Points of Progress: Fiji reefs restored with traditional knowledge, and more

Places where the world saw progress, for the July 20, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

NASA’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C., will be named after Mary W. Jackson, the agency’s first African American female engineer. Ms. Jackson began her career at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, as a mathematician in the 1950s. After getting special permission to participate in a training program at a segregated high school, she was promoted to engineer.

Cover Images/NASA/AP/File
Mary W. Jackson became NASA’s first Black female engineer in 1958, and was the author or co-author of several research reports.

Her story was popularized by the 2016 book and movie “Hidden Figures.” Three years later, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, along with her colleagues Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden. “NASA facilities across the country are named after people who dedicated their lives to push the frontiers of the aerospace industry,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The nation is beginning to awaken to the greater need to honor the full diversity of people who helped pioneer our great nation.” (NASA)

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.

2. United States

Researchers have reencountered the ultra-rare blue calamintha bee, which was last observed in 2016. The shiny navy blue bee is believed to live only in the Lake Wales Ridge region of Florida, one of the country’s most diverse and fastest-disappearing ecosystems.

Chase Kimmel/Courtesy of Florida Museum of Natural History
A rare calamintha bee is captured for study, then released.

In fact, scientists weren’t sure the rare insect still existed. Over the next year, researchers will continue recording its whereabouts to better understand the species’ range and behavior. Florida’s State Wildlife Action Plan currently lists the blue bee as a species of greatest conservation need. Depending on what researchers discover in the coming months, it could qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act. (Florida Museum)

3. Colombia

Colombian environmental group WebConserva is helping build protective borders around forests by persuading farmers in San Lucas to plant coffee instead of coca, which is used to make cocaine. The dense forests are home to rare predators such as ocelots, a type of small wild cat, and highly endangered spectacled bears. Deforestation spiked after a 2016 peace deal with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, and the ecosystem is threatened by drug cultivation.

Oliver Griffin/Reuters
Arcadio Barajas stands among his coffee plants in San Lucas, Colombia, Feb. 26, 2020. The fields were once full of coca plants.

In a first-of-its kind project, WebConserva has partnered at least 10 families with coffee roasters across Colombia who in turn will protect nearly 1,000 acres of forest. Participants promise to act as good stewards of the land and refrain from chopping down additional trees or hunting the forest’s animals. The goal is to protect roughly 50,000 acres of forest by signing on 200 families. (Reuters)

4. Germany

The Constitutional Court has ruled that children of unmarried people who were denaturalized by Nazis are eligible for German citizenship. The case centered around a woman born to an American mother and Jewish father who was stripped of his German citizenship by Nazis in 1938. The court found the woman, born in 1967 in the United States, was entitled to the same naturalization rights as children of married couples, and local courts had unlawfully discriminated against her because of her parents’ marital status. The ruling reaffirms the country’s Basic Law, which states that any Germans who were denaturalized based on political, racial, or religious grounds during Adolf Hitler’s 12-year reign can get their citizenship back, along with their descendants. (Reuters)

5. Africa

With the help of an updated weather forecasting system, meteorologists in Africa can now track incoming storms and alert people, allowing them to avoid being caught by mudslides and flooding. The life-saving technology has been used by developed countries for years, but was largely unavailable in sub-Saharan Africa. As extreme weather becomes more common across the continent, a project at the University of Leeds in England has made real-time satellite data available to countries such as Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya. “We had forecasting methods before but they were not as good,” said David Koros, principal meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department. “It’s very important because we can issue information for the safety of lives, property, and the environment.” (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

6. Fiji

Local reefs are in robust health after Fijians reintroduced an ancient reef and fishery management tool following decades of overfishing. Tabus, or no-fishing zones marked with pillars in the sea floor, had not been used in the Navakavu reef for about half a century. Originally, tabus were used after a chief’s death to close off fishing grounds for 100 days until a memorial feast. The modern tabu was suggested during a community consultation with marine scientists, and today’s closures are meant to be indefinite. Before reviving the tabu tradition, fish were not maturing to a size that would sustain local communities, and reefs were dying because of pollution from nearby cities and boats. Hemo Marvela, chairman of a committee that governs the marine area, said the community still struggles with poachers, but the reef has become much healthier in recent decades. (The Guardian)

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