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Not Tiger Woods: Important stories from 2009 you may have missed

Barack Obama and Tiger Woods dominated headlines in 2009. Here are some vital news stories that didn't get as much play.

By Staff writer / December 31, 2009

Did you notice? A patch of debris grew in the Pacific Ocean. (A boy collects plastic materials along the Philippine coast)

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From Barack Obama’s inauguration to the implosion of Tiger Woods’s image, 2009 has been a big year for news. So big, in fact, that the top stories may have drowned out other important items. Here are a few you may have missed amid the cacophony of the media’s daily tweets, video clips, and texts.

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The flotilla of plastic bits. Climate change is a foreboding problem, but scientists are watching other dangers to the environment, too. Many worry about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a giant collection of floating debris, largely plastic fragments, trapped in a swirl of ocean currents near Hawaii, about midway between Japan and America’s West Coast.

The Scripps Institute of Oceanography in August sent a 30-person team to study the effect of the patch on marine life. The UN Environment Program has issued a report on the global problem of marine litter and called for a ban on what it terms “pointless thin-film plastic bags.”

Bonus track: In October, the United Nations named Tinker Bell, the forest fairy from “Peter Pan,” as its “Ambassador of Green.”

America: nation of stay-putters. Americans have long been famous for their mobility, perhaps best expressed in the famous 1850s phrase of advice, “Go west, young man.”

Nowadays the reply might be, “No thanks, I’ll stay right here.” US mobility has sharply declined. In 2007-08, only 11.9 percent of Americans changed residences. In 2008-09, 12.5 percent moved. Taken together, those rates mark the lowest point of mobility since World War II, according to a Brookings Institution study.

Housing debt and a perceived lack of opportunity in sunnier spots elsewhere may be key causes.

Bonus track: Illegal immigrants are going against this trend. They are dispersing throughout the country to states such as Georgia and North Carolina, where few undocumented people lived 20 years ago, according to an April report on Stateline.org.

The other Sudan conflict. Sudan, Africa’s biggest country, has long been riven by conflicts between ethnic groups and regions. Of late, much of the world’s attention to Sudan has focused on the western area of Darfur, where government-supported militias are accused of carrying out a program of ethnic cleansing against local tribes.

Now, aid groups and others are worried about another crisis, this one dealing with the fault line between northern and southern Sudan. At least 250,000 Sudanese have fled homes in the south this year as violence rises in a region that has long sought independence from the northern capital of Khartoum.

The fighting is the worst since 2005, when a peace deal ended decades of north-south civil war. A report from the International Crisis Group calls on the world to intervene before Sudan slides into a violent breakup.

Bonus track: Elsewhere on the continent, South Africa continues to evolve into a nation that is a driving force for peacekeeping among its neighbors and generally protects basic freedoms at home. President Jacob Zuma, who took office in April, has fought government corruption with more vigor than many Western experts had anticipated.

Your trend here. Got a news story you feel was overlooked in 2009? Send it to grierp@csmonitor.com, and if the response warrants we’ll publish a follow-up at a later date.

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