Amazon synod, clam gardens, Indonesia fires: 3 stories you may have missed

© Melissa Thomas

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

1. Pope urges bold action to protect the Amazon amid fires

At a historic gathering of religious leaders and indigenous peoples, Pope Francis prioritizes conservation in the Amazon.

The Story: Pope Francis opened his three-week meeting at the Vatican, known as a synod, by urging members of the Catholic Church to protect the Amazon, reported Nicole Winfield for the Associated Press. At the synod, more than 180 cardinals, bishops and priests are working with indigenous peoples from several tribes across South America to address the recent surge of fires blazing through the rainforest.

The Big Picture: “Suddenly the Earth is under so much pressure that we need to redefine the global commons,” said Johan Rockström, chief scientist at Conservation International, emphasizing that the health of the Amazon is “everyone’s preoccupation.” Protecting this carbon-storing ecosystem is vital to stopping climate change — and saving the homes of the more than 20 million indigenous peoples that live throughout the Amazon Basin.

Read the full story.

2. Pacific Northwest tribes face climate change with agricultural ancient practice

A tribe in the Puget Sound region of America's Pacific Northwest is using traditional knowledge to increase clam populations.

The Story: The Swinomish tribe on Whidbey Island in Washington state is reviving the traditional practice of building clam gardens — rock walls placed along the low-tide line of the beach — to maintain clam populations declining due to climate change, reported Eilis O’Neill for NPR. These rock walls create an isolated and level habitat for clams, protecting them from coastal erosion and ocean acidification.

The Big Picture: Many tribes across British Columbia, Alaska and Canada rely on clams for their primary source of food and income. These clams are threatened by rising sea levels and warming ocean temperatures caused by climate change, which also depletes the algae they feed on. Traditional practices such as clam gardening could help protect marine life and conserve valuable resources for coastal populations.

Read the full story.

3. A season of fire tests Indonesia's efforts to curb deforestation

More than 70,000 fires have burned across Indonesia this year, despite a decrease in deforestation.

The Story: Indonesia is experiencing its worst fire season since 2015, causing respiratory problems for more than 1 million people due to the accumulation of dense clouds of smoke, reported Henry Fountain for the New York Times. The majority of these fires were set in Indonesia’s forests and peatlands to clear space for agricultural use, burning across more than 323,749 hectares (800,000 acres) of land.

The Big Picture: As fires blaze through the Amazon and Indonesia, countries need to address one of the long-term drivers of deforestation: unsustainable agriculture. Controlled fires are commonly used to clear tropical forests to make room for crops and palm oil plantations, but they can burn uncontrollably during the dry season, exacerbated by low levels of humidity and rainfall. These blazes burn through the forests and peatlands of Indonesia, releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and accelerating the climate breakdown.

Read the full story.

Kiley Price is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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Cover image: A forest in North Sumatra, Indonesia. (© Melissa Thomas)

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