When reading the almost perpetual stream of stories about loss and devastation in the environment, it can get rather disheartening.  Sometimes we just want to know that there are some wins out there, right?  Today, we highlight three such wins, one each from the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe.  

The first story comes from Sri Lanka.  In 1982, the last known Sri Lankan legume tree (Crudia zeylanica) died.  It was officially declared extinct in 2006.  However, in 2019, a single legume tree was discovered when planning for a new road.   Conservationists, Buddist monks, and the general public rallied to save the tree.  The monks took the special step to ordain the tree, declaring it taboo to cut it down. 

Since then, several more of the trees have been found because people were actively searching for others.  Researchers have also successfully germinated some of their seeds to produce offspring.   There is renewed hope for this tree.

Thanks to @Mongabay News for bringing us the story.

Next, we visit (virtually) the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The poverty rate in this country ranks it amongst one of the poorest in the world.  Yet, it is considered one of the richest in natural resources, including diamonds, gold, and oil.  Sadly, it has been plagued by regional wars, political instability, ongoing Ebola epidemics, severe food insecurity, and what the Human Rights Watch calls a dire humanitarian situation. 

On the other hand, the DRC has an incredible national park, Virunga, which is home to three types of great apes – the mountain gorilla, eastern lowland gorilla, and eastern chimpanzee – as well as hippos and forest elephants.

In 2010, oil exploration began within the park and a significant oil reserve was discovered.  Despite the financial pressures, local communities chose to participate in listening sessions regarding the impact of drilling in the park instead of jumping at the opportunity. 

Earlier this year, the community members determined that drilling was not in their best interest.   The fragile ecosystem of the park was too important to destroy. In a translation from the French text, the community stated, “…in no case will we agree to be divided for personal interests to the detriment of community interests. We ask the president to cancel this order.”  

Let’s hope that the will of the people can sustain. 

Thanks to the Network for the Conservation and Rehabilitation of Forest Ecosystems (@reseau_cref) for tweeting the news. 

Lastly, we head to England for one more step in the right ecological direction.   

An area known as the Solent, on the south coast of England, was once the largest self-sustaining native oyster fishery in Europe.  Then, the area became overfished, polluted, and congested with invasive species.    

As you most likely know, oysters act as a natural water filtration system, ingesting pollutants, removing many from their surrounding habitat.  So, a collaboration of scientists, conservationists, fishers, and other local businesses seeks to reinvigorate the area by adding five million oysters to the Solent waters over the next several years. A major oyster breeding program is underway.  Other planned restoration efforts would further encourage biodiversity within the waterway.   

We will check in periodically with the Blue Marine Foundation (@Bluemarinef)  to see how this is progressing.

If you know of recent, additional environmental success stories that need a broader audience, feel free to send them along.  Let’s do our part to get the word out!

Sources:

Sri Lankan legume tree — https://news.mongabay.com/2021/03/hope-blooms-for-an-extinct-sri-lankan-tree-that-reemerged-under-threat/

Virunga National Park, DRC and local communities — https://reseaucref.org/nous-ne-voulons-pas-de-lexploitation-du-petrole-dans-le-parc-des-virunga-previennent-les-communautes-de-vitshumbi-et-kanyabayonga/

Solent Oyster Restoration project — https://nativeoysternetwork.org/portfolio/solentoyster/

Every year, right about this time, I start getting excited about the prospects of exploring vernal pools.  I hope you do too.

What’s a vernal pool?  These are the fairly shallow, temporary pools of water you find during the spring season, usually in forested areas. The pool returns each year, varying in size, depending on the quantity of snowmelt and rainfall.  During droughts, they may not return at all — and that’s a problem.  

What makes vernal pools special is that they are the breeding ground for certain species, including some that have no alternative options.  These include certain types of wood frogs, salamanders, and, my favorite, fairy shrimp, to name just a few. 

Why don’t these species chose to breed in permanent sites such as ponds and streams?  There are some positive trade-offs to what seems like a precarious location.  For example, vernal pools are safer than other bodies of water because there are no fish to eat the eggs or larvae.  Also, there may be specific plants growing close by to where the pools form, providing food and cover from predators.

What shall I look for in the ponds?  First, look for the sunny patch on the pond.  Then see if you can spot some tiny (about 1 inch long) lobster-like creature.  In some cases, they may be seen swimming on their backs, with their legs up toward the sun.  You’ll want to find these guys early in the season because they cannot survive water temperatures above 70℉.  Interestingly, however, their eggs can and will survive the heat.  On the other hand, the eggs will survive the drying out of the pond and will hatch the next time conditions seem right.

In mid to late spring, you will find egg masses in the pond. By late spring and early summer, you may find larval salamanders and tadpole frogs.  You may also discover turtles (including some rare species), snakes, interesting plants, and possibly even some birds that are specifically attracted to the area.

Can I find a vernal pond where I live?  Vernal pools occur in many states, including Missouri, Minnesota, California, Arizona, New Jersey, and in all the New England states.  

For more information, check with your local Department of Environmental Protection or Audobon group.  They are likely to have additional details about the specifics of vernal pools in your state.   

Here are two sources that are particularly good:  https://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/abstracts/ecology/Vernal_Pool.pdf

https://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/nongame/documents/vernal-pool-manual.pdf