1. French Polynesia
Partula snails are making a comeback, after the largest-ever release of any “extinct in the wild” species.
Partulids eat decaying plants and fungi, making them an important part of the forest ecosystem. As separate species are endemic to single islands, their shells have played a significant role in local cultures.
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In our Progress roundup, governments and private companies are removing barriers to better jobs and innovation, from Argentina to Benin. And, in science news, we highlight a discovery for the future of electricity.
The snails were nearly wiped out by the rosy wolf snail, which was introduced to the islands to eliminate the invasive African giant land snail. The few surviving partulids were rescued in the early 1990s, when zoos in Europe and the United States collaborated to breed 11 different species of the gastropods.
Scientists began reintroducing the snails nine years ago to predator-proof reserves on the islands of Moorea and Tahiti. Since then, 21,000 snails have been delivered to the islands – 5,000 of them this year.
Paul Pearce-Kelly, who coordinates the conservation program, said the snails are “the Darwin’s finches of the snail world, having been researched for more than a century due to their isolated habitat providing the perfect conditions to study evolution. This collaborative conservation initiative … shows the conservation power of zoos to reverse biodiversity loss.”
Sources: The Guardian, IUCN Red List, Zoological Society of London
Engineers designed a powerful nanogenerator that harnesses vibration, using the same phenomenon that lights a gas stove and keeps a quartz watch accurate. The thin, 2.5-square-centimeter example of energy harvesting could be used to self-power electronics like internet-connected thermostats.
At the Universities of Waterloo and Toronto, researchers made a compound that works based on the piezoelectric effect, in which electricity is produced by mechanical pressure on a material. That pressure moves atoms around in the crystal structure to produce an electric charge.
Asif Khan, a co-author of the study, says their metal-halide compound, EDABCO copper chloride, “can harvest tiny mechanical vibrations in any dynamic circumstances, from human motion to automotive vehicles.” In an example of the team’s vision, aircraft vibrations could power the craft’s sensory monitoring systems, without using nonrenewable energy or lead-based piezoelectric materials.
Sources: Nature Communications, University of Waterloo
Young, low-income Argentines are finding well-paying jobs through coding boot camps. The free coding and information technology classes are government-initiated and subsidized by Argentina’s tech industry, which struggles to find skilled workers for booming tech jobs.
Argentina Programa 4.0 launched in November, offering free two to three months’ training in coding languages and other digital skills, plus job placement in software companies. Access to high-quality computers and the internet remain barriers, so many of the courses offer free equipment as well. So far, 210,000 students have taken courses, according to a spokesperson for the initiative.
At the end of 2022, Argentina’s unemployment rate stood at 6.3%, yet as many as 40% of Argentines live below the poverty line. Entry-level tech jobs generally pay well above minimum wage.
Puerta 18 is a nonprofit in Buenos Aires that offers free courses on 3D printing, programming, and graphic design. “Right off the bat, they often become the highest earner in the family,” says director Federico Waisbaum.
Sources: Context, National Institute of Statistics and Censuses Argentina
Young people in Benin are a growing share of booming entrepreneurship. More than 27,000 new businesses were founded in 2019, 27% of which were started by young adults ages 18-30. Three years later, the number of new businesses was twice as many, and 41% of those were founded by young people. A third were started by women.
Officials say the increase is driven by a new e-government platform called MonEntreprise.bj, developed by the U.N. Conference for Trade and Development and supported by the Netherlands, that streamlines some normally bureaucratic processes, making it easy to launch and support digital businesses. The software is also in use in 10 other developing countries.
Caludia Togbe used it to create Origine Terre, a cosmetics business, in 2020. After registering on the digital platform she expanded her product line and was able to sell internationally. “I couldn’t wait for someone to hire me, so I decided to create my own job, and hire myself,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to be my own boss.”
Source: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
After devastating floods, southern Pakistan is rebuilding with low-cost, water-resistant housing developed by the country’s first female architect. Yasmeen Lari co-founded the Heritage Foundation of Pakistan in 1980 to pioneer design for sustainable shelters and housing that could be built by the people who need them. Although some express concern that brick and cement are more permanent, Ms. Lari’s lime, mud, and bamboo homes are better than traditional mud huts at withstanding extreme weather events.
The foundation has already helped build 4,500 houses for survivors of the floods, which destroyed more than 2 million homes. Structures take about a week to build and cost less than $100. Ms. Lari was recognized with the Royal Institute of British Architects’ 2023 medal for a lifetime of socially conscious work that emphasizes self-reliance.
“We need a paradigm shift from charity to empowerment, from dependence to self-reliance, from women being suppressed to placing them in the lead,” writes Ms. Lari. “Every one of the vulnerable should learn to build safe structures so that they are not displaced and they are able to fend for themselves [when a disaster strikes].”
Sources: Context, CNN, The Heritage Foundation of Pakistan