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Forty-year-old farmer Sutinggal works to clear weeds at Meru Betiri National Park in Sanenrejo village, Jember regency, East Java on Feb. 15, 2021. After working as an illegal logger for around 20 years, Sutinggal has become a farmer and is committed to protecting the forest from further destruction. Photo by Kharishar Kahfi

Our 5 favourite ecosystem stories of 2021 (so far)

Nature is declining at a rate never seen before in human history. Over a million species are now threatened with extinction globally, natural disasters are getting more frequent and CO2 levels in the atmosphere are the highest since humans walk the Earth. 

This is the most important story of the century, but journalists from developing countries tend to face more difficulties to tell these stories in their regions. As a result, impacts in the Global South often go unreported. 

That’s why, to celebrate World Environment Day, with the 2021 theme ‘Ecosystem Restoration‘ – we’ve compiled our five favourite ecosystem stories of 2021 so far. These stories showcase how the climate and biodiversity crisis are impacting developing countries, and how local communities are adapting. 

Ex-illegal loggers regret cutting down trees

A group of ex-illegal loggers in East Java, Indonesia, now work with authorities to find alternative sources of income for local communities. 

They even established the Andongrejo Villagers Network (Jawara), which works to develop ecotourism near the village that would add extra money for their pocket without destroying the forest.

Before retiring from logging, Suhartono suffered a serious injury. “The chainsaw fell onto my left calf, tearing the muscle,” he said in early February. “On that same day, I uttered my intention to stop stealing trees from the forest”.

Kharishar Kahfi reported this story from Indonesia, as part of our collaborative journalism project on Southeast Asia forest restoration supported by the Rainforest Journalism Fund and Pulitzer Center.

Egypts’ wealth at risk as black corals decline 

Black corals are good luck, according to an old Egyptian belief. But, as these rare types of corals are affected by climate change and human activities, their economic benefits also fall at risk.

Egypt is the largest economy of coral reef tourism in the world. The country obtains US $7 billion annually from diving and surface diving activities. However, by the end of the century, the North African nation may lose up to $ 65 billion in revenue under forecasts of a more severe climate.

“We, in Egypt, have about 22 types of soft corals, from which extracts are used in the manufacture of medicines,” said Dr Mahmoud Dar, professor of Marine Environment at the National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.

Rahma Diaa reported this story from Egypt as part of our Media Mentorship Fellowship

A natural gem in Kenya under threat

The Kakamega forest, Kenya’s only tropical rainforest, breathes life into millions of people living nearby. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is under increasing threat from loggers and agriculture expansion.

Local conservation officials warn of silent efforts to penetrate this forest and cut down its timber. 

“People are already encroaching the forest. Some parts are very far from the Kenya Wildlife Service station. So, people graze, collect medicines and firewood, and carry out other activities in the Kakamega forest,” says Solomon Wakitaa, a community guide at the Kakamega forest. 

Kevin Lunzalu reported this story from Kenya as part of our Media Mentorship Fellowship

Palm Oil invades Guatemalan indigenous communities

Since 2012, palm oil companies began to buy land from northern Guatemala’s indigenous population. 

Little by little, the firms made the town’s jurisdiction smaller, says Samuel Choc, a community member living in the area. Intensive agriculture replaced forest in the area and left the locals in danger.

Samuel explains that his community has become more vulnerable to natural hazards. Palm companies have cut down the trees that contained the rivers when it rained, he says.

Jody García reported this story from Guatemala as part of our Media Mentorship Fellowship.

Conservation clashes with indigenous people in Thailand

Somchat Raksongplu —a leader of the Karen indigenous community in northern Thailand— went to collect logs from the forest to build a shrine near his village. In a matter of hours, national park rangers threatened to arrest him for theft of natural resources.

This is not an isolated case. Forest conservation officials have been systematically displacing indigenous communities, in some cases because of a lack of consultation and in others because of direct intimidation.

“We did not know [that they were declaring a national park] until they put up signs and concrete posts around our homes,” Raksongplu said.

Nanticha Ocharoenchai reported this story from Thailand as part of our Media Mentorship Fellowship.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought new challenges to conserve nature and sparked the need for a green economic recovery. For the rest of 2021, our stories will continue to highlight these issues, along with the urgency of climate action.