An Indigenous Shuar community won protection of the Tiwi Nunka Forest in southern Ecuador. Protected areas are often created without the involvement or consent of the inhabitants. Tiwi Nunka is the country’s first Indigenous-led conservation area, with the region’s 35 families of the El Kiim community, totaling 200 people, at the helm. The ancestral forest of 13,583 acres is part of the National System of Protected Areas, which safeguards the ecosystem from mining, ranching, and agricultural expansion.
The region is a refuge to the puma and Andean bear and connects protected areas on either side, allowing species to cross a safe micro-corridor. The 22-year-long effort was supported by the nonprofit Nature and Culture International, which lent legal and governmental expertise, as well as respect for community approaches that had been missing from previous attempts to regain Shuar lands. “Our elders left us as an inheritance to take care of nature and all species,” said Milton Asamat, president of the Shuar Kiim Center. “We want to conserve the water, the plants and everything that has life.”
Sources: Mongabay, Nature and Culture International
Why We Wrote This
Better care for the environment doesn’t always require the newest technology or massive funding. In our progress roundup, citizens in Bangladesh, Ecuador, and Greece are making strides with individual and collective efforts.
2. United States
Scientists have revived an old-fashioned form of art to create graphics readable by those with visual impairments. Artists in 19th-century Europe and likely a millennium earlier in China made lithophane art by molding translucent porcelain or wax. When light shines from behind, the image glows like a digital image. Researchers from Baylor University in Texas figured out how to use 3D-printed lithophanes to present scientific data that can be interpreted both tactilely and visually.
Students with low vision have long been discouraged from pursuing chemistry or working in labs. “This research is an example of art making science more accessible and inclusive. Art is rescuing science from itself,” said study co-author Bryan Shaw. In the experiment, blind participants correctly interpreted the information provided in lithophanes with an accuracy rate of 96.7%, compared with 92.2% for sighted interpretation. Other methods such as specialized paper that swells to form tactile graphics are a quicker option for accessibility but are not as accurate as lithophanes.
3. United Kingdom
British children’s shows are prizing inclusivity by adding new characters. In September, the world of “Thomas & Friends” welcomed Bruno, a red brake car with autism, to the scene. The voice is played by 9-year-old Elliott Garcia, who has autism, but the creators acknowledge that no one character will be representative. “While Bruno thoughtfully reflects the traits and preferences of some autistic people, one animated character could never encompass the real-life experience of every autistic person,” the company said. The goal is to allow children with autism to see themselves represented on screen, while building understanding and empathy among other kids.
Around the same time, the globally loved “Peppa Pig” introduced a same-sex couple, the two mothers of Peppa’s friend Penny Polar Bear. The move followed a petition, which drew 24,000 signatures, demanding a same-sex parent family on the show. In the episode, Penny draws a portrait of her family, explaining: “I live with my mummy and my other mummy. One mummy is a doctor and one mummy cooks spaghetti.” Other children’s shows such as “Arthur” and “Sesame Street” have also added same-sex couples in recent years.
Sources: BBC, The Guardian
In less than a year, the Greek island of Tilos became a pioneer in waste reduction. The island’s landfill started to expand in the 1960s, when ships began bringing packaged products to the island. Last December, a project called “Just Go Zero” was launched to address the widening waste problem. Today, the landfill has been replaced by a recycling plant, which handles over 2 tons of waste each week, or 86% of the island’s trash. One-third is composted, and 15% is shredded for use in construction.
The initiative came to life through a partnership with Polygreen, a network of companies promoting a circular economy. The company’s home pickup program incentivizes the island’s 500 residents to separate trash into three categories: organic matter; paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass; and everything else.
Residents say the results are worth the effort, although in 2019 Greece as a whole ranked 24th out of 27 countries for recycling and composting in the European Union. But Tilos has a strong track record of environmental spearheading: In 1993, it was the first Greek island to ban hunting and in 2021 became one of the first islands in the Mediterranean to achieve energy self-sufficiency using wind and solar power.
Sources: Thomson Reuters Foundation, Greek Reporter, The Associated Press
Smallholder irrigation in the dry season in Bangladesh is, counterintuitively, improving freshwater availability throughout the year. During the dry season, 16 million small-scale farmers in the Bengal Basin water their crops by pumping groundwater from shallow irrigation wells. That creates space for rains to refill aquifers between May and October, when 90% of the country’s rainfall occurs, capturing water that would otherwise drain to the Bay of Bengal.
Groundwater depletion is becoming an increasingly pressing issue around the world, especially in areas of large-scale, intensive agriculture. But thanks to the low-tech system in Bangladesh, dubbed the Bengal Water Machine, 75 to 90 cubic kilometers of rainfall were recovered between 1988 and 2019 – twice the water capacity of the Three Gorges Dam in China. As a result, farmers in Bangladesh were able to double-crop and in some places triple-crop their land, transforming the nation into the world’s fourth-highest producer of rice and achieving food self-sufficiency by the 1990s.
To further help recharge aquifers, the Bangladesh Water Development Board is proposing a national plan for rainwater harvesting and catchment management techniques.
Sources: Quartz, Science, Mongabay