Red Lights Flashing for Wildlife

Red Lights Flashing for Wildlife

Editor’s Note: While climate change is taken as THE pressing ecological concern of current era, biodiversity loss is the often less known but probably more destructive ecological disaster. UNEP estimates we lose 200 species in a day. That is 200 species that are never going to walk the Earth again. With these, we lose 200 creatures that play a unique and significant part in the natural communities, and immeasurable contributions of each to the health of the nature.

This study finds 69% average drop in animal populations since 1970. Over those five decades most of the decline can be traced to habitat destruction. The human desire for ever more growth played out over the years, city by city, road by road, acre by acre, across the globe. It is to want a new cell phone and never give a second thought as to where it comes from. Corporations want to make money so they hire the poor who want only to feed their families and they cut down another swath of rainforest to dig a mine and with it a dozen species we haven’t even named yet die. Think about what goes into a house to live in and the wood that must come from somewhere, and the coal and the oil to power it, and to power the cars that take people from there to the store to buy more things. And on and on, that is the American Dream.


by Malavika Vyawahare / Mongabay

  • Wildlife populations tracked by scientists shrank by nearly 70%, on average, between 1970 and 2018, a recent assessment has found.
  • The “Living Planet Report 2022” doesn’t monitor species loss but how much the size of 31,000 distinct populations have changed over time.
  • The steepest declines occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, where wildlife abundance declined by 94%, with freshwater fish, reptiles and amphibians being the worst affected.
  • High-level talks under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will be held in Canada this December, with representatives from 196 members gathering to decide how to halt biodiversity loss by 2030.

In 2014, as temperatures topped 40° Celsius, or 104° Fahrenheit, in eastern Australia, half of the region’s black flying fox (Pteropus alecto) population perished, with thousands of the bats succumbing to the heat in one day.

This die-off is only one example of the catastrophic loss of wildlife unfolding globally. On average, wildlife populations tracked by scientists shrank by nearly 70% between 1970 and 2018, a recent assessment b WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) found.

“When wildlife populations decline to this degree, it means dramatic changes are impacting their habitats and the food and water they rely on,” WWF chief scientist, Rebecca Shaw, said in a statement. “We should care deeply about the unraveling of natural systems because these same resources sustain human life.”

WWF’s “Living Planet Report 2022,” launched this October, analyzed populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish. “It is not a census of all wildlife but reports how wildlife populations have changed in size,” the authors wrote.

A black flying fox.
In 2014, as temperatures topped 40°C, or 104°F, in eastern Australia, half of the region’s black flying fox (Pteropus alecto) population perished, with thousands of the bats succumbing to the heat in one day. Image by Andrew Mercer via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

A million species of plants and animals face extinction today, according to a landmark 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an international scientific body. The new analysis uncovers another aspect of this biodiversity crisis: The decline of wild populations doesn’t just translate into species loss but can also heighten extinction risk, particularly for endemic species found only in one location.

Instead of looking at individual species, the Living Planet Index (LPI) on which the report is based tracks 31,000 distinct populations of around 5,000 species. If humans were considered, for example, it would like tracking the demographics of countries. Population declines in one country could indicate a localized threat like a famine, but it was happening across continents, that would be cause for alarm.

The steepest species declines occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean, where wildlife abundance dropped by 94% on average. In this region, freshwater fish, reptiles and amphibians were the worst affected.

Freshwater organisms are at very high risk from human activities worldwide. Most of these threats are linked to habitat loss, but overexploitation also endangers many animals. In Brazil’s Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve, populations of Amazon pink river dolphin or boto (Inia geoffrensis) fell by 65% between 1994 and 2016. Targeted fishing of these friendly animals for their use as bait contributed to the decline.

Climatic changes render terrestrial habitats inhospitable too. In Australia, in the 2019-2020 fire season, around 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of forestland was destroyed, killing more than 1 billion animals and displacing 3 billion others. For southeastern Australia, scientists showed that human-induced climate change made the fires 30% more likely.

These losses are happening not just in land-based habitats but also out at sea. Coral reefs and vibrant underwater forests are some of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. But they’re being battered by a changing climate that makes oceans warmer and more acidic. The planet has already warmed by 1.2°C (2.2°F) since pre-industrial times, and a 2°C (3.6°F) average temperature rise will decimate almost all tropical corals.

However, the bat deaths in Australia, Brazil’s disappearing pink river dolphins, and the vulnerability of corals are extreme examples that can skew the index, which averages the change in population sizes. In fact, about half of wildlife populations studied remained stable and, in some cases, even grew. Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the Virunga Mountains spanning Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda number around 604 today, up from 480 in 2010.

Despite these bright spots, the overall outlook remains gloomy. Even after discounting the extremes, the downward trend persists. “After we removed 10 percent of the complete data set, we still see declines of about 65 percent,” Robin Freeman, an author of the report and senior researcher at ZSL, said in a statement.

Often, habitat loss, overexploitation and climate change compound the risk. Even in cases where a changing climate proves favorable, the multitude of threats can prove insurmountable. Take bumblebees, for example. Some species, like Bombus terrestris or the buff-tailed bumblebee, could actually thrive as average temperatures rise. But an assessment of 66 bumblebee species documented declining numbers because of pesticide and herbicide use.

The report emphasizes the need to tackle these challenges together. Protecting habitats like forests and mangroves can, for example, maintain species richness and check greenhouse gas emissions. The kinds of plants and their abundance directly impact carbon storage because plants pull in carbon from the atmosphere and store it as biomass.

A bumblebee on flowers.
An assessment of 66 bumblebee species documented declining numbers because of pesticide and herbicide use. Image by mikaelsoderberg via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

One of the deficiencies of the LPI is that it doesn’t include data on plants or invertebrates (including insects like bumblebees).

The report was released in the run-up to environmental summits that will see countries gather to thrash out a plan to rein in climate change in November and later in the year to reverse biodiversity loss. Government leaders are set to meet for the next level of climate talks, called COP27, in Egypt from Nov. 6-13. At the last meeting of parties, known as COP26 in Glasgow, U.K., last year, nations committed to halt biodiversity loss and stem habitat destruction, partly in recognition that this would lower humanity’s carbon footprint.

In December, the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will be held in Montreal. Representatives from 195 states and the European Union will meet to decide the road map to 2030 for safeguarding biodiversity.

Citations:

Herbertsson, L., Khalaf, R., Johnson, K., Bygebjerg, R., Blomqvist, S., & Persson, A. S. (2021). Long-term data shows increasing dominance of Bombus terrestris with climate warming. Basic and Applied Ecology, 53, 116-123. doi:10.1016/j.baae.2021.03.008

Herbertsson, L., Khalaf, R., Johnson, K., Bygebjerg, R., Blomqvist, S., & Persson, A. S. (2021). Long-term data shows increasing dominance of Bombus terrestris with climate warming. Basic and Applied Ecology, 53, 116-123. doi:10.1016/j.baae.2021.03.008

Outhwaite, C. L., McCann, P., & Newbold, T. (2022). Agriculture and climate change are reshaping insect biodiversity worldwide. Nature,605(7908), 97-102. doi:10.1038/s41586-022-04644-x  

Sobral, M., Silvius, K. M., Overman, H., Oliveira, L. F. B., Raab, T. K., & Fragoso, J. M. V. 2017. Mammal diversity influences the carbon cycle through trophic interactions in the Amazon. Nature Ecology & Evolution,1, 1670–1676. doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0334-0

Featured image by Hans-Jurgen Mager via Unsplash

Road Network Spreads Destruction Across Amazon

Road Network Spreads Destruction Across Amazon

Editor’s note: Roads in the middle of wildlife, both illegal and legal, cause habitat fragmentation. This, in turn, impacts wildlife. They disturb migration routes of many animals. Many die in roadkill. Some are more likely to be killed than others, affecting the population balance between species. The light pollution alters the circadian rhythms. Other forms of pollution affects other aspects of their lives. Learn more about the impacts of roads on wildlife here.

The following article demonstrates how, in addition to that, roads (mainly unofficial roads) are causing a widespread deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, one of the largest remaining rainforests. Amazon is home to not only some rare species of flora and fauna, but also to some of the last remaining uncontacted peoples in the world. Destruction of Amazon is an annihilation of these species and the lifestyles of these people.


By /Mongabay

  • A groundbreaking study using satellite data and an artificial intelligence algorithm shows how the spread of unofficial roads throughout the Amazon is driving widespread deforestation.
  • One such road is on the verge of cutting across the Xingu Socioenvironmental Corridor, posing a serious risk of helping push the Amazon beyond a crucial tipping point.
  • Unprotected public lands account for 25% of the total illegal road network, with experts saying the creation of more protected areas could stem the spread and slow both deforestation and land grabs.
  • Officially sanctioned roads, such as the Trans-Amazonian Highway, also need better planning to minimize their impact and prevent the growth of illegal offshoots, experts say.

The Americas have a long history of occupation based on the destruction of nature and the violent massacre of native peoples, all in the name of a particular idea of “progress.” Brazil’s military dictatorship, which ran from 1964 to 1985, embraced this ideology to the point it had a specific motto — “integrate to not surrender” — for its nationalist project for the Amazon Rainforest. That mindset is still alive in the systemic and uncontrolled spread of unofficial roads in the Amazon, and the extent of this destruction is becoming increasingly clear.

A study by the Brazilian conservation nonprofit Imazon identified 3.46 million kilometers (2.15 million miles) of roads in what’s known as the Legal Amazon, an administrative region that spans the nine Brazilian states located within the Amazon Basin. The researchers estimated that at least 86% of the extent of these roads are unofficial, “built by loggers, goldminers, and unauthorized land settlements from existing official roads.” The sprawling network of roads also means that 41% of the Amazon Rainforest is already cut by roads or lies within 10 km (6 mi) of one.

While two-thirds of the road extent identified in the study is on private properties and settlements, the other third is on public lands. Here, unofficial roads have mushroomed, particularly in public areas without special protection from the government. The roads in these public areas run 854,000 km (531,000 mi), accounting for a quarter of the total in the Amazon.

According to Imazon, roads in these areas point to criminal activities such as illegal logging, mining, and land grabbing. The study also shows that 5% of the road network is inside conservation units, and 3% within Indigenous territories, running a total 280,000 km (174,000 mi) inside these ostensibly protected areas.

“These are arteries of destruction,” study co-author Carlos Souza Jr., an associate researcher at Imazon who coordinates the institute’s Amazon monitoring program, told Mongabay by phone. “The roads are opened to extract wood, and the ramifications spread from the main line, where the trucks and heavy machinery are.” He added the degradation is followed by the occupation of these areas, in what’s become a very familiar pattern in the Amazon.

According to Souza, previous studies estimated the length of official roads at around 80,000 km (nearly 50,000 mi) in the Brazilian Amazon, composed of federal, state and municipal highways and roads in official settlements, all of which are part of the planned infrastructure.

But the official numbers are much lower. The Federal Department for Transport Infrastructure (DNIT) told Mongabay in an email that it acknowledges 23,264 km (14,455 mi) of paved and unpaved roads within the Legal Amazon. That’s a tiny fraction of the more than 3 million km of mostly undocumented roads that Imazon identified in the region.

“Roads created without planning by municipalities, states and the federal government don’t appear on official maps,” Souza said, “but they end up being incorporated into the municipal network, demanding public money for their maintenance.”

The Imazon study, published in July in the journal Remote Sensing, used 2020 images from the Sentinel-2 satellite made available by the European Space Agency. The researchers applied an artificial intelligence algorithm created by Imazon to analyze the images.

Past efforts at making out roads in stacks of satellite images took researchers months of poring over the pictures. This time around, Imazon’s algorithm cut the analysis time to just seven hours, allowing the researchers to focus on the data. Studies using the previous methods had already indicated that the advance of unofficial roads was a driver of deforestation in the Amazon, but the new research will allow scientists to recreate a historical series with data from previous years using the new algorithm for the entire Amazon region.

Souza said mapping and monitoring the spread of roads is crucial to identifying threats to the forest, its people, and traditional communities. Previous studies have already shown that 95% of deforestation happens within 5.5 km (3.4 mi) of a road, and 85% of fires each year occur within 5 km (3.1 mi). Accounting for only the official road network, deforestation would be at least 50 km (31 mi) from the nearest road, and fires 30 km (18.6 mi) away.

“That proves mapping clandestine roads improves deforestation and fire risk prediction models and can be used as a tool to prevent forest destruction,” Souza said. “Monitoring usually looks for deforestation after the forest has already been cut down. If monitoring focuses on roads, the potential to prevent deforestation is huge.”

Souza and the team at Imazon are also building a network to deploy their tool in tropical forests worldwide to map the road footprint in other areas under pressure, such as the Congo Basin and Indonesia. PrevisIA, a deforestation prediction tool, is already using the new database. According to the latest analysis by Imazon, 75% of deforestation occurred within 4 km (2.5 mi) of PrevisIA’s predictions.

Both by length and density (the ratio between the area covered and the length of the road), unofficial roads in the Amazon are concentrated in the states of Mato Grosso, Pará, Tocantins, Maranhão and Rondônia. The data show that the zone known as the “arc of deforestation,” on the southeastern edge of the biome, continues to be the most targeted, but also points to a surge in the south of Amazonas state, western Pará, and the Terra do Meio region in central Pará.

Souza said that while most roads are very well maintained in private areas and with no public access, regulatory bodies such as the DNIT should work with environmental protection agencies to restrict traffic on these roads.

An imminent threat

An example of an illegal road that presents a danger to one of the most extensive contiguous forests in the Amazon was detected by Rede Xingu+, a network of conservation NGOs. The organization spotted an unofficial road running 42.8 km (26.6 mi)  across two important conservation areas: the Terra do Meio Ecological Station and the Iriri State Forest. The road threatens to divide the Xingu Socioenvironmental Corridor, a ​​28-million-hectare (69-million-acre) swath of native forest that’s home to 21 Indigenous territories and nine conservation units.

According to the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), an NGO that advocates for environmental and Indigenous rights, the illegal road starts in a deforestation hub inside the Triunfo do Xingu Environmental Protection Area. From there, it’s on the verge of completing the connection between the municipalities of Novo Progresso and São Felix do Xingu, a center for the illegal timber and gold trades. With just 10 km (6 mi) of forest to cut through in Iriri, the road could soon reach the Curuá River, inside the state forest, completing the connection and slicing right through the Xingu corridor, increasing the vulnerability of its forests dramatically.

“The threat is imminent,” Thaise Rodrigues, a geoprocessing analyst at the ISA, told Mongabay by phone, “and so far we are not aware of any legal action to stop it.” Rede Xingu+ spotted the road for the first time in January this year. Its progress was interrupted for a few months when it reached a mine inside the Terra do Meio Ecological Station. As of May this year, work on the road resumed, and it reached the Iriri State Forest. In July and August, the monitoring showed 575 hectares (1,420 acres) of deforestation around this road.

“When a large mass of forest is broken, it becomes vulnerable. The roads cause fragmentation, which intensifies deforestation,” Rodrigues said. The ISA has criticized both the Pará state and the federal governments for their inaction, given that both are responsible for the protected areas inside the Xingu corridor. The illegal road increases what’s known as the “edge effect,” where areas of forest exposed to clearings such as roads become more vulnerable to threats. And the deforestation wrought by these threats drives the Amazon closer toward a “tipping point,” beyond which the rainforest loses its ability to self-regenerate and devolves into a dry savanna.

According to the ISA, the Xingu corridor holds an estimated 16 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, and its mass of lush vegetation is responsible for generating the “flying rivers” of water vapor that bring rain to the rest of the continent. Splitting up swaths of forest with roads also causes a loss of connectivity, which directly impacts the migration of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, while accelerating the desertification of the soil. The ISA points to another serious risk: opening up the rainforest brings humans closer to the 3,000 known coronavirus species that Amazonian bats carry, making another global pandemic ever more likely.

Near the Iriri State Forest, the Baú Indigenous Territory is already under heavy pressure from mining activities and the deforestation front advancing from the municipality of Novo Progresso.

“The greater the network of roads around and inside protected areas,” Rodrigues said, “the greater the access for the consolidation of such illegal activities.”

She added that unprotected public areas are even more susceptible to land grabs. “The delimitation of protected areas would help, but the public authorities need to show interest in protecting these areas and the communities that live there.”

Imazon’s Souza said the creation of protected areas is the fastest way to contain the spread of these roads, since there’s little chance of land grabbers gaining legal title to the land that’s designated as protected.

“Deforestation is an expensive business,” he said, “and nobody will spend money if there’s no chance of owning that land in the future.” That applies even to areas where roads have already been cut, since that would make them less appealing to speculators.

Official roads are also risks

Experts say Brazil should also rethink the construction of government-built roads. One example is the BR-230, a project conceived under the military dictatorship that’s become a problem child for successive administrations. Construction of the road, known as Trans-Amazonian Highway, began in 1969, and it was inaugurated in 1972 despite not having been completed. Today, it cuts more than 4,000 km (2,500 mi) through the Amazon from Brazil’s northeast coast, with long stretches still unpaved and rendered completely impassable during the rainy season. The combination of cost, logistics, and the inherent difficulty of building colossal infrastructure in the middle of the forest have meant it’s still uncompleted 50 years after its inauguration.

Besides the Trans-Amazonian Highway, there’s the BR-163, which connects Cuiabá, in Mato Grosso, to Santarém, in northern Pará; and the BR-319, from Manaus, in Amazonas, to Porto Velho, in Rondônia. Both are expected to cut across the Brazilian Amazon in different directions. Experts say that despite being officially sanctioned projects, the precarious planning behind them compounds the risks to the region’s environment.

A 2020 study evaluated 75 road projects in the Amazon, including in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, composed of 12,000 km (nearly 7,500 mi) of planned roads. It showed that, if carried out over the next 20 years, the roads would cause the deforestation of 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) of forest. Besides the environmental damage linked, 45% of the projects would also generate economic losses. Canceling these unfeasible projects would save $7.6 billion and 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres) of forests, the study showed.

It also made the case that carefully picking a smaller number of projects could achieve 77% of the economic benefits with only 10% of the socioenvironmental damage.

“Every project will cause environmental damage to some degree,” study co-author Thaís Vilela, a senior economist at the Washington, D.C.-based Conservation Strategy Fund, told Mongabay in an email. “But there is a subset of projects that have a positive financial return with lower environmental and social impacts.”

The research considered variables such as the project’s initial cost, deforestation, ecological relevance of the area, access to schools and health centers, and breaches of environmental regulations.

“Often, decision makers only consider the financial costs and benefits of the project,” Vilela said, “and there are political demands that often do not follow the economic logic.”

The research shows that the economic prospects of a project go from positive to negative when the potential environmental and social impacts are accounted for. To pave 2,234 km (​​1,388 mi) of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, for instance, 561,000 hectares (1.38 million acres) of forest would be destroyed. In terms of the impact on biodiversity, water, carbon storage, and the integrity of protected areas, BR-163, BR-230, and BR-319 would do the most significant damage to the environment, the study found. Paving 496 km (​​308 miles) of BR-163 alone would cause 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

As dire as these figures look, the true extent of the damage would be even greater because of the unofficial roads that would sprout off these main highways, the study authors said. Construction and improvement of these primary roads, they wrote, “might potentially lead to the construction of secondary, tertiary, and even illegal roads in the region, promoting additional impacts.”.

“Unofficial roads usually come from official ones,” Imazon’s Souza said. He blamed poor environmental impact assessments for allowing this proliferation of roads, adding that the major official highways also harm protected areas and Indigenous territories.

“There are areas where roads should not be built, as environmental and social damage would be greater than potential benefits,” Vilela said. “Ideally, the definition of these variables should involve all individuals directly affected by the project.”

The DNIT told Mongabay that its responsibility is limited to federal roads listed in the National Road System database, which doesn’t include unofficial roads. Mongabay also contacted IBAMA, the Brazilian environmental protection agency, and ICMBio, the government institute that oversees protected areas, but didn’t receive any response to requests for comment by the time this story was published.

Citations:

Botelho, J., Costa, S. C., Ribeiro, J. G., & Souza, C. M. (2022). Mapping roads in the Brazilian Amazon with artificial intelligence and Sentinel-2. Remote Sensing, 14(15), 3625. doi:10.3390/rs14153625

Barber, C. P., Cochrane, M. A., Souza Jr, C. M., & Laurance, W. F. (2014). Roads, deforestation, and the mitigating effect of protected areas in the Amazon. Biological Conservation, 177, 203-209. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2014.07.004

Vilela, T., Malky Harb, A., Bruner, A., Laísa da Silva Arruda, V., Ribeiro, V., Auxiliadora Costa Alencar, A., … Botero, R. (2020). A better Amazon road network for people and the environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(13), 7095-7102. doi:10.1073/pnas.1910853117

Amazon rainforest” by CIFOR is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Approval of Deep Sea Mining Test Despite Concerns

Approval of Deep Sea Mining Test Despite Concerns

Editor’s Note: Deep sea mining is being pursued on the pretext of a transition towards a “cleaner” source of energy. This transition is being hailed as “the solution” to all environmental problems by the majority of the environmental movement. The irony of “the solution” to environmental problems being destruction of natural communities seems to be lost on a lot of people.

The International Seabed Authority has been criticized for a lack of transparency and corporate capture by the companies it is supposed to regulate. Given that the organization is expected to be funded from mining royalties, it may not come as a surprise that it has prioritized the interests of corporations above the preservation of the deep sea. Despite numerous concerns raised about Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (NORI)’s environmental impact statement, the ISA gave permission to NORI to begin exploratory mining. NORI’s vessel, The Hidden Gem, is currently extracting polymetallic nodules from the seafloor in the Clarion Clipperton Zone. This exploratory mining will cause tremendous harm itself, but it is also a big step towards opening the gates to large-scale commercial exploitation of the deep sea. To help stop this, get organized, become a Deep Sea Defender.


By Elizabeth Claire Alberts/Mongabay

  • The International Seabed Authority (ISA), the intergovernmental body responsible for overseeing deep sea mining operations and for protecting the ocean, recently granted approval for a mining trial to commence in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Pacific Ocean.
  • The company undertaking this trial is Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI), a subsidiary of Canadian-owned The Metals Company (TMC), which is aiming to start annually extracting 1.3 million metric tons of polymetallic nodules from the CCZ as early as 2024.
  • The approval for this mining test, the first of its kind since the 1970s, was first announced by TMC earlier this week.
  • Mining opponents said the ruling took them by surprise and they feared it would pave the way for exploitation to begin in the near future, despite growing concerns about the safety and necessity of deep sea mining.

On Sept. 14, the Hidden Gem — an industrial drill ship operated by a subsidiary of The Metals Company (TMC), a Canadian deep sea mining corporation — left its port in Manzanillo, Mexico. From there, it headed toward the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a vast abyssal plain in international waters of the Pacific Ocean that stretches over 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles) across the deep sea, roughly equivalent in size to half of Canada.

The goal of TMC’s expedition is to test its mining equipment that will vacuum up polymetallic nodules, potato-shaped rocks formed over millions of years. The nodules contain commercially coveted minerals like cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese. TMC, a publicly traded company listed on the Nasdaq exchange, announced that it aims to collect 3,600 metric tons of these nodules during this test period.

This operation came as a surprise to opponents of deep-sea mining, mainly because of the stealth with which they said the International Seabed Authority (ISA) — the UN-affiliated intergovernmental body dually responsible for overseeing mining in international waters and for protecting the deep sea — authorized TMC to commence the trial.

It is the first such trial the ISA has authorized after years of debate over whether it should permit deep-sea mining to commence in international waters, and if so, under what conditions. News of the authorization did not come initially from the ISA, but from TMC itself in a press release dated September 7. The ISA eventually posted its own statement on Sept. 15, more than a week after TMC’s announcement. It is not clear when the ISA granted the authorization.

“We’ve been caught off guard by this,” Arlo Hemphill, a senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, an organization campaigning to prevent deep sea mining operations, told Mongabay in an interview. “There’s been little time for us to react.”

deep-sea
A tripod fish observed in the deep-sea. Image by NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Mounting concerns, sudden actions

Several weeks ago, in July and August, delegates to the ISA met in Kingston, Jamaica, to discuss how, when and if deep sea mining could begin. In July 2021, discussions acquired a sense of urgency when the Pacific island state of Nauru triggered an arcane rule embedded in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that could obligate the ISA to kick-start exploitation in about two years with whatever rules are in place at the time. Nauru is the sponsor of Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI), a subsidiary of TMC that is undertaking the tests. TMC told Mongabay that it expects to apply for its exploitation license in 2023, and if approved by the ISA, to begin mining towards the end of 2024.

The ISA subsequently scheduled a series of meetings to accelerate the development of mining regulations, but has yet to adopt a final set of rules.

The delay is due, in part, to the increasing number of states and observers from civil society raising concerns about the safety and necessity of deep sea mining. Some member states, including Palau, Fiji and Samoa, have even called for a moratorium on deep sea mining until more is understood about the marine environment that companies want to exploit. Other concerns hinge upon an environmental impact statement (EIS) that NORI had to submit in order for mining to begin.

NORI submitted an initial draft of its EIS in July 2021, as per ISA requirements, and an updated version in March 2022.

Matt Gianni, a political and policy adviser for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), a group of environmental NGOs calling for NORI’s testing approval to be rescinded, said that the ISA’s Legal and Technical Commission (LTC) — the organ responsible for issuing mining licenses — previously cited “serious concerns” about NORI’s EIS, including the fact that it lacked baseline environmental data. The LTC had also raised concerns about the comprehensiveness of the group’s Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan (EMMP), he said.

But then, “all of a sudden,” the LTC granted approval for the mining test without first consulting ISA council members, said Gianni, who acts as an observer at ISA meetings.

The fact that TMC announced the decision before the ISA did “reinforces the impression that it’s the contractor and the LTC and the [ISA] secretariat that are driving the agenda, and states are following along,” Gianni said.

Harald Brekke, chair of the LTC, sent Mongabay a statement similarly worded to the recent announcement made by the ISA. He said that the LTC had reviewed NORI’s EIS and EMMP for “completeness, accuracy and statistical reliability,” and that an internal working group had worked closely with NORI to address concerns. In response, the mining group adequately dealt with the issues, which allowed the LTC to approve the proposed testing activities, he said.

“This is a normal contract procedure between the [ISA] Secretary-General and the Contractor, on the advice and recommendations by the [Legal and Technical] Commission,” Brekke said in the emailed statement. “It is not a decision to be made by the [ISA] Council. According to the normal procedure of ISA, the details of this process will be [communicated] by the Chair of the Commission to the Council at its session in November.”

“I also would like to point out that this procedure has followed the regulations and guidelines of ISA,” Brekke added, “which are implemented to take care of the possible environmental impacts of this kind of exploration activity.”

Yet Gianni said he did not believe the LTC had satisfactorily reviewed the EIS for its full potential of environmental impact, nor had it considered the “serious harmful effects on vulnerable marine ecosystems” as required under the ISA’s own exploration regulations for polymetallic nodules.

Questions about transparency

Sandor Mulsow, who worked as the director of environment and minerals at the ISA between 2013 and 2019, said that the ISA “is not fit to carry out an analysis of environmental impact assessment” and that the grounds on which the ISA authorized NORI to begin testing were questionable.

“Unfortunately, the [International] Seabed Authority is pro-mining,” Mulsow, who now works as a professor at Universidad Austral de Chile, said in an interview with Mongabay. “They’re not complying with the role of protecting the common heritage of humankind.”

A recent investigation by the New York Times revealed that the ISA gave TMC critical information over a 15-year period that allowed the company to access some of the most valuable seabed areas marked for mining, giving it an unfair advantage over other contractors.

The ISA has also frequently been criticized for its lack of transparency, including the fact that the LTC meets behind closed doors and provides few details about why it approves mining proposals. The ISA has previously granted dozens of exploratory mining licenses to contractors, although none have yet received an exploitation license. While NORI is not technically undertaking exploratory mining in this instance, their testing of mining equipment falls under exploration regulations.

Mongabay reported that transparency issues were even prominent during the ISA meetings that took place in July and August this year, including restrictions on participation and limited access to key information for civil society members.

The ISA did not respond to questions posed by Mongabay, instead deferring to the statement from Brekke, the LTC chair.

A sea cucumber
A sea cucumber seen at 5,100 meters (3.2 miles) depth on abyssal sediments in the western Clarion-Clipperton Zone. Image by DeepCCZ expedition/NOAA via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

‘Full-blown mining in test form’

During the mining trial set to take place in the CCZ — which could begin as early as next week — NORI will be testing out its nodule collector vehicles and riser systems that will draw the nodules about 3,000 meters (9,840 feet) from the seabed to the surface. If NORI does begin exploitation in 2024, Gianni said the risers will be pumping about 10,000 metric tons of nodules up to a ship per day.

“That’s a hell of a lot,” Gianni said. “This is heavy duty machinery. This is piping that has to withstand considerable pressure.”

NORI intends to extract 1.3 million metric tons of wet nodules each year in the exploitation stage of its operation, TMC reported.

The Metals Company argues that this mining will provide minerals necessary to power a global shift toward clean energy. Indeed, demand for such minerals is growing as nations urge consumers to take up electric vehicles in an effort to combat climate change.

Mining opponents, however, have argued that renewable technologies like electric cars don’t actually need the minerals procured from mining.

Moreover, a growing cadre of scientists have been warning against the dangers of deep sea mining, arguing that we don’t know enough about deep sea environments to destroy them. What we do know about the deep sea suggests that mining could have far-reaching consequences, such as disturbing phytoplankton blooms at the sea’s surface, introducing toxic metals into marine food webs, and dispersing mining waste over long distances across the ocean — far enough to affect distant fisheries and delicate ecosystems like coral reefs and seamounts.

“Every time somebody goes and collects some sample in that area of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, there’s a new species coming up,” Mulsow said. “We don’t know how to name them, and we want to destroy them.”

TMC has stated that the testing activities will be monitored by “independent scientists from a dozen leading research institutions around the world.”

However, Hemphill of Greenpeace, who also has ISA observer status, questions whether the monitoring process will be unbiased.

“We’re thinking there’s a high chance that these risers might not work,” he said. “But if there’s not a third party observer out there, then we just have to rely on The Metals Company’s own recording.”

“It’s going to be basically a full-blown mining operation in test form, where they’re not only using the [collector] equipment, but they’re using the risers to bring the nodules to the surface,” Hemphill added.

Nodule collection trials like the one NORI is undertaking haven’t been conducted in the CCZ since the 1970s, TMC noted in its press release.

When Mongabay reached out to TMC for further information about its operation, a spokesperson for the company said that they “believe that polymetallic nodules are a compelling solution to the critical mineral supply challenges facing society in our transition away from fossil fuels.”

“While concern is justified as to the potential impacts of any source of metals — whether from land or sea — significant attention has been paid to mitigate these, including by setting aside more area for protection than is under license in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean,” the TMC spokesperson said.

‘No way back’

Mulsow said he was sure that this trial would pave the way for exploitation to start next year, not only giving TMC’s NORI access to the deep sea’s resources, but opening the gates for other contractors to begin similar operations.

“[In June] 2023, we will have … the application for the first mining license for the deep sea,” he said, “and then there will be no way back.”

Hemphill said he also feared the move would set a process into motion for mining to start next year — but added that Greenpeace would continue its fight to stop mining.

“We’re not giving up just because the two-year rule comes to pass,” he said. “And then if things get started, we’re in this for the long haul.”

Gianni said he was hopeful that the dynamic could also change at the next ISA meeting scheduled for November, in which delegates will get the chance to discuss whether they’re obligated to approve the start of mining the following year.

“The fact that the LTC has done this … may finally get council members to start saying, ‘Wait a minute, we need to bring this renegade fiefdom [at] the heart of the ISA structure under control,” Gianni said, “because they’re going off and deciding things in spite of all the reservations that are being expressed by the countries that are members of the ISA.”


Featured image and all other images, unless mentioned otherwise, were provided by Julia Barnes.

Damming Mekong: What It Means for Fishing Communities?

Damming Mekong: What It Means for Fishing Communities?

Editor’s Note: Development projects have always destroyed local ways of living and nonhuman communities. Numerous examples attest to that. The government of Cambodia need not look very far. The Lower Sesan 2 dam it built despite resistance has collectively been decried by national and international organizations for numerous human rights and indigenous rights violations. The government of Cambodia itself placed a ten-year ban on damming Mekong in 2020. Despite this, the government has permitted the group responsible for Lower Sesan 2 to conduct geological studies for building the Stung Treng dam along Mekong river. Previous studies have already outlined the devastating effects it can have on the fisher communities.

It is no surprise that states prioritize profits over local communities in their decision making process. Organized political resistance is required for the local communities to stand a chance against such decisions that hughly impact their lives.


By Gerald Flynn and Nehru Pry/Mongabay

  • Cambodian authorities have greenlit studies for a major hydropower dam on the Mekong River in Stung Treng province, despite a ban on dam building on the river that’s been in place since 2020.
  • Plans for the 1,400-megawatt Stung Treng dam have been around since 2007, but the project, under various would-be developers, has repeatedly been shelved over criticism of its impacts.
  • This time around, the project is being championed by Royal Group, a politically connected conglomerate that was also behind the hugely controversial Lower Sesan 2 dam on a tributary of the Mekong, prompting fears among local communities and experts alike.
  • This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network where Gerald Flynn is a fellow.

STUNG TRENG, Cambodia — A long-dormant plan to build a mega dam on the mainstream of the Mekong River in Cambodia’s northeastern Stung Treng province appears to have been revived this year, leaving locals immediately downstream of the potential sites worried and experts confounded.

First studied in 2007, the 1,400-megawatt hydropower project, known as the Stung Treng dam, has reared its head in many forms, only to be canceled or scrapped. Finally, in 2020, Cambodia’s government announced a 10-year ban on damming the Mekong River’s mainstream, placing the Stung Treng dam and others on indefinite life support.

However, on Dec. 29, 2021, Royal Group — arguably Cambodia’s largest and best-connected conglomerate — wrote to the government, requesting permission to conduct a six-month feasibility study across a number of sites along the Mekong in a bid to revive the long-sought-after hydropower project.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy approved, and Stung Treng Governor Svay Sam Eang ordered district governors to cooperate with SBK Research and Development, a Phnom Penh-based consultancy hired by Royal Group, while they analyzed three sites for the dam between January and June 2022.

All the sites that SBK analyzed sit within or would affect the Stung Treng Ramsar site, a wetland of ecological significance that’s supposed to be protected by the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty to which Cambodia became a signatory in 1999.

Spanning some 14,600 hectares (36,100 acres), the Stung Treng Ramsar site stretches 40 kilometers (25 miles) up from the confluence of the Mekong and Sekong rivers, almost to the Laos-Cambodia border. It’s home to the white-shouldered Ibis (Pseudibis davisoni) and giant Mekong catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), both critically endangered species, and the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), which is globally endangered but whose Mekong population is considered critically endangered.

Royal Group's Stung Treng dam locator map
Sites analyzed by SBK Consultants for Royal Group’s Stung Treng dam. Map by Gerald Flynn/Mongabay.

‘We protested … it made no difference’

The Stung Treng dam has been the subject of many studies that have amounted to very little, first in 2007 by Bureyagesstroy, a subsidiary of Russian state-owned enterprise RusHydro. More than two years later, when it became apparent Russia wasn’t going ahead with the dam, Vietnamese state-owned enterprise Song Da also conducted studies.

The volleys of criticism that each study provoked has seen the Stung Treng dam shelved repeatedly. A 2012 study by the Cambodian Fisheries Administration’s Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute found the Stung Treng dam would reduce aquatic food yields by 6% and 24% by 2030. This, the government’s own researchers warned, would lead to increased malnutrition and worse public health outcomes, especially among poorer, rural communities.

WWF’s Greater Mekong program then published an extensive brief in 2018 reiterating the threats posed by the Stung Treng dam to fisheries, agriculture, ecosystems and biodiversity.

By then, however, many of these fears had already been realized in the form of the Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam.

Also located in Stung Treng province, roughly 30 km (19 mi) from the Ramsar site, the Lower Sesan 2 was approved in 2012 before going online in 2018 after a tumultuous series of studies throughout the 1990s. Following funding issues, Royal Group stepped in as a financier to save the project, but this didn’t stop the Lower Sesan 2 from rapidly becoming emblematic of the numerous problems associated with dams on the Mekong and its tributaries.

Even now, nearly four years after the dam’s completion, pro-government Cambodian and Chinese outlets continue attempting to resuscitate the Lower Sesan 2’s image, which was tarnished by the sheer scale of human suffering and environmental degradation it’s been linked to.

The Stung Treng Ramsar site could be compromised by Cambodia's hydropower ambitions
The Stung Treng Ramsar site could be compromised by Cambodia’s hydropower ambitions. Image by Gerald Flynn/Mongabay.

Royal Group maintains the dam is a success and says the project supplied 20% of Cambodia’s energy demands in 2020. But before the project was even finished, it came under fire from the United Nations, numerous NGOs both international and domestic, as well as thousands of affected residents displaced by the dam’s 30,000-hectare (74,000-acre) reservoir.

Since the dam’s completion, Human Rights Watch has branded the Lower Sesan 2 “a disaster” in a 137-page report released last year, calling the dam’s developers responsible for multiple human rights violations, abuses against Indigenous peoples, and a drastic decline in fisheries, along with failing to actually live up to its projected power generation targets.

Haunted by the Lower Sesan 2, the residents of the Stung Treng Ramsar site’s islands were deeply concerned when they saw SBK Research and Development engaged in geological studies and learned the prospect of the Stung Treng dam had returned again.

“The local authorities came round at the start of the year,” says Mao Sareth, chief of the Koh Khan Din fishing community in the south of the Stung Treng Ramsar site. “They told us they want to build a dam that’ll be 7 meters [23 feet] high and will affect 163 families — it’s going to be huge, 1,400 MW, that’s what they told me.”

Mao Sareth, chief of the Koh Khan Din fishing community in the south of the Stung Treng Ramsar site
Mao Sareth, chief of the Koh Khan Din fishing community in the south of the Stung Treng Ramsar site. Image by Nehru Pry/Mongabay.

Sareth is reluctant to discuss the details of the proposed dam, hinting that people have warned him against discussing the project with journalists. But for the 72-year-old, the number of families who would be affected if the Stung Treng dam goes ahead would be much higher than what SBK’s consultants suggested, although the consequences for each island would vary depending on whether the dam was built up or downstream of their community.

“There are 144 families in our village alone, with plenty more spread across the islands and there are hundreds of islands here, full of people who farm and fish,” Sareth says. “Of course we’d be affected if they build the dam, lots of communities would be flooded, everyone relies on agriculture here, the dam would destroy our crops.”

Already at the mercy of water released or withheld by dams upstream in Laos, Sareth says his community exists in a fragile balance, eking out an existence that hinges on access to fish from the water and crops nourished by it. The Stung Treng Ramsar site’s ecosystem, he says, has held the community together, with only seven families leaving last year to find day-laborer work in Thailand.

“Most people try to stay and find a new market for their crops,” Sareth says. “They can take food from the river — they can survive here.”

But Sareth is no stranger to defeat at the hands of hydropower developers, and knows that if the government decides to break its own ban on Mekong dam building, then it will be his community that suffers.

“We protested the Don Sahong dam in Laos because we knew it would hurt our people, our livelihoods, but our protests made no difference — they finished the dam anyway,” he says. “Then we protested the Lower Sesan 2 dam, but again, it made no difference, we had no results, only losses. We lost so much when they opened the water gates, crops, livelihoods, everything.”

Life on the Mekong River is changing and residents struggle to keep up
Life on the Mekong River is changing and residents struggle to keep up. Image by Nehru Pry/Mongabay.

Dammed and damned

Meanwhile, 12 km (7.5 mi) further upstream, the ecotourism and fishing communities on the island of Koh Snaeng say they fear a way of life could be erased by new hydropower projects.

Fifty-two-year-old Lim Sai is one of the estimated 1,000 people living across the four villages that make up Koh Snaeng, which straddles the Mekong within the heart of the Stung Treng Ramsar site, roughly 30 km from the Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam.

“In general, we know if we protest, we’ll face consequences, we know there’ll be problems — maybe even lawsuits,” Sai says. “You can get sued for speaking out, so if the government doesn’t see the dams as a problem, then ordinary people like us have no tools to affect our future.”

Sai is a lifelong resident of the island and has seen it adapt in the face of an uncertain future. Koh Snaeng residents pivoted from fishing to farming when the first dams further upstream in Laos and China began to change the flow of the river upon which the island is situated. Then, as the climate crisis intensified and Cambodia’s rains became less reliable, residents again shifted their focus, this time to ecotourism.

Throughout these changes, Sai has worked in local government. But despite this role, he says his community has been largely ignored by the national authorities.

“They [the national government] only built a road connecting National Road 7 to the ferry that brings people to Koh Snaeng last year, we’ve been asking for one for around decades,” he says by way of example. “Maybe it was because we had the commune elections coming up this year and they knew we wouldn’t support them.”

Sai says the island is still very much reliant on the river and that he feels the latest hydropower study hasn’t factored his community into the decision.

Residents from Koh Khan Din were invited to a meeting in the Cambodian capital where representatives of Royal Group discussed the matter of relocation and compensation in June, but Sai says he only found out about this through others.

“The dam would have a huge impact, not just here, but all the way down to Phnom Penh, even in Vietnam — it would affect the water flows all the way downriver,” Sai says.

Lim Sai has seen Koh Snaeng pivot to ecotourism as fishing and farming become less reliable on the Mekong
Lim Sai has seen Koh Snaeng pivot to ecotourism as fishing and farming become less reliable on the Mekong. Image by Nehru Pry/Mongabay.

Ma Chantha, 29, serves as the deputy of Koh Snaeng’s tourism community and says that when residents saw SBK’s consultants drilling samples from the riverbed earlier this year, they came to her with their fears.

“People are very worried, they think they’ll lose their houses to floodwaters or be displaced,” she says, noting that the community-based ecotourism project spans both Koh Snaeng and the neighboring island of Koh Han, with roughly 2,750 residents participating in the project since its inception in 2016.

Chantha says NGOs are taking an interest in protesting the planned dam, adding that a festival to celebrate the islands’ ecotourism value was held in June and that the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center is currently putting together a documentary about the islanders who call the Stung Treng Ramsar site home.

“We hope the video and the campaign are successful, or helpful at least, in stopping hydropower construction here, because people will see that there are ecotourism destinations worth protecting here,” Chantha says. “This kind of advocacy has given the people here a chance to stand up for their communities, I hope that makes people change their mind about building the dam here.”

"People are very worried" says Ma Chantha, who depends on ecotourism on Koh Snaeng
“People are very worried” says Ma Chantha, who depends on ecotourism on Koh Snaeng. Image by Nehru Pry/Mongabay.

Conflicting narratives

But while communities rally to stop the Stung Treng dam, there is little clarity over whether the project will go ahead. In March, government-aligned outlet The Phnom Penh Post reported that the dam had been “okayed in principle,” but offered little beyond the approval for the feasibility study to substantiate this.

Chantha and Sai of Koh Snaeng, as well as Sareth of Koh Khan Din, all agreed that they had been told in recent months that the project wouldn’t be going ahead, although none could provide any documents to verify this either.

“I’m happy if they really canceled it,” Sai says. “Then we can continue to use the river for fishing and tourism, but I only believe in the cancelation about 40% and even if they cancel it now, it could always happen later.”

Chantha says there’s been no official announcement of cancellation and that it may just be rumors spreading among hopeful residents. Sareth says a letter from August 2022 issued by the Ministry of Environment confirms the cancelation, but couldn’t produce the letter to show Mongabay by the time this story was published. Still, he says he’s confident it exists.

When questioned about the dam and the supposed cancellation, environment ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra denied having any information. Srey Sunleang, a senior ministry official responsible for freshwater wetlands and Ramsar sites, declined to comment.

Heng Kunleang, director of the Department of Energy at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, did not respond to questions sent by email, while Khnhel Bora, director of SBK Research and Development, says he’s also unaware of any cancellation.

Representatives of Royal Group, the conglomerate developing the dam, also did not comment for this story. The company will reportedly build the Stung Treng dam in partnership with China (Cambodia) Rich International, a company registered in Phnom Penh whose directors are all also key figures within Royal Group: Cambodian tycoon Kith Meng, Royal Group’s chief financial officer Mark Hanna, and chief of Royal Group’s energy division Thomas Pianka.

Hanna and Pianka did not respond to questions sent via email, while Kith Meng, who is also president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce and an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, could not be reached for comment.

Royal Group’s track record on developing dams is so far limited to the 400-MW Lower Sesan 2, which was a joint venture with China’s state-owned Hydrolancang International Energy and Vietnam’s state-owned electricity utility, EVN International. In this partnership, Royal Group is believed to have been responsible for financing, rather than building, the dam.

The fate of Koh Snaeng and the Stung Treng Ramsar site remains unclear
The fate of Koh Snaeng and the Stung Treng Ramsar site remains unclear. Image by Gerald Flynn/Mongabay.

‘Beginning of the end’

Ian Baird, a professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin who specializes in studying hydropower development across Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, says he’s heard rumors of the Stung Treng dam project being resurrected. While it remains unclear exactly what would be built or where and how, he says, the project is a significant threat to the Mekong region.

“The Ramsar Convention is quite weak as governments can really do as they please in Ramsar sites, but Cambodia has been more responsive to international conventions than its neighbors and historically more concerned than others about international criticism, compared with Laos or Vietnam,” Baird says, pointing to Cambodia’s 2020 moratorium on Mekong dam building — a move that other Mekong Basin countries have not followed.

“But this is one of the reasons why exposing the problems related to the Lower Sesan 2 is very critical, because it’s the same developers,” Baird says, adding he’d hoped the failings of Royal Group’s first hydropower project would ward the government off from approving another.

If the Stung Treng dam gets the go-ahead, Baird says it would be more damaging than the controversial Don Sahong dam and the Xayaburi dam — both on the mainstream of the Mekong in Laos — and more significant than the soon-to-be-completed Sekong A dam on the Laotian stretch of the Sekong River, a key tributary that flows from Vietnam, through Laos and into the Mekong River in Cambodia.

“There’s a lot of reason for concern here, if it goes ahead, well – it’s the beginning of the end,” Baird says. “The Mekong is dying a death by a thousand cuts, I’ve watched it for years, and honestly, it’s sad, but what can you do?”

Residents point to Royal Group’s history in Stung Treng province as a reason to be fearful, adding that a new, significantly larger hydropower project could have even wider-reaching impacts.

“I don’t know what I’ll do if they go ahead with it,” says Sai from Koh Snaeng.


Featured image: A lone boat heads up the Mekong River through the Stung Treng Ramsar site. Image by Gerald Flynn/Mongabay.

Fallen 200: Land Defenders Murdered in 2021

Fallen 200: Land Defenders Murdered in 2021

Editor’s note: Land defenders, especially indigenous land defenders, are at risk across the world, more so in some places than others. In their fight to protect their communities and their land, they directly confront structures of power, challenging the powerful’s sense of entitlement. In order to maintain the status quo, the powerful employ any means necessary to silence the resistors. In some places, this may take the form of political and legal attack, in others, this may lead to murder. Either way, the objective of such repression is not merely to silence one voice, but to set an example, to shut down those hundreds of voices which may have been raised in resistance. This strategy has been used through history.

Even so, resistance lives on. Where the repression becomes strong, defenders find new ways to adapt to their political situation and to continue fighting the powerful. Statistics say that one land defender is killed every two days. While it is necessary to hold the states accountable for these unlawful killings, it is also important for defenders to take measures to protect themselves. This may include being familiar with the laws of one’s region, or to learn self-defense, or whatever is appropriate for one’s situation. Following rules of security culture may help in increasing security for defenders.


“I could tell you that, around the world, three people are killed every week while trying to protect their land, their environment, from extractive forces. I could tell you that this has been going on for decades, with the numbers killed in recent years hitting over 200 each year. And I could tell you, as this report does, that a further 200 defenders were murdered in the last year alone. But these numbers are not made real until you hear some of the names of those who died.” – Dr. Vandana Shiva

“This story was originally published by Grist. You can subscribe to its weekly newsletter here.”

By Joseph Lee/Grist

In Brazil, two Yanomami children drowned after getting sucked into a dredging machine used by illegal gold miners. A 14 year old Pataxó child was shot in the head during a conflict over land in the northeastern Bahia state. A Guarani Kaiowá person was killed by military police during a clash over a farm the Guarani had reclaimed from settlers. “There has been an increase in the amount of conflict – socio and environmental conflict – in our lands,” said Dinamam Tuxá, of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), Brazil’s largest coalition of Indigenous groups. ”It’s destroying communities and it’s destroying our forests.”

Between 2011 and 2021, at least 342 land defenders were killed in Brazil – more than any other country – and roughly a third of those murdered were Indigenous or Afro-descendant. That’s according to a new report by Global Witness, an international human rights group, that documents over 1,700 killings of land and environment defenders globally during the same time period. The report says that on average, a land defender is killed every other day, but suggests that those numbers are likely an undercount and paints a grim picture of violence directed at communities fighting resource extraction, land grabs, and climate change.

“We will continue to protest, we will continue to show up.” -Dinamam Tuxá, APIB

“All over the world, Indigenous peoples, environmental activists, and other land and environmental defenders risk their lives for the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss,” reads the report. “They play a crucial role as a first line of defense against ecological collapse, yet are under attack themselves facing violence, criminalisation and harassment perpetuated by repressive governments and companies prioritizing profit over human and environmental harm.”

After Brazil, the Philippines and Colombia recorded the most killings: 270 and 322, respectively. Together all three countries make up more than half of the attacks recorded in the global report.

In the Philippines, Indigenous and local environmental activists have been fighting huge infrastructure projects like the Kaliwa Dam and the Oceana Gold Mine, both of which Indigenous leaders say threaten their land and the environment. According to Global Witness, over 40% of the defenders killed in the Philippines were Indigenous peoples.

“It’s clear that the government has not taken this crisis seriously,” said Jon Bonifacio, national coordinator at Palikasan People’s Network for the Environment. “This statistic has not been recognized in any way by the Philippine government, despite the crucial role environmental defenders play in the fight against climate change.”

According to Global Witness, those statistics are uncertain due to a lack of free press and other independent monitoring systems around the world and other types of violence are also not counted in the report. “We know that beyond killings, many defenders and communities also experience attempts to silence them, with tactics like death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, or criminalization – and that these kinds of attacks are even less well reported,” Global Witness said.

An April report from the nonprofit Business and Human Rights Resource Centre documented some of those other tactics, tracking 3,800 attacks, including killings, beatings, and death threats, against land defenders since January 2015. But even those numbers aren’t the complete picture. “We know the problem is much more severe than these figures indicate,” Christen Dobson, senior program manager for the BHRRC and an author of the report said at the time.

The Global Witness report’s authors say governments should enforce laws that already protect land defenders, pass new laws if necessary, and hold companies to international human rights standards. Global Witness also says companies should respect international human rights like free, prior, and informed consent, implement zero-tolerance policies for attacks on land defenders, and adopt a rights-based approach to combating climate change. The report specifically calls on the European Union to strengthen its proposed corporate sustainability due diligence law by adding a climate framework and more accountability measures for financial institutions.

While international advocacy offers some hope for Indigenous leaders on the front lines, those leaders also know that they have to keep fighting to protect their land, lives, and environment. In Brazil, resistance to Indigenous land demarcation and advocacy for resource extraction in the Amazon pushed by President Jair Bolsonaro, has led to record deforestation in the Amazon since he took office in 2019. Dinamam Tuxá and other Indigenous leaders in Brazil are hopeful that the upcoming presidential election may lead to change, but remain skeptical. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president and current leading candidate, has promised better treatment for Indigenous peoples in Brazil but Tuxá says that Indigenous peoples cannot rest all their hopes on politicians.

“President Lula would not solve the problems of Indigenous peoples,” Tuxá said. “Regardless of who gets elected we will continue to protest, we will continue to show up.”


Names of environmentalists murdered in 2021, by country

By Elisabeth Schneiter / Facebook

“Joannah Stutchbury loved trees, practiced permaculture, was an environmentalist, and bravely advocated for the environment, with a fiery and unwavering passion.” And she was wonderfully crazy and full of life and joy to be alive. She was shot dead on her way home in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, in July 2021. “

Argentina

  1. Elías Garay

Bolivia

  1. Lino Peña Vaca

Brazil

  1. Aldenir dos Santos Macedo
  2. Alex Barros Santos da Silva
  3. Amaral José Stoco Rodrigues
  4. Amarildo Aparecido Rodrigues
  5. Ângelo Venicius Henrique Mozer
  6. Antônio Gonçalves Diniz
  7. Eliseu Pedroso
  8. F.S.S.
  9. Fernando dos Santos Araújo
  10. Getúlio Coutinho dos Santos
  11. Isac Tembé
  12. Jerlei
  13. João de Deus Moreira Rodrigues
  14. José do Carmo Corrêa Júnior
  15. José Francisco de Souza Araújo
  16. José Vane Guajajara
  17. Kevin Fernando Holanda de Souza
  18. Marcelo Chaves Ferreira
  19. Maria da Luz Benício de Sousa
  20. Maria José Rodrigues
  21. Rafael Gasparini Tedesco
  22. Reginaldo Alves Barros
  23. Roberto Muniz Campista
  24. Roberto Pereira da Silva Pandolfe
  25. Sidinei Floriano Da Silva
  26. Wagner Romão da Silva

Chile

  1. Jordan Liempi Machacan

Colombia

  1. Ángel Miro Cartagena
  2. Argenis Yatacué
  3. Aura Esther García Peñalver
  4. Cristian Torres Cifuentes
  5. Danilo Torres
  6. Dilio Bailarín
  7. Edwin Antonio Indaburo
  8. Efrén España
  9. Fermiliano Meneses Hoyos
  10. Fredy Pestana Herrera
  11. Gonzalo Cardona Molina
  12. Ilia Pilcué Yule
  13. Jaime Enrique Basilio Basilio
  14. Jair Adán Roldán Morales
  15. Jhon Alberto Pascal
  16. Jhon Edward Martinez
  17. John Albeiro Paí Pascal
  18. José Riascos
  19. José Santos López
  20. Juana Panesso Dumasá
  21. Luis Alfonso Narváez Escobar
  22. Marcelino Yatacué Ipia
  23. Marcos Fidel Camayo Guetio
  24. Nazaria Calambás Tunubalá
  25. Noel Corsini Zúñiga
  26. Rafael Domicó Carupia
  27. Remberto Arrieta Bohórquez
  28. Rogelio López Figueroa
  29. Sandra Liliana Peña Chocué
  30. Víctor Orlando Mosquera
  31. Wilson de Jesús López
  32. Yarley Margarito Salas
  33. Yordan Eduardo Guetio

Democratic Republic of Congo

  1. Alexis Kamate Mundunaenda
  2. Emery Bizimana Karabaranga
  3. Eric Kibanja Bashekere
  4. Etienne Mutazimiza Kanyaruchinya
  5. Innocent Paluku Budoyi
  6. Prince Nzabonimpa Ntamakiriro
  7. Reagan Maneno Kataghalirwa
  8. Surumwe Burhani Abdou

Ecuador

  1. Andrés Durazno
  2. Nange Yeti
  3. Víctor Enrique Guaillas Gutama

Gabon

  1. Jean François Ndong Abaume

Guatemala

  1. Alberto Tec Caal
  2. Emilio Aguilar Jiménez
  3. Ramón Jiménez
  4. Regilson Choc Cac

Honduras

  1. Celenia Bonilla
  2. David Fernando Padilla
  3. Juan Carlos Cerros Escalante
  4. Juan Manuel Moncada
  5. Martín Abad Pandy
  6. Nelson García
  7. Óscar Javier Pérez
  8. Víctor Martínez

India

  1. Kawasi Waga
  2. Daljeet Singh
  3. Gurvinder Singh
  4. Lavepreet Singh
  5. Maynal Haque
  6. Nakshatra Singh
  7. Saddam Husaain
  8. Sheikh Farid
  9. Stan Swamy
  10. T Shridhar
  11. Uika Pandu
  12. Ursa Bhima
  13. Venkatesh S
  14. Vipin Agarwal

Kenya

  1. Joannah Stutchbury

Mexico

  1. Alejandro García Zagal
  2. Artemio Arballo Canizalez
  3. Benjamín Pórtela Peralta
  4. Braulio Pérez Sol
  5. Carlos Marqués Oyorzábal
  6. David Díaz Valdez
  7. Donato Bautista Avendaño
  8. Fabián Sombra Miranda
  9. Fabián Valencia Romero
  10. Federico de Jesús Gutiérrez
  11. Fidel Heras Cruz
  12. Flor de Jesús Hernández
  13. Gerardo Mendoza Reyes
  14. Gustavo Acosta Hurtado
  15. Heladio Molina Zavala
  16. Irma Galindo Barrios
  17. Isaías Elacio Palma
  18. Isidoro Hernández
  19. Jacinto Hernández Quiroz
  20. Jaime Jiménez Ruiz
  21. Jesús Solórzano Díaz
  22. Jordán Terjiño Luna
  23. José Ascensión Carrillo Vázquez
  24. José de Jesús Robledo Cruz
  25. José de Jesús Sánchez García
  26. José Santos Isaac Chávez
  27. Juan Justino Galaviz Cruz
  28. Lea Juárez Valenzuela
  29. Leobardo Hernández Regino
  30. Leocadio Galaviz Cruz
  31. Luis Urbano Domínguez Mendoza
  32. Manuel Cartas Pérez
  33. Manuel Hidalgo Vázquez
  34. Marcelino Álvarez González
  35. Marco Antonio Arcos Fuentes
  36. Marco Antonio Jiménez de la Torre
  37. Marcos Quiroz Riaño
  38. María de Jesús Gómez Vega
  39. Martín Hurtado Flores
  40. Mayolo Quiroz Barrios
  41. Miguel Bautista Avendaño
  42. Narciso López Vasquez
  43. Noé Robles Cruz
  44. Oliverio Martínez Merino
  45. Pedro Lunez Pérez
  46. Ramiro Rodríguez Santiz
  47. Ramiro Ventura Apolonio
  48. Raymundo Robles Riaño
  49. Rodrigo Morales Vázquez
  50. Rolando Pérez González
  51. Simón Pedro Pérez López
  52. Tomás Rojo Valencia
  53. Vicente Suástegui Muñoz
  54. Víctor Manuel Vázquez de la Torre

Nicaragua

  1. Albert Jairo Hernández Palacio
  2. Armando Pérez Medina
  3. Armando Suarez Matamoros
  4. Bonifacio Dixon Francis
  5. Borlan Gutiérrez Empra
  6. Dolvin Acosta
  7. J.L.P. or J.R.B
  8. Jaoska Jarquín Gutiérrez
  9. Kedelin Jarquín Gutiérrez
  10. Martiniano Julián Macario Samuel
  11. Morgan Pantin
  12. Ody James Waldan Salgado
  13. Romel Simon Kely
  14. Sixto Gutiérrez Empra
  15. Víctor Manuel Matamoros Morales
  16. Peru Estela Casanto Mauricio
  17. Herasmo García Grau
  18. Lucio Pascual Yumanga
  19. Luis Tapia Meza
  20. Mario Marco López Huanca
  21. Santiago Meléndez Dávila
  22. Yenes Ríos Bonsano

Philippines

  1. Abner Esto
  2. Ana Marie Lemita-Evangelista
  3. Angel Rivas
  4. Antonio “Cano” Arellano
  5. Ariel Evangelista
  6. Edward Esto
  7. Emanuel Asuncion
  8. John Heredia
  9. Joseph Canlas
  10. Juan Macababbad
  11. Julie Catamin
  12. Lenie Rivas
  13. Mark Lee Bacasno
  14. Melvin Dasigao
  15. Puroy Dela Cruz
  16. Randy Dela Cruz
  17. Romeo Loyola Torres
  18. Steve Abua
  19. Willy Rodriguez

Venezuela

  1. Carmen Lusdary Rondón
  2. Miguel Antonio Rivas Morales
  3. Nelson Martín Pérez Rodríguez
  4. Wilmer José Castro

NOUS SOMMES 78 000

Pétition:

https://www.declarationuniverselledesdroitsdelarbre.org/…

Prenez connaissance de notre proposition de Convention Internationale des Droits de l’arbre:

https://www.declarationuniverselledesdroitsdelarbre.org/…

Soutenir la Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l’Arbre #DUDA :

https://www.declarationuniverselledesdroitsdelarbre.org/…
#Duda

#ConventionInternationaledesDroitsdelArbre


Want to learn more? This report by Global Witness discusses the issue elaborately outlining the situation in different countries, including with stories of the defenders who have been killed.

Featured Image Brazilian land defenders memorial by Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images on Grist