Brazil! New hope for conservation

Plus: Mapping ungulate migrations. Saving dolphins in the Amazon. Rewilding in Bulgaria. And more.

Conservation hopes in Brazil

In a new paper, two Brazilian conservationists offer hope for the birds of Brazil. Dr. Pedro F. Develey, of SAVE Brasil, and professor Benjamin T. Phalan of the Centre for Conservation of Atlantic Forest Birds reviewed the status of scores of birds in Brazil. Their survey concentrated on the Atlantic Forest, the region along the country’s southeastern coast that contains grasslands, savannas, scrublands, and tropical, subtropical, and mangrove forests. Though there is cause for environmental concern throughout Brazil, the two scientists find reasons for hope. Bird Extinctions in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest and How They Can Be Prevented was published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution on the 13th of May.

Brazil has 166 bird species that are either vulnerable or threatened with extinction, making it the country with the second-highest number of threatened bird species. More than half of these threatened birds live in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest.

Seventy percent of Brazilians live in this same area, including the cities of Saõ Paulo and Rio De Janeiro, both with populations in excess of 12 million. The region is also the center of Brazilian industry. Since the landing of Portuguese colonizers in the 1500s, 85 percent of the Atlantic Forest has been cleared, and what remains is fragmented. Of that remainder, only about two percent is protected from development.

Despite its precarious status, the Atlantic Forest retains biodiversity comparable to the Amazon region. Of the 166 bird species of concern, seven Brazilian bird species are most threatened with extinction, listed as Extinct (Cryptic Treehugger, Alagoas Foliage-Gleaner), Extinct in the Wild (Alagoas Curassow, Spix’s Macaw), or Critically Endangered (Eskimo Curlew, Pernambuco Pygmy-Owl, Glaucus Macaw). There have been no documented sightings for two additional species in the last 20 years. Of these nine, seven of the endangered or extinct bird species are native to the Atlantic Forest region. Less threatened but still critically endangered are 15 more bird species, nine of which are Atlantic Forest residents.

Conversion of forest to farmland has been the main threat to these birds. Where there had been forest are now croplands for sugarcane, coffee, cocoa, food crops and cattle pastures. High-density eucalyptus tree plantations have also been introduced to the region. Since 1975, a sugarcane ethanol program has destroyed much of the Atlantic Forest’s northeastern section. The birds have also suffered from hunting and increased fire frequency and intensity.

The record of President Bolsonaro and his conservative Social Liberal Party has been a disaster for the Brazilian environment. In June 2018, under his administration, the destruction of the rainforest almost doubled over the same period of the year before. Brazil has good environmental laws on the books, but Bolsonaro’s government is known to flout those laws.

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Glimmers of hope

Yet Develey and Phalan find reason for hope on the local level in Brazil. Guararema, a metropolitan area northeast of Sao Paulo, created a 6000-acre wildlife refuge in response to lobbying and advice from the NGO SAVE Brasil. The refuge contains wetlands that are home to Marsh Antwrens.

Additionally, parts of the Atlantic Forest are coming back. In some places, agricultural lands have been abandoned, and in others, folks are working to restore the forest. From 2011 to 2015, more than 1.7 million acres of the Atlantic Forest—an area larger than Yellowstone National Park—experienced regrowth. Things can still be dicey in these recovered areas, as it can take a while before birds and other animals repopulate the regrown forest. During this time, birds and other creatures can still be quite vulnerable, but the trend gives renewed hope for conservation efforts.

While saving habitats is the easiest and preferred method of preserving species, the authors cite other efforts, such as control of nest predators, translocation of species to new habitat and captive breeding when species are in dire situations. In these cases, there are still hurdles to overcome. For example, there is little knowledge of successful captive breeding for six of the nine critically endangered birds in the Atlantic Forest, although one species, the Alagoas Curassow, has benefitted from a captive breeding program.

More research into the birds’ habitats, diets, and behaviors is also a reason for hope. New research programs have been developed by NGOs working with academic biologists for the Alagoas Antwren, Araripe Manakin, Cherry-Throated Tanager and Marsh Antwren. Authors Develey and Phalan caution that at this juncture, some birds of the Atlantic Forest will go extinct. But with new research and conservation efforts, a great number of the birds of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest will remain and thrive.

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Op-Ed

This month’s op-ed comes to us from Dr. Joseph D. Di Lella, a native Californian who now lives in Brazil.

Climate change: how teachers and students view their role in our fragile world’s environmental crisis

The youth shall lead the way

We are well aware of Swedish, 19-year-old, Greta Thunberg, and her amazing contribution to the chorus of voices protecting the planet. (Check out this article to read about ten other significant young activists around the world.) On a grassroots level, boys and girls, teenagers, too, around the world currently contribute to the worldwide debate on climate change. The 2018 Youth Climate March in Washington, D.C., is only one example of how the next generation is showing the way, standing up to big corporations and uncaring politicians. To many adults, the world may seem beyond the tipping point in terms of reversing the deadly trend of greenhouse gases and other toxic elements polluting the environment and eventually destroying humanity, but to the young, Earth still seems full of hope, as many students in schools often provide a vision for all of us to learn from by their activism in and outside classrooms across the globe.

Teaching in various corners of the world: international voices 

During my time teaching in the Marshall Islands and in Brazil, both teenagers and college-level students provided brilliant feedback in their English classes on the important issue of climate change not only for the world, but for their particular country. In the Marshall Islands, we may remember that 67 atom bombs were tested from 1946-58, forever changing ocean life, the islands themselves and the Marshallese living on the atolls. In Brazil, the preservation of the Amazon Rain Forest is a constant point of debate among citizens, politicians, world leaders and ecologists. 

Marshallese and the climate debate: the quickening destruction of coral reefs

As the Marshallese try to survive on $1.86 U.S. per day, the most obvious way to collect food or run a private business is through the sea. Unfortunately, their only natural resource is a commodity that has been over-fished by the Chinese, Japanese, and Americans.  Over-fishing by the international community steals from the natives, and the fuel dumps in the ocean, not to mention the trash from plastics and other non-recyclable products not only wash up on the shores but destroy the coral reefs. Climate change and the warming of the ocean have bleached hundreds of coral reefs beyond saving throughout the islands.

Whether it was a world history class or a Development English course, Marshallese students discussed the importance of engaging their community as to the ravages of climate change and man-made destruction of their island nation. The majority of students wanted to press the local government leaders to prevent further foreign fishing licenses and to promote a better recycling plan for the nation. On Majuro, where I taught for two years, the recycling plant had reached well over 100% capacity—with nowhere to bury or even sell non-recyclable items. As for the coral degradation, students pressed to pass laws for local foreign fishing vessels to better control their trash dumping and fuel pollution, especially near the shoreline.

Brazilians and the rain forest: how to recycle and prevent deforestation 

With the 2019 Brumadinho Dam disaster in Minas Gerais killing 270 persons, Brazilians were once again reminded of how poorly the government inspects man-made objects that too often erode lands near rivers and pollute water resources. The burning of the Amazon Rain Forest casts a pall over the entire country, causing millions to ask the basic question: Why are we destroying our most precious resource?  In 2020 alone, the burning of 13,000 square miles of the forest was not only a national horror but placed the world in greater danger as it continues to lose this air-cleansing and oxygen production factory.

For several weeks, at the height of the burning of the Amazon Rain Forest (to force out tribes occupying the lands deep in the jungle), my students debated the rights and displacement of indigenous tribes and the burning of millions of trees. Although my Brazilian students believed that it would be difficult to convince a majority of their fellow classmates to protest in front of their public school on a regular basis, many believed that discussion of the destruction of the rain forest with their mothers and fathers was a better option. These students also believed that their parents would listen to their concerns and vote politicians out of office if they refused to see the value in the conservation of the Amazon and limited oil and coal use in their country.

Where do we go from here?

As parents, educators, and overseers of this planet, we must continue to encourage further discussion on climate change, recycling, coal use, and factory restrictions on pollutants with children and teens. If we can face our most urgent problems today, perhaps the youth will lead us to solve the dilemma that eludes frightened or apathetic citizens and force the American Congress and Senate to take action to not only save the U.S. but the entire planet.

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Joseph Di Lella holds a Ph.D. in Education and has taught at prestigious schools like Stanford University stateside and lesser-known schools like The College of the Marshall Islands. Dr. Di Lella currently resides in Brazil, with his wife, Ana, teaching private students and writing non-fiction and children’s books.

And if you’ve made it this far, treat yourself to Brazil, the most fun song by the most fun band, Pink Martini.

Other News

Brief synopses of environmental happenings. Click the links for additional details.

Groups seek to keep dam from diverting fish in Washington State

American Rivers and American Whitewater are petitioning a federal judge to issue an order to stop the operators of a hydroelectric dam from diverting endangered fish out of the Puyallup River in Washington State. (American Rivers)

Promising signs for rewilding in Bulgaria

In May, a new calf was born into a herd of bison in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria, raising the size of the herd to 12. This is the fourth birth to the herd since its reintroduction to the mountains in 2019.

Rewilding is an ecological conservation strategy that takes a more hands-off approach than most traditional conservation efforts. (Rewilding Europe)

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New campaign to save the dolphins of the Amazon

The Amazon River is home to two species of dolphins, the Tucuxi and the Amazon River Dolphin. Both have been declining by about 50 percent every decade due to hunting, entanglement in fishing nets, dams and poaching.

Sea Shepard, an international marine conservation NGO, working with the National Institute for Research in the Amazon, will perform a three-year population study to assess the conservation status of these marine mammals. In all, six expeditions will cover nearly 2000 miles of the Amazon River and its tributaries during 100 days of observation. (Sea Shepard)

Billions of coronavirus funds to be spent on fossil fuels

The Recovery and Resilience Facility, intended to support reforms and investments that mitigate the effects of the coronavirus and pave the way for more sustainable economies of EU states, will instead be funneled to expand natural gas infrastructure in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Officials cite loopholes in the laws governing the Facility for the ability of the Eastern European countries, most of which are heavily reliant on coal, to consider natural gas, which is less carbon-intensive than coal, as a “bridge” fuel. They can hence receive the funds, about two billion dollars in all, while sidestepping full progress on climate change. (Bankwatch Network)

Mapping ungulate migrations

Ungulates are an order of mammals including horses, rhinoceros, giraffes, even whales. Most have hooves on their feet, and most of them are large; think whales and elephants.

An international team of 19 scientists and conservationists is documenting the world’s first atlas of ungulate migrations. The purpose of this atlas is to help governments and local communities ensure that ungulates’ pathways are not infringed or destroyed.

Developed in partnership with the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, a UN-backed international agreement to conserve migratory species, the Global Initiative for Ungulate Migration will map ungulates across five continents. (Frankfurt Zoological Society)

Chinese banks finance deforestation

The object of The Green Dispatch is to cover environmental news that is not to be found in other press, but this story is connected to the G7 meeting happening now.

Under the urging of President Joe Biden, the leaders of the G7 nations have agreed to finance a global infrastructure plan that competes with that of China. I’m uncertain what form this plan will take, but we may all hope that it performs better than what China has been doing. Large Chinese banks have been financing agribusiness trading and development of cattle, palm oil, soy, rubber, and timber for pulp and paper, all of which are major causes of deforestation. Environmental abuses have been documented by Greenpeace, Global Witness, Mighty Earth and others. (Global Witness)

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