Cacao without deforestation? Land reform in Brazil bears fruit.
1. United States
Despite initial pushback, California’s aggressive fishery management regulations are proving effective as West Coast groundfish populations rebound. Three decades ago, plummeting fish populations inspired the state to push out new science-based management policies, including no-fishing zones and catch limits. It’s among the strictest programs assessed in a new University of Washington study, and initially met resistance from commercial fishing operators. But researchers say the challenges were worth it, with 9 of the 10 at-risk fish populations returning to sustainable levels. The 10th species, the yelloweye rockfish, is also on track for recovery.
Today, commercial operators are largely on board with the effort, and recreational fishermen are thrilled with the ever-improving waters. “It was difficult at the beginning of the program,” said Ken Franke, president of the Sportfishing Association of California. “But the outcome – I think everybody’s happy with how it’s evolved.”
Why We Wrote This
Seeds of progress can take time to mature. This week’s roundup of global progress includes a decadeslong effort to restore groundfish populations in California and a breakthrough in earthquake and tsunami detection technology.
By reintroducing a traditional agroecological system and pushing for land reform, a community has turned once-abandoned cacao farms into a source of financial independence and food sovereignty. A group of farmers has reestablished the practice of cabruca, an agricultural approach that plants cacao trees amid the forest, instead of clear-cutting the land. Much of the cultivated land in Bahia state is dedicated to monocrops, preferred by the state government and major industries, but cabruca requires retention of a minimum of 50 native tree species. The farmers hope the diversity achieved through cabruca will ward off a catastrophic fungus that killed cacao trees and forced 30,000 farms into bankruptcy in the 1990s. Their efforts have paid off: Since 2008, the farmers’ income has more than doubled, and they are selling to major chocolate brands around the country.
3. United Kingdom
A social enterprise focused on creating a more sustainable food system is expanding across Scotland. Locavore has two zero-waste, organic supermarkets in Glasgow, and just launched a plan to establish eight more locations. A leader in sustainable food vending, Locavore is known for limited packaging, a focus on local producers, and famously piloting the country’s first milk vending machine, which reportedly saves about 100 plastic bottles a day.
The group expects to create 90 new jobs and become a carbon-negative company in two years. The enterprise receives support from the government’s Zero Waste Scotland initiative, and the $4 million needed for its rapid expansion will come from a combination of loans and crowdfunding.
4. Sri Lanka
In an environmental justice win, Sri Lanka’s Forest Department started a $5 million replanting program to be paid for by the government official who was responsible for unlawfully clearing protected forestland. A court found government minister Rishad Bathiudeen liable for illegal development of part of the Wilpattu Forest Complex (WFC), upholding the “polluter pays” principle set forth by the United Nations Rio Declaration.
The ruling follows a five-year legal battle over the 3,000-acre portion of the WFC that was cleared for resettling people who were displaced after the country’s civil war. Led by the Center for Environmental Justice, lawyers successfully argued that to proceed with such a construction project, the government needed to formally rescind the protected status granted in 2012, which never happened. The courts agreed that officials had a legal and moral obligation to protect the forest as promised. Environmental activists have celebrated the Wilpattu ruling, but acknowledge the path forward is difficult, since the WFC is located in one of Sri Lanka’s driest regions, prone to long droughts, and new trees will require years of maintenance.
5. Sub-Saharan Africa
Air pollution is dropping in northern sub-Saharan Africa, despite rapid economic growth. Typically, air pollution spikes in middle- and low-income countries experiencing urbanization, but researchers found the opposite in a region stretching from Senegal to Kenya in the midst of a population boom.
Using NASA satellite data, they found there was actually a striking drop in the level of harmful nitrogen oxides, a combustion byproduct, likely because transportation and industry emissions were offset by a decline in farmers using fire to clear their land for planting. North equatorial Africa is home to about 70% of the globe’s biomass fires, which mix with urban pollutants to release toxins in the air. For countries where population is growing rapidly, the research offers hope. This study “provides an important tool for filling some of these data gaps in Africa where there is a dearth of air pollution studies at multiple levels,” said environmental researcher Andriannah Mbandi, who is based in Kenya.
Using an existing vast network of underwater fiber optic cables, researchers have developed a new method of detecting earthquakes and tsunamis. Most of the earth is covered in water, and because ocean bottom seismometers are expensive and challenging to maintain, experts have long sought a way to use telecommunications cables to improve warning systems.
In their study, Caltech seismologists and Google optics experts focused on the light traveling through the 6,500-mile Curie Cable, which cuts through the Pacific Ocean from Los Angeles to Valparaiso, Chile. The deep sea is a generally still and temperature-stable environment, so when plates shift or storms create massive waves, the dramatic changes in the light’s polarization stand out – turning the entire cable into a massive sensor. For an earthquake miles offshore, which can take several minutes for land-based machines to detect, the change would appear within seconds in the cable’s polarization, meaning more time for communities to prepare. Over nine months, the research team detected about 20 moderate-to-large earthquakes along the Curie Cable, although there were no confirmed tsunamis during that period. Now, the team is working on a machine learning algorithm that would root out other potential disturbances, such as a crossing crustacean or ship, improving overall readings.