by Kristen Minogue
The Smithsonian has a new resolution for 2017: Earth Optimism. This is the year the Smithsonian is celebrating environmental success stories, and shifting the focus to how we can fight battles to save species and preserve our planet—and win. Despite breaking a wide swath of climate records, 2016 gave us reasons for optimism as well. In our 2016 Year in Review, we’ve pulled out the most encouraging stories and discoveries at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center from the previous year. Here are the top 10 that make us hopeful about the planet’s future:
1. Shark tagging is turning the ocean’s most demonized predators into poster children for conservation.
Chuck Bangley, Matt Ogburn and the biologists of SERC’s Fish and Invertebrate Ecology Lab journeyed along the Atlantic this summer and fall to tag sharks along the East Coast, to understand their migrations and unearth clues to protecting them.
2. There’s hope for oysters on both sides of the country.Archaeology revealed how Native Americans on the Chesapeake harvested oysters sustainably, offering clues for harvesters today. And baby oysters are a lot tougher than they look when facing climate change. Meanwhile in California, ecologists discovered that diversity—and large enough oyster beds—could be key to growing new generations of baby Olympia oysters.
3. There’s hope for river herring too.
Using an underwater sound camera, Fish and Invertebrate Lab ecologists did the first census of river herring on the Choptank River since 1973, and tracked an estimated 1.3 million migrating to their spawning grounds. Not a bad number, and it gives conservationists a much-needed baseline to determine the best ways to protect the imperiled fish.
4. Trees can fight crime, make coffee grow better and even give business a boost. And speaking of business…
5. It is possible to live in a sustainable city.
Ask urban ecologist Steward Pickett, who launched the Baltimore Ecosystem Study 20 years ago.
6. Biodiversity can protect the world’s seafood from climate change.
After divers did more than 4,000 underwater surveys in 44 countries, ecologists discovered fish in more diverse communities are better able to resist rising temperatures and sharp temperature swings. As SERC’s MarineGEO director Emmett Duffy put it, “Biodiversity is more than a pretty face.”
7. Biodiversity may be able to make food webs in forests more resilient too.
We’re still analyzing data from the army of clay caterpillars we deployed this summer to find out.
8. Scientists solved a mystery of disappearing pollution.
After two decades, SERC ecologist Tom Jordan and a team of researchers discovered how nitrogen pollution in a Choptank watershed was vanishing into thin air.
9. Scientists can look into the next century of global warming on the “wetland of the future.”
On SERC’s Global Change Research Wetland, ecologists are heating up wetland soils to see how global warming could play out in the year 2100. It’s not all one dark prophecy.
10. Saving endangered orchids just got a little easier.
Orchids need special fungi to grow, and with an assist from new DNA technology, scientists found those fungi in more places than anyone suspected.