10-second nature news digest

Conservation news digest for busy people from @Mongabay. Story summaries that can be read in about ten seconds per post.

Popular topics:: Amazon | Animals | Brazil | Congo | Conservation | Deforestation | Featured | Indonesia | Logging | Malaysia | Oceans | Palm oil | Rainforests | Wildlife



Palm oil certification? No silver bullet, but essential for sustainability (commentary) [05/25/2018]
- We need a global standard on what constitutes sustainable palm oil and a common system to implement it. Arriving at this consensus requires a convening body to connect every link in the palm oil supply chain, across different countries and jurisdictions.
- A recent report from Changing Markets Foundation, released with additional comments by NGOs such as FERN, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Mighty Earth, and Friends of the Earth Netherlands, criticizes the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and proposes that certification standards are — as stated by the same NGOs — ‘holding back the progressive reform of the sector’ and may even be causing ‘active damage.’
- This report disregards some of the important realities in the industry and on the ground, and fails to offer practical solutions. Simply bashing certification because of its imperfections puts the advances made at risk, instead of helping develop standards and synergies that facilitate compliance across the global palm oil supply chain.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Latam Eco Review: Peru’s first environmental court [05/25/2018]
Below are summaries of the most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of May 14 -20. Among the top articles: an environmental court seeks to stop environmental crimes in the most deforested region of Peru. In other news, with elections around the corner in Colombia, experts take a closer […]

Scientists tackling conservation problems turn to artificial intelligence [05/25/2018]
- Grantees of Microsoft’s AI for Earth, a program aimed at helping groups address complex environmental problems, met at Microsoft headquarters recently to learn new ways to apply artificial intelligence and cloud computing to their respective projects.
- The program awards grants of access to and training in the company’s cloud-based data storage, management, and analysis to address challenges in four thematic areas: addressing climate change, protecting biodiversity, improving agricultural yields, and lessening water scarcity.
- Grant recipients include teams working on game theory to predict poaching patterns; mining social media photos to determine distributions of particular species; and using machine learning and animals’ acoustic activity to determine effectiveness of conservation interventions.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, May 25, 2018 [05/25/2018]
- 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.


Researchers propose framework for designing PES programs that better deliver socioeconomic benefits [05/24/2018]
- The authors of a study recently published in the journal Science Advances developed a framework for examining the numerous ways Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) programs affect socioeconomic outcomes by taking into account how PES programs are linked to various livelihood activities.
- The researchers applied their framework to two PES programs in China’s Wolong Nature Reserve, both designed to reduce the degradation of panda habitat due to human activities like agricultural expansion, timber harvesting, and fuelwood collection.
- They found that households in Wolong Nature Reserve would have been better off financially had they not enrolled their land in either of these PES programs and instead continued to grow and sell crops.
- The researchers write that using their framework for understanding all of the underlying effects on local livelihoods, however, it is possible for conservation practitioners to anticipate obstacles and design management strategies for PES programs that improve their socioeconomic performance.


Illegal loggers ‘cook the books’ to harvest Amazon’s most valuable tree [05/24/2018]
- A new study finds that illegal logging, coupled with weak state-run timber licensing systems, has led to massive timber harvesting fraud in Brazil, resulting in huge illicit harvests of Ipê trees. This process is doing major damage to the Amazon, as loggers build roads deep into forests, causing fragmentation and creating greater access.
- To reduce document fraud, the Brazilian federal government this month required that all states register or integrate their timber licensing systems within a national timber inventory and tracking system known as Sinaflor. While this should reduce fraudulent paperwork, onsite illicit timber harvesting practices remain a major problem.
- Better oversight of forest management plans and more onsite inspections of timber operations are needed to curb illegal logging practices and to prevent harvesting on public lands and in indigenous reserves. The high value of Ipê wood — selling for up to $2,500 per cubic meter at export — makes it very profitable for illegal loggers.
- Ipê wood is largely shipped to the U.S. and Europe. Analysts say that buyers all along the timber supply chain turn a blind eye toward fraud, with sawmills, exporters, and importers trusting the paperwork they receive, rather than questioning whether the lower prices they pay for Ipê and other timber may be due to timber laundering.


Agroforestry gives Kenyan indigenous community a lifeline [05/24/2018]
- The Cherangani people of Kenya were for generations reliant on the forest for hunting, gathering and agroforestry — a way of life that was curtailed by the colonial government.
- Today, Cherangani communities living on the edge of the forest have returned to their traditions, intercropping avocado, bean and coffee plants among trees that help reduce water runoff and soil erosion, and improve nutrient cycling.
- The return to agroforestry has had wide-ranging benefits, from helping the communities improve their livelihoods, to minimizing human-animal conflicts by providing a buffer of fruit trees between the farms and forest.
- The project has received $5 million in funding, which is expected to provide training to more than 2,000 households on forest conservation and agroforestry techniques.


Guardians of India’s rhinos find it takes a village to fight poachers [05/24/2018]
- Adjacent to an international border and with roads, a rail line and tea plantations within its boundaries, India’s Jaldapara National Park — home to more than 200 rhinos — is particularly vulnerable to poaching.
- The forest department works closely with local residents to protect rhinos, and 40 percent of tourist revenues are earmarked to support community projects.
- Forest department strategies range from rehabilitation of confessed poachers to joint exercises with the police and border patrol.


Chinese giant salamander is at least five species — all nearly extinct [05/24/2018]
- Scientists who spent four years surveying the Chinese giant salamander’s preferred river habitats across 97 counties in China spotted only 24 individuals at four sites.
- None of the 24 individuals were “pure natural forms,” the researchers found, and were likely farm releases or escapees.
- The Chinese giant salamander also represents not one but at least five different species-level lineages. However, the large extent of hybridization in these animals through farming could mean that these distinct lineages are already functionally extinct.


Rangers face a ‘toxic mix’ of mental strain and lack of support [05/24/2018]
- Wildlife rangers are facing numerous psychological pressures leading to potentially serious mental health implications.
- Rangers tackling wildlife crime and defending natural habitats in parts of Africa and Asia are frequently subjected to violent confrontations inside and outside their work.
- Many rangers see their families as little as once a year, causing immense stress to personal relationships.
- There is currently very little awareness of the mental strain placed on rangers, and a dearth of research into the potential mental health issues they face.


Making the most of conservation science (commentary) [05/23/2018]
- Increasing numbers of scientific papers on conservation are published every year, but for many people these remain inaccessible behind paywalls, difficult to locate in a vast ocean of research, or time-consuming to read.
- There are increasing attempts to bring the evidence for particular questions together in digestible formats, such as systematic reviews or Mongabay’s Conservation Effectiveness series. One such enterprise is the Conservation Evidence project, which assesses the evidence for the effectiveness of conservation interventions.
- A new edition of the book ‘What Works in Conservation,’ produced by Conservation Evidence, is available and free to download. This book helps us to see which conservation interventions have been shown to work, which have been shown not to work, and where we need more evidence.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Hunters are wiping out hornbills in Ghana’s forests [05/23/2018]
- According to a new study, Ghana is losing hornbill species to “uncontrolled” hunting, mostly for meat, from its forested parks and reserves.
- The researchers found that the five largest species of hornbills in the Bia Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, have disappeared in recent decades.
- The authors of the paper suggest that increased enforcement will help protect threatened hornbills, as well as other wildlife species, in areas under intense pressure from humans.


Trio of studies challenges Indian government claim of increasing forest cover [05/23/2018]
- Three studies published over the past seven months show that forest cover in India is declining, contrary to findings from the latest Forest Survey of India report.
- One study found 16 to 30 percent forest loss in the eastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, while another study found that the Eastern Ghats lost nearly 16 percent of their forest area between 1920 and 2015.
- The third study, which analyzed patterns of forest cover across India from 2001 to 2014, found “significant negative changes” in the seasonal green cover, with the highest decline recorded in tropical moist deciduous forests.


Roads might pose even bigger threat to Southeast Asian forests, biodiversity than previously understood [05/22/2018]
- According to Alice Hughes, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Centre for Integrative Conservation, global analyses often underestimate levels of deforestation driven by road-building in the Indo-Malaysia region. This is because many of those analyses rely on a widely used global map of roads compiled by Open Street Maps (OSM) that misses as much as 99 percent of roads in parts of the region.
- According to Hughes, this level of inaccuracy can have serious consequences: “Not only does it mean that any analysis based on global roads datasets will underestimate the level of fragmentation and overestimate the forest coverage of a region, but most forms of exploitation also occur within close proximity to a road.”
- Increasing deforestation is not the only threat posed by opening new areas to roads. “These growing road networks provide accessibility for other forms of resource exploitation,” Hughes notes in the study. “Most notably this includes selective logging, and hunting, which in the Indo-Malay region also targets a vast suite of species as pets, medicine and meat.”


Fishing gear poses the greatest danger to young great whites off the West Coast of the U.S. [05/22/2018]
- Fishing lines and nets pose the most significant threat to the survival of young white sharks in the waters off Mexico and southern California, according to a new study.
- A team of scientists used a relatively “untapped” but ubiquitous storehouse of data to develop a statistical model for the survival rates of juvenile white sharks.
- The researchers calculated that 63 percent of young white sharks living in this part of the Pacific survive annually, but that nearly half probably come in contact with gillnets set by commercial fishers.
- The findings point to best practices, such as barring gillnets from inshore “nurseries” and asking fishers to check their nets for trapped sharks more regularly, that could help protect great whites.


In unsuspecting Indian villages, the international rhino horn trade takes a toll [05/22/2018]
- The vast majority of villagers around India’s Jaldapara National Park live in harmony with the area’s wildlife, but a small minority get involved in rhino poaching.
- Experts and former poachers say villagers are recruited by organized poaching syndicates. Locals serve as guides and lookouts, while syndicates arrange for the transport and sale of rhino horns.
- From West Bengal, rhino horns are taken to India’s northeastern states and then across the border to Myanmar and eventually to China.


African vultures under the gun as lead ammunition takes a toll [05/22/2018]
- Fragments of lead ammunition in abandoned animal carcasses may be poisoning Africa’s vultures, a new study has found.
- Researchers found elevated blood lead levels among vultures in hunting areas and during hunting season in Botswana.
- This study adds to the growing evidence from around the world that identifies lead ammunition as a problem for a number of bird species.
- South African hunters are sympathetic to vultures but oppose a total ban on lead ammunition, citing the cost and availability of lead-free alternatives.


Lessons for developing countries in expansion of Madagascar’s protected area network [05/21/2018]
- Between 2003 and 2016, protected area coverage in Madagascar was quadrupled, from 1.7 to 7.1 million hectares. Whereas most protected areas (PAs) established in Madagascar prior to 2003 were managed solely by the Malagasy government, post-2003 PAs adopted a variety of new management and governance systems.
- The aggressive growth of Madagascar’s PA system and the diversity of approaches employed make for a particularly poignant case study, according to the authors of a recent paper published in the journal Biological Conservation that looks at what other developed countries can take away from Madagascar’s experience.
- The researchers hope that the successes achieved and the challenges identified via their examination of Madagascar’s efforts to expand its PA system might help inform how global protected area coverage continues to expand.


Venezuela’s hungry hunt wildlife, zoo animals, as economic crisis grows [05/21/2018]
- Venezuela is suffering a disastrous economic crisis. With inflation expected to hit 13,000 percent in 2018, there has been a collapse of agricultural productivity, commercial transportation and other services, which has resulted in severe food shortages. As people starve, they are increasingly hunting wildlife, and sometimes zoo animals.
- Reports from the nation’s zoos say that animals are emaciated, with keepers sometimes forced to feed one form of wildlife to another, just to keep some animals alive. There have also been reports of mammals and birds being stolen from zoo collections. Zoos have reached out to Venezuelans, seeking donations to help feed their wild animals.
- The economic crisis makes scientific data gathering difficult, but a significant uptick in the harvesting of Guiana dolphin, known locally as tonina, has been observed. The dolphin is protected from commercial trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
- The grisly remains of hunted pink flamingos have been found repeatedly on Lake Maracaibo. Also within the estuary, there has also been a rise in the harvesting of sea turtle species, including the vulnerable leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), and the critically endangered hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).


Online network seeks to boost international collaboration against wildlife trafficking in Central Africa [05/21/2018]
- The Africa-TWIX (Trade in Wildlife Information eXchange) platform facilitates collaboration to help Central African enforcement agencies implement wildlife trade laws and treaties.
- The platform’s secure mailing list and database allow enforcement officials from five countries to share materials and data that enhance cross-border collaboration.
- The sharing of experiences, data and best practices among police, inspectors, prosecutors, judges, and customs officials is expected to help enhance their respective abilities to better fight wildlife crime.


Documenting the African elephant’s ‘last stand’: Q&A with filmmakers Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson [05/21/2018]
- “Walking Thunder,” a film by Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson, tracks elephants across Africa.
- The couple’s son, Lysander, guides viewers through his discovery, first of the elephants and peoples of Africa, and then of the threats they face.
- Christo calls the film a “prayer” for the species.


Tiny marsupials that practice ‘suicidal’ mating declared endangered [05/21/2018]
- On May 11, the Australian government officially declared two species of recently described antechinuses, a mouse-like marsupial, as endangered.
- The species are famed for their marathon mating sessions that leave the males so exhausted that they die.
- Both species occur only in high-altitude forests, and are threatened by climate change, habitat loss and threats from feral cats, cattle and horses.


In other news: Environmental stories from around the web, May 18, 2018 [05/18/2018]
- 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.


Brazil has the tools to end Amazon deforestation now: report [05/18/2018]
- A coalition of environmental NGOs known as the Zero Deforestation Working Group has developed a practical plan called “A Pathway to Zero Deforestation in the Amazon.” First proposed at the COP23 climate summit in Bonn, Germany, last November, the NGOs propose workable strategies for ending deforestation quickly in Brazil, while also yielding significant economic and social benefits.
- Deforestation continues, the report says, because cleared land is worth more than forested land in the Amazon, so there is a strong economic incentive to buy up large amounts of forestland and clear it. Also, enforcement of Brazilian forestry laws remains weak. Finally, markets have been slow to make, and implement, commitments to remove deforestation from their supply chains.
- Deforestation solutions require a new development vision for the Brazilian Amazon, say analysts, with policies that promote the sustainable use of forest products, and policies that end the expansion of agro-commodities into native forests, and promote agribusiness growth on the nation’s surplus of 15-20 million hectares of already deforested and degraded land.
- Law enforcement to curb illegal land grabbing also needs to happen, especially on the 70 million hectares of public land in Amazonia not allocated for specific uses. Also, government must start tracking cattle from point of origin with indirect suppliers, where deforestation occurs, to slaughterhouses. A key step to a solution: open talks between agribusiness and environmentalists.


Latam Eco review: Coca threatens world’s best organic coffees [05/18/2018]
Below are summaries of the most popular stories by our Spanish language service, Mongabay Latam, from the week of May 7 -13. Among the top articles: the assassination of two activists who opposed the Hidroituango hydroelectric project revives the debate around megaprojects in Colombia. In other news, centuries-old trees cut for parquet floors in Peru, […]

TV host Ellen DeGeneres to visit Rwanda in mountain gorilla conservation effort [05/18/2018]
- Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres earlier this year established a fund that will finance the building of a campus in Rwanda to support conservation and protection efforts for the critically endangered mountain gorilla.
- The campus is being built in collaboration with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, and DeGeneres is scheduled to visit the site in the Virunga Mountains next week.
- The initiative has been welcomed by conservationists and Rwandan government officials, and has received financial support and endorsements from prominent figures in Hollywood.


Kenyan reserve’s tourism monitoring app builds revenue and transparency [05/18/2018]
- Wardens at Kenya’s Mara Conservancy solved a revenue loss problem by teaming up with their revenue management company to create a smartphone app that lets them check tourists’ ticket and payment status by entering the vehicle license plate numbers.
- Obtaining up-to-date information about the tourists and the validity of their ticket from their patrol car saves the rangers time and avoids their having to interrupt a group’s safari.
- The rangers address any discrepancies first with the tour guide and involve tourists only as a last resort, which has nearly eliminated cheating and enabled the Reserve to boost the revenue it retains.


How an island of mice is changing what we know about evolution [05/17/2018]
- Researchers have identified the smallest-known island where multiple species of mammals evolved from a single founding species. The Philippine island of Mindoro is the size of Yellowstone National Park and host to four species of earthworm mice.
- Genetic analysis indicates all members from these four species descended from just a few individuals that rafted to Mindoro from a neighboring island millions of years ago.
- Three of the species are endemic to Mindoro, and the researchers believe they evolved on different mountains. The study’s findings highlight the pivotal role mountains can play in speciation, and provide evidence that evolution can occur even in small areas.
- The researchers say this underlines the importance of protected areas not just for species preservation, but for species emergence as well. The apparent success of such a small founding population may also give hope for species currently hovering on the precipice of extinction.


Humans are leaving their mark on the world’s protected areas, study finds [05/17/2018]
- About one-third of the world’s total protected area — around 6 million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles) — bears the scars of substantial degradation at the hands of humans, according to research published in the journal Science.
- The researchers found that large parks and reserves held to the toughest standards are doing significantly better than those with laxer controls.
- The authors argue that assessments of the effectiveness of protected areas should be considered, especially as governments try to meet one of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets calling for protecting 17 percent of the Earth’s land area by 2020.


Brazilian Amazon oil palm deforestation under control, for now [05/17/2018]
- Brazil’s Sustainable Palm Oil Production Program (SPOPP), launched in 2010, aims to prevent primary and secondary forest clearing for new oil palm plantations in Legal Amazonia. As part of the plan, a bio-physical suitability zoning map excluded legally protected parks, indigenous reserves and intact forest areas from those areas available for oil palm cultivation.
- With 31.2 million hectares (120,463 square miles) of degraded land existing in Legal Amazonia that could be put into oil palm production without severe ecological consequences, it was thought at the time that there would be no need for deforestation by the industry. A recent study gauges SPOPP’s success from 2006 to 2014.
- The study surveyed oil palm cultivation over a 50,000 square kilometer area in Pará state, finding that 90 percent of production expansion over that time occurred on former pasture, not forest. In fact, direct conversion of intact forest to oil palm declined 4 percent from 2006-2010, to less than 1 percent from 2010-2014 in the study area.
- Researchers fear that major deforestation due to an oil palm production boom could occur in the near future if transportation infrastructure is markedly improved, and if Brazil’s economy, political and institutional stability increases. The study didn’t address escalating conflicts between Amazon oil palm plantations and traditional communities.


Natural gas project that promised economic boom leaves PNG in ‘worse state’: report [05/17/2018]
- Proponents of PNG LNP, an ExxonMobil-led natural gas project in Papua New Guinea, predicted it would bring massive economic benefits to landowners and to the country as a whole.
- According to two recent reports by the Jubilee Australia Research Centre, PNG’s economy is worse off than it would have been without the project.
- Jubilee Australia also links the PNG LNG project to an upswing of violence in the areas around the plant.


Will China’s new ban on the ivory trade help or hurt? (Commentary) [05/16/2018]
- At the end of 2017, China announced that it had closed down the domestic legal trade in ivory, to global acclaim.
- The new ban represents all the makings of excellent global public relations, but conservationist Karl Amman asks whether it will do more harm than good for elephants without effective enforcement.
- The post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Greenpeace disowns paper giant over deforestation allegations [05/16/2018]
- Environmental NGO Greenpeace will end its engagement with the Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas Group and its pulp and paper arm, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP).
- A new mapping analysis by the NGO showed 80 square kilometers of forests and peatlands has been cleared since 2013 in two concessions that are linked to the paper giant.
- Greenpeace said this finding put APP’s commitment to end deforestation in jeopardy.


‘Rainbow’ chameleon among three new species described from Madagascar [05/16/2018]
- Researchers discovered the brilliantly colored rainbow chameleon, now named Calumma uetzi, during an expedition to the remote Sorata massif in northern Madagascar in 2012.
- Over surveys between 2015 and 2016, the researchers found another new species of chameleon, now dubbed Calumma juliae, in a 15-square-kilometer patch of forest. The researchers were unable to find any males of this species.
- They also found only a single male specimen of the third new chameleon species, Calumma lefona, spotted in Andrevorevo in northern Madagascar.


The destruction of nature in S. Sumatra has given rise to a criminal generation (commentary) [05/16/2018]
- Reports of criminal activity have increasingly trickled out of Indonesia’s South Sumatra province.
- Could these incidents of violence, lawbreaking and general lack of respect for order be related to diminishing natural resources and destruction of the landscape? This article explores this idea.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author alone.


Study links malaria to deforestation in the Amazon [05/15/2018]
- A study published recently adds evidence to the argument that deforestation aids the spread of malaria.
- Researchers compared deforestation patterns to malaria rates in nine states in the Brazilian Amazon. They found that places with the highest incidences of malaria were impacted forest patches between 0.1 and 5 square kilometers in size.
- The researchers write that these forest patches contain the shaded, watery, forest-edge habitat preferred by the mosquitos that transmit malaria.
- To keep malaria from becoming an even bigger threat, the authors call for better monitoring of mosquito populations, land planning, and income generation schemes for forest-dwelling communities.


Attack of the turtles: ruralists assault environmental laws, Amazon [05/15/2018]
- With the Brazilian public focused on the October elections, and many members of congress gone home to organize runs for office, the bancada ruralista, rural lobby, has launched a raft of amendments, attached to unrelated bills, that would undo many of Brazil’s environmental and indigenous protections. There is a strong chance of passage.
- These stealth measures are known as “jabutis” or “turtles.” Two jabutis, attached to an energy bill, could lead to the privatization of Brazil’s electricity sector, and to allowing the ownership of land by foreigners, currently forbidden in Brazil, for the purpose of building dams, transmission lines, and other energy facilities. Passage could greatly benefit China.
- Another rider, attached to a bill giving emergency humanitarian assistance to Venezuelan refugees, would abolish a legal requirement to consult with indigenous communities about new energy projects to be built beside roads and railways that already cross their lands. The rider would immediately impact the Waimiri-Atroari Indians in Roraima state.
- Another jabuti would benefit Cerrado agribusiness by classifying all proposed irrigation projects as “projects of public interest,” making them easier to approve, with less rigorous environmental impact studies. Another jabuti would simplify the environmental licensing process for small hydroelectric dams, potentially harming both the Amazon and Pantanal.


Sifaka lemurs listed as “critically endangered” amid mysterious die-off [05/15/2018]
- In the last month and a half, at least 31 Verreaux’s sifakas (Propithecus verreauxi) have died in Berenty Reserve near Madagascar’s southern tip.
- It’s one of the largest lemur die-offs scientists can remember.
- Experts believe that a parasite or tick-borne disease is likely to blame, but the exact cause remains unknown.
- At a large IUCN meeting held last week in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, primate specialists decided to uplist all nine sifaka species from endangered to critically endangered.


Typo derails landmark ruling against Indonesian palm oil firm guilty of burning peatland [05/15/2018]
- A district court in Indonesia has shielded an oil palm company from a Supreme Court ruling ordering it to pay $26.5 million in fines for burning peatlands in a high-biodiversity area, citing a typo in the original prosecution.
- The verdict has stunned activists, who had hoped that the original guilty verdict would set a strong precedent for the judicial fight against environmental crimes.
- The government is appealing the latest ruling, which, ironically, is fraught with typos that — under the same legal logic — would render it just as invalid as the original guilty verdict.


Audio: Sylvia Earle on why we must act now to save the oceans [05/15/2018]
- On today’s episode, renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle joins us for an in-depth conversation about marine conservation.
- Legendary oceanographer, marine biologist, and environmentalist Sylvia Earle, sometimes known as “Her Deepness” or “The Sturgeon General,” is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and former chief scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A documentary film about her work called Mission Blue won a 2015 News & Documentary Emmy.
- She joins us today to discuss how effective marine protected areas are at conserving the oceans and their inhabitants, her Hope Spots program that is identifying some of the most valuable marine environments on the planet, and the latest advances in marine conservation that she is most hopeful about.


Higher incomes, not higher carbon dioxide levels, drive forest gains, study finds [05/15/2018]
- New research indicates that higher levels of economic development, rather than carbon dioxide, are responsible for some countries’ gains in forest cover.
- The findings contradict several climate change models that point to the role that higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere can play as a “fertilizer” for plants.
- Policy decisions should account for the role that development plays in the health of forests, the authors say.


Damming the Amazon unfettered after Brazilian purge (commentary) [05/14/2018]
- In January 2018, two key Brazilian officials, Paulo Pedrosa, executive secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), and Luiz Augusto Barroso, the head of Energy Research Enterprise, an MME agency responsible for energy planning, announced a shift away from destructive Amazon mega-dam construction.
- They said the reason for the shift was the heavy environmental and social impacts of such dams.
- After the appointment of Moreira Franco, the new Minister of Mines and Energy, both MME officials were replaced. Franco is under investigation in the lava jato (car wash) corruption probe. Amazon dams are particularly prone to corruption.
- There has been no mention since January that any planned Amazonian dams listed for construction by 2026 will be cancelled. This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.


Scientists highlight 9 potentially new reef fish species off West Papua [05/14/2018]
- Scientists in Indonesia may have discovered nine new reef fish species in the waters off West Papua province.
- The discovery highlights the importance of protecting the region’s marine ecosystem for its vast and rich biodiversity.
- However, the researchers also found indications of blast fishing in the protected areas, and have called for sustainable management of the ecosystem.


Indonesia enlists plantation companies to ensure haze-free Asian Games [05/14/2018]
- Organizers of the Asian Games in August are wary of the major sporting event being hit by haze from brush and peat fires, an annual occurrence in Sumatra, where one of the host cities is located.
- The government has called on pulpwood and oil palm companies with concessions in fire-prone areas to take steps to restore degraded peatlands and prevent fires during this year’s dry season, which runs from June through September.
- The companies are legally obliged to restore areas of deep peat, and some are fast-tracking their other fire-prevention programs in light of the Asian Games.


Longest recorded whale shark migration eclipses 20,000 kilometers [05/14/2018]
- Scientists followed the movements of a whale shark for nearly two and a half years as she swam more than 20,000 kilometers (over 12,000 miles) from the coast of Central America to the Marianas Trench near Asia.
- Whale sharks, whose numbers have dropped by more than half in the past 75 years according to the IUCN, are taken by fishing boats for their fins, cartilage, meat and teeth, and studies have shown that boats bringing tourists to swim with the largest fish in the ocean change the species’ behavior.
- Given these threats, scientists hope studies such as this one will help guide conservation policy aimed at protecting these animals throughout their migrations.


Climate change could be intensifying dust storms in India, experts say [05/14/2018]
- In the past couple of weeks, severe dust storms, thunderstorms and lightning have hit several parts of India, resulting in the deaths of more than 150 people and injuries to at least 300 others.
- With the rise in global temperatures, the intensity of dust and thunderstorms is expected to increase in the future, experts say.
- But even though dust storms and thunderstorms are a common feature in India, there has been no focused work on studying the trends related to it.


Report unmasks indiscriminate killer of elephants: poaching not for ivory, but for skin [05/14/2018]
- Myanmar has seen an increase in the number of elephants killed over the past several years, with some of the carcasses found skinned.
- A report by the U.K.-based conservation group Elephant Family has identified growing demand for elephant skin products from Myanmar’s giant neighbor, China, which it blames for driving elephant poaching in the Southeast Asian country.
- Conservationists are calling on the Myanmar government to boost law enforcement, beef up forest patrols, and increase conservation outreach and awareness on elephants in the country.
- Warning: Some images may be disturbing or graphic.


Report blames coal-fired plant in Bali for pollution, loss of livelihoods [05/14/2018]
- A coal-fired power plant in Celukan Bawang village in Bali, Indonesia, was completed in 2015 to provide up to two-fifth of the resort island’s electricity and help jump-start the local economy.
- An investigation by advocacy group Greenpeace has since revealed persistent opposition to the project by residents, who have voiced concerns over health and environmental issues, as well as land compensation.
- In its report, Greenpeace calls on the district, provincial and national governments to regularly monitor the changes in the area and focus on development based on renewable energy sources.
- The district environmental agency says its own tests show that air and water quality in the area remain within safe limits. It says it has required the plant operator to submit an environmental report every six months.


Vibrations from elephant calls and movements reflect distinct behaviors, study says [05/11/2018]
- Elephants create inaudible seismic waves when they move or “rumble” that complement the audible sound we hear and that researchers can detect using geophones placed in the ground.
- In a new study, elephants walking or calling through low-frequency rumbles created distinct seismic signals the transmission of which was affected by both local geological structure and low-frequency human-generated noise.
- The research suggests that elephants not only generate these distinct vibrations through their different activities, but can also perceive the difference from at least one kilometer away, suggesting they are using the vibration patterns to communicate.


Six new peeping frogs discovered in western Mexico [05/11/2018]
- Scientists have discovered six new species of peeping frog in the western Mexican states of Jalisco, Colima, and Michoacán.
- All six frogs belong to the genus Eleutherodactylus and were described in the journal Mesoamerican Herpetology last month. According to the authors of the article describing the new species, Eleutherodactylus frogs “are among the most diverse and taxonomically challenging groups of amphibians in the New World.”
- The genus Eleutherodactylus consists of five subgenera, four of which are native solely to the West Indies and are relatively well-studied. The six newly discovered frogs belong to the fifth subgenus, Syrrhophus, a group that has received less attention from scientists.




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