Conservationists, Computer Scientists to Map a ‘Safety Net’ for Earth
By Mike Gaworecki
A team of biologists and computer scientists plan to map a global "safety net" for planet Earth.
The mapping effort, to be led by Washington, DC-based non-profit research organization RESOLVE together with Globaïa, an NGO based in Quebec, Canada, and Brazil's Universidade Federal de Viçosa, aims to identify the most critical terrestrial regions to protect as we work towards the goal of conserving 50 percent of the world's land area.
Scientists and conservationists have argued for years that setting aside at least half of the world's land mass as off-limits to human enterprise is necessary if we are to conserve our planet's biodiversity. Renowned biologist E.O. Wilson is, of course, one of the chief proponents of this conservation target, as detailed in his 2016 book Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life.
There was an overall decline of 58 percent in wildlife population sizes between the years 1970 and 2012, the World Wildlife Fund reported earlier this year in its annual Living Planet Report. If current trends continue, the group added, population abundance of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles will have declined, on average, by some 67 percent by 2020.
It's not just flora and fauna species at risk if we don't find a way to preserve intact ecosystems, however. Mankind also relies on the services provided by nature, including clean water for drinking and crop irrigation, for instance, while the sequestration of massive amounts of carbon in the world's forests helps regulate the global climate cycle.
The "safety net" that RESOLVE and its partner institutions plan to map out will consist of a network of wildlife corridors that connect every protected area on Earth and link them up with other high-priority landscapes, as well, even those that are unprotected. These corridors are necessary for migratory species and wide-ranging species like big cats to thrive. They also provide a means for species to shift their ranges as temperatures continue to rise due to global warming and their current habitat becomes inhospitable.
Advances in computer modeling techniques have made it possible to examine all 125 million square kilometers of habitable land area on Earth and evaluate the importance of each square kilometer for preserving biodiversity and sustaining agricultural production, according to Eric Dinerstein, the scientist leading the mapping effort.
In order to map all of the planet's protected areas, key landscapes, and crucial wildlife corridors, Dinerstein and team plan to utilize 52 different data sets, on everything from biodiversity hotspots and species density to agricultural output and projections of future human development. They estimate that it will require thousands of hours of computer processing time to complete their study.
"Constructing a 'safety net' for the Earth's biota remained a dream until a few years ago when access to supercomputers and massive data storage allowed such an ambitious study to be carried out. This new map will offer a global view of how to reconnect the Earth's natural treasures," Dinerstein said in a statement. "It is just a starting point, and will continually evolve with new data and insights provided by scientists around the world."
The algorithms used by Dinerstein and team in the modeling done for their research will be released publicly so that other researchers can create a "safety net" map for regional, national and transnational contexts.
The mapping initiative was launched and funded by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (which also provides funding to Mongabay). A parallel effort to map a "safety net" for the world's oceans connecting marine protected areas that are vital to maintaining healthy fisheries and sequestering carbon will be launched next year.
We have quite a ways to go until we've protected 50 percent of planet Earth. The UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Center and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature released a report last year that found about 15 percent of the world's land area has been protected so far, while a little more than 10 percent of coastal and marine areas within national jurisdiction and just four percent of the global ocean are protected.
"Modern society has undervalued the vital role that nature plays in providing humanity with clean air and water, healthy food, and a stable climate—elements that are essential to sustaining life," Justin Winters, executive director of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, said in a statement. "By creating a 'safety net' of protected and connected ecosystems around the planet we could avert a climate crisis and create a world where both nature and humanity co-exist and thrive."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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