Points of Progress: Humane shark attack prevention, and more

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.

Staff
Places where the world saw progress, for the Nov. 16, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

1. United States

Archbishop Wilton Gregory will become the first African American cardinal after Pope Francis recently elevated 13 men to the highest governing body of the Roman Catholic Church. Last year, Archbishop Gregory was appointed as the first Black leader of the Washington Archdiocese. The new cardinals will be initiated in a ceremony set for Nov. 28.

Jose Luis Magana/AP/File
Washington, D.C., Archbishop Wilton Gregory greets churchgoers at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington on Oct. 6, 2019. The civil rights advocate will soon move up to cardinal.

A small fraction of Catholic priests in the United States – fewer than 1% – are Black. The decision comes as national and global debates over racism and the legacy of slavery extend into religious life. “Pope Francis is sending a powerful message of hope and inclusion to the church in the United States,” said Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, leader of the largest Catholic archdiocese in the country. “The naming of the first African American cardinal from the United States gives us an opportunity to pause and offer thanks for the many gifts African American Catholics have given the church.” (ReutersThe New York Times)

2. Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru

A surveillance system made from repurposed cellphones is helping deter illegal logging in the Amazon. From 2001 to 2018, Brazil lost more than 100 million acres of tree cover. Instead of relying on park rangers to wander the forest and pick out sounds of logging among the natural clamor, the nonprofit Rainforest Connection is using old cellphones to build audio recorders that look like mechanical flowers, which are hoisted into trees. The devices send 24/7 recordings to the cloud, where AI software hunts for telltale logging sounds, such as trucks, chainsaws, human voices, or gunshots. There are currently more than 150 active devices in five countries around the world, including Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, and they can each capture sounds up to a mile away. 

When the software detects a suspicious noise, it alerts local rangers, who can investigate the situation. Aerial surveys and satellite imaging can take weeks to reach rangers. Rainforest Connection, which collaborates with other nonprofits, community groups, and tribes to install the technology, says the phones are more efficient than traditional monitoring strategies. Project founder Topher White said that “sound is the most exciting piece of data available to us that’s not been fully realized for protecting the planet.” (CNN, Amazon Conservation

3. South Africa

Scientists from South Africa have developed one of the first shark-safe alternatives to nets, and promising test runs are offering hope for the sustainable coexistence of tourists and wildlife. The SharkSafe Barrier uses magnets embedded in plastic pipes to deter sharks, which are extremely sensitive to magnetic waves. Other marine life can swim through the barrier, which mimics a kelp forest, without a problem. An ongoing SharkSafe trial on the French island of Réunion, where tourism has declined due to shark attacks, has kept sharks away from shores and the 200 units have not needed any maintenance since January 2019. Critics argue that nets are far cheaper, but unlike nets, the barrier wouldn’t need to be cleaned or replaced. The SharkSafe Barrier also preserves local shark populations, which can be a tourist attraction in and of themselves. (Daily Maverick)

4. Philippines

Women are claiming a more active role in marine conservation and management in communities where fishing is traditionally dominated by men. On the western island of Calauit, women have always participated in the harvesting of local oysters, but were rarely included in important decisions about the management of ancestral waters. Now, the Indigenous Tagbanwa group has given 15 women ownership over more than 320 acres of water, which means they have the power to determine harvesting schedules, outline protected areas, and document various species. The women also received technical training from Community Centred Conservation Philippines, a local nongovernmental organization. Studies show that a more balanced workforce is an important part of resource management in the fishing industry and beyond, and similar projects to promote women into management roles are taking root in other municipalities as well. (Mongabay)

World

Access to reliable electricity continued to improve around the globe in 2019, according to a report from the International Energy Agency. The number of people without electricity declined by about 90 million last year, hitting a record low of 770 million. For many countries, this reflects a trend of steady growth over several years. In Asia, 1.2 billion people gained access between 2000 and 2019. Last year, the Indian government announced that more than 99% of its population had electricity. Researchers say the pandemic has slowed or even reversed progress in some areas. Early estimates suggest that electricity access in sub-Saharan Africa, home to most of the world’s unplugged population, will decrease for the first time since 2013. Decentralized and renewable energy solutions could help areas hit hardest by the coronavirus get back on track to meet their 2030 energy goals, the IEA report said. (International Energy Agency)

Outer space 

A NASA spacecraft has collected samples from the surface of an asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. This is a first for the U.S. space program, and scientists hope the dust and rocks will help shed light on the formation of our solar system. Launched in 2016, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft landed on the Bennu asteroid on Oct. 20 in a quick move that researchers described as “kissing the surface.”

NASA/AP
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft touches the surface of asteroid Bennu on Oct. 20, 2020. Japan is the only other country to land a probe on an asteroid.

The touch-and-go maneuver was effective: The spacecraft collected so much rubble that the ship’s lid couldn’t close properly and some material has leaked out into space. “We are so excited to see what appears to be an abundant sample that will inspire science for decades beyond this historic moment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to return to Earth in 2023. (The Associated Press, CNN, NASA)

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