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Pandemic prevention, African oil, Antarctic krill concern: 3 stories you may have missed

© Ben McRae

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. COVID-19 response and recovery 

A new report outlines five strategies to reduce the risk of future pandemics. 

The story: Co-authored by experts from more than 20 intergovernmental organizations and NGOs, including Conservation International, a new report urges governments to establish bold policies to prevent future pandemics by protecting nature. Underpinned by research that highlights the link between nature and human health, the report recommends five strategies to stem the spread of animal-borne illnesses: reduce deforestation, reform livestock production, limit the global wildlife trade, support and expand protected areas, and enact stimulus policies that promote nature-based solutions. 

The big picture: “To help prevent the next pandemic, it is crucial for countries and businesses to incentivize protecting forests rather than destroying them,” said Lee Hannah, a senior climate change scientist at Conservation International, in an interview with Conservation News. “The fact of the matter is, the most cost-effective — and just plain effective — way to deal with a pandemic is to make sure it never happens in the first place." The new report echoes the findings of a recent study co-authored by Conservation International scientists, including Hannah, that found that protecting nature could decrease the risk of future pandemics by at least 27 percent — at 50 times less than the cost of coronavirus response efforts to date. 

Read more here

Oil drilling in the Okavango region of Namibia and Botswana could have disastrous consequences for wildlife and humans alike, a news report outlines. 

The story: According to a recent report by Jeffrey Barbee and Laurel Neme for National Geographic, ReconAfrica — a petroleum exploration company — is prospecting for oil and could soon begin drilling in the Okavango region of Africa. Spanning more than 4.87 million hectares (12 million acres) of Namibia and Botswana, this region provides habitat for the world’s largest herd of African elephants and contains the Okavango Delta, a wetland that provides water for thousands of people and a variety of vulnerable wildlife species such as rhinos and giraffes. The petroleum exploration company recently licensed more than 3.5 million hectares (8.7 million acres) of land in the Okavango region for drilling areas, which will overlap with multiple conservation areas and could affect the Okavango Delta’s water quality, experts say

The big picture: “Our income is coming from wildlife and tourists, but if that oil industry comes, it will destroy everything,” Jacob Hamutenya, a chairperson of George Muyoka Conservancy in Namibia, told National Geographic. Reports indicate that oil drilling — and the infrastructure it requires such as roads, pipelines and buildings — could negatively affect wildlife and disrupt species migratory routes, as well as contaminate freshwater ecosystems in the Okavango region.

Read more here

A keystone marine species in the Antarctic Peninsula may be at risk due to overfishing and climate change. 

The story: A growing body of research has found that climate change and overfishing could negatively affect Antarctic krill, which would have devastating impacts on the Antarctic Peninsula’s food chain, reported Chelsea Harvey for Scientific American. Krill provide a critical source of protein for a variety of species in this region, including penguins, seabirds, fish, seals and whales. However, unsustainable krill fishing is on the rise, nearly tripling since the 1980s. Additionally, scientists are concerned that climate change could shift this shrimp-like species’ habitat and harm krill populations that depend on sea ice for protection from predators. 

The big picture: “I think what we’ll see [in the future] is worsening of the same trends that are happening in the Antarctic Peninsula right now,” Andrea Kavanagh, director of Antarctic and Southern Ocean conservation work at the Pew Charitable Trusts, told Scientific American.  “You’ll see more declines in penguin populations; you’ll see less sea ice, warmer waters.” Research shows that temperatures in the Antarctica Peninsula rose by roughly 0.56 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) each decade over the past 50 years. Experts say that to protect crucial marine species such as krill, governments must implement marine protected areas that can actively respond to the impacts of the climate crisis through adequate staffing and funding. 

Read more here.

News spotlight

In the United States, climate-fueled flooding and pest outbreaks are decreasing supplies of “swamp ash” — the low-density wood commonly used to make guitars.


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: Elephants in the Okavango region of Botswana (© Ben McRae)

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