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Fungal fashion, manta discoveries, plastic in Africa: 3 stories you may have missed

© Shawn Heinrichs

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 stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. When fashion is fungal 

Fabric derived from fungus could help curb carbon emissions from the fashion industry. 

The Story: Leather-like clothing material grown from fungus could help decrease the fashion industry’s carbon footprint, reported Jessica Wolfrom for The Washington Post. Currently, the fashion industry contributes 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is greater than the emissions released by the entire European Union annually. To address this, clothing companies such as MycoWorks and Bolt Threads are developing nature-based clothing materials with a lower carbon footprint by using mycelium, a common fungus found all over the world. By controlling the temperature and humidity of the facilities where the mycelium grows, manufacturers are able to prevent the fungus from forming a mushroom; instead, it produces fibrous sheets of mycelium that can be transformed into eco-friendly clothes.

The Big Picture: According to a recent UN report, fashion is one of the world’s most polluting industries, second only to oil. Along with emitting massive amounts of carbon, the fashion industry uses roughly 79 billion cubic meters (79 trillion liters) of water per year, which is enough to fill 32 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. Additionally, in America alone, consumers throw away nearly 11,150 tons of clothes into landfills every year. Nature-based clothing materials such as fungus are often biodegradable — and experts agree that by investing in these materials, companies in the fashion industry can reduce their carbon footprints while minimizing waste.

Read more here.

Scientists may have discovered a manta ray nursery ground off the coast of South Florida.

The Story: Over the past three years, researchers have identified a staggering 59 manta rays swimming in the waters of South Florida, reported Haley Cohen Gilliland for National Geographic. Not often seen in this area, these manta rays are all juveniles, which researchers say could indicate the presence of a nursery ground for manta rays in South Florida. According to the scientists, the warm and shallow waters of South Florida provide an ideal environment for juvenile manta rays to control their body temperatures and grow more quickly, though the dense human population and frequent boating activity in this region could threaten them. 

The Big Picture: “These mantas are living in South Florida with millions of people, so protecting them won’t be easy,” said Jessica Pate, who lead the research expedition to find the manta rays. “But as manta rays around the world are declining, this could be a really important population to safeguard the species.” If confirmed, the manta ray nursery ground in South Florida would be the third ever found on the planet — and could be crucial to building the population sizes of this endangered species. To minimize threats from fishing lines and boating equipment — which can entangle and injure the manta rays — scientists are urging the United States government to designate a marine sanctuary for rays in South Florida. 

Read more here

With fewer profits coming in from non-renewable energy, the oil industry is setting its sights on plastic production in Kenya. 

The Story: As oil prices plummet due to the pandemic and increased use of renewable energy, the oil industry is shifting its focus to increasing plastic production and exports in Africa, reported Hiroko Tabuchi, Michael Corkery and Carlos Mureithi for The New York Times. Oil extractives and fracked natural gas provide the raw manufacturing material to create many plastic products, from bottles to bags. To make up for lost profit from the energy sector, fossil fuel companies are working to influence U.S. trade negotiations with Kenya to allow for an influx of plastic products and waste into the African country, according to documents analyzed by The New York Times. Currently, Kenya has strict limits on plastic use — including a stringent ban on plastic bags — to protect wildlife and prevent harmful plastic chemicals from seeping into the soil or fresh water. However, the Kenyan government could reverse this ban if they agree to certain regulations during trade negotiations. 

The Big Picture: “[Manufacturers] say they will address plastic waste, but we say plastic itself is the problem,” said Griffins Ochieng, the executive director for the Center for Environmental Justice and Development — a Kenyan nonprofit that is working to end plastic waste. “An exponential growth in plastics production is just not something we can handle.” On top of increasing the production of plastic products in Kenya, weakening plastic restrictions could also allow other countries to import more plastic waste into the African nation. In an effort to outsource its recycling, American exporters shipped more than 450 million kg (1 billion pounds) of plastic to Kenya in 2019 alone — but most of it ended up in the ocean. To prevent more waste from entering the country, conservationists are urging the Kenyan government to maintain Kenya’s restrictions on plastic use. 

Read more here


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: A manta ray in Indonesia (© Shawn Heinrichs)

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