Newsletter 2021-12-09


Off West Africa’s coast, a sea of oil spills goes unreported by Ashoka Mukpo [12/06/2021]

– In one of the first comprehensive studies of images captured by the Envisat satellite, researchers with French consultancy firm VisioTerra found evidence of 18,063 oil slicks in the Gulf of Guinea between 2002 and 2012.
– While some of the slicks were caused by natural seepages from oil-rich coastal areas, the bulk were tied to shipping and offshore oil production.
– Researchers told Mongabay the images suggest that the total amount of oil spilled into the Gulf of Guinea over the study period was greater than 2010’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, despite going largely unreported.

‘Tis the season’ for cold-stunned sea turtles — and their rescue — on Cape Cod by Elizabeth Devitt [12/06/2021]

– As cold weather sets in across New England each year, juvenile sea turtles, drawn to the globally warmed summer waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, are cold-stunned. If not rescued they die.
– Trained volunteers have already brought more than 100 turtles to the New England Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Center this autumn. The number of cold-stunned turtles at Cape Cod has been rising during the last decade, with some seasons logging more than 1,000 stranded turtles — many of them critically endangered Kemp’s ridleys.
– Globally, most cold-stunning events occur on the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts: especially in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Florida and Texas. Last year, more than 10,000 turtles were stranded in Texas alone. Cold-stun events have also been reported in Uruguay, Spain, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, France, and the UAE.
– On Cape Cod, the animals are stabilized at the New England Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Center, then transported to longer term care facilities across the U.S., often flown there by volunteer pilots working with Turtles Fly Too. As extreme weather events and ocean warming increase due to climate change, experts predict cold-stunning events will increase too.

Translocation brings white rhinos to Rwanda, a new land for an old species by Elizabeth Claire Alberts [12/06/2021]

– On Nov. 29, 30 white rhinos were introduced to Akagera National Park in Rwanda from a private game reserve in South Africa.
– The relocation is aimed at establishing the species in a new range state and ensuring its survival into the future.
– Akagera National Park has not had a single high-value animal poached for the past 11 years, and has become a sanctuary for other translocated species such as lions and black rhinos, according to the NGO African Parks, which helps to manage Akagera.
– White rhinos are considered a near threatened species that under continual threat from poaching incidents.

Niger Delta communities in ‘great danger’ as month-old oil spill continues by Mongabay [12/06/2021]

– Oil has been spilling from a wellhead in Nigeria’s Bayelsa state for a month now, with the local company responsible unable to contain it.
– Experts say the scale and duration of the spill is so severe that it’s imperative that local communities be relocated for their safety.
– Oil spills and other forms of pollution caused by the industry are common in Bayelsa, the heart of the oil-rich Niger Delta.
– Companies, including foreign oil majors, are largely left to self-declare the spills that frequently occur, but face only token fines for failing to respond quickly.

Layers of carbon: The Congo Basin peatlands and oil by John C. Cannon [12/07/2021]

– The peatlands of the Congo Basin may be sitting on top of a pool of oil, though exploration has yet to confirm just how big it may be.
– Conservationists and scientists argue that the carbon contained in this England-size area of peat, the largest in the tropics, makes keeping them intact more valuable, not to mention the habitat and resources they provide for the region’s wildlife and people.
– Researchers calculate that the peatlands contain 30 billion metric tons of carbon, or about the amount humans produce in three years.
– As the governments of the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo work to develop their economies, they, along with many policymakers worldwide, argue that the global community has a responsibility to help fund the protection of the peatlands to keep that climate-warming carbon locked away.



In southern Colombia, Indigenous groups fish and farm with the floods By: Maxwell Radwin [08 Dec 2021]
– The Tikuna, Cocama and Yagua peoples in southern Colombia live on a two-pronged sustainable food system that involves artisanal fishing and communal planting synchronized with the different flooding seasons.
– The food systems have allowed the 22 communities in the area to live sustainably without damaging the forest’s extremely high rates of biodiversity, according to a report from the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
– The communities have faced some challenges in recent decades due to outside pressures to commercialize their activities, raising doubts about how to maintain sustainable practices.
– This article is part of an eight-part series showcasing sustainable food systems covered in the most comprehensive report to date of the diets and food production practices of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs).

Restoring coastal forests can protect coral reefs against sediment runoff: Study By: Aimee Gabay [07 Dec 2021]
– Corals have declined by 50% over the last 30 years, with losses of 70-90% expected by mid-century.
– This mass decline is largely attributed to human activity.
– One of the major threats to coral is sediment runoff from deforested areas, with research estimating 41% of the world’s coral reefs are affected by sediment export.
– A recent study published in Global Change Biology finds that restoring forests could help reduce sediment runoff to 630,000 square kilometers (243,244 square miles) of coral reefs.

Tree-planting goals miss the forest for the lack of diverse, good-quality seeds By: Sheryl Lee Tian Tong [07 Dec 2021]
– Ambitious plans by India, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines to restore tens of millions of hectares of degraded land by 2030 could be derailed by a lack of good-quality and genetically diverse native seeds, according to a new study.
– Researchers, who surveyed tree restoration practitioners in the four countries, found a third of practitioners regularly planting seedlings of unknown origins, which can lead to their growing in unsuitable conditions and low survival rates.
– With countries pledging at the COP26 climate summit to end net forest loss, the worry is that such unsustainable restoration projects will only be another smokescreen for continued deforestation.
– Countries need to invest in their seed supply systems so they can deliver large amounts of quality seeds of diverse species and provenances, which will be key to attaining desired outcomes such as climate mitigation, food security and biodiversity benefits, the researchers said.

Collaboration is key to scaling conservation technologies (commentary) By: Jonathan Palmer [07 Dec 2021]
– To tackle conservation challenges, the sector has embraced numerous technologies like GPS, radio telemetry, satellite imagery, camera traps, and software to process and analyze data.
– A new op-ed argues that such tech must be built with the end-user in mind: their voices must be considered to ensure the solutions reflect the real needs on the ground.
– Investors, NGOs, and conservationists should also demand that conservation technology is developed in the field and is both scalable and coalition-based: collaborations like Wildlife Insights and SMART are prime examples.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily of Mongabay.

Hold the tree planting: Protect ecosystems first for maximum carbon storage, study says By: Shreya Dasgupta [07 Dec 2021]
– When it comes to slowing climate change, there’s one natural solution that has recently gripped the world: large-scale tree planting and reforestation.
– But a new study warns that other natural climate solutions should be considered first.
– By comparing different natural climate solutions against four criteria, the study proposes a hierarchy: protect ecosystems first, then improve their management, and lastly restore them.
– Protecting natural ecosystems offered the greatest climate benefits, fairly quickly, at relatively low cost, while at the same time providing other benefits for people and wildlife, such as reducing the impact of extreme weather and yielding clean air and water.

Governor rails against ‘bioterrorists,’ ‘carbon cowboys’ destroying PNG’s forests By: Rachel Donald [07 Dec 2021]
– Gary Juffa, governor of Papua New Guinea’s Oro province, is one of the country’s most outspoken critics of the logging industry.
– Juffa said he’s had to resort to the courts to force out three logging firms operating in his province, and called on the international community to fight illegal loggers in PNG.
– While critical about the slow pace of global deforestation agreements, Juffa said he’s optimistic about the possibilities of carbon finance for his country; other PNG activists are more skeptical.

We must reverse the pressures on coral reefs before it’s too late (commentary) By: David Obura & Melita Samoilys [06 Dec 2021]
– In a letter addressed to state leaders, local governments, and business leaders of the Western Indian Ocean, David Obura and Melita Samoilys urge action to protect coral reefs off East Africa.
– Obura and Samoilys, both leaders of Coastal Oceans Research and Development-Indian Ocean/East Africa, present evidence that coral reefs in the Western Indian Ocean are at a tipping point.
– “We cannot overstate how close our coral reefs are to collapse,” they state. “If we don’t make the right decisions in the next 10 years, coral reefs of the Western Indian Ocean will become irreversibly damaged.”
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.

‘Forests will disappear again,’ activists warn as Indonesia ends plantation freeze By: Hans Nicholas Jong [06 Dec 2021]
– With the Indonesian government refusing to renew a three-year ban on issuing licenses for new oil palm plantations, experts are warning of a deforestation free-for-all.
– The end of the moratorium means companies can once again apply to develop new plantations, including clearing forests to do.
– This coincides with a rally in the crude palm oil price due to tightening supply, which activists say portends a possible surge in deforestation.
– According to one analysis, rainforests spanning an area half the size of California, or 21 million hectares (52 million acres), are at risk of being cleared now that the moratorium is no longer in place.

El Salvador women’s group takes a stand for river system targeted by development By: Maxwell Radwin [06 Dec 2021]
– Women in a rural part of El Salvador are leading an effort to stop urban development that could result in deforestation and loss of access to water.
– The Ciudad Valle El Ángel project involves the construction of stores, hotels and houses in Apopa municipality, an hour north of the capital, San Salvador.
– It calls for clearing 351 hectares (867 acres) of forest and diverting 17 million liters (4.5 million gallons) of water a day from the Chacalapa River watershed.
– The community has started working with other local organizations to stage protests, sit-ins and letter-writing campaigns, and has also filed numerous lawsuits.

Between land and sea: Agrobiodiversity holds key to health for Melanesian tribes By: Carolyn Cowan [06 Dec 2021]
– Residents of Baniata village on the Solomon Islands’ Western province practice an ancient agroforestry system that intercrops 20 edible species and features the ngali nut, a delicacy sold in domestic and international markets.
– The community’s traditionally self-sufficient and biodiverse diet features 132 species, notably the fe’i banana, a Melanesian specialty that contains 100 times the vitamin A of a typical banana.
– The resilient food system and diet is increasingly affected by climate change, imported crops, processed foods, and the loss of traditional knowledge in younger generations.
– This article is one of an eight-part series showcasing Indigenous food systems covered in the most comprehensive FAO report on the topic to date.

Mongabay’s What-To-Watch list for December 2021 By: [06 Dec 2021]
– Mongabay has just launched a new video series on YouTube, “Problem Solved,” where we examine big, systemic, environmental issues and build potential pathways to addressing them.
– We continued reporting on extractive projects affecting local residents of the area as well as reforestation and rewilding efforts from different countries, this time about mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Philippines and nature-based solutions in the U.K. and in India.
– Add these videos to your watchlist for the month — you don’t need a Netflix, Prime or Disney+ subscription; watch these for free on YouTube.

How Andean Condors in Peru saved the California Condor from extinction By: Enrique Ortiz [05 Dec 2021]
– The California Condor narrowly dodged extinction in the 1980s thanks to conservation efforts involving Andean Condors reintroduced to Peru’s Illescas peninsula.
– The Illescas wilderness will soon be officially protected as Illescas National Reserve, a development which spurred Enrique Ortiz, Senior Program Director at the Andes Amazon Fund, to recount the story of how Andean Condors helped save the California Condor.
– The Spanish version of this piece originally appeared on Mongabay-Latam.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

‘They will die’: Fears for the last Piripkura as Amazon invasion ramps up By: Fernanda Wenzel [03 Dec 2021]
– Overflight images show that outsiders have not just invaded the Piripkura Indigenous Territory in the Brazilian Amazon, but are also expanding their illegal cattle ranches in what’s supposed to be the protected land of one of the world’s most vulnerable uncontacted Indigenous groups.
– Deforestation inside the territory surged nearly a hundredfold in the 12 months since August 2020, which Indigenous rights activists attribute to anticipation among would-be invaders that a restriction ordinance banning outsiders won’t be renewed as it has every two years since 2008.
– The invaders are closing in on the parts of the territory inhabited by Pakyî and Tamandua, the last two known Piripkura individuals living in the territory; there may be another 13 there who have chosen to remain uncontacted.
– The Piripkura suffered from at least two massacres since their first contact with outsiders in the 1980s, and now face the risk of extermination again, activists warn.

Indigenous groups unveil plan to protect 80% of the Amazon in Peru and Ecuador By: Latoya Abulu & Laurel Sutherland [03 Dec 2021]
– A new plan called the Amazon Sacred Headwaters initiative proposes the protection of 80% of the Amazon in Peru and Ecuador by 2025, consisting of 35 million hectares (86 million acres) of rainforest.
– The Amazonian Indigenous organizations leading the plan aim to center Indigenous-led forest management and land tenure to protect endemic species and prevent approximately 2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
– The proposal has received positive responses from Ecuadoran and Peruvian government officials, but faces a stumbling block in the fact that both countries rely heavily on extractive industries operating within the Amazon to help pay off foreign debt.

Indonesia ranks high on legal wildlife trade, but experts warn it masks illegal trade By: Basten Gokkon [03 Dec 2021]
– Indonesia sits at No. 9 on a list of the 80 countries with the highest number of wildlife specimens legally exported abroad since 1975, new research shows.
– The legal international trade in wildlife is governed by CITES, whose trade database shows that Indonesia exported 7.7 million live animals over the past 46 years, more than a quarter of them arowana fish.
– While these trades are legal, experts say the government should try to minimize the practice and focus more on conserving wild populations of these species.
– Critics of the legal wildlife trade have long accused it of helping mask the illegal trade, primarily through the “laundering” of wild-caught animals through captive-breeding facilities.

The catfight within tiger conservation: Why all stakeholders need to start working together (commentary) By: Chris Slappendel [03 Dec 2021]
– After 12 years of tiger conservation efforts across borders, the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) ends in 2022 with most tiger range countries coming in with failed attempts at saving their tigers.
– Tiger conservation can be successful only if the six stakeholder groups involved in it — Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), governments, NGOs, financiers, forums, and media — came together with shared goals.
– The next Global Tiger Initiative summit at Vladivostok in 2022 will be the ideal moment to repair the flaws of the previous GTI and create true cooperation with all the stakeholders, with full support of all tiger range countries.
– The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

$1.5 billion Congo Basin pledge a good start but not enough, experts say By: Jim Tan [03 Dec 2021]
– At last month’s COP26 climate summit, a group of 12 international donors pledged at least $1.5 billion over the next four years to support protection and sustainable management of the Congo Basin forests.
– The pledge is part of a broader $12 billion commitment to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation worldwide by 2030.
– The 200 million hectares (500 million acres) of forests in the Congo Basin may be the last significant land-based tropical carbon sink in the world, making the forests vitally important in the global fight against climate change.
– So far, detail of the pledge remain limited, and reaction from regional experts has been mixed; but all agree that $1.5 billion is far from enough to resolve the region’s issues.

Major clothing brands contribute to deforestation in Cambodia, report finds By: Elizabeth Claire Alberts [03 Dec 2021]
– A new report suggests that the garment industry is contributing to deforestation in Cambodia due to factories relying on illegal forest wood to generate electricity.
– Garment factories were found to use at least 562 tons of forest wood every day, the equivalent of up to 1,418 hectares (3,504 acres) of forest being burned each year, according to the report.
– Between 2001 and 2019, Cambodia is reported to have lost an estimated 2.7 million hectares (6.7 million acres) of forest through deforestation.
– While the garment industry does contribute deforestation, experts say that economic land concessions granted by the Cambodian government for agro-industrial purposes are by far the dominant driver of forest loss.

For Indigenous Zoró, the Brazil nut is a weapon against deforestation By: Isabel Harari & Jaqueline Deister [03 Dec 2021]
– The Indigenous Zoró people in the Brazilian Amazon have struck a balance between generating income and keeping their forest standing, thanks to the Brazil nut.
– They harvest the fruit and sell it through the COOPAVAM farmers’ cooperative, which guarantees fairer prices than dealing with the traditional network of middlemen.
– The success of this sustainable model since 2018 saw most Zoró villages abandon their previous ties to the illegal loggers operating in their territory.
– But with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic hardship, many villages have fallen back on these links, compounding existing threats to their forests posed by illegal mining and cattle ranching.

Bioacoustics researcher wins top award for positive impact toward solving global challenges By: Erik Hoffner [02 Dec 2021]
– An award that recognizes scientists whose research makes a positive impact on society by addressing global challenges has been given to Zuzana Burivalova.
– The principal investigator for the Sound Forest Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, much of her bioacoustics research has focused on soundscapes, which are entire sonic characteristics of ecosystems.
– Monitoring soundscapes has important conservation applications in places like tropical rainforests where Burivalova’s work is centered.

Latest delay casts pall over WTO bid to end harmful fishing subsidies By: Elizabeth Fitt [02 Dec 2021]
– International negotiators were set to discuss ending government subsidies that lead to overfishing at the Twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference, scheduled to run Nov. 30 through Dec. 3 in Geneva, Switzerland.
– Days before it was due to start, however, organizers postponed the event indefinitely, due to concerns over the newly announced COVID-19 variant, Omicron.
– Negotiators have been struggling to close the remaining gaps in an agreement that has been 20 years in the works.
– Observers say the ongoing failure to reach agreement on fishing subsidies calls into question the WTO’s ability to adapt to a changing world and meet the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Amid a furniture boom, timber certification is just a start, say experts By: Carolyn Cowan [02 Dec 2021]
– For furniture consumers and manufacturers alike, ensuring timber is both legal and sustainable is tricky in Southeast Asia, where supply chains are blighted by illegal logging, poor forest management and scant law enforcement.
– In an effort to improve timber sustainability in the region’s furniture supply chains, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and the ASEAN Furniture Industries Council (AFIC) recent launched a four-year collaboration to promote timber certification.
– While the collaboration is a positive step, experts say even more needs to be done to prevent illegally sourced timber from entering the region’s domestic supply chains and local markets that largely operate informally and under less scrutiny than export markets.
– Experts also point out that timber certification is not a guarantee of deforestation-free products, and call on companies to publicly commit to deforestation-free supply chains and transparent reporting.

The ‘idea’: Uncovering the peatlands of the Congo Basin By: John C. Cannon [02 Dec 2021]
– In 2017, a team of scientists from the U.K. and the Republic of Congo announced the discovery of a massive peatland the size of England in the Congo Basin.
– Sometimes called the Cuvette Centrale, this peatland covers 145,529 square kilometers (56,189 square miles) in the northern Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and holds about 20 times as much carbon as the U.S. releases from burning fossil fuels in a year.
– Today, the Congo Basin peatlands are relatively intact while supporting nearby human communities and a variety of wildlife species, but threats in the form of agriculture, oil and gas exploration and logging loom on the horizon.
– That has led scientists, conservationists and governments to look for ways to protect and better understand the peatlands for the benefit of the people and animals they support and the future of the global climate.

Amazonian birds are shrinking in response to climate change, study shows By: Sibélia Zanon [02 Dec 2021]
– A new study has found that birds in an undisturbed region of the Amazon are evolving smaller bodies and longer wings in response to the changing climate.
– Of the 77 species that researchers studied, 36 had lost almost 2% of their body weight per decade since 1980, and 61 saw an increase in wing length during that period.
– Researchers link these morphological changes to climate change: with hotter temperatures and less predictable rainfall patterns, the birds are evolving to “eat less, get smaller, produce less heat.”
– Climate change poses the greater risk of extinction to South American birds, which are far more sensitive to temperature extremes than birds in temperate climates.

Extinction not only threatens primates—their parasites are in danger, too By: McKenzie Prillaman [01 Dec 2021]
– Primates threatened with extinction have highly specific parasites that will likely vanish if their hosts go extinct.
– Parasites play essential roles in ecosystems, but most are so understudied that scientists don’t understand the consequences of losing them.
– If in peril due to a diminishing number of hosts, parasites may try to jump to new host species—potentially triggering unforeseen infections.

Amazon mining threatens dozens of uncontacted Indigenous groups, study shows By: Shanna Hanbury [01 Dec 2021]
– A study published today in Global Environmental Change shows that the approval of Brazil’s Bill 191 allowing mining on Indigenous land could be detrimental to up to 43 uncontacted Indigenous groups.
– Researchers also found that almost half of mining requests in the Brazilian Amazon registered through the National Mining Agency, a total of 3,600, were located in Indigenous territories with uncontacted groups.
– The authors recommend scrapping the bill and increasing research on isolated Indigenous groups so they can be better protected. Still, a dossier published this week by the Uncontacted or Destroyed campaign shows the Bolsonaro administration is not protecting known uncontacted groups.

Indonesia’s new plan for coal: It pollutes land and air, so why not the sea too? By: Basten Gokkon [01 Dec 2021]
– Environmental activists have lambasted a plan by the Indonesian government to use bricks made from coal ash as building blocks for coral transplant projects.
– The plan is a follow-up to another controversial policy, issued earlier this year, to declare that the ash from burning coal in power plants is non-hazardous waste, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.
– That delisting was done at the behest of various industry groups, including the coal miners’ association, which have lobbied to be allowed to sell their mounting piles of coal ash to the construction industry.
– Under the new agreement, the fisheries ministry will buy the coal ash bricks from the operator of Indonesia’s biggest coal-fired power plant — which in 2019 funded a study claiming that coal ash bricks are “feasible” for coral transplantation.



Indigenous community saves Colombia’s poison dart frog from coca and logging by Maxwell Radwin [11/30/2021]
Potty-trained cows? Teaching cattle where to urinate could help reduce greenhouse gases by Emily Moskal [11/30/2021]
Forests for sale: How land traffickers profit by slicing up Bolivia’s protected areas by Eduardo Franco Berton [11/25/2021]