environment

Historic Win For Oceans Conservation

History was made on October 30th with the designation of the first ever large-scale marine protected area in the high seas. The Ross Sea, known as the “Last Ocean” because of its status as the most pristine shallow sea left on earth, is now the world’s largest marine protected area. The designation, agreed upon by the 25 members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), safeguards 1.55 million km2 and protects populations of ecologically important species such as Weddell seals, Antarctic toothfish, and a unique type of killer whale. This protected status bans commercial fishing across roughly three-quarters of that area, with a small amount of fishing for research purposes allowed throughout the protected area. The designation is groundbreaking not only because of the size of the reserve, but because it is the culmination of years of difficult international negotiations to protect previously unregulated waters on the high seas.

This decision follows years of hard work by participating governments and NGO’s, including Greenpeace and Antarctic Ocean Alliance, two organizations supported with funds provided through the discretionary grants program of The Overbrook Foundation. Conservationists and nonprofits hope this designation will serve as a precedent for many other significant victories for ocean protection. Two additional proposals for marine protected areas in East Antarctic waters and the Weddell Sea are still being discussed, and those involved in the designation of the Ross Sea area are confident these areas will be protected in the coming years. The agreement will take effect in December 2017, and will last an initial 35 years for most of the reserve.

Good News for the New Year!

The days are numbered for those tiny plastic beads in soaps, body washes, toothpastes, and other household products. At the end of December, President Obama signed into law the Microbead-Free Waters Act, which bans the plastic microspheres widely used as exfoliating agents starting in July 2017. The bill is great news for waterways and oceans, as well as for human health. Studies have shown that the beads are washed down household drains, pass through sewage treatment plants, and make their ways into lakes, rivers, and oceans in enormous quantities (an estimated 11 billion microbeads are released into American waterways each day). There, they absorb toxins such as pesticides and move into the food web after being consumed by fish and other marine organisms. The result is an accumulation of toxins in wildlife and fish populations, and a danger to humans when affected seafood is eaten.

The bill sailed through the House and the Senate last month with an ease that seemed unusual for environmental legislation, in part because there was little opposition from the cosmetics companies responsible for most microbeads production. The industry had been under fire from environmental activists for years over the hazards of microbeads, and most major companies were already on board to begin phasing them out. Overbrook grantee The Story of Stuff Project was one of a handful of organizations that were instrumental to placing pressure on the cosmetics industry and pushing this bill through Congress.

Following the US bill and a similar law in the Netherlands, a rapidly growing online petition was launched to enact a microbeads ban in the UK. The hope is that more countries will follow these leads and make microbeads and their environmental effects a thing of the past.

Peru Protects Indigenous Amazon Land

The Foundation would like to congratulate Overbrook grantee Nature and Culture International and the Maijuna and Kichwa people on their recent historic victory. Last week, President Humala of Peru officially recognized the Maijuna-Kichwa Regional Conservation Area in the Amazon rainforest of northern Peru as a federally protected land. Nature and Culture International has been working tirelessly along with the indigenous Maijuna and Kichwa people and the regional Loreto government to protect the area since 2006.

In addition to being the ancestral homeland of the indigenous Maijuna and Kichwa, the conservation area is also home to nearly one million acres of incredibly biodiverse rainforest. The decree calls for the protection of the area’s natural resources as well as its indigenous inhabitants, under the supervision of the National Service of Protected National Areas by the State and with the assistance of government-trained regional personnel.

To learn more, please see Nature and Culture International’s press release on the decree.

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  Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of Environment of Peru, displaying the Supreme Decree 008-2015-MINAM. Photo Credit: SERNANP

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of Environment of Peru, displaying the Supreme Decree 008-2015-MINAM. Photo Credit: SERNANP

Overbrook grantee featured in Fast Company

This month’s online edition of business magazine Fast Company featured Erin Barnes, co-founder and Executive Director of Overbrook grantee ioby. ioby is a crowd-resourcing platform for citizen-led neighborhood projects aimed at making positive, grassroots-led change in communities from the bottom up. Founded in 2008 by Erin and fellow Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies graduates Brandon Whitney and Cassie Flynn, ioby has since expanded from a small pilot in New York to over 400 neighborhood projects in 6 different cities. In 2012, Erin and her co-founders were awarded the 2012 Jane Jacobs Medal for New Technology and Innovation.

In the interview, Erin talks world-changing strategy and emphasizes the importance of working with opponents to find and achieve common goals. “To get anything worthwhile done requires involving a diversity of constituents, and that means stepping out of your comfort zone to talk with people you don’t agree with,” she says. You can check out Erin’s interview over at Fast Company.