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how biodiversity coverage shapes lives and policies


Callie Veelenturf measured pH, conductivity and temperature near a leatherback turtle nest during research in Equatorial Guinea.Credit: Jonah Reenders

This photo of marine conservation biologist Callie Veelenturf won the Nature Careers photo competition in 2018 – an event Veelenturf credits with launching her career. She then participated in the drafting of a law that will help protect species and habitats in Panama.

Since 2021, the editors of Nature followed by cases like this, in which our journalism and opinion pieces had an impact. Here, we look at three times when biodiversity content affected researchers, communities or policy. As well as shaping Veelenturf’s conservation work, Nature articles have raised the profile of a proposal to protect part of the Antarctic Ocean and fueled discussions on carbon tax proposals to fund rainforest conservation.

Protect Panama

In the award-winning photo, Veelenturf was pictured with a leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in Equatorial Guinea, where she was collecting data for her master’s degree at Purdue University in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 2016. She and biologist Jonah Reenders, now a photographer based in San Francisco, Calif., spent nearly six months there , living in tents on Bioko Island, and Reenders snapped her as she measured the pH, conductivity and temperature of the sand near the leatherback turtle’s nest.

After the photo was posted, a deluge of emails and messages “gave me this network, almost overnight, of other sea turtle conservationists doing similar things around the world”, explains Veelenturf, which is now based in Arraiján, Panama. “All of a sudden, I was a ‘we’.”

The photo award also validated his hard work, Veelenturf says, contradicting a common assumption that sea turtle research simply meant relaxing on the beach. Karla Barrientos-Muñoz, a Colombian sea turtle conservationist at Fundación Tortugas del Mar, based in Medellín, wrote that Veelenturf’s victory was for all women in sea turtle conservation. “It made me feel part of this community,” says Veelenturf.

Inspired, she founded a non-profit organization called the Leatherback Project, based in Norfolk, Massachusetts, and went on to win a National Geographic Explorers Fellowship, allowing her to carry out the first scientific study of sea turtles in the islands archipelago. Pearl of Panama. Here, his team worked with local communities to survey the nesting sites and feeding grounds of olive ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea), green (Chelonia mydas), nested (Eretmochelys imbricata) and leatherback turtles of the Eastern Pacific.

During his fieldwork, Veelenturf read David Boyd’s book The rights of nature (2017), which describes how some lawyers have fought to obtain legal rights for nature. Such laws, which now exist in at least nine countries, make environmental conservation easier, as organizations can sue to protect a rainforest or stream. She then worked with environmentally conscious Congressman Juan Diego Vásquez Gutiérrez and Panamanian legal advisers to draft a similar law for Panama, which is particularly rich in biodiversity. Vásquez sponsored the legislation, and after more than a year of debate and review by the public and in the National Assembly, it was signed into law on February 24, 2022.

Protect Antarctica

In October 2020, a Comment article argued that the seas around the Western Antarctic Peninsula should be designated as a Marine Protected Area. Overfishing kills off large numbers of shrimp-like crustaceans called Antarctic krill (Superb euhausia), affecting the entire network of species in the region, including penguins, whales and seals, which feed on krill. The peninsula is also one of the fastest warming ecosystems on the planet.

A proposal for a marine protected area in Antarctica must be approved by the groups of governments that make up the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Cassandra Brooks, marine scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, co-author of the Nature and sits on the non-voting Scientific Delegation of CCAMLR, indicated that the comment had been sent to all government delegations and observer groups of the Commission. “If we can raise the issue in public,” Brooks says, “it helps raise the issue in that diplomatic space.”

The Western Antarctic Peninsula proposal is one of three proposed for the next CCAMLR meeting in October 2022. It took CCAMLR ten years to declare the Ross Sea a marine protected area. “Antarctica is not ten years old,” says Carolyn Hogg, co-author of Commentary, a conservation biologist at the University of Sydney in Australia.

News stories about the article were published around the world, including China, India, South Korea and Malaysia. Hogg says it has increased his visibility and further raised his profile with the Australian government. She works with the government to ensure that the country’s endangered species policy is informed by the latest genomic research. The aim is to give threatened populations the best chance of survival by preserving as much genetic diversity as possible.

Hogg and Brooks wrote the article with other women, some of whom were part of Homeward Bound, a global leadership program for women in science, technology, engineering, math, and science. Medicine. Many Homeward Bound participants and alumni – 288 women from at least 30 countries – co-authored it and worked to translate it into many languages, “showing CCAMLR that this great community of women scientists around the world looks and will hold accountable,” Brooks said.

Antarctica tends to be “both diplomatically and scientifically male-dominated,” she notes, and the impact of this global community of women was inspiring.

Carbon tax for tropical forests

Tropical countries should adopt a carbon tax, another comment urged in February 2020, creating a tax on fossil fuels that should be used to conserve tropical forests. Costa Rica and Colombia had already adopted such a tax, and several other countries, including Indonesia, Brazil and Peru, are now considering implementing one, explains Sebastian Troëng, executive vice president of partnerships at conservation at Conservation International, based in Brussels and co. – is the author of the piece.

After the article was published, the authors ensured that it was widely discussed. One of them, environmental economist Edward Barbier of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, presented the proposal at major meetings. These include the World Bank-International Monetary Fund forum in April 2022 and the Global Peatlands Initiative of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the 2021 COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. , United Kingdom. The carbon pricing proposal can be applied to any ecosystem, Barbier says. “Peatlands are ideal because you’re probably saving the most carbon-dense ecosystem on our planet.”

Meanwhile, Troeng’s colleagues presented the proposal to representatives of the finance and environment ministries of Chile, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Costa Rica. “Since then, we have been working directly with government departments,” he says, to strengthen the existing carbon tax system in Colombia and to establish similar systems in Peru and Singapore. “I think what people appreciate the most is the fact that two countries have already done it, so it’s not just a theory or a far-fetched idea, but it actually works,” Barbier says.

“It’s always hard to say, was it this paper that made things happen?” notes Troëng, on the impact of the article. “But it’s part of this growing consensus that nature plays a hugely important role in how we address climate change.”