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By Hans Nicholas Jong
The Indonesian government has backed down from a decision to scrap its timber legality verification process for wood export, amid criticism from activists and the prospect of being shut out of the lucrative European market.
By Liz Kimbrough
The side of the road isn't usually thought of as ideal habitat. But for insects, such as butterflies and their caterpillars, the long expanses of land along roads and utility corridors add up to a considerable amount of home turf.
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By John C. Cannon
Change. That's what Monica Yongol has seen in her 54 years. In that time, the loggers and then the oil palm companies have moved into the remote corner of Papua New Guinea where she raised her family, altering the contours of the society she knew.
Fresh produce at the Kokopo market. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
East New Britain province has lost nearly 9% of its tree cover since 2001, and deforestation has accelerated since then, according to satellite data from the University of Maryland. The inset shows logging roads proliferating around the town of Pomio on Jacquinot Bay. To the northeast, in East Pomio rural local-level government on Wide Bay, deforestation for timber and oil palm has seeped inland. Source: Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA/Planet Labs, accessed through Global Forest Watch on May 13, 2020.
The Connection Between Violence and Deforestation<p>Around the world, the "colonial" approach aimed at extracting valuable resources has destroyed "traditional and customary social relations" in local communities, Jeanette Sequeira, vice director and gender program coordinator at the Global Forest Coalition, said in a telephone interview.</p><p>"Often, this is in the land of indigenous peoples and local communities where there's already insecure land tenure," she said. "When you have corporations coming in and occupying these lands, there's just total loss of governance."</p><p>Global Forest Coalition and its more than 100 member organizations around the world have studied the interplay between gender and forest loss around the world. While the context of each local situation is unique, Sequeira said that the coalition's partners have seen the impact that forest loss can have on the most vulnerable members of society. In many cases, that means women.</p><p>"Deforestation and climate change and environmental degradation do lead to an increase in violence against women," Sequeira said. "I think that's a claim we can make more and more."</p><p>Along with the evaporation of the trees, the rights of women to determine what happens to the land they depend on have likewise vanished, Monica Yongol said, as the other women in the room nodded in agreement. The changes have jolted their communities. They've made it harder to provide for their families. And problems like teenage pregnancy, drug use and domestic violence in their communities have cropped up that the women say didn't exist before.</p><p>Several argue that the problem is rooted in the silencing of women's voices that's become more common. Yongol recounted a meeting held by a landowner company, a common organizational structure in Papua New Guinea formed by landholders to negotiate with developers, such as logging companies, on behalf of communities.</p><p>A woman at the meeting stood up and asked why the group hadn't informed all of the landowners about what would happen if the outside company interested in their land secured development rights, Yongol said. The tenets of free, prior and informed consent, <a href="http://www.fao.org/indigenous-peoples/our-pillars/fpic/en/" target="_blank">accepted global standards</a> set forth by the United Nations, hold that all community members should be aware of the plans for the land they depend on. In this case, however, the chairman dismissed her comment, telling her that she shouldn't have a say — because she was a woman.</p>
Forest clearance and plantations have crept inland from Wide Bay, an arcing inlet in Pomio District. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
The airstrip at Tokua, south of Kokopo, with still-active volcanoes in the background. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
Cascading Effects<p>Tongne said that these developments often touch off a chain of consequences for women.</p><p>"Once land is sold and taken away from them, there is a greater violence against women," she said, for several reasons. The forests in East New Britain, and indeed many parts of the country, have long served as a storehouse of ready food and supplies. They're essential in times of plenty, and they serve as vital emergency caches when times are tough.</p><p>"If there's a drought, the women know where to find food in the forest," Tongne told me.</p><p>But as logging and industrial agriculture replace forests close to home, women are forced to travel farther to gather food and other resources or to tend their gardens. That time spent on the road is time they're not looking after their homes or raising their children, Tongne said.</p><p>"The men begin to beat them up," she added. "Violence comes about because there is no food on the table."</p><p>On these extended journeys to the forest, women might face the threat of attack from people from other villages or clans, or from the workers brought in from outside communities by the companies.</p><p>Before, "We had a lot of safety and security. We can walk, visit friends, long distances to other villages," said Lucy Teine, a 50-year-old woman from the East Pomio village of Iwai. "But now, with the population that's coming in to work in those developments, that's now a threat for us."</p><p>The fraying of the social fabric exacerbated by outsiders who might harbor different values is a symptom of a larger issue. Foundational blame for these changes lies with the mentalities that colonialism introduced, according to Sequeira.</p><p>While sexism has persisted in many societies around the world, "Indigenous communities had, in many cases, more equitable gender relations before the advent of colonialism," she said. "Women and men had different, respected roles and status in communities."</p>
John Suka, an elected councilor in the East Pomio local-level government, at the Vunapope Catholic Mission. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
A Global Issue<p>The Global Forest Coalition and its partners have been investigating issues like these around the world. They've found that, while the details may change from place to place, there are broad commonalities among the communities affected by land development and extractivism, Sequeira said.</p><p>"We know that these [roles] became eroded as we had colonial administrations and just the complete dispossession and destruction of indigenous identity," she said.</p><p>In Colombia, she said, women and men are supposed to have equal rights to the land. But, "That's not really how it plays out."</p><p>"You still have women who have to ask permission [from] their husbands or partners for being able to use a bit of land to cultivate medicinal herbs and other food for household consumption," Sequeira said.</p><p>In many places — though not everywhere —laws are in place that should protect land rights, including those of women, she added. Where the system falls short is in implementing these statutes. What that means, broadly, is that forests suffer when women don't have a say in land rights.</p><p>"[W]omen play a vital role in forest conservation," Sequeira and her colleagues wrote in a November 2019 blog <a href="https://globalforestcoalition.org/forest-conservation-must-address-violence-against-women/" target="_blank">post</a>. "Women interact daily with forests and other ecosystems, relying on them for household needs and their livelihoods, but also for conservation and restoration."</p>
Several active volcanoes sit just northwest of the town of Kokopo. Tavurvur last erupted in 2014. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
by Rhett A. Butler
Despite the global economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon appears to be continuing largely unabated with forest clearing over the past 12 months reaching the highest level since monthly data started being released publicly in 2007, according to official data released Friday by the country's national space research institute INPE. Forest loss in Earth's largest rainforest has now risen 13 consecutive months relative to year-earlier figures.
Official Brazilian government data showing annual deforestation (Aug 1-Jul 31 year) in the Brazilian Amazon since 1988.
Amazon rainforest canopy in Brazil. Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
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By Ian Morse
For the first time last August, indigenous groups felt the global community was taking seriously their potential contributions to climate crisis policy.
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By Jane Goodall
The world is facing unprecedented challenges. At the time of writing, the coronavirus COVID-19 has infected over 3.57 million people globally and as of the 4th of May 250,134 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Zoonotic Disease Transmission in Markets<p>When wild animals are sold in such markets, often illegally, they are typically kept in small cages, crowded together, and often slaughtered on the spot. Humans, both vendors and customers, may thus be contaminated with the fecal material, urine, blood and other bodily fluids of a large variety of species – such as civets, pangolins, bats, raccoon dogs and snakes. This provides a perfect environment for viruses to spill over from their animal hosts into humans. Another zoonotic disease, SARS, originated in another wildlife market in Guangdong.</p><p>Most <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/04/whats-in-a-name-wet-markets-may-hide-true-culprits-for-covid-19/" target="_blank">wet markets</a> in Asia are not dissimilar to farmers' markets in Europe and the US. There are thousands of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD5arUFkZm0" target="_blank">wet markets in Asia</a> and around the world where fresh produce – vegetables and fruit, and sometimes also meat from domestic animals – are sold at reasonable prices. And thousands of people shop there rather than in supermarkets.</p><p>It is not only in China that wildlife markets have provided the ideal conditions for viruses and other pathogens to cross the species barrier and transfer from animal hosts to us. There are markets of this sort in many Asian countries. In the bushmeat markets of Africa – where live and dead animals are sold for food – the hunting, slaughtering and selling of chimpanzees for food led to two spill overs from ape to human that resulted in the HIV-AIDS pandemic. Ebola is another zoonotic disease which crosses from animal reservoirs into apes and humans in different parts of Africa.</p>
Wildlife Trafficking and the Spread of Disease<p>Another major concern is the trafficking of wild animals and their body parts around the world. Unfortunately, this has become a highly lucrative multi-billion-dollar business, often run by criminal cartels. Not only is it very cruel and definitely contributing to the terrifying extinction of species, but it may also lead to conditions suitable for the emergence of zoonotic diseases. Wild animals or their parts exported, often illegally, from one country to another take their viruses with them.</p><p>The shocking pet trade in young wild monkeys and apes, birds, reptiles and other wild animals is another area of concern. A bite or scratch from a wild animal taken into the home could lead to something much more serious than a mild infection.</p><p>Once COVID-19 was recognized as a new <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/list/zoonotic-diseases/" target="_blank">zoonotic disease</a>, the Chinese authorities imposed a ban on the selling and eating of wild animals, the Wuhan wildlife market was closed down, and the farming of wild animals for food was forbidden.</p><p>There are thousands of small operations throughout Asia and other parts of the world where wild animals are bred for food as a way of making a living in rural areas. Unless alternative sources of income for these people, as well as for others exploiting wildlife to make a living, can be found and they can get help from their governments during their transition to other ways of making money, it is likely that these operations will be driven underground and become even more difficult to regulate.</p><p>Nevertheless, whatever the problems, it is clearly of great importance that the ban on trading, eating and breeding of wild animals for food should be permanent and enforced – for the sake of human health and the prevention of other pandemics in the future. Fortunately, a majority of Chinese and other Asian citizens who responded to surveys agree that wildlife should not be consumed, used in medicine or for their fur.</p>
Medicinal Products Loopholes and Bear Bile<p>The use of some wild animal products for traditional medicine is thus far still legal in China (though rhino horn and tiger bones are banned). And this creates a loophole that will be quickly seized on by those wanting to continue to trade in wild animals such as the highly endangered pangolin, rhinos, tigers and the Asiatic black bear, known commonly as the Moon Bear because of the crescent-shaped white marking on its chest.</p><p>Other Asian bears – brown bears and Sun bears – are also exploited for their bile. And so long as farming bears for their bile is legal, and products containing their bile is promoted, this will stimulate the demand for the bile.</p><p>It is important to consider the welfare of the animals who are unwittingly responsible for zoonotic diseases. Today we know that all the animals mentioned are sentient beings, capable of knowing fear, despair and pain. Moreover, many of them demonstrate extraordinary intelligence. Allowing the use of wildlife trading for medicinal purposes can lead to unbelievably inhumane treatment of some of these sentient beings.</p><p>This is most certainly the case, for example, with bears farmed for their bile in Asia. They may be kept for up to thirty years in extremely small cages – sometimes they cannot even stand up or turn around. The tiny cages prohibit all natural behavior for these intelligent and sentient animals, who endure a life of fear and suffering.</p>
Disease Originating from Factory Farming<p>It is not only from wild animals that zoonotic diseases have originated. The inhumane conditions of the great factory farms, where large numbers of domestic animals are crowded together, has also provided conditions conducive to viruses spilling over into humans. The diseases commonly known as 'bird flu' and 'swine flu' resulted from handling poultry and pigs. And domestic animals are also sentient beings who experience fear and pain. MERS originated from contact with domestic dromedary camels in the Middle East, perhaps from consuming products from infected camels such as undercooked meat or milk.</p>
Conclusion<p>Scientists warn that if we continue to ignore the causes of these zoonotic diseases, we may be infected with viruses that cause pandemics even more disruptive than COVID-19.</p><p>Many people believe that we have come to a turning point in our relationship with the natural world. We need to halt <a href="https://rainforests.mongabay.com/08-deforestation.html" target="_blank">deforestation</a> and the destruction of natural habitats around the globe. We need to make use of existing nature-friendly, organic alternatives, and develop new ones, to feed ourselves and to maintain our health. We need to eliminate poverty so that people can find alternative ways to make a living other than by hunting and selling wild animals and destroying the environment. We need to assure that local people, whose lives directly depend on and are impacted by the health of the environment, own and drive good conservation decisions in their own communities as they work to improve their lives. Finally, we need to connect our brains with our hearts and appropriately use our indigenous knowledge, science and innovative technologies to make wiser decisions about people, animals and our shared environment.</p><p>While there is a justified focus on bringing COVID-19 under control, we must not forget the crisis with potentially long-term catastrophic effects on the planet and future generations – the climate crisis. The movement calling for industry and governments to impose restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases, to protect forests, and clean up the oceans, has been growing.</p><p>This pandemic has forced industry to temporarily shut down in many parts of the world. As a result, many people have for the first time experienced the pleasure of breathing clean air and seeing the stars in the night sky.</p><p>My hope is that an understanding of how the world <em>should be</em>, along with the realization that it is our disrespect of the natural world that has led to the current pandemic, will encourage businesses and governments to put more resources into developing clean, renewable energy, alleviate poverty and help people find alternative ways of making a living that do not involve the exploitation of nature and animals.</p><p>Let us realize we are part of, and depend upon, the natural world for food, water and clean air. Let us recognize that the health of people, animals and the environment are connected. Let us show respect for each other, for the other sentient animals, and for Mother Nature. For the sake of the wellbeing of our children and theirs, and for the health of this beautiful planet Earth, our only home.</p>
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By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
In 2018, Lauren Biermann was scouring a satellite image of the ocean off the coast of the Isle of May, Scotland, searching for signs of floating seaweed for a project at her university. Her eyes were drawn to lines of white dots gently curving along an ocean front.
$3 Million and an Official Apology: Brazil’s Ashaninka Get Unprecedented Compensation for Deforestation on Their Land
By Naira Hofmeister, Translated by Matt Rinaldi
- An unprecedented court settlement guaranteed reparations to the Ashaninka people of the state of Acre, in the Brazilian Amazon, whose lands were deforested in the 1980s to supply the European furniture industry. The logging company penalized was owned by the family of the current governor of Acre, Gladson Cameli.
- The conflict was resolved through mediation from the Prosecutor General of the Republic, Augusto Aras, after the case had circulated in the courts with no resolution for 20 years.
- The indigenous people only agreed with the negotiation because it included an official apology and a recognition of their "enormous importance as guardians" of the Amazon.
Celebration of the Ashaninka people in the Kampa of the Amônia River Indigenous Reserve, by the Peruvian border. Arison Jardim / The Ashaninka of the Amônia River Association
A Two-Decade Dispute<p>The settlement marks the end of a legal dispute that started in 1996, when the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) brought a Public Civil Action against lumber companies owned by the powerful Cameli family. The same family as the current governor of Acre, Gladson Cameli, and his uncle, Orleir Cameli, who was also governor from 1994 to 1998.</p><p>The Ashaninka prevailed in their initial court case, in appeals courts and also in the Superior Court of Justice (the highest <a href="https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Appellate_court" target="_blank">appellate court</a> in Brazil for non-constitutional questions). But as soon the case reached the federal Supreme Court in 2011, it stalled.</p><p>At an impasse, an extrajudicial settlement was imposed, but it took a year of regular negotiations until both sides accepted the terms of the agreement. "It was a great challenge for everyone, because the negotiation involved large sums and constitutional questions. It required a lot of study, partners and various public authorities to analyze each detail," observes Antônio Rodrigo, attorney for the Ashaninka.</p><p>"This is the first time in the history of Brazilian law that something like this happened. I'm so proud. It was hard, but wonderful," he summarizes.</p><p>According to a <a href="http://www.mpf.mp.br/pgr/noticias-pgr/acordo-historico-garante-reparacao-a-povo-indigena-ashaninka-por-desmatamento-irregular-em-suas-terras" target="_blank">notification posted on the Federal Public Ministry's website</a>, which qualified the result of the negotiation as "historic," Augusto Aras celebrated the enforcement of the constitution, "appreciating that the indigenous people have the guaranteed right to a decent life, to choose their own destiny and take part in political decisions."</p><p>"With this agreement, there is a feeling that we are building a new moment of peace, harmony and, above all, understanding that wounds exist to be healed, not perpetuated," Aras concludes.</p><p>One of the defendants in the case, Abrahão Cândido da Silva, was excluded from the settlement and still faces charges for the deforestation and invasion of the indigenous land. The case is on the <a href="http://www.stf.jus.br/portal/pauta/verTema.asp?id=134777" target="_blank">federal Supreme Court docket for April</a>. In this case, the Supreme Court ministers will decide not only whether to convict the remaining defendant, but also if there is a statute of limitations for claiming compensation for an environmental crime.</p><p>The federal Public Ministry maintains that this environmental damage is indefeasible, meaning it cannot be overturned, as it falls under the "right to life," and that determining a statute of limitations would deny future generations the right to fight for a healthy environment. That thesis was accepted by the Superior Court of Justice, and the Supreme Court review of their decision will take on a status of general repercussion — or, in other words, the ruling will apply to all cases from this point on.</p><p>"This definition will affect hundreds of thousands of cases. To give three recent examples of massive environmental crimes that took place in Brazil: we have Mariana, Brumadinho and, last year, the oil spill in Brazilian waters," asserts the attorney Rodrigo.</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE0NDA1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzU4MDI3MH0.GGo1eIDplqDP3QMJCcjAvWi3yKP00ETazc8VccYPY_Y/img.jpg?width=980" id="5805e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d074ceed98430a5947fcd7d937d629b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Amônia River in the state of Acre. It crosses the indigenous reservation named for it, which is home to the Ashaninka in Brazil. Diego Gurgel / Government of Acre
Acknowledgement of Guilt Was Decisive<p>The R$ 14 million will be paid to the indigenous people in installments over a period of five years. The ultimate beneficiaries of the compensation will be decided annually at an Ashaninka assembly, but it is required to be applied to projects "in defense of the community itself, the Amazon, the indigenous peoples and the peoples of the forest."</p><p>"Our resources will go to maintaining and bringing back our values. We are calling for this region to be increasingly respected and valued, for its products to be placed on the market with added value, which will, in turn, serve to guarantee sustainability. This is what are going to do: we are not going to stop," promises Francisco Piyãko, whose father, Antônio Piyãko, was the man responsible for <a href="http://cpiacre.org.br/conteudo/2020/04/09/reparacao-historica-ao-povo-ashaninka/" target="_blank">reporting the invasion to the world through an open letter published in 1991</a>.</p><p>On top of the damages paid to the Ashaninka, the logging companies will also have to pay R$6 million (US$1.2 million) to the Human Rights Defense Fund as compensation for the harm caused to society as a whole.</p><p>Still, for the Ashaninka, the high point of the settlement with the logging companies was the official apology, contained in the agreement signed by all parties.</p><p>"In the face of all the facts narrated and discussed at length for years in the Courts, (the logging companies) formally extend an official apology to the Ashaninka Community of the Amônia River for all the ills caused, respectfully recognizing the enormous importance of the Ashaninka people as guardians of the forest, dutiful in the preservation of the environment and in the conservation and dissemination of their customs and culture," the settlement states.</p><p>"If there had been no acknowledgement of guilt, the indigenous people would not have taken the deal," asserts Rodrigo, attorney for the Ashaninka.</p><p>According to Piyãko, this moral reparation transcends the financial settlement, symbolizing a victory for all the traditional peoples of Brazil and the world for the usurpation of their lands and traditional ways of life.</p><p>"Many indigenous communities have to see themselves in this acknowledgement, because there are things that cannot be paid in money," comments the Ashaninka leader. "Our intention is for this official apology to be the recognition of an error committed and (a promise) that, from this point on, it will be repeated no longer. And let it serve as a reference for other companies, because some laws and rights must be regarded and respected."</p><img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE0NDA1My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMTI4OTIxN30._J7xanpd8WWUA9UduaoTuIxhnImkUivLSidNpt2Y9VI/img.jpg?width=980" id="438f3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ba215854fa2adb0418d6a2ab5e4e389d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Francico Piyãko in a celebration of the Ashaninka people. Arison Jardim / The Ashaninka of the Amônia River Associatio
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd has made the difficult decision to suspend its campaign to protect the critically endangered vaquita porpoise in Mexico's Upper Gulf of California.
Two of the Sea Shepherd ship that patrol the vaquita refuge. Jack Hutton / Sea Shepherd<p>Vaquitas (<em>Phocoena sinus</em>), which are endemic to the Sea of Cortez in the Upper Gulf of California, are on the brink of extinction, although there are different estimates of how many are left. A recent <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.190598" target="_blank">study</a> calculated there to be fewer than 19 vaquitas left as of the summer of 2018. Another <a href="http://www.iucn-csg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/CIRVA-11-Final-Report-6-March.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, conducted by the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), suggested only about 10 individuals remain, although it also stated that there's a 95 percent chance that 6 to 22 individuals continue to exist.</p><p>The biggest threat to the vaquitas is the illegal fishing of <a href="https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22003/9346099" target="_blank">totoaba</a> (<em>Totoaba macdonaldi</em>), which, like the vaquita, is classified as a critically endangered species by the IUCN. The totoaba's swim bladder is believed to have special medicinal qualities in traditional Asian medicine, despite there being no scientific evidence to support this. The bladders, which are used to make a "curative" soup, <a href="https://awionline.org/content/vaquitas-and-totoabas" target="_blank">can fetch prices up to $14,000 USD</a>, according to the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), and they're regularly trafficked in the global wildlife trade.</p>
A vaquita surfacing in the Sea of Cortez. Sandra Alba / Sea Shepherd<p>Since totoabas are about the same size as vaquitas, vaquitas easily get caught in the gillnets meant to capture totoabas. Gillnets are also used to catch shrimp in the Sea of Cortez, which wreaked further havoc on the vaquita population.</p><p>In 2015, the Mexican government placed a two-year ban on gillnet fishing in the Sea of Cortez, and in 2016, it announced a <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2016/07/mexico-bans-gillnets-to-protect-rare-vaquita-porpoise/" target="_blank">total ban on gillnet fishing</a>. Despite these legislative efforts, fishing has continued in the area. During a patrol in October 2019, Sea Shepherd reported seeing <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/10/rampant-fishing-continues-as-vaquita-numbers-dwindle/" target="_blank">more than 70 fishing boats</a> in the vaquita's critical habitat.</p>
A dead vaquita floating in the ocean. Robbie Newby / Sea Shepherd<p>Last month, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2020-04692.pdf" target="_blank">announced</a> that it would ban all imports of Mexican shrimp and other seafood caught in the vaquita's refuge, an action taken under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Conservationists hope this latest step will provide enough protection to help the vaquita survive.</p><p>"This is exactly how the law protecting marine mammals is supposed to work: if Mexico's fisheries kill vaquita at a rate that violates US standards, the US must ban imports," Zak Smith, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in a statement. "Mexico has no choice but to eliminate the destructive fishing taking place in the northern Gulf of California that is driving the vaquita to extinction. It's the only hope the vaquita has for survival, and it is required if Mexico wants to resume exporting these products to the United States."</p>
Sea Shepherd crew members removing illegal gillnets from the Upper Gulf of California. Robbie Newby / Sea Shepherd<p>Sea Shepherd has spent the last six years patrolling the vaquita refuge, often with scientists and photographers on board to collect data on the vaquitas and to conduct acoustical monitoring. The group has also retrieved 1,200 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the vaquita habitat, according to a <a href="https://seashepherd.org/2019/09/09/expedition-to-sight-critically-endangered-vaquita-porpoise-a-success/" target="_blank">statement</a> on its website.</p><p>While Sea Shepherd isn't able to be in the Sea of Cortez right now, the Mexican navy will be monitoring the waters, Watson said. Fshing activities may decrease during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's also possible that poaching will continue — or even increase. "Poachers take advantage of opportunities," Watson said.</p><p>Sea Shepherd crew will return to the vaquita refuge as soon as it can.</p>
Illegal fishing activity taking place in the Sea of Cortez. Sea Shepherd<p>The vaquita may be fighting for survival, but Kate O'Connell, marine wildlife consultant at AWI, believes there's still hope.</p><p>The vaquita sightings demonstrate that vaquita remain, and those that have been spotted appear healthy," O'Connell said. "New <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsos.190598" target="_blank">research</a> … shows that vaquita may reproduce annually, which would increase the species' potential to recover from its current low numbers. While the situation is daunting, other marine mammal species have come back from extremely low numbers, including the northern elephant seal, which was nearly exterminated in the 19th century, and has rebounded from less than 100 individuals to well over 100,000."</p>
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By Malavika Vyawahare
Giant tortoises and flying foxes once roamed La Réunion, a volcanic island off the eastern coast of Africa. Then humans arrived and decided to stay. Within 150 years of their appearance, large fruit-eating animals like the giant tortoises (Cylindraspis indica) and flying foxes (Pteropus niger), a type of bat, were wiped off the face of La Réunion.
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By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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