Points of Progress: Humpback whale populations rebound, and more

Mike Hutchings/Reuters/File
A humpback whale breaches off South Africa’s Kwa-Zulu Natal South Coast.

Western South Atlantic

The Western South Atlantic humpback whale population has rebounded to 25,000 whales. The population, estimated to have once been 27,000 whales, dropped to 450 whales in the 1950s. Protections in the 1960s and a moratorium on commercial whaling in the 1980s have helped the population to recover to 90% of its pre-whaling levels. The current estimates were obtained through modeling techniques combined with air- and ship-based surveys. This particular species of humpback spends its winters off the coast of Brazil and heads to the Antarctic region during the summer months. (BBC, EarthSky)


Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Ousline Georges is congratulated by her cycling coach Yann Dejan after medaling in Havana Nov. 2, 2019.

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

Ousline Georges became the first Haitian ever to medal in the Caribbean Road Cycling Championship in November. Bicycles are a luxury in Haiti, and cycling is challenging because of poor road conditions. The Union Cycliste Internationale, which helps grow the sport in developing nations, provided equipment, a coach, and a month’s training in France for the Haitian team. Ms. Georges, a student and mother of a young boy, started taking the sport seriously only a year ago. Cycling tournaments have proved very popular in nations with struggling economies because they offer free outdoor entertainment, says French coach Yann Dejan. “Cycling could be a way of giving the Haitian people back their smiles,” he says. (Reuters


Thirty-eight more municipalities in Colombia are now free from land mines, remnants of more than five decades of armed conflict. A peace process begun in 2016 between the government and what was then the country’s largest insurgent group, FARC, has allowed the work of clearing the mines to accelerate. More than 700 of the country’s 1,122 municipalities once had land mines. Thanks to the work of the army and civilian groups, 391 municipalities are now certified as mine-free. “[They] have said goodbye to this tragedy,” said President Iván Duque. “They have the light of new hope.” The government has pledged to remove all mines by 2021. (Reuters


Mahmoud Hjaj/AP
Sudanese pro-democracy supporters celebrate a power-sharing agreement with the ruling military council in Khartoum, Sudan, on Aug. 17, 2019.

Sudan’s finance minister and new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok have created a nine-month “economic rescue plan” as the nation struggles to gain economic stability. In September, a new 18-member Cabinet took the official oath of office, a historic step for the joint civilian-military council. Sudan remains on the U.S. list of countries considered sponsors of terrorism, thereby precluding it from receiving funds from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. But in April, the military announced the removal of President Omar al-Bashir. Mr. Bashir, who took office in 1989, is imprisoned, awaiting trial for corruption and other charges. (NPR)


A discovery of 100 baby crocodiles in Nepal is a boost for the potential recovery of the species. The gharials, known for their long thin snout and not considered a threat to humans, have a population of fewer than a thousand worldwide. The babies are less than a foot in length and look like the adult gharial, which can grow to more than 16 feet long. Rikki Gumbs of the Zoological Society of London says the baby gharials were found on a sandbank in Bardia National Park. “This is such a positive discovery,” says Mr. Gumbs, “and a critical step for the long-term recovery of the species in Nepal.” (BBC)


At a plant in Kibbutz Tze’elim, the Israeli company UBQ Materials is making a profit by turning trash into plastics. While company executives are not eager to reveal the secret to their process, a Hebrew University professor who has consulted for the company says melting plastics and waste creates a material that is strengthened by fibers in the organic ingredients. For now, the company has just one client, Plasgad, an Israeli company that makes crates and other products from plastic. Plasgad sent 2,000 of its recycling bins to a waste management organization in Virginia, according to a UBQ announcement. (The Washington Post)

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