Meghan Markle narrates new Disney elephant documentary

March 27, 2020 by  
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Meghan Markle is returning to show biz to narrate a new Disney documentary about African elephants . This will be her first film since the former Suits star gave up her career to marry Prince Harry. The film Elephant will start streaming on April 3 on Disney+. Elephant focuses on Shani, an African elephant, and her son, Jomo, as they migrate across the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Led by matriarch Gaia and accompanied by the rest of their herd, they face common problems of the modern elephant: predators, diminished resources and brutal heat. Related: Villagers in India knit sweaters to protect rescued elephants from the cold Disneynature and the Disney Conservation Fund will donate some of the film’s proceeds to Elephants Without Borders . This charitable organization focuses on elephant research, education and outreach and works with the government of Botswana and Botswana’s Department of Wildlife & National Parks to run an elephant orphanage . This latest documentary is one of a series of Disneynature films narrated by celebrities. Meryl Streep, Jane Goodall and Morgan Freeman have also done voiceovers on Disneynature productions. Natalie Portman narrated Dolphin Reef, which will also premiere on April 3. You can see a joint trailer for Elephants and Dolphin Reef here . Botswana featured prominently in the royal love story between Markle and Harry. Harry has long been active in conservation work in Africa, having visited since his teens. He became president of African Parks in late 2017 and is a patron Rhino Conservation Botswana. Soon after Markle met him in 2016, Harry invited her to camp in the Botswana wilderness . “She came and joined me for five days out there, which was absolutely fantastic,” he said, according to People. “So then we were really by ourselves, which was crucial to me to make sure that we had a chance to know each other.” The following year, they again visited Botswana, this time to aid Dr. Mike Chase of Elephants Without Borders. + People Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Meghan Markle narrates new Disney elephant documentary

Scientists get closer to artificial photosynthesis for renewable energy

March 26, 2020 by  
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Scientists at Berkeley Lab are getting close to a long-held goal of using artificial photosynthesis to generate renewable energy from the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. If produced in large enough quantities, the energy created from artificial photosynthesis could be a huge step to slowing climate change. Photosynthesis is the chemical reaction by which algae and green plants turn carbon dioxide into cellular fuel. Scientists at Berkeley have designed square solar fuel tiles containing billions of nanoscale tubes between two pieces of thin, flexible silicate. These squares will comprise the new artificial photosynthesis system. Related: New photosynthesis machine is twice as efficient at creating hydrogen fuel The Berkeley scientists recently published a paper in Advanced Functional Materials explaining how their design “allows for the rapid flow of protons from the interior space of the tube, where they are generated from splitting water molecules, to the outside, where they combine with CO2 and electrons to form the fuel.” So far, the scientists have managed to produce carbon monoxide as the fuel but are trying for methanol. “There are two challenges that have not yet been met,” said senior scientist Heinz Frei in a press release from Berkeley Lab . “One of them is scalability. If we want to keep fossil fuels in the ground, we need to be able to make energy in terawatts — an enormous amount of fuel. And, you need to make a liquid hydrocarbon fuel so that we can actually use it with the trillions of dollars’ worth of existing infrastructure and technology.” Once the scientists are satisfied with their model, they should be able to quickly build a solar fuel farm out of the tiles, which measure a few inches across. “We, as basic scientists, need to deliver a tile that works, with all questions about its performance settled,” Frei said. “And engineers in industry know how to connect these tiles. When we’ve figured out square inches, they’ll be able to make square miles.” + Berkeley Lab Images via Andreas Senftleben

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Scientists get closer to artificial photosynthesis for renewable energy

Border wall could end jaguar recovery

March 25, 2020 by  
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The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it will waive many public health and environmental laws to fast-track border wall construction in remote, mountainous areas of California, Texas and Arizona. The new sections of the border wall will block the remaining corridors that connect jaguars from the U.S. to Sonora, Mexico. The wall will also harm more than 90 other threatened and endangered species . “The new border walls will mean the end of jaguar recovery in the United States,” Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said . “This tragedy’s all the more heartbreaking because walling off these beautiful wildlands is completely unnecessary and futile. It has nothing to do with border security and everything to do to with Trump’s racist campaign promise.” Related: $87M wildlife bridge in California will be a haven for mountain lions Jaguars are shy animals that mostly move around at night over highland trails. Conservationists worry that blocking border access will halt the jaguars’ ability to repopulate the Peloncillo Mountains east of Douglas, Arizona and that jaguars fleeing human encroachment in northern Mexico will have nowhere to go. Other threatened, endangered and rare species that call the border region home include the lesser long-nosed bat, Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican gray wolf, ocelot and the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. The more than 650 miles of barriers currently blocking the border disrupt animal migration, cause flooding and decimate these animals’ fragile ecosystems . Jaguars are found from the southwestern U.S. down to south-central Argentina. This mammal is the most powerful and largest cat in the western hemisphere and one of four big cats of the Panthera genus. The other three are lions, leopards and tigers . “Jaguars are a key part of the stunningly diverse web of life in the borderlands that will fall apart if these walls are built,” Serraglio said. “The crisis of runaway extinction is devastating wildlife and wild places all over our planet. Trump’s border wall is pouring gas on that fire, and we’ll continue to fight it every step of the way.” The Center for Biological Diversity has helped launch a campaign to oppose the border wall. Individuals can sign the nonprofit conservation organization’s pledge to oppose the wall here . + Center for Biological Diversity Images via Center for Biological Diversity and Pixabay

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Border wall could end jaguar recovery

Clear doesn’t mean clean for Venice’s canals

March 24, 2020 by  
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Images of dolphins cruising Italian ports and swans floating beneath picturesque bridges in Venice’s famous canals are popping up on social media feeds. But clearer  water  doesn’t necessarily mean cleaner. Unfortunately, two weeks of lockdown isn’t enough to reverse centuries of human impact on Venice’s canals. Boat traffic kicking up natural sediment is the main cause of the canals’ usual murkiness. “The low turbidity of the water does not mean cleanliness,” Pierpaolo Campostrini, the managing director for the Consortium for Managing Scientific Research on Venice Lagoon System, told ABC News. “The transparency is due to the absence of sediment resuspension.” Cold water is probably also contributing to the canals’ clarity, as it’s not warm enough for the synthesis of organic compounds from  carbon dioxide . Related: Coronavirus and its impact on carbon emissions Water pollution can be invisible. “ Pollution  can impact how water appears, but perfectly clear water can contain toxic substances,” Kristen Thyng, assistant research professor at Texas A&M University, told Afar. Italy has been on lockdown since March 9, when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national quarantine. At the time of writing, Italy has more than 59,000 confirmed  coronavirus  cases. This is the second-highest national rate after China. Venice is in northern Italy, where factories usually cause air pollution. Because the nationwide lockdown has prompted the temporary closure of many industries, air quality has improved. The European Space Agency has captured clearer skies from its satellites. However, chemical analysis would be necessary to say exactly how much both air and water quality have improved in Italy during the pandemic. Citizens of Venice were still recovering from record high tides last November, which prompted the Italian government to declare a state of emergency. Many shops and hotels  flooded , and St. Mark’s Square, a tourist favorite, was underwater. Unfortunately, most locals aren’t able to appreciate the canals’ current beauty. Lockdown means they can only leave their homes for necessities, work and  health  circumstances. + ABC News Via Afar Image via Gerhard Gellinger

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Clear doesn’t mean clean for Venice’s canals

Wisconsin’s hidden eco-wellness hotspot

March 24, 2020 by  
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Madison,  Wisconsin  is defined by water. It’s only one of two cities in the US built on an isthmus (the other is Seattle), and it has five lakes. The population of just over a quarter million is overwhelmingly young and educated, thanks to the massive University of Wisconsin. Mad City is one of the Midwest’s more progressive places and regularly features on “best of” lists. But you have to be tough to live here. Winter temperatures regularly dive below freezing, while summer temperatures often top 90 degrees. Outdoor activities in Madison Madison’s outdoor recreation revolves around its lakes. If you like kayaking , stand up paddleboarding or water skiing, you’re in luck. This is also a place to try more extreme water sports, such as wakeboarding, kiteboarding and flyboarding (where water can propel you almost 50 feet in the air). Those who are looking for something more contemplative will enjoy a trip to  Olbrich Botanical Garden . The 16 acres look their best in spring and summer, but even in winter you can enjoy orchids blooming in the sun-filled glass Bolz Conservatory. The garden’s 30-foot high Thai pavilion was a gift from the Thai royal family. The red lacquer and gold leaf structure was built in  Thailand , shipped by sea, rail and truck to Madison, then reassembled by Thai artisans without using screws or nails. At the  UW Madison Arboretum , you can meander through woodlands, wetlands, savannas and restored prairies on more than 17 miles of  trails . You can also see rare effigy mounds built more than 1,000 years ago. The arboretum features events like fungi workshops and expert-led nature walks. In the winter, it’s a popular place to snowshoe and cross-country ski. Wellness in Madison The Garver Feed Mill building is the latest wellness star in the Madison scene. After the US  Sugar  Company constructed this brick behemoth in 1906 for beet sugar processing, it became known as the Sugar Castle because of its dramatic arched gothic windows. Later it was a factory for formulating livestock feed, before sitting derelict for a couple of decades. But just last November, it reopened as a spectacularly popular event space, site of the farmers’ market during winter, and home of wellness providers and artisan food makers. The whole building is gorgeous, with lots of exposed brick walls, big windows and chandeliers. For the perfect wellness-focused day at Garver, take a class at  Perennial Yoga , eat a healthy meal at plant-based Surya Café, then visit  Kosa Wellness Spa & Retreat  to relax in the steam room and sauna or to get an Ayurvedic treatment.  “Something society doesn’t afford us is quiet and space,” said owner Shilpa Sankaran, who aspires to provide Madison with just that. “Where do you hear your own voice? That’s where the remedy lives, in our own knowing.” She sources most of her spa products from Wisconsin and has a special interest in supporting women in business. Women in  India  who have escaped sex trafficking manufacture the spa’s robes. I especially liked how they left some of the more attractive graffiti in place on the treatment room walls from the years that squatters filled the building. If art uplifts you, the  Chazen Museum of Art  on the UW campus houses lots of work by famous artists, including Miro, Picasso, and Louise Nevelson, plus interesting installations by UW art faculty. This big  museum  is free and well worth visiting. Dining out in Madison Madison is an easy town for vegetarians and  vegans . The  Green Owl Café , Madison’s first all-veg restaurant, is a cheerful and comfortable hangout spot for bowls, veggie burgers, vegan wings and vegan desserts like lava cake and coconut cream pie.  Surya Cafe , in the Garver Feed Mill, features more adventurous — some might say startling — combinations, such as a curried cauliflower waffle with maple-cumin kale and mango jalapeno sauce. Himal Chuli serves Nepali food, with several veggie and tofu-based options. The roti is so excellent I ordered a second serving.  Ian’s Pizza has several locations and is one of my favorite Madison eateries. You can custom order a gigantic salad with more than 40 mix-in options, and they often have vegan slices. For vegan dessert, don’t miss  Bloom Bake Shop . This bakery has a whole case of vegan cupcakes. Public transit Since Madison is largely a college town, you’ll find lots of public transportation and  bikes . It’s known as an extremely bikable city, so if you like biking, check out Madison  BCycle , the local bike share program. This program is designed for short trips of under an hour. If you want a bike for longer-term use, the  Budget Bicycle Center  rents various kinds of bikes. Metro Transit  is Madison’s bus company, serving the greater Madison area. Eco-wellness lodging The white dome of the Capitol filled my window at the  Madison Concourse Hotel . In addition to this stunning view and a convenient downtown location, the Concourse has been refining its eco measures for a decade. The  hotel uses energy-efficient lighting, offers reusable glass cups instead of plastic in guest rooms and is a member of REAP Food Group, which works on shortening the distance from farm to table. The Concourse’s Ozone laundry system and high-efficiency water heaters save an estimated 400,000 gallons of water per year. For an out-of-town sojourn, the  Holy Wisdom Monastery  in nearby Middleton has private rooms in its retreat house and two additional secluded hermitages.  Holy Wisdom offers the choice of a communal spiritual experience or lots of solitude as you hike trails through its prairies or read in the  library . You can even wear a silence tag if you want to take a silent retreat, and people won’t talk to you. Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat

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Wisconsin’s hidden eco-wellness hotspot

UN releases World Water Development Report 2020

March 23, 2020 by  
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Climate change further challenges the world’s overstretched water resources, ultimately threatening all aspects of human life, according to the latest UN World Water Development Report. Most human needs revolve around water, so energy production, industrial development, food security, human and animal health and housing are also vulnerable to climate change impacts. The report states that the reliability of available water will decrease as the climate becomes more variable, amplifying floods, droughts and other water-related problems. Places already stressed from insufficient water sources will suffer more, while places that have so far been unaffected will feel the pain, too. Related: IPCC landmark report warns about the state of the oceans, polar ice content and the climate crisis Over the last century, global water use has increased by a factor of six. Between population increase, economic development and explosive human consumption, this growth continues at about 1% per year. Groundwater depletion doubled from 1960 to 2000. Some experts predict that 40% of the world will face a water deficit by 2030. “If we are serious about limiting global temperature increases to below 2°C and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we must act immediately,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, chair of UN Water. “There are solutions for managing water and climate in a more coordinated manner and every sector of society has a role to play. We simply cannot afford to wait.” The UN report acknowledges that while most countries recognize water as a crucial issue, few have specific action plans about adapting policies to protect this resource. The report suggests that climate change funds be used more for adaptation and mitigation of water issues. Adaptation includes social and institutional measures, plus natural, technological and technical steps to lessen climate change-related damage. Mitigation refers to the actions humans must take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Wastewater treatment generates a high amount of emissions. Some countries — such as Peru, Mexico , Thailand and Jordan — have already harnessed the methane in untreated wastewater as biogas, which provides enough energy to run the treatment process. The UN report also mentions wetland protection, conservation agriculture techniques, reusing partially treated wastewater for industry and agriculture and fog capture as possible water management interventions. + UN World Water Development Report 2020 Image via Alex Hu

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UN releases World Water Development Report 2020

We Earthlings: 91% of All Plastic Is Still Unrecycled

March 3, 2020 by  
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Ninety-one percent of all plastic ever manufactured is still unrecycled. … The post We Earthlings: 91% of All Plastic Is Still Unrecycled appeared first on Earth911.com.

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We Earthlings: 91% of All Plastic Is Still Unrecycled

Ivory Ella raises $96K to help animals affected by the Australian wildfires

February 27, 2020 by  
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Lifestyle brand Ivory Ella recently announced a generous donation of over $96,000 to Animals Australia, an animal protection organization giving aid to wildlife displaced and injured from the devastating bushfires that ravaged the country from September 2019 to February 2020. After the news broke about the bushfires in Australia and the heartbreaking effects on wildlife, Ivory Ella decided to slightly shift its platform to include an Australia Wildlife Rescue collection of organic cotton T-shirts, with 100% of profits going to Animals Australia. The brand sold more than 3,500 shirts on the first day after the collection was released and over 10,000 by the 10th day. Related: Koala-sniffing detection dog, Bear, helps save Koalas from Australian bushfires Now, just three weeks after the collection was released on January 10, 2020, enough profits were generated to donate $96,768.35. Ivory Ella is currently working on expanding, distributing 11 new colors to wholesale retailers (that Ivory Ella has encouraged to donate 100% of profits to Animals Australia as well) and offering a variety of short- and long-sleeve styles in an effort to bring in even more donations. “At Ivory Ella, we are champions for elephants and all they represent. We believe strongly in fostering a healthy global environment for humans and all the wildlife with whom we share our home,” said Cathy Quain, CEO of Ivory Ella. “We were overwhelmed with sadness as we learned about the impact of the devastating wildfires that are killing and displacing millions of wild animals in Australia and became compelled to help where we could. We are looking to our expansive community to help spread awareness and support for the survivors. It will take time to restore their environment, and we are inspired by the work done by Animals Australia to get expert wildlife vets into fire-devastated areas, where they are helping any surviving animals.” The eco-minded fashion company has had success in the past by donating 10% of its profits to organizations that support elephant conservation, which has become the main focus of its business model. The brand boasts $1.8 million donated since its initial launch in 2015. Visit Ivory Ella’s website to support the cause and view the Australian Wildlife Rescue collection of graphic T-shirts. To learn more about the non-profit Animals Australia, visit AnimalsAustralia.org . + Ivory Ella + Animals Australia Images via Ivory Ella

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Ivory Ella raises $96K to help animals affected by the Australian wildfires

Reintroducing the Eurasian Lynx to Scotland

February 27, 2020 by  
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The Eurasian lynx is so-called because it has been found in  forests  that stretch from Europe to central Asia, thus distinguishing it as the widest-ranging cat on our planet. Despite this, the species disappeared from Great Britain during the Middle Ages due to habitat loss and excessive hunting, according to the  Journal of Quaternary Science .  Now British scientists, spearheaded by the conservation group  Lynx UK Trust , are pushing to have the Eurasian lynx reintroduced into the British Isles, especially in the Scottish wilds.  Jo Pike, Chief Executive of the  Scottish Wildlife Trust , shared, “Returning the lynx to our landscape as a top predator could help restore the health of Scotland’s natural  ecosystems .” A quartet of lynx species exist worldwide: the bobcat ( Lynx rufus ), the Canada lynx ( Lynx canadensis ), the Iberian lynx ( Lynx pardinus ) and the Eurasian lynx ( Lynx lynx ). Largest of them all is the Eurasian lynx. With acute hearing and eyesight, Eurasian lynx are highly skilled hunters. They dine on wild ungulates, or hoofed animals, like deer . They also supplement their diet by preying on foxes, rabbits, hares, small forest animals and even birds. Interestingly, the Eurasian lynx is Europe’s third-biggest predator by size, just behind the brown bear and the grey wolf. As an apex predator, Eurasian lynx are valued by  conservationists  and ecologists for significantly influencing the distribution of other organisms in an ecosystem. In this way, Eurasian lynx can effectively help in the control of deer populations, culling the old and the weak. Eurasian lynx were eradicated from the British Isles due to hunting. Populations of roe deer, their preferred prey, were vastly diminished by the 19th century, hence destabilizing lynx livelihood. Lynx fur was also in high demand during previous centuries. This fur trade, understandably, had catastrophic consequences on lynx populations in the Britain of old. Across continental Europe and into central Asia, where the Eurasian lynx still exists, there are many threats to their survival in the wild. For example, the  International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List  cites human activity (agriculture, mining and quarrying, roads and railroads, logging and  deforestation , hunting and trapping) as adversely affecting Eurasian lynx populations through increasing urban sprawl, habitat loss and human-induced climate change. These are followed closely by disease and competition from  invasive species . In the United Kingdom today, legislation frowns upon the commercial hunting and trading of lynx fur in the British Isles, so these felines are now better protected. Besides, with contemporary Scotland as the home to the majority of British forests, the Eurasian lynx is likely to thrive there in the available  habitat . Even more favorable, Scotland has an abundance of roe deer and other types of ungulates that are in drastic need of natural culling, which is how the Eurasian lynx can play a vital role in the natural ecological processes. The  Woodland Trust  has documented that roe deer had almost been eradicated from Britain due to overhunting, up until the 19th century. But roe deer have since made a strong  recovery  in population numbers after their reintroduction into Britain. Now, their population density has since become exceedingly high, from a lack of natural predators and the absence of large carnivores in the UK. No surprise, then, that these roe deer have become a pest, overgrazing and thus unhinging the regeneration of the  woodlands . The habitat damage these roe deer bring requires that a large carnivore — their natural predator, the Eurasian lynx — be brought in for ecosystem equilibrium. Of course, there is opposition to lynx reintroduction, particularly from farmers who worry about their livestock. Scientists and stakeholders allay these concerns via reminders that the primary prey are roe deer, whose populations are bountiful in the Scottish countryside. These elevated numbers of roe deer would keep the lynx too occupied (and full) to meddle with farm animals. As for the uneasiness on whether these predatory felines would harm humans, the counterargument, once more, is that these cats prefer rural areas and tend to avoid encounters with humans, instead opting, by nature, to focus on the roe deer. There are some Brits who are apprehensive about the Eurasian lynx becoming a competitor to the Scottish wildcat, Scotland’s only native cat, for it, too, is a denizen of the woodlands. Scottish biologists have been striving to alleviate these qualms, pointing out that both the Eurasian lynx and Scottish wildcat can coexist peacefully, mainly because their prey selection is different. As Lynx UK Trust explained, the lynx reintroduction program is in the early stages, directed towards selecting reintroduction sites via careful evaluation and modeling approaches, as outlined in  Biological Conservation  journal. The reintroduction will be “soft releases” of the Eurasian lynx, meticulously monitored during trial runs before the program goes full-tilt. This transitional period will help scientists and conservationists work closely with local landowners, farmers and citizens of Scotland through education programs to help make the reintroduction initiative sustainably successful. Overall, the Eurasian lynx reintroduction plan holds great promise. Only time will tell what their long-term impact shall be on the Scottish and overall British landscape. Images via Flickr

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Reintroducing the Eurasian Lynx to Scotland

Autonomous Draper Drone to detect microplastics in the water

February 27, 2020 by  
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Microplastic pollution is everywhere, but its size — less than five millimeters in length — makes the threat almost invisible to the naked eye. That’s why Cambridge-based research and development lab  Draper  has teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency and design firm Sprout Studios  to create the Draper Drone, a concept for an autonomous underwater vehicle that implements Draper’s portable microplastics sensor. Engineered to rapidly count, measure the size of and determine the material makeup of microplastics in real-time, the Draper Drone could help create a global microplastics database for analyzing pollution trends, identifying sources and informing possible solutions to the problem. Microplastics  are created in one of two main ways: the breakdown of larger plastic debris, or from industries that make small plastic particles such as microfibers in clothing and microbeads. These tiny particles, which readily absorb toxins such as DDT and flame retardants, are often ingested by marine life and can potentially have negative effects on human health through the food chain. To provide an easier and more cost-effective way of analyzing microplastic risks and trends, Draper teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency to create an affordable portable  sensor  to measure microplastics in real-time. The team is also developing the Plastic Particle Pollution Index, a standardized microplastics identification system for logging environmental samples. The prototype sensor has been tested in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the technology is expected to be available via open-sourcing.  Related: Microplastics accelerate cell death at 3 times the normal rate, study says Taking the sensor technology a step further, Draper asked Sprout to help design the Draper Drone, an autonomous underwater vehicle equipped with the microplastics sensor that could independently scan the top nine meters of the water for microplastics. The conceptual battery-powered drone would be paired with a self-docking,  wind-powered  charging buoy. The project was recently recognized in the 2019 TIME Best Invention List. + Draper Images via Sprout Studios

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Autonomous Draper Drone to detect microplastics in the water

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