries, few chances for advancement, and security concerns as reasons for their low satisfaction with their jobs.
– The authors of the study, published in the journal Oryx, believe that the rangers’ discontentment leads to waning motivation in protecting the park and its wildlife, which includes the critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla.
– Improved conditions, in the form of better salaries, opportunities for promotion, and better support from the judicial and legal authorities, could translate into improved protections for the park, the researchers write.

Deadly disease and warming ocean are wiping out a key starfish species by [01/31/2019]
– The mysterious sea star wasting disease has caused massive declines of the sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), a major predator within kelp forests in the Northeast Pacific.
– The widespread decline of the starfish, especially in deeper waters, has been particularly shocking, researchers say, because it means that the animals have not been able to take refuge in deep waters as people had expected.
– The study found that the occurrence of the largest declines in the sunflower sea star numbers coincided with abnormally high sea surface temperatures, suggesting that warming oceans due to climate change could have exacerbated the disease’s impact.
– The collapse of the sunflower sea star could have cascading effects on the ecosystem: the sea star is a major predator of sea urchins, and without the sea stars to keep a check on the urchin population, the latter would feast on the kelp forests, leaving behind a barren seascape.

Camera traps and customary wisdom help redefine bear conservation by Courtney Miceli [01/31/2019]
– Camera traps set up around a Canadian artic research camp led to the first published documentation of all three North American bear species in the same locations.
– Although more than 90 percent of the 401 bear visits recorded by the cameras were of polar bears, the presence of grizzlies, which have been seen as threatening polar bears, has caused debate among scientists, conservation managers and local communities.
– The camera data did not document interactions among polar, grizzly and black bears, though the researchers say the spatial overlap of the species suggests potential for interspecies interactions to occur, raising questions about how they might affect bear conservation efforts in the future.
– Some conservation managers, aware that their values align with those of the region’s Indigenous communities, are increasingly marrying traditional wisdom to scientific methods to inform their work.

House of the Royal Lady Bee: Maya revive native bees and ancient beekeeping by Jennifer Kennedy, Richard Arghiris [01/31/2019]
– Melipona beecheii, called Xunan-Kab in the Yucatec Maya language, is one of 16 stingless bee species native to the rainforests of the Yucatán Peninsula in southern Mexico.
– Xunan-Kab, like other stingless bees, is a prolific rainforest pollinator critical to the local ecosystem, but deforestation is gravely impacting wild populations.
– Local beekeepers have kept domesticated colonies of Xunan-Kab for at least 3,000 years, but the practice declined strikingly in recent decades.
– Today, however, traditional Xunan-Kab husbandry is experiencing a modest revival, offering hope for Mayan communities and rainforests of the Yucatán Peninsula.

Cities could help conserve pollinator communities by Mike Gaworecki [01/30/2019]
– While cities are generally considered to be poorer in biodiversity than rural areas, new research finds that urban areas could actually play a key role in conserving pollinator communities.
– A team of researchers led by scientists at the UK’s University of Bristol studied pollinators and floral resources at 360 sites in four British cities representing all major urban land uses, including allotments (community gardens), cemeteries, gardens, man-made surfaces like parking lots, nature reserves and other green spaces, parks, sidewalks, and road verges.
– After sampling 4,996 insects and documenting 347 flower-visiting pollinator species interacting with 326 plant species, the researchers found that gardens and allotments provide especially good habitat for pollinators, and that lavender, borage, dandelions, thistles, brambles, and buttercups are important plant species for pollinator communities in cities.

Warmer waters shrink krill habitat around Antarctica by [01/30/2019]
– A new study has found that fewer young krill are surviving to adulthood around Antarctica as ocean temperatures have risen in the Southern Ocean in the past few decades.
– The researchers, who looked at decades of data on krill body lengths and abundance, found that the highest densities of krill had shifted southward by some 440 kilometers (273 miles) since the 1920s.
– The scientists note that the findings could alter food webs in the Southern Ocean.
– Currently, the internationally managed krill fishery does not take the location and size of the krill population into account.

Environmental degradation exacerbates Indonesia flooding, landslides by Wahyu Chandra [01/30/2019]
– Days of torrential rains in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province killed scores of people and forced thousands to flee their homes.
– Local authorities and activists have blamed the degraded condition of the region’s rivers and watershed for amplifying the scale of the disaster.
– Upstream mining and forest clearing for farms are believed to have severely silted up the region’s rivers, rendering them prone to spilling over during heavy rains.

Borneo study explores links between farm expansion and deforestation by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/30/2019]
– A nearly two-decade study of land-cover change in Borneo has identified a positive correlation between the loss of forests and the expansion of plantations, primarily for oil palms.
– The findings undermine the long-held position of industry and government representatives that plantation expansion doesn’t contribute to deforestation and that it makes use of already cleared land.
– The study also highlighted a slowdown in rates of both deforestation and plantation expansion, which the researchers attributed to declining process of crude palm oil, more stringent regulations on forest clearing, and wetter weather in 2017.
– While the expansion of plantations hit a new low in 2017, activists say the possible illegal clearing of peat forests continues unabated in Indonesian Borneo, despite repeated calls to the government for action.

To tackle great ape trafficking, follow the money, report says by Nora Ward [01/29/2019]
– Critically endangered great apes in Africa and Asia are hunted to be sold as pets, for bushmeat, or for their body parts.
– A recent study of the financial aspect of the trade in great apes reveals a complex system of multi-layered supply chains, embedded corruption, and soaring profits for those at the very top of these illicit networks.
– Money connected to ape trafficking runs through the global financial system, often across multiple jurisdictions, opening a potential avenue for legal sanctions against traders.

Climate change is making waves stronger and putting coastlines at risk by [01/29/2019]
– According to research published in the journal Nature Communications this month, the energy of ocean waves has grown over the past seven decades, which could have significant implications for coastal communities and ecosystems.
– The energy in ocean waves is transmitted from the wind. As the upper ocean has warmed, wind patterns have been affected globally, resulting in stronger ocean waves. The researchers behind the Nature Communications study say they found a long-term trend of wave power increasing globally in direct association with historical warming of the ocean surface.
– The researchers say their results show that global wave power could be used as an indicator of global warming similar to how atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration levels, global sea level rise, or global surface atmospheric temperatures are used now.

Viral video of endangered lemur made people want one as a pet: Study by [01/29/2019]
– A viral video of a ring-tailed lemur released in 2016 triggered a common sentiment: hundreds of people tweeted about “wanting to own pet lemurs,” a new study has found.
– Researchers did not find any evidence of people buying or selling lemurs on Twitter. But viral videos like these can reinforce public interest in having wild animals as pets, they say.
– Searches of the phrase “pet lemur” on Google and YouTube also spiked in the weeks immediately after the video went viral, compared to other weeks between 2013 and 2018.

Study finds bears react, then habituate, to drones by Sue Palminteri [01/29/2019]
– Small drones increasingly serve as tools to monitor wildlife, detect habitat change, or search for poachers, but their use may be stressing out the animals being studied or other species.
– A research team tested whether black bears would habituate to the repeated presence of drones flying overhead and, if so, whether they would remain habituated to additional flights conducted after a break.
– The bears showed an increased tolerance to drone flights in the short term, which they maintained after a nearly four-month pause.
– With the expanding use of drones in wildlife and habitat studies, the researchers expect their findings to help inform best practices that could reduce animal disturbance in the long run.

The science of combating climate science misinformation by Mike Gaworecki [01/28/2019]
– Researchers are increasingly looking into how to counter the climate science misinformation being fed to the public, and a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change this month rounds up some of the key insights from this emerging field of research.
– Researchers identified a number of crucial advancements in the social sciences and used them as the basis of a coordinated set of strategies for confronting the institutional network that enables the spread of climate science misinformation.
– The researchers grouped those strategies into four inter-connected issue areas — public inoculation, legal strategies, political mechanisms, and financial transparency.

Dam holding mining waste collapses in Brazil by [01/28/2019]
– The collapse of a dam in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil on Jan. 25 left at least 58 people dead and hundreds missing.
– The dam held the waste by-product of iron ore mining from a nearby mine run by a company called Vale.
– Vale was involved in another dam collapse in 2015 — called Brazil’s worst environmental disaster — that resulted in criminal charges for several of the company’s leaders and nearly $100 million in fines.
– Critics of mining practices say that the recent failure of the dam shows that authorities should step up the enforcement of regulations in Brazil.

Bolsonaro government reveals plan to develop the ‘Unproductive Amazon’ by Jan Rocha [01/28/2019]
– Bolsonaro administration Chief of Strategic Affairs Maynard Santa Rosa last week announced new Brazilian mega-infrastructure projects that include a dam on the Trombetas River, a bridge over the Amazon River, and an extension of the BR-163 highway from the Amazon River through 300 miles of rainforest to the Surinam border.
– Santa Rosa, a retired general, said that these Amazon biome infrastructure projects had as their purpose the integration of what he called an “unproductive, desertlike” region into “the national productive system.”
– The Trombetas region contains 4 indigenous reserves, 8 quilombo communities and 5 conservation units.
– In his radio announcement the official provided few details on the projects, saying nothing about costs, where the money to build would come from, what the socio-environmental impacts might be, or the timeline for the construction.

For conservationists, crowdfunding sites raise both funds and awareness by Emily Clark [01/28/2019]
– A new study analyzes the use of online crowdfunding platforms for conservation efforts across the globe.
– Low-income countries are benefiting from supplementary funds for the conservation of biodiversity as a result of crowdfunding efforts thousands of miles away.
– As with traditional sources of conservation funding, however, much of the capital raised through crowdfunding goes toward a handful of “charismatic” species, including elephants and wolves.

Latam Eco Review: Some whales may benefit from Japan’s whaling commission exit by [01/26/2019]
More than 2,000 illegal mining sites in the Amazon, a wetland in Chile threatened by a highway extension, and a possible new monkey species in Peru were among the top stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Interactive map shows more than 2,300 illegal mining sites across the Amazon A new interactive map shows 2,312 […]

Marine mammal and sea turtle populations benefitting from Endangered Species Act listing by [01/25/2019]
– New research published in the journal PLoS ONE this month finds that the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) is effectively aiding in the recovery of beleaguered populations of marine mammals and sea turtles.
– Marine mammals and sea turtles comprise 62 of the 163 marine species that are currently afforded ESA protections. Researchers collected annual abundance estimates for populations of all 62 of those marine mammal and sea turtle species in order to analyze population trends and the magnitude of observed changes in population numbers.
– The research team hypothesized that populations that have been listed under the ESA for longer periods of time would be more likely to be recovering than those species listed recently, regardless of whether they were listed as “threatened” or the more severe “endangered,” and that’s exactly what they found.

Time to shift focus to existing environmental laws, says new UN report by Kimberley Brown [01/25/2019]
– The first ever report on environmental policies worldwide was released by the UN on Jan. 24.
– The report concludes that all countries have at least one environmental law or regulation in place – yet very few are in compliance with those laws.
– Despite hundreds of environmental framework and protection laws on the books around the world and other governing advances, there remain alarming rates of deforestation, loss of biodiversity, rising global temperatures, and the targeting of environmental rights defenders.

In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, January 25, 2018 by [01/25/2019]
– There are many important conservation and environmental stories Mongabay isn’t able to cover.
– Here’s a digest of some of the significant developments from the week.
– If you think we’ve missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
– Mongabay does not vet the news sources below, nor does the inclusion of a story on this list imply an endorsement of its content.

Funds tripled and target slashed, but Indonesia still off pace for reforestation by Hans Nicholas Jong [01/25/2019]
– Indonesia’s efforts to reforest critically degraded land, left over from mining, logging and agricultural activities, have fallen far short of the government’s targets.
– The government initially sought to restore an area the size of the United Kingdom by 2030, before slashing its target to an area the size of England.
– Environmental activists have questioned how the government determines what constitutes land that needs to be restored, and say even an increased annual restoration goal combined with a tripling of funding is insufficient to meet the smaller overall target.
– Officials say lack of funding is the main impediment to the program’s success, and while an untapped pool of money is available, local officials are reluctant to touch it because of a history of mismanagement.

After a year of no babies, 3 right whale calves spotted off U.S. coast by [01/24/2019]
– After a year of no reported births, whale surveying teams have observed three North Atlantic right whale calves so far during the 2018-2019 calving season, off the coast of Florida, U.S.
– Researchers photographed the first calf in late December last year, followed by a second calf on Jan. 13 and a third baby on Jan. 17.
– The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered species of whales in the world, with their numbers dropping due to a combination of human-caused factors like collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear, as well as a declining birth rate.

As animal tagging goes cutting-edge, ethical questions abound by Jason J. Gregg [01/24/2019]
– An increasing number of animal tracking devices, known as biologgers, also measure environmental variables such as sound, temperature, and ocean salinity.
– Data from biologgers complement information on an animal’s movements and help scientists understand its environment, but can have measurable effects on the animal’s behavior or reproduction.
– As the field of biologging rapidly grows, scientists are trying to develop ethical frameworks for applying devices to wild animals.

A community in Guyana relies on indigenous knowledge in conservation by Akola Thompson [01/24/2019]
– In Guyana’s sprawling Kanuku mountain range, indigenous villagers partner with researchers, scientists and conservation groups for support and to build upon their knowledge and capacity for conservation work.
– With traditional territory stretching to the northern border of Brazil, the Yupukari, Wapishana, and Macushi indigenous groups take the lead in conservation within their communities.
– The projects are managed through the Kanuku Mountains Regional Council, which was established to help oversee conservation in the 21 communities throughout the Kanukus.


In PNG, a fallen bridge is testament to the chasm in rural development by Camilo Mejia Giraldo [01/24/2019]