Asia's majestic forests — issue #22

Asia's majestic forests — issue #22


Two years ago, I managed to catch The Great Animal Orchestra, an exhibition of animal recordings captured in the wild by bioacoustician Bernie Krause. In a pitch black room, the bright bars of a spectrogram flashed on the walls, freezing each species' cries in the forest.

It was a cacophony. A portrait of the wild, teeming with glorious biodiversity.

Decades passed, the chirps, howls, and barks slowly faded, even as the sound of machinery droned. The spectrogram pulsed feebly. The black spaces between each cry grew longer...until there was silence, broken only by the occasional green blip. 

An unnerving, dark silence—the sound of our forests today. It was among the most powerful data visualisations I've ever experienced. 

Asia contains just under a fifth of the world's forests—but what forests we have. From mangroves to tropical dry forests, our woodlands still hum with life and beauty. Forests here have nourished people fror generations, from forestry resources and tourism to the centuries-old practice of forest bathing. 

Yet our forests are fast vanishing, with all the life they support. Commodity-driven deforestation, agriculture, forestry production, wildfires, and urbanisation have erased millions of hectares of forest habitat and threatened wildlife. Palm oil, in particular, is a major culprit in Southeast Asia. 

Governments around the region have made efforts to stop deforestation, and many communities are rallying around conservation organisations, sustainable agriculture, and policy changes. But what can we, as individuals in our larger societies, do to save our forests from being silenced further?

We've been writing about conservation here for some time—with more understanding and appreciation of our forests, we hope, more people will want to save them. From choosing sustainable palm oil to adopting wildlife, there's much that we can do. A week after Earth Day, we bring you some places to start. As always, we're happy to hear from you—let us know your thoughts at, or simply reply to this newsletter.

image of a forest
Don't miss the forests for the (rain)forest in our epic adventure into the diverse forests of Asia, and the wildlife that make them their homes.
illustration of an orangutang left in a forest that's been ravaged by humans
If watching the poaching scene from Tarzan ripped your heart out, you might want to brace yourself for this story. Read about how orangutans from Sumatra and Borneo fight within an inch of their lives as humans clear their homes and break up their families.
landscape photo and birds eye view of mangrove
Mangroves are resilient, but we're really testing their limits. They're pitstops for migratory birds, carbon storages, and buffers against coastal erosion and sea-level rise. Yet we're losing them to rapid industrialisation and...shrimp production?
Today we're talking about donuts—donut masking, that is!

Donut masking is one method of geographic masking, or geomasking. It's a data preparation rather than data visualisation tool. We're focusing on it today because there's a free-to-use geomasking tool that uses donut masking called MaskMy.XYZ, developed by geographer David Swanlund. 

Its main purpose is to create a fresh batch of masked data with increased anonymity of individual data points. Donut masking is usually used to protect the privacy of household addresses, which can be discovered by reverse engineering from maps. The trade-off is that you reduce the accuracy of your spatial data when visualising it on a map, but that's also kind of the point. 

For example, when visualising endangered species on a publicly accessible map, you don't really want to give away their precise lat long coordinates and make poachers' jobs much easier. But for research and education purposes, you may want to still visualise where they can be found to help with resource allocation and planning. And that's where donut masking comes in handy. 
example of how donut masking works
How it works: 

Say you have a sensitive data point, illustrated here by the red dot that falls within the "hole" of the donut. By indicating a minimum and maximum masking distance, you're creating the actual edible part of the donut. Your randomly generated masked point, the blue dot, will fall within the donut. In the MaskMy.XYZ tool, the creator also randomises the angle (between 0 and 360 degrees) and combines the randomised distance and angle to create the masked blue dot. You can read about the methodology in detail here or watch Swanlund introduce his tool in this video presentation.  
trivia about singapore regarding its biodiversity
medium page with a photo of interviewee catherine ma
We're thrilled to launch our Meet the Community! initiative with our interview with Catherine Ma. She shares how being a data visualisation designer is core to her being and what it's like working as a data vis professional in China. 

We hope you'll read and support this initiative, and join us in amplifying Asian voices within the data vis community! If you're feeling inspired to share your experience, please reach out directly to Mick at, after reading our guidelines.
Every month we curate a bunch of content for you to check out. Holler at us if you think we missed out some!

↘︎ Singapore calls itself the "Garden City", and side project creator Chee Aun's 3D interactive tree map of Singapore shows us why.

↘︎ Dendrologist (plant scientist) Casey Clapp is here to remind you how magical trees are. You can also read the full audio transcript here.

↘︎ "To save the forests, we must first understand what we're trying to save." Gwyneth Cheng. Immerse yourself in the sounds of forests and walk in the footsteps of people who share their personal connections with forests around the world. You can even join as a forest ambassador.

↘︎ This NYT interactive puts into perspective the staggering amount of land cleared from the Amazon rainforest and how we're doing so at our own peril. 

↘︎ Cultivate your corner of sanctuary with this gorgeously illustrated houseplant guide.

↘︎ Want an excuse to tune out and disappear for a bit? Take a leaf out of this hilarious and never-ending stimulated text convo in which two friends' schedules never align.

↘︎ We're long-time stans of Qiyun, a local climate activist and communicator. And she just launched a newsletter—From the Tropics!