what happened last week - To All The Glaciers We've Loved Before

what happened last week in Asia, Africa and the Americas


Hey, this is Sham Jaff, your very own news curator. Each week, I highlight some of the biggest stories from regions and countries that are historically underreported in "Western media". My goal is to burst our Western-centric bubbles, and expand the view we hold of the world. Questions, comments, concerns? You can reach me anytime by replying to this mail. And if this newsletter was forwarded to you, you can sign up at whathappenedlastweek.com

In Issue #381, I'm all about the climate, 'cause, wow, this past week's headlines were depressing. This issue takes you to several places in the world, from Venezuela to Thailand, Papua New Guinea and India. All over the world, we're witnessing the effects of the planet warming up, and of course, the so-called 'Global South' feels it first. In this issue, I'm talking about Venezuela's last glacier that has now disappeared and Thailand's bleaching coral reefs.

Venezuela is the first Andean country to lose all its glaciers

What happened
Venezuela's Sierra Nevada region was famous for having six glaciers. These icy giants were a big deal locally, both as a natural spectacle and a cultural icon. As Albinson Linares reported for Noticias Telemundo, they're all gone now. The last one standing, the Humboldt Glacier, got so small that it doesn't even count as a glacier anymore, according to the International Climate and Cryosphere Initiative (ICCI).

Why this matters
When glaciers melt, they add to the rising sea levels around the world. Scientists are highlighting a pretty big deal here—the Humboldt Glacier vanishing means Venezuela is the first Andean country to lose all its glaciers, thanks to climate change and maybe some help from El Niño, which warms things up. A 2023 study looked at over 215,000 glaciers worldwide and found that if things keep heating up, 83% of them could be history by 2100.

Tell me more
Glaciers are these huge chunks of ice that build up from layers of snow over hundreds of years. Normally, they need the winter snow to not fully melt in warmer months to stick around. But with the planet heating up, glaciers like Humboldt keep getting smaller. From 1952 to 2019, Venezuela’s glaciers shrank from 2,317 square kilometers to barely 0.046 square kilometers, based on a 2020 study. Locally, losing the glaciers is a big emotional blow. They're not just ice; they're part of what makes the community proud and beautiful. Even as they shrink, they remain a part of local identity as long as there’s a bit of ice left, with stories often featuring mythical white eagles.

Did you know? The mountains are part of the regional identity and the origin of various legends in the area that relate them to mythical white eagles.

What now?
Researchers are pretty keen on figuring out what happens after a glacier goes away. They're looking into how nature takes over these once icy areas, starting with simple life like lichens and moving up to plants and animals. This whole process is called primary succession.

Almost all the coral species in eastern Thailand have bleached

What happened
The sea near Thailand is super hot right now because of a big heatwave there. This is messing up a lot of sea life, especially the coral reefs in the Eastern Gulf of Thailand.

Why this matters
Scientists say we’re in the middle of a huge coral bleaching event—only the fourth one we've known globally. Coral reefs have been cut in half since the 1950s because of climate change. If the planet heats up just a bit more, we might lose up to 90% of them. That's pretty much where we're at now.

Tell me more
Right now, the Eastern Gulf of Thailand has water temperatures around 32.73°C (nearly 91°F), which is really warm. Lalita Putchim, a marine biologist, found that almost all the coral species there are bleached, and in the Trat archipelago, 30% of coral life is bleaching, with 5% already dead.

What are corals?
Corals are these colorful underwater creatures that live about five meters deep. They're turning white because the water's too hot, and this is called coral bleaching. It's a really bad sign because it means the corals are basically starving. They usually live in a give-and-take relationship with algae, which feed them and give them their color. When corals bleach, they lose these algae and their source of food. Beyond looking pretty, corals are super important—they protect coastlines, provide homes for loads of marine life, and support fishing and tourism industries.

What now?
Well, the bleaching corals in the Eastern Gulf of Thailand are already bad news for local fishermen. They're catching fewer fish and making less money because fish need healthy corals to live around. Before, some fishermen could make up to 10,000 baht a day, but now some days they catch nothing. If the water doesn't cool down soon, even more corals will die, which means less fish and higher seafood prices.

Good to know: Patchar Duangklad is a prominent Thai journalist and a business developer and co-founder of PunchUp, a media house in Thailand. One PunchUp project, "Encroaching Forests and Encroaching People," reported on the Thai government’s deforestation policies. The project used forest area data, government reports, and forest reclamation cases to reveal that over just two years — 2014 and 2015 — the government’s policies had resulted in more than 30,000 legal cases related to forestry violations.

Zoom out: Despite all this bad news, not every coral reef is doomed, writes Benji Jones for Vox. Some, like those in Cambodia, are still thriving, probably because they're better at handling the heat. These resilient reefs might hold clues to helping other reefs survive. But even these reefs face challenges like overfishing. The diversity of coral species in East Asia, with lots of different types able to handle various stresses, might be their secret weapon. When some corals die during warm spells, others that can handle the heat better might take their place.

Hey, thanks for reading.

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