These 7 maps shed light on most crucial areas of Amazon rainforest

Iwokrama Reserve in northeast South America's Guiana Shield

Iwokrama Reserve in northeast South America’s Guiana Shield. The Guiana Shield is one of the Amazonia region’s most intact areas, providing water, carbon storage and other benefits for people near and far. (© Pete Oxford/iLCP)

Editor’s note: Between now and March, Human Nature is exploring the complexities of living in, using and protecting one of the planet’s most valuable types of ecosystems — tropical forests — in a series we’re calling “No forests, no future.” This is the first post in this series.

If you have never visited it, the world’s most famous forest may inspire visions of dense, pristine forest, thundering waterfalls — and very few humans.

In fact, the Amazonia region — which encompasses parts of nine countries in South America and includes both the Amazon rainforest and the water-rich Guiana Shield — is home to 30 million people, including 375 indigenous groups. It contains the largest tropical forest in the world, the richest biodiversity on the planet, almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest carbon and one-fifth of the planet’s fresh water that flows into the ocean.

People near and far rely on Amazonia’s ecosystems for everything from climate regulation to fisheries and food security. But despite these crucial services, ongoing deforestation and climate change impacts threaten to permanently alter this massive system — drying it up, decimating its biodiversity and slowing the flow of benefits to its people to a trickle.

If we want to prevent irreversible damage, we must first figure out what parts of Amazonia we can’t afford to lose.

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Wild ring-tailed lemur population has plummeted 95% since 2000

Endangered ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar.

Ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar. New research indicates that the number of wild ring-tailed lemurs has dropped significantly since the last known population estimate in 2000. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

A species made famous by a series of hit animated films is now threatened with extinction after a dramatic drop in its wild population.

Two new independent studies estimate that there are only between 2,000 and 2,400 ring-tailed lemurs — perhaps the most charismatic of Madagascar’s animals, and a flagship species of the country — left in the wild. This is a 95% decrease from the year 2000, when the last known population estimate was published. It also means that now there are more ring-tailed lemurs in zoos around the world than remain in the wild.

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Where does half your wild-caught seafood come from? The answer may surprise you

An artisanal harpoon fisher in Bahia, Brazil.

An artisanal harpoon fisher in Bahia, Brazil. Coastal community fisheries catch half of the world’s wild-caught seafood supply. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

We live on land, but the oceans feed us: Seafood is consumed more than any other animal protein in the world — more than pork, chicken, beef or eggs. In fact, fisheries feed three out of seven people worldwide.

You’re likely picturing gigantic commercial fishing vessels pulling in millions of pounds of fish with mechanized nets to meet this global demand. But the source of our seafood is much more varied — it depends on the millions of fishers that make up the community fisheries scattered across the world’s coasts.

Small-scale, artisanal fisheries support food security, livelihoods, economic development — even climate change solutions. Here are four things you might not know about them.

  1. Coastal community fisheries feed the world by providing 50% of global seafood catch.

Fish is the last major food source that humans collect from the wild — and the main protein source for 3 billion people. And half of the wild-caught fish people eat comes from coastal community fisheries. Making sure that these fisheries are sustainable is critical to the environment and to ocean-dependent communities — which is ultimately good for productivity. Because coastal community fisheries often use less harmful techniques than commercial fisheries, and because many fishers live close to the waters they fish in, fishers are motivated to protect and sustainably manage the waters to ensure fish health and availability. Healthy waters, thriving ecosystems, fishing practices that allow fish to reproduce and create more fish — these sustainable practices all help coastal community fisheries provide half the world’s seafood catch.

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Whale, dolphin ‘superpods’ could be an economic boon for one tiny country

Fraser's dolphins spotted in Timor-Leste.

Fraser’s dolphins spotted in Timor-Leste. (© Olive Andrews)

Editor’s note: In the tiny Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste, Conservation International (CI) and the University of Adelaide recently carried out a short survey to expand scientific knowledge of the range and abundance of whales and dolphins in the waters around the island nation. The survey’s results, which CI marine mammal expert Olive Andrews shares below, will help inform the management of these species. 

Flying into the Timorese capital of Dili, I looked expectantly down into the vast blue of the Ombai Strait. In just one more sleep we would be on a boat searching the area for the largest creatures on our planet — blue whales — and their close relatives.

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What we’re reading: 2017 predictions edition

Woman harvests crops in Tanzania

Woman harvests crops in Tanzania. For the first time in international climate discussions, agriculture is appearing front and center in countries’ plans to cut carbon emissions and curb climate change. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this occasional series, Human Nature shares three recent stories of interest in our world. 

  1. 2017: Agriculture begins to tackle its role in climate change

The story: For the first time in international climate discussions, agriculture is appearing front and center in countries’ plans to cut carbon emissions and curb climate change. Previously, countries’ emissions reductions plans focused on areas such as clean energy and transportation. But at the 2015 climate talks in Paris, according to InsideClimate News, “nearly 80 percent of the countries said they would use agricultural practices to curb climate change, and more than 90 percent said they would use those practices in addition to changes in forestry and land use linked to farming.”

What’s next: Agriculture has emerged as a critical sector within which each country can — and must — take immediate climate change action. The article suggests this is because agriculture is “existentially linked to a country’s very survival and increasingly under threat from weather extremes, drought and floods.”

Many sustainable farming practices, such as growing more crops on existing land to reduce the need for further deforestation, can support both climate change adaptation and mitigation goals. Crucially, changes to agriculture that have climate change benefits can also benefit farmers by increasing yields. Continue reading

China ban on ivory trade only first step to saving elephants, expert says

elephant near Kenya's Mara North Conservancy

An elephant near Kenya’s Mara North Conservancy. China’s plan to shut down the world’s largest ivory market will undoubtedly impact elephant populations and the ivory trade, though how exactly remains to be seen. (© Jon McCormack)

The world’s largest ivory market will soon be shut down, according to the Chinese government.

Last week, China announced plans to phase out its domestic ivory market by the end of 2017 — a major development acknowledging the growing threat poaching poses to Africa’s dwindling elephant population, which has been cut in half in only 25 years.

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Best of 2016: Before-and-after photos reveal forest’s quick recovery

Schoolchildren planting trees with CI on the edges of the Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, Indonesia

Schoolchildren planting trees with CI on the edges of the Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, Indonesia. (© Jessica Scranton)

Editor’s note: As the end of 2016 approaches, Human Nature is revisiting some of our favorite stories of the year. To support crucial conservation work like this, consider making a donation to Conservation International.

Some of the world’s most iconic photos are famous for capturing a fleeting moment and infusing it with meaning. But photos can have another power, too: revealing the difference between what was and what is.

This year, Conservation International sent photographer Jessica Scranton back to the Green Wall project in Indonesia’s Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, four years after her first shoot there, to document the changes in the landscape — and people’s lives.

See what she found for yourself in this photo essay.

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Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. 

Best of 2016: How to discover nature’s value? Just ask

Young boy paddles a boat between houses in Acol, a floating village on Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake

Young boy paddles a boat between houses in Acol, a floating village on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake. CI scientists are working in places like this to determine which natural areas are the most economically and culturally valuable for locals in order to prioritize protection. (© Conservation International/photo by Molly Bergen)

Editor’s note: As the end of 2016 approaches, Human Nature is revisiting some of our favorite stories of the year. To support crucial conservation work like this, consider making a donation to Conservation International

It’s common knowledge that nature provides important services for people, from clean fresh water to a steady supply of fresh fish. What’s less understood is how best to measure these benefits. Which parts of nature are the most important to protect? And how much can we chip away at them before they no longer provide the services we rely on?

In one of our favorite features of the year, CI scientist Rachel Neugarten takes on these tough questions and reveals the scientific process behind the search for the answers. But before deploying advanced mapping techniques and detailed biological surveys, our researchers rely first on a tool that is decidedly low-tech: in-depth conversations with the communities who depend on nature most.

Read the original post.

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Jamey Anderson is a staff writer for Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates.

Best of 2016: Thriving coral reef could bring hope in fight against changing climate

Coral reef in Indonesia's Raja Ampat archipelago.

Coral reef in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago. (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)

Editor’s note: As the end of 2016 approaches, Human Nature is revisiting some of our favorite stories of the year. To support crucial conservation work like this, consider making a donation to Conservation International.  

Devastating incidents of coral bleaching are making news across the globe: In 2016 alone, bleaching has afflicted 93 percent of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and caused 10 dive sites in Thailand to close. Indonesia is no exception; bleaching is severe across the country, threatening the coral-dominated reef systems that support fisheries and marine tourism, which in turn provide food and livelihoods for coastal communities.

But in one small, jewel-like archipelago in the province of West Papua, there is an outlier. The Raja Ampat archipelago — the world’s epicenter of marine biodiversity — has somehow managed to largely escape coral bleaching.

Find out why — and how this knowledge could help bolster other reefs against similar threats — in this original post.

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Sophie Bertazzo is a staff writer for Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates.

Best of 2016: Historic protections for Darwin’s island laboratory

A young sea lion naps on the beach in the Galápagos Islands. A new no-fishing sanctuary within the Galápagos Marine Reserve will help the islands' wildlife and economy.

A young sea lion naps on the beach in the Galápagos Islands. A new no-fishing sanctuary within the Galápagos Marine Reserve will help the islands’ wildlife and economy. (© Rod Mast)

Editor’s note: As the end of 2016 approaches, Human Nature is revisiting some of our favorite stories of the year. To support crucial conservation work like this, consider making a donation to Conservation International.

2016 was a banner year for marine protected areas around the world, from the creation of the world’s largest marine park, to the first U.S. national monument in the Atlantic, to new commitments from Colombia and Costa Rica, to a new ocean management target for Hawai‘i. But before any of these, the world celebrated new protections for a place home to the world’s highest concentration of sharks and a landmark in the history of ecology and evolution: the Galápagos Islands.

Find out what Ecuador’s historic creation of a 39,000-square-kilometer (15,000-square-mile) marine sanctuary — with no fishing allowed — will mean for the islands’ wildlife and economy in  the original post.

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Jamey Anderson is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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