Malaria surge, eco-friendly concrete, Indigenous territories: 3 stories you may have missed

© Flavio Forner

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. Amazon gold mining drives malaria surges among Indigenous peoples 

According to experts, the environmental wreckage caused by gold mining creates the perfect conditions for mosquitoes to spread malaria.

The Story: Deforestation driven by mining has caused a spike in malaria throughout Brazil, particularly on Indigenous lands, reported Jill Langlois for National Geographic. After miners clear forests and dig pits in the ground to extract gold, the holes they leave behind fill with water, creating the ideal environment for mosquitoes that may carry malaria, experts say. In the Brazilian Amazon, gold miners destroyed 10,244 hectares (25,315 acres) of forests across three Indigenous lands between 2017 and 2019. Research shows that the deforestation and environmental damage caused by gold mining led to an increase in the region’s mosquito populations, rapidly spreading malaria throughout Indigenous communities. In 2020, malaria transmission in mining areas has already gone up 17.8 percent in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, which has seen a 25 percent rise in deforestation this year. 

The Big Picture: “When human activities such as logging and mining disrupt and degrade [forest] ecosystems … diseases bounce back and forth between wildlife populations and humans,” explained Conservation International’s Senior Climate Change Scientist Lee Hannah in an interview. As humans encroach deeper into the undisturbed forest, they are also exposing themselves to animals and the diseases they carry, such as malaria. According to a recent study co-authored by Hannah, investments between US$ 1.5 billion and US$ 9.6 billion could decrease deforestation at a rate that would reduce the risk of forest loss-related disease spillover by 40 percent in high-risk areas. 

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A new eco-friendly concrete could help slow climate change and minimize the impact of coastal development on marine life.

The Story: As coastal cities develop seawalls and bridges to adapt to sea-level rise, a new environmentally friendly concrete — known as ECOncrete — could help mitigate the impact of infrastructure projects on marine life and climate change, reported Matthew Keegan for BBC. This eco-friendly building material is made from almost entirely recycled materials and its productions has an extremely low carbon footprint compared to normal concrete production, which contributes nearly 8 percent of global carbon emissions. ECOncrete’s outer surface is characterized by a series of grooves and ridges, which provide habitats for small mollusks and crabs. Although it is still in the initial stages of implementation, tests of this building material in Hong Kong have already shown an increase in the number of marine species found on coastal seawalls and bridges compared to infrastructure without ECOncrete. 

The Big Picture: “Concrete is damaging in the ocean because, to put it in place, natural ecosystems are destroyed,” says Alex Rogers, director of science at REV Ocean, a non-profit that studies ocean health. “In this day and age, when we’re looking at much more sustainable ways of carrying out development … we should be looking at alternative materials that have a lower impact on the environment.” In many cases, conventional engineering approaches can also be combined with coastal restoration to minimize the impact of infrastructure projects on the environment through a technique called “green-gray” infrastructure. For example, in the Philippines, Conservation International is working to construct breakwaters — barriers to protect a coast from storms and sea-level rise — while restoring mangrove forests, which can also provide a natural barrier to flooding. 

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Granting land rights to Indigenous peoples is crucial to stopping deforestation, experts say.

The Story: A recent study revealed that areas in the Brazilian Amazon owned by Indigenous peoples with full property rights saw 66 percent less annual deforestation compared to lands outside these areas, reported Anastasia Moloney for Reuters. Researchers used satellite data to determine deforestation rates in areas where land rights were formally granted to Indigenous peoples by the Brazilian government within the past 30 years. While deforestation in Brazil has hit an 11-year high in most of the country, the authors found that these Indigenous territories have remained mostly protected. 

The Big Picture: “Globally, Indigenous peoples call for the recognition and respect of their land rights over their territories because their lands define them,” said Minnie Degawan, a member of the Kankanaey-Igorot Indigenous group in the Philippines and the director of the Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program at Conservation International, in an interview. “Indigenous peoples are victims of climate change, and yet they have knowledge developed from years of interacting with the environment that could benefit humanity; they want to partner with others in finding solutions, but it has to be a just partnership.” Around the world, Indigenous peoples manage 35 percent of intact forests and at least a quarter of above-ground carbon in tropical forests. This new study shows that Indigenous peoples could be even more effective at protecting nature and slowing climate change if they received formal rights to their lands. 

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Driven by climate change, global temperature rise could cause 85 heat-related deaths per 100,000 people per year by the end of the century if countries do not drastically reduce their carbon emissions, according to a new study

READ MORE: 2020 was supposed to be the ‘super year for nature.’ What now?

 

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.