The Globe as you know it is changing.
Coming June 2019

  • More thought-provoking stories that inspire
  • Independent, free and member-supported
  • Vote for, pitch and commission stories
  • Member engagement with our journalists

To understand more about why you are so important to our member-supported initiative, we encourage you to read the following from our managing editor ~ Read more

The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

If you’re interested in joining us, sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. And watch this space.

Fishing for DNA / A new method to help track the Mekong’s rare wildlife

By: Uffe Wilken       - Posted on: February 15, 2019 | Cambodia

Scientists are rapidly developing new DNA-methods to identify what kind of life is present in rivers, lakes and the ocean. Advocates of the method claim that it has the potential to revolutionise the way environmental monitoring is done

Deep water sampling on the Mekong in Cambodia Photo: WWF Laos

It began two decades ago with a spoonful of frozen soil. DNA fragments extracted from the depths of the Siberian earth allowed scientists to reconstruct an entire ice age ecosystem, painting a vivid picture of the mammoths, bison and other long-dead creatures that roamed the frozen steppes thousands of years ago. The literally ground-breaking study revealed that DNA is all around us, released as faeces, urine or skin tissue. This method of gathering traces of animals’ genetic code from the wider world, known as environmental DNA – or eDNA for short – is a rapidly expanding field of molecular biology that may hold the key to monitoring Southeast Asia’s fast-changing ecosystems.

Enter the Mekong giant catfish. When scientists and conservationists in Southeast Asia wanted to test the eDNA method to target a threatened species in tropical waters, this enormous animal – the largest freshwater fish in the world – was an obvious choice. Despite many local people viewing the catfish as a sacred animal, the species has been decimated in recent years, likely due to overfishing and habitat degradation, with conservation organisations now categorising the once-thriving fish as ‘critically endangered’.

Conservation scientist Thomas Gray, the director of Science and Global Development at Wildlife Alliance who worked with WWF Cambodia in studying the catfish, told Southeast Asia Globe that his team had targeted the species in order to road-test eDNA as a possible conservation planning method that might succeed where traditional monitoring methods have struggled.

Winding through four different nations in mainland Southeast Asia, the Mekong River’s sheer size and complexity pose a steep challenge for conservationists and scientists who monitor life in such bodies of water – particularly in a time when rapid population growth, industrial development and rising human consumption are expected to have a profound impact on the river’s biodiversity.

“We looked at six key places in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia where the catfish should have been – but only found it in one sample from the species’ presumed spawning grounds on the Mekong mainstream, near the border between northern Thailand and Laos,” he said.

Another challenge is that in order to identify a species, its DNA-code has to already be present in a reference library such as GenBank, an open access genetic sequence database. If the species’ DNA is not there, it must be added manually, which is an arduous task. For the giant catfish, there was no code in the library – meaning Gray’s team had to get it first elsewhere and then enter it into the library to see if they had a match.

“From one of the ponds where the Thai Fisheries Department keeps catfish, we obtained a tissue sample, analysed it and put the DNA code into GenBank,” explained Gray. “When we got the data from our Mekong water samples, we compared it with the catfish data in GenBank and found the one location of the catfish. It was a little surprising and disappointing to find the catfish in only one place.”

Recording data and measurement readings on the river in Cambodia

Draining task

In a more exotic use of the eDNA method, scientists collected more than 3,000 leeches in 21 locations across the rainforests of Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia. The idea is simple: while the remote jungles of Southeast Asia are home to a number of leopards, tigers and other endangered species, actually tracking these animals down to record their genetic code can be frustrating – not to mention dangerous.

Out wriggles leeches. These small spineless bloodsuckers feed on host animals – all you need to do is to catch leeches, isolate the DNA from the host animals’ ingested blood and compare it with data in the library. Gray, who tried this method to find the elusive saola, an antelope-like animal often dubbed the Asian unicorn, said that the method was not the holy grail he’d hoped for.

”Finding the leeches is not difficult – they will find you,” Gray said. “We were looking for the saola in the Annamite mountains between Laos and Vietnam, as this ungulate species has never been seen in the wild by scientists. The problem was the same as with the catfish: there was no saola DNA-code in the library.”

‘Needle in a haystack’

Southeast Asia is one of the world’s most bio-diverse regions, with a large variety in ecosystems in its forests, rivers and coral reefs. But its genetic variety is still largely untapped by scientists, who are working feverishly to catch up.

Last year Michael Stat, a marine biologist at Macquarie University in Australia, compared two different eDNA-approaches on one of Earth’s most biodiverse ecosystems – a tropical coral reef.

“In the first approach we analysed all DNA in the water,” Stat said. “When we did that we predominantly got bacteria, because they are by far the most abundant in the water column. But you also get lots of DNA-fragments with no DNA-code in the library. The second approach targets specific animal groups using a kind of molecular telescope, which is basically like looking for a needle in a haystack: you can zoom in and pull out that needle.”

Using the second approach, Stat and his team found around 300 organisms including fish, crustaceans, mammals and plants. With a larger DNA library, he said, even more organisms could have been detected.

“Basically we need to go out on the reef and take tissue samples of all life we encounter, analyse it and fill it into the GenBank library,” he said.

Despite these mixed results, Stat is optimistic about the prospects of the technique becoming mainstream.

“There is a lot of traction with this methodology… because a lot of data can be generated quickly,” he said. “It is definitely going to be included in the monitoring programmes in the future worldwide. The method is already being implemented across the globe, and that will increase as the technique [gets] better and cheaper and more reference codes become available.”

Gray was less optimistic about the method…at least in the region, given its lack of resources.

“The genetic laboratory at the Royal University of Phnom Penh is pretty good, and there has been some investments,” said Gray.

“The laboratory can do DNA from tissue samples – e.g., from elephants to estimate the elephant population size. But to do it on eDNA samples is more complicated, because the pieces of DNA are smaller and the chance of contamination is higher. I don’t think any of the laboratories in the Mekong area are at that level yet.”