How an accidental forest saved a village from a storm for the ages

villagers planting mangroves in Silonay, Philippines

Community members in Silonay, Philippines plant mangrove seedlings to expand the natural barrier protecting their village from the sea. (© Nandini Narayanan)

It all started with an earthquake.

It was not out of the ordinary when the ground began to tremble in the fishing barangay (village) of Silonay, Philippines, on November 15, 1994: Part of the Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire,” the Philippines is no stranger to earthquakes. But in the months after the temblor, something strange happened: Mangrove seedlings began to sprout up along the muddy banks of the nearby river that emptied out to the ocean.

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To fight deforestation, one country changed the equation

(© Conservation International/photo by Katrin Olson)

A program in Ecuador provides direct economic incentives to landowners and rural communities who voluntarily commit to protecting forests. (© Conservation International/photo by Katrin Olson)

It was the mid-2000s, and Ecuador had some tough choices to make.

The country’s economy — fueled by oil and agricultural exports — was growing, but poverty persisted. Meanwhile, its mega-diverse rainforests were rapidly being lost, endangering rural livelihoods and biodiversity while contributing to climate change.

What to do?

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How nature can help us adapt to a changing climate: 3 questions for David Hole

blue parrot fish

Blue parrot fish in Honduras. These fish browse on algae and keep coral reefs in better health — which, in turn, helps buffer coastal communities from wave energy that causes erosion and flooding. (© Davey6585/Flickr Creative Commons)

It’s difficult to explain and even harder to measure — yet it may be one of our best hopes of tackling climate change. So-called “nature-based solutions” may just be one of our best bets to brace ourselves for the future climate. Climate scientist Dr. David Hole explains why these solutions — known as ecosystem-based adaptation or simply EbA to scientists and climate policy wonks alike — are taking on a greater role in the climate change dialogue and what that means for us.

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Ahead of climate talks, a crucial voice is missing

sunrise, Mozambique

A man walks through the shallows at sunrise in Mozambique. More than 500 million people depend directly on reefs for coastal protection, food and sustained livelihoods. (© William Crosse)

In early December, world leaders will gather in Paris to hammer out a pact to confront climate change.

But one voice representing nearly 75% of the Earth’s surface is being left off the agenda: the ocean.

This has drawn the attention of renowned ocean champions such as Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, who is calling for a voice for oceans at climate change negotiations.

Giving decision-makers the benefit of the doubt, how can they begin to combat climate change across the world’s vast oceans? One way is by better understanding the links between major climate-induced impacts.

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Roots from rubble: On Philippine coasts, rebuilding nature’s barriers to stormier seas

aerial footage of coast of Concepcion, Philippines

In the Philippines’ more than 7,000 islands, people’s lives are intimately connected to the ocean. (© Conservation International/photo by Tim Noviello)

After days of anxiety-filled storm preparation, it was midmorning when a voice on Susset Enolva’s radio relayed an urgent message: The typhoon approaching her beachside home on the tiny Philippine island of Polopiña (also known as Igbon) had hit “Signal 4,”  promising intense typhoon conditions and winds of more than 185 kilometers (115 miles) an hour.

Enolva and her mother gathered her three young sons and ran through the rain to her uncle’s house nearby. “We took our pots with cooked rice and then our uncooked rice container and some pillows — nothing else … No clothes. Because we were panicking. I couldn’t think straight anymore.”

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What you need to know about the Paris climate talks: 3 questions for Shyla Raghav

Eiffel Tower, France

From November 30 to December 11, 2015, Paris is hosting the U.N. climate talks. The meeting is expected to result in a global plan of action for fighting and adapting to climate change. (© Damien Roué/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note:The U.N. has committed to carrying on with the upcoming climate change negotiations in Paris despite the November 13 terrorist attacks in the city. In the words of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the conferencewill be held because it’s an essential meeting for humanity.”

When the 2009 meeting of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen failed to produce the expected global climate change agreement, participants created a new deadline of 2015. As such, hopes are high for December’s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) meeting in Paris to deliver an actual plan of action. CI Climate Policy Director Shyla Raghav explains what’s at stake — and the likely outcome. 

Question: What’s preventing this meeting from becoming “another Copenhagen”?

Answer: I think it’s possible, but I do not think it’s likely. The world is a different place than it was six years ago. Among both governments and the general public, there is a greater level of awareness and concern about climate change and the serious threat it poses to life as we know it.

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The direct connection between nature, national security and you

A girl collects water supplied by Bale Mountains National Park in southern Ethiopia. Competition for increasingly scarce resources is already leading to tension in many parts of the world, placing U.S. national security at risk. (© Robin Moore)

Nature. You may not give it much thought. You may take it for granted that it will always be there for you. You may not realize that there is a direct connection between nature and you, but there is. None of us can survive without the services that nature provides for us: food, fresh water, fertile soil, pollinators, life-saving medicines. The simple fact is that nature doesn’t need people; people need nature.

Recently, I met with a bipartisan group of 13 members of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. Joining me at this meeting were my colleagues from Conservation International’s Board of Directors — Harrison Ford, Rob Walton and Wes Bush. We discussed the direct connection between resource scarcity, international conservation and America’s economic and national security interests. We were encouraged by the strong recognition of the role that nature plays in our security and well-being as well as of the need to make strategic investments today that help prevent the need for making much larger expenditures in the future. Just a small fraction — far less than 1% — of the federal budget is spent on international conservation, and the return on investment is significant.

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On the trail of the South Pacific’s great humpbacks

humpback whale breaching, Kermadec Islands, New Zealand

Humpback whale breaching in Kermadec Islands, New Zealand. CI’s Olive Andrews was recently part of a team of researchers conducting the first whale survey around Raoul Island, which is part of the Kermadec island chain. (© Conservation International/photo by Olive Andrews)

More people reach the summit of Mount Everest annually than make it to Raoul Island.

It wasn’t the lure of summiting the tiny Pacific island’s volcano that drew me there — it was the whales.

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Melting ice a ticking time bomb for Pacific islands

On the island of Tarawa, under gently drifting popcorn-shaped clouds in the remotest part of the south Pacific, you don’t think of ice.

Tarawa is a sliver of land bent like a sickle against the blue flat sheen of tropical ocean that seems to stretch forever in all directions. There is no naturally formed ice within thousands of miles. Yet in this capital city of the Republic of Kiribati, ice will have much to do with the survival of its people.

Sea-level rise caused by the expansion of warmer water and the addition of new water from melting ice due to global climate change represents a serious threat to the world’s low-lying regions. For an atoll like Tarawa — an island built of coral resting atop an underwater volcano — it is a clear and imminent danger.

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‘Conservation province’ could generate sea change in Indonesia

About three-fourths of all known hard coral species can be found in the waters of Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape, including here in Raja Ampat’s Wayag Lagoon. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

The world watched as wildfires raged in parts of Indonesia last month, filling the skies with smoke and even causing the country’s president to cut short a trip to Washington.

Not making headlines, however, is a recent bit of good news from the Southeast Asian country.

In October, West Papua declared itself a “conservation province,” establishing a legal framework for conservation efforts in one of Indonesia’s most picturesque regions — and a potential model for more effective conservation throughout the archipelago.

“It’s a bold vision from the government,” said Ketut Putra of Conservation International (CI), which has worked in West Papua for a decade and which consulted with the provincial governor, Abraham Atururi, on the plan.

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