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Purnima Devi Burman and Sanjay Gubbi Wins Prestigious Whitley Awards

Sanjay Gubbi of Karnataka and Purnima Barman of Assam have won the prestigious Whitley Award for their contributions in wildlife conservation. Whitley awards are popularly known as Green Oscars. The two Indians were among the six selected out of 169 applicants from 66 countries.

Purnima Devi Burman has been selected for her efforts  for the conservation of greater adjutant storks and its habitat. She created an all female network in three villages of Kamrup district to save the adjutant storks and their habitats. The global population of adjutant storks is 1200-1800. Around 800 of them are found in Assam and 150 in Bihar.

Sanjay Gubbi has been selected for his contribution to protect tiger corridors in Karnataka. Gubbi who is wildlife biologist and scientist works with the Mysuru-based Nature Conservation Foundation. Gubbi is also a member of the State Board for Wildlife and works actively to mitigate conflict issues. In 2012, he was instrumental in securing the largest expansion of protected areas in India since 1970. He helped to increase the size of protected areas in Karnataka by 37%.

Whitley Awards

Whitley Awards are instituted by the U.K.-registered charity Whitley Fund for Nature. These awards are given annually to recognise national and regional conservationists and supports them in their endeavour to conserve wildlife and nature. The awards are worth £35,000 and particularly seeks to recognise wildlife conservationists from outside the developed world.

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Wax worm caterpillars found to eat Plastics

The wax worm, the larvae of insect Galleria mellonella, is found to possess the ability to biodegrade polyethylene, which is one of the toughest and most used plastics. The scientists have observed that the degradation rate of the wax worm is extremely fast when compared to other recent discoveries. Last year, a bacteria was found to biodegrade plastics at a rate of just 0.13mg a day.

Significance

The present discovery assumes significance for getting rid of the ever increasing Polyethylene plastic waste that degrades the environment. It is estimated that a trillion plastic bags are used every single year. The plastics are highly resistant to breaking down, and even if it does the smaller pieces usually tend to choke up ecosystems without getting degraded.

The wax worms were found to transform the polyethylene into ethylene glycol. To make sure it was not just the chewing and degrading the plastic, scientists mashed up some of the worms and smeared them on polyethylene bags and got similar results as above. The molecular details of the process of breakdown could be used to come up with a biotechnological solution for managing polyethylene waste.

Wax Worm

Wax worms are medium-white caterpillars with black-tipped feet that live as parasites in bee colonies and are commercially bred for fishing bait. They are the caterpillar larvae of wax moths. Wax moths lay their eggs inside beehives where these worms hatch and grow on beeswax. The wax worms feed on cocoons, pollen, and shed skins of bees and are considered as parasites by the beekeepers.

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Goldman Environmental Prize for Prafulla Samantra

Social activist Prafulla Samantra was announced one among six winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize for his “historic 12-year legal battle that affirmed the indigenous Dongria Kondh’s land rights and protected the Niyamgiri Hills from a massive, open-pit aluminum ore mine.”

The other five winners for this year are: Mark Lopez (United States); Uroš Macerl (Slovenia); Rodrigo Tot (Guatemala); Rodrigue Katembo (Democratic Republic of Congo); and Wendy Bowman (Australia).

Prafulla Samantra is a trained lawyer and has been involved in activism since the Jayprakash Narayan-movement. He was an iconic leader responsible for rallying tribes in Niyamgiri region of Odisha and made use of legal provisions to block mining-to-metals conglomerate Vedanta from setting up a bauxite mine there. Samantara was the first citizen to use law to halt the mining operations of Vedanta. As a result of his efforts, the company has been forced to suspend mining of bauxite from that region.

In its April 18, 2013, historic judgment, Supreme Court empowered local communities to have the final say in mining projects on their land. Subsequently, village councils of the Niyamgiri Hills unanimously voted against the mine. In August 2015, Vedanta announced the closure of its aluminium refinery in that region.

Samantara is only the sixth Indian to win the prize after Medha Patkar, M.C. Mehta, Rasheeda Bi, Champaran Shukla and Ramesh Agrawal since 1990 when the award was first instituted.

Goldman Environmental Prize

The Goldman Environmental Prize was created in 1990 to honour grassroots environmentalists undertaking risk to their lives for the cause of protecting the environment. The award is given to six persons, one from six geographical regions of the world, namely,  Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America. The prize is given by Goldman Environmental Foundation having its headquarters in San Francisco. The prize is also called as the Green Nobel.

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