Conserving species and specimens, from tuna to trees
For the wildlife featured this week, progress is measured in terms of preservation. But newness can represent advancement, too, as shown by the first American woman to break into a male-dominated profession.
1. United States
The Milwaukee Bucks are bringing on Lisa Byington as the team’s full-time TV play-by-play announcer, making her the first woman in this role for any major men’s sports franchise. Ms. Byington has a long career in sports broadcasting, both as a sideline reporter and play-by-play announcer. In March, she became the first woman to handle play-by-play for an NCAA men’s tournament game. More recently, she could be seen on NBC calling men’s and women’s soccer matches at the Tokyo Olympics. Other NBA teams have created broadcasting teams of women for single games. After the Toronto Raptors were the first to do so in March, a Sacramento Kings game featured female and nonbinary on-air talent. “I understand the groundbreaking nature of this hire,” Ms. Byington said. “I applaud the Bucks for taking the first steps toward making hires like this more of the norm in the NBA. Because it’s time.”
ESPN, The Washington Post
Why We Wrote This
In our progress roundup, the prospect of losing something unique is motivating action – whether it’s saving a tree connected to St. Francis of Assisi, or the sought-after tunas that end up on dinner tables around the world.
International initiatives are helping Afro-Colombian communities formalize sustainable gold mining operations. Thousands of traditional miners in Colombia’s Chocó region have long engaged in small-scale, nonmechanical gold mining with low environmental impact. However, the country holds local community members to the same legal, technical, environmental, and labor standards as massive mining corporations – creating unwieldy bureaucratic barriers for small-scale miners. Because of these barriers, almost all artisanal miners go unregistered, meaning they can’t open bank accounts and are forced to sell gold on the black market. This framework also enables multinational companies to claim mining rights in Indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories.
American and Swiss projects are working to help miners keep up with the administrative demands and improve incomes. The Better Gold Initiative incentivizes formalization by paying miners a premium of $1 per gram for meeting environmental and social criteria, and by connecting participants with major players in the international gold trade, such as Cartier. The Swiss project, which currently works with about 1,400 miners in Chocó, hopes to expand to 3,000 miners and export 1 metric ton of responsibly produced gold annually. From 2015 to 2021, the U.S. government’s Oro Legal program formalized 146 mining operations and produced nearly $200 million in legal gold sales. It also established the now-independent CORCRESER, or the Corporation of Regional Service Centers, to continue assisting miners with the formalization process and professional training.
Italy is protecting thousands of ancient trees across the country, preserving their cultural history and ecological benefits. Anyone who damages one of the striking, storied trees – known as monumental trees – can incur fines of up to $117,000. Federal law first addressed these living monuments in 1939, protecting them as “immovable things that have remarkable characteristics of natural beauty.” Those laws have since expanded to honor monumental trees as drivers of biodiversity, rather than simply as aesthetic landmarks. Today, a collapsed or rotting branch would also be protected, and left to nourish the tree’s microhabitat. “It’s actually a cultural shift because, nowadays, we propose to preserve these trees for something that in the past were considered defects,” said ecologist Livia Zapponi.
More than 3,500 monumental trees have been added to the national registry since 2013, chosen, among other reasons, for their rarity, cultural significance, and ecological value. The roughly 22,000 specimens include an 800-year-old cypress tree located in a Franciscan convent in northern Italy. Like many monumental trees, it comes with a legend: St. Francis of Assisi is said to have buried his walking stick in the ground and commanded it to grow, and now visitors collect fallen cypress cones in hopes of planting their own blessed trees.
Small nonprofits are helping improve maternal health in rural Nigeria. United Nations agencies estimated that 23% of global maternal deaths in 2017 occurred in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, with more than 900 deaths per 100,000 births. These issues are especially pronounced in rural areas, where communities often lack health facilities or the ability to afford treatment. Hacey Health Initiative’s Project Agbebi has trained community birth attendants and distributed more than 50,000 free birthing kits – containing sterile blades, gloves, and other essentials – and over 100,000 mosquito nets to help prevent malaria. Alabiamo Foundation administers basic prenatal care and provides new mothers with supplies, such as baby clothes and food. The project prioritizes family planning education and building trust with local midwives, who may view the nongovernmental organization workers as a threat to their livelihoods. “[The initiative is] really helping us,” said Oke Jaqueline, a beneficiary of the program in the Makoko-Sogunro community. “A lot of time we don’t bother to go to clinic, they come to us to take care of us.”
The conservation status of several commonly fished tuna species has improved, according to the Red List assessment. The Red List, compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is considered the gold standard for measuring the extinction risk of plant and animal species. In 2011, conservationists warned over half of tuna species were at risk of extinction, due to overfishing. The last decade saw strict quotas implemented, with strong policing of illegal fishing. The 2021 report showed signs of recovery for four popular tunas: The southern bluefin tuna moved from critically endangered to endangered, the Atlantic bluefin tuna shifted from endangered to least concern, and both the albacore and yellowfin tuna moved from near threatened to least concern.Pressures on marine species continue to grow, warn IUCN scientists, and some tuna stocks are still in decline. “These Red List assessments are proof that sustainable fisheries approaches work, with enormous long-term benefits for livelihoods and biodiversity,” said Dr. Bruce Collette, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group.