Help for birds to bees, from 3D-printed beaks to bug superhighways
This week in good news, a surprise decline in suicides in the United States, new private equity funding for gender equality in Latin America, and a new lease on life for animals around the world thanks to 3D printing.
1. United States
The suicide rate in the United States reached a five-year low in 2020, defying predictions that self-harm would rise during lockdowns. Instead, a preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows deaths by suicide fell to 44,834 last year, a 5.6% decrease from 2019 figures. This is the second consecutive annual decline, and marks the lowest suicide rate since 2015.
Why We Wrote This
Our regular global progress roundup is life affirming – from a decrease in suicides to intense efforts by volunteers as well as scientists to help various species of animals.
Some data – including demographic breakdowns – is not yet available, and experts are still trying to determine the reasons behind the dramatic decline. Some say that the early “heroism phase” of the pandemic, in which people banded together to share messages of support, could have played a role, as well as the continuation of 2019 suicide prevention initiatives and access to remote health services.
2. United Kingdom
A U.K. charity has launched an initiative to restore more than 370,000 acres of flower-packed habitats and create a national network of insect superhighways. B-Lines, a pollinator connectivity project by Buglife, has been years in the making, with successful pilots in several areas including Cardiff, Wales. Coordinators spent a decade mapping the best routes between fractured insect habitats, and with that information, they may now team up with residents, businesses, conservation groups, and local authorities to help bring back Britain’s wildflower meadows and make this network a reality. Pollinator insects, such as honeybees, bumblebees, and butterflies, play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.
“Off the back of [the launch] we have had housebuilders ringing up asking how they can incorporate the network into housebuilding,” said Paul Hetherington, director of fundraising and communications at Buglife. “The things that have really hammered pollinators, and bugs in general, are habitat loss, fragmentation of habitat, loss of connectivity of habitat, climate change and pesticides – this deals with everything except pesticides.”
Euroweekly News, Buglife
3. Latin America
Investors in Latin America are increasingly focusing on gender diversity, according to experts from the International Finance Corp. As a result of workplace sexism, social pressures, and family responsibilities, many women struggle to enter and remain in the workforce. In emerging economies, private equity funds can play a special role in promoting positive change. The Central American Small and Medium Enterprise Investment Fund (CASEIF), for example, has supported 33 businesses and created more than 10,000 jobs over the past two decades – more than 40% of those positions have been filled by women.
At one CASEIF-owned company, Paradise Ingredients, women make up the majority of the management team. They achieved this in part by offering free health care and providing school supplies to single mothers who work for the company. “Here, people respect you for your capabilities,” said Tannia Leiva, production manager at Paradise Ingredients. “We are a big company and we are setting the standard.”
International Finance Corp.
Important Mediterranean turtle populations are rebounding in north Cyprus following a decadeslong effort to protect nesting habitats. Founded by conservation enthusiasts in the early 1980s, the North Cyprus Society for the Protection of Turtles (SPOT) has overseen the revival of green and loggerhead turtles. During last year’s six-month nesting season, volunteer patrol teams counted more than 2,400 nests – an all-time high. Since 1993, green turtle nests have increased by 162%, and loggerhead turtle nests are up 46%.
Conservationists credit their success to SPOT’s early volunteer program, which raised residents’ awareness of the turtles; the local government, which embraced a protective agenda and limited tourism development on several beaches; and the steady stream of international volunteers who pay to participate in conservation work, from nest surveys to beach cleanups.
5. United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates has named the first Arab woman to train as an astronaut. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre chose Nora al-Matrooshi, a mechanical engineering graduate who works for the National Petroleum Construction Co., along with Mohammad al-Mulla, to join the Gulf nation’s growing astronaut program. She was one of 4,300 applicants who were judged on their education, relevant experience, scientific abilities, and physical assessments. The new recruits will go to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas to receive training.
Ms. Matrooshi called the announcement an “unforgettable moment” and said she’s drawn inspiration from Hazzaa Al-Mansoori, who became the first Emirati in space in 2019 when he spent eight days on the International Space Station. “I aim to work hard to script historical moments and achievements that will be etched forever in the memory of our people,” she said on Twitter.
Reuters, ABC News
As experience with and access to 3D-printing technology grows, so do prosthetics options for injured wildlife. Creating animal prosthetics has historically been an expensive and time-consuming endeavor – in the early 2000s, it could take $100,000 and more than a year to create an artificial dolphin flipper – but dedicated keepers are now using printers to make these custom pieces more efficiently. Designers can easily adjust their models on computer software to bring their vision to life.
This technology has been used many times on birds to replace amputated legs and broken beaks, and often these prosthetics are lifesaving. There are some challenges – some beak prosthetics fail when even a slight growth spurt pushes the mold out of place, and heavier creatures such as elephants won’t be able to use printed prosthetics until the printing material becomes more durable.