In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world

Sharks in Ecuador

Hammerhead sharks, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a new feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about. 

Brazil backtracks on plan to open up Amazon forest to mining

The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts (@jonathanwatts) reports on Brazil’s reversal of its decision to open up a massive area of forest to mining, as Human Nature shared last month.

The story: In August, Brazil announced that it would allow mining in an area in the northern heart of the Amazon rainforest — an area about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined and which is believed to be rich in gold, iron and other minerals. Days after the announcement to open the reserve, a Brazilian court blocked it; now, the government is taking it off the table.

The big picture: Brazil’s relationship with its forests is complicated. Its government is friendly to mining interests that want to trim protections for the Amazon, The Guardian notes — while on the other hand, the country recently announced a massive reforestation project, to much fanfare. Amid new findings showing that the world’s tropical forests now emit more climate-warning carbon dioxide than they absorb, the pressure on Brazil to conserve its forests has never been higher.

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An ingenious use of big data helped expose a Chinese company illegally poaching thousands of sharks

Writing for Quartz, Gwynn Guilford (@sinoceros) describes how high-tech eyes in the sky busted a massive illegal shark-fishing operation off the coast of the Galápagos Islands.

The story: Last month, Ecuadorian authorities intercepted a Chinese fishing vessel carrying 300 tons of fish, most of which was sharks. SkyTruth, a nonprofit organization that uses satellite data to monitor ship routes, used algorithms to tip off the Ecuadorian authorities to the likely purpose of the ship. Staff from Conservation International in Ecuador were consulted to help identify the shark species found onboard, resulting in fines and prison sentences for the boat’s owner and crew.

The big picture: A recent op-ed in The Washington Post predicted “fishing wars,” in which more boats — Chinese vessels in particular — will fish illegally in search of ever-fewer fish. The good news: New technology like SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch are making it harder to fish illegally in other countries’ waters. “As an associate of mine told me, ‘You used to be able to run and hide; now you can’t,’ ” said Jack Kittinger, a fisheries expert with Conservation International. “With these new remote sensing platforms, it’s really getting incredible in terms of what we can do of our enforcement capacity.”

Camera trap records nearly extinct cuckoo bird in Sumatra

A remotely activated camera in an Indonesian national park caught a glimpse of a bird thought to be nearly extinct in the wild, writes Basten Gokkon (@bgokkon) for MongaBay.

The story: Park rangers said that they had photographed the Sumatran ground cuckoo in a protected area in north Sumatra, the first time in a decade that anyone has seen the critically endangered bird. Experts from Conservation International helped officials identify the bird from the images.

The big picture: The discovery highlights the benefits of protected areas and of camera traps themselves, which have proven critical in providing constant monitoring of inaccessible habitats. By creating consistent data over time, camera traps provide decision-makers with a powerful tool for making science-based policy to protect wildlife.

Bruno Vander Velde is CI’s editorial director. 

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