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Abalone Caye is a small island off the coast of Belize, and for about a week, it's home to an important group of kids.

The island, located in the middle of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, is home to a small research station where five local college-age kids eat, work, and live together for a week each summer before heading back to the mainland.

There's a good reason for this expedition: These kids are in training to become community reef researchers.


Photo from TIDE, used with permission.

The Community Researcher Training Program is managed by James Foley and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE), an environmental institute in Belize. TIDE manages a large swath of natural areas in southern Belize, including the Port Honduras Marine Reserve. And thestudents, who all come from local communities, conduct research that's vital to helping us protect our coral reefs.

They learn how to do scientific research that'll help TIDE monitor and protect the reef, such as taking underwater fish counts, going out with fishermen to weigh their catches, or doing surveys of the local markets.

Foley also teaches them professional-level scuba diving as well as teamwork, which can be really important since the work means they may have to stay out on boats (or tiny islands) for hours or days at a time.

Photo from TIDE, used with permission.

Nice, right? But let's pause for a second and zoom out. Because big picture: Our reefs are in trouble, and they desperately need good management.

Coral reefs are an amazing ecosystem, but climate change is disrupting the little animals that make reefs, causing a potentially fatal problem known as coral bleaching. What's more, poor fishing practices means that reefs have been overfished, polluted, poisoned, trawled, and even blasted with dynamite.

Bleached coral in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo by Acropora/Wikimedia Commons.

Looking at all these problems caused by people, it's tempting to say, "OK, fine, we'll just close them off and keep everyone out." But that's neither realistic nor fair. Communities rely on these reefs for food and income, so managed access to the reefs is necessary in most areas around the world.

But managed access isn't just about limiting the number of fishermen — it's about studying and monitoring reef health and making policy changes as necessary, which is where the Community Researcher Training Program comes in. If we can head off problems like overfishing and pollution, we can help keep reefs healthy.

Foley's program has been successful because local communities don't always trust outsiders who come in and start telling people to change.

Often these communities have been living next to and with reefs for generations. They have deep cultural, historical, and economic ties to the reefs and their way of life.

So when a foreigner comes in – who hasn't lived there, whose family hasn't spent years fishing there – and starts ordering people around, it's understandable that locals would be mistrustful.

Foley has experienced this firsthand. He said that when he first arrived at TIDE, he'd try to talk to locals the conventional way, gathering locals into a room with graphs or discussions about trends and trying to tell them about changes they needed to make. But his words weren't always received well.

"People would be standing up, interrupting me, and saying 'You don't know what you're talking about. I've been fishing here all my life, and my father before me,'" Foley said.

And outsiders aren't always the best candidates for the job anyway.

Some research or management organizations rely on foreign volunteers, but doing that can come with drawbacks. You can't always count on volunteers having a lot of scientific training. Outsiders might also not understand the local environment or culture.

Even if the outsiders are highly trained professionals, it can still be a problem. Foley mentioned seeing otherwise good science derailed by a lack of local knowledge — some bit of information the scientist missed but that all the local fishermen knew by heart.

And at the end of the day, they don't live there. While a force of foreign volunteers might care deeply about the reef on an emotional or intellectual level, they don't live with it or depend on it for their livelihoods like the locals do.

That's why putting scientific power in the hands of these local kids is an awesome idea.

Photo from TIDE, used with permission.

In fact, many of the same fishermen who were initially distrustful of the program are now on board.

"We've actually had now fishermen standing up in meetings and saying, 'Five years ago, you telling me this, I wouldn't have believed it. But now my own daughter's collecting the data,'" Foley said.

Some of the students in the program are on an academic track already, but others are children of local fishing families and "second-chancers" — kids who've been in trouble with the law or dropped out of school and need another opportunity to succeed.

Foley's been doing this since 2011, and he says the entire program is a win-win. Even if the students don't end up as researchers themselves, they end up with a highly desirable skill set; some have since become tour guides, members of the coast guard, or even TV presenters. And they can still sometimes be called in to help from time to time, too.

This isn't just feel-good fluff, either: Good community management might be the key to saving reefs.

In July 2016, the academic journal Nature published a worldwide survey of coral reefs. The most interesting things they found were called "bright spots," places where reefs were doing substantially better than anyone expected.

A healthy reef can support a gigantic network of different plants and animals. Photo from joakant/Pixabay.

The bright spots weren't just remote, humanless areas either. Some were located right next to huge human populations and fished heavily. So what was the link between the bright spots? Where there were bright spots, local communities were actively involved in monitoring and protecting the reef.

Programs like these may end up being the heart of future reef conservation.

"It's really all about empowering local communities to participate in the management of their natural resources and building trust between the communities," said Foley.

So in the future, if you go diving and find yourself surrounded by magnificent schools of fish, sea turtles, blooms of color, and all the other signs of a healthy coral reef, you might want to remember and thank these community researchers.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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Pop Culture

14 things that will remain fun no matter how old you get

Your inner child will thank you for doing at least one of these.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Luckily, we’ve come to realize that fun isn’t just a luxury of childhood, but really a vital aspect of living well—like reducing stress, balancing hormone levels and even improving relationships.

More and more people of all ages are letting their inner kids out to play, and the feelings are delightfully infectious.

You might be wanting to instill a little more childlike wonder into your own life, and not sure where to start. Never fear, the internet is here. Reddit user SetsunaSaigami asked people, “What always remains fun no matter how old you get?” People’s (surprisingly profound) answers were great reminders that no matter how complex our lives become, simple joy will always be important.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

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As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

via Pixabay

The show must go on… and more power to her.

There are few things that feel more awful than being stranded at the altar by your spouse-to-be. That’s why people are cheering on Kayley Stead, 27, from the U.K. for turning a day of extreme disappointment into a party for her friends, family and most importantly, herself.

According to a report in The Metro, on Thursday, September 15, Stead woke up in an Airbnb with her bridemaids, having no idea that her fiance, Kallum Norton, 24, had run off early that morning. The word got to Stead’s bridesmaids at around 7 a.m. the day of the wedding.

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via Lewis Speaks Sr. / Facebook

This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


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