Animals without borders: The challenge of protecting our oceans

humpback whale calf, Hawaii

Humpback whale calf in Hawaii. Found in all the world’s oceans, humpbacks migrate thousands of miles between calving and feeding grounds; the population that feeds in Monterey Bay in September will swim down to Baja California to mate. (© David Fleetham)

Editor’s note: For three nights beginning August 31, Conservation International’s (CI) Dr. M. Sanjayan will be co-hosting “Big Blue Live,” a live television event documenting the natural splendor of California’s Monterey Bay. Tune in at 8 p.m. EST/PST (or check your local listings) on PBS to see what he discovers — and before you watch, learn why migratory species need Monterey in this blog from Dr. Greg Stone.

Each year, humpback whales pass through Monterey Bay with their newborn pups, heading to winter feeding grounds off the coast of Mexico. Leatherback sea turtles — which nest more than 20,000 kilometers (almost 12,500 miles) away in Papua New Guinea — frequent the waters of Monterey to feed on jellyfish. Sooty shearwaters fly here from breeding grounds in New Zealand. Elephant seals, great white sharks, killer whales, dolphins and many other marine animals pass through Monterey Bay, all in a quest for survival.

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Bracing for the biggest El Niño on record: How climate change is upping the ante

Editor’s note: For three nights beginning August 31st, Conservation International’s (CI) Dr. M. Sanjayan will be co-hosting “Big Blue Live,” a live television event documenting the natural splendor of California’s Monterey Bay. Tune in at 8 p.m. EST/PST (or check your local listings) on PBS to see what he discovers — and in today’s blog, learn how this winter’s El Niño is expected to affect marine life in Monterey and beyond.

humpback whale breaching in Monterey Bay

Humpback whale breaching just offshore of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California. In the coming months, the strongest El Niño on record is predicted to take hold in the Pacific Ocean, where it will likely impact a range of wildlife. (© 2010 – Richard Ryan)

From Rolling Stone to Grist to The New York Times, it’s been all over the news in recent weeks: One of the strongest El Niños in history could be brewing in the Pacific. After the big El Niño of 1997–98 killed as many as 2,100 people and caused more than US$ 33 billion in property damage worldwide, many people are now starting to worry about what the coming “Godzilla El Niño” may leave in its wake.

El Niño suppresses the normal upwelling of cold water off the Pacific coast of the Americas, which carries with it vital nutrients that support plankton and fish species, kelp forests and sea mammals such as seals and sea lions. There’s still some question as to whether the trade winds will die down, causing El Niño to intensify later this year, but warmer waters in the Pacific have already begun to take a toll on marine life.

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4 things conservation scientists sometimes forget

entomologist collects moths from fur of three-toed sloth in Guyana

An entomologist collecting moths from the fur of a three-toed sloth in Guyana. Like other science fields, conservation research is constantly evolving; meetings like the International Congress of Conservation Biology allow conservation scientists to come together and exchange ideas. (© Piotr Naskrecki)

Call me an eco-nerd, but I think conservation brings together some of the coolest human beings on the planet. I get a little star-struck when I get to shake hands with Kent Redford or have a glass of wine with Robin Naidoo or hear Ana Rodrigues speak about her passion for researching the historical ecology of whales based on — of all things — ancient manuscripts written by monks.

Recently in Montpellier, France, I joined a group of Conservation International (CI) staff attending the International Congress of Conservation Biology, a meeting of more than 2,000 conservation scientists, students, researchers and practitioners from over 70 countries. Every two years, the conference convenes to present the latest research and developments in conservation science and practice.

Besides being inspired by some of my environmental heroes, I also was reminded of a few things that conservation scientists sometimes forget. Here are four of my biggest takeaways.

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Of Monterey and men: How a Great American author ushered in age of ecology

Editor’s note: For three nights beginning August 31st, Conservation International’s Dr. M. Sanjayan will be co-hosting “Big Blue Live,” a live television event documenting the natural splendor of California’s Monterey Bay. Tune in at 8 p.m. EST/PST on PBS to see what he discovers  — and in the meantime, learn why this unique place is an important piece in humanity’s understanding of the natural world.

sea otter, California

Sea otters off the coast of California. Each September, coastal upwelling of nutrient-rich waters and migration patterns of species like whales, dolphins, sardines and seabirds result in an explosion of life in Monterey Bay; starting on August 31st, Dr. M. Sanjayan will be co-hosting “Big Blue Live,” a three-night live television event chronicling this phenomenon. (© Adam White)

Gaze into a tide pool and you’ll see all of life’s complexity, shrunken down to size. From the soft anemones waving sticky tentacles, to spiny sea urchins, to hard-shelled mussels, with crabs and gobies wedged in between, every square inch is occupied by something — pushing, scrambling and fighting for access to sunlight, or nutrients, or a mate.

In Monterey, California, tide pools might seem to pale in comparison with the town’s famous sea otters, kelp forests and breaching whales, but for one unlikely duo (an amateur biologist and a future Nobel Prize-winning American novelist) in the 1930s, these pools inspired a new way of looking at the natural world — one that shapes our modern understanding of ecology. Continue reading

3 ways Brazil’s environmental decisions affect the world

Christ the Redeemer statue lit with green lights for Brazil launch of Nature Is Speaking

To celebrate the Brazil launch of CI’s Nature Is Speaking campaign, Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue was lit with green lights on August 13th. (© Caique Cunha)

What happens in Brazil doesn’t stay in Brazil. Whether you live in South America’s largest country or half a world away, what happens there impacts your life, from the coffee you drink to the hardwood floors in your home to the air you breathe. Continue reading

Dead or alive: The value of an elephant

At the turn of the 20th century, some 10 million wild elephants roamed Africa. That only around 400,000 remain — another one is killed about every 15 minutes — tells you all you need to know about the dire situation these iconic creatures face. African elephants could be all but wiped out within our lifetime, thanks to poachers who supply surging global demand for illicit ivory that in turn helps fund organized crime and terrorist networks.

Whether humanity can turn the tide against elephant poaching remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: These animals are worth more alive than dead. A recent study estimated the tourism value of an elephant at US$ 1.6 million throughout its lifetime. On World Elephant Day, here’s a look at how elephants are a crucial element not just of ecosystems but of economies.

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Bruno Vander Velde is Conservation International’s editorial director. Sign up for email updates here. Donate to CI here.

The death of Cecil: A turning point for wildlife?

Portrait, male lion at sunrise

A lion (not Cecil) in Botswana. The killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe has elevated issues surrounding wildlife to new heights. Through United for Wildlife, CI is partnering with other organizations to help combat the illegal poaching and trafficking of species. (© Rod Mast)

The response to the killing of Cecil the lion has surprised even the most ardent wildlife advocate. From the White House to the Zimbabwean government, from ordinary citizens to celebrities as diverse as Jimmy Kimmel and Newt Gingrich, virtually every media outlet in the world has covered the story. It has been the top trending topic on social media for several days running.

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Hatch and release: Can turtle tourism save a species in Cambodia?

Cantor's giant softshell turtle, Mekong Turtle Conservation Center, Cambodia (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

A young Cantor’s giant softshell turtle at the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center in Cambodia. Since CI’s nest protection program began in 2007, the number of turtle hatchlings documented has increased tenfold. (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

Few things are more wondrous for nature travelers than to witness newly hatched sea turtles scramble to the sea.

For hardcore turtle tourists, though, there’s a new experience that is just as exhilarating — and just a bit farther from the beaten path: releasing an endangered freshwater turtle into one of Southeast Asia’s most important rivers. Continue reading

Making the Links: July 2015

lion, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Lion in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. (© Levi S. Norton)

This is my latest post in “Making the Links,” a monthly blog series that connects the dots between nature and people in the news. (To learn more about the goal of the series, read the first post.)

The nature in humans (stories secretly about nature)

Time to stare at a live feed of this underwater garden

This article shares a live video feed of an experimental underwater greenhouse off the coast of Italy called Nemo’s Garden. Consistent water temperature and humidity enable crops inside to grow much faster than on land. Currently focused on lettuce, beans and strawberries, the creators will soon expand to new crops like mushrooms.

The link: If successful, innovations like this could reshape how (and how much) we grow. As sea levels continue to rise and shifting weather patterns attributed to climate change make farming on land less predictable, it could also be a creative way of adapting to our new environment.

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6 species ‘friendships’ that keep our planet healthy

The diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema) found only in the rainforest of Madagascar, enjoys sun bathing and can leap 30 feet in one bound. Lemurs are vital to spreading seeds through the forest and are thus natural planters key to ecosystem health. CI has, with partners, successfully reintroduced these lemurs back into rainforest regions from which they had previously disappeared.

Lemurs eat tree fruits and disperse seeds through their feces, making them vital to the health of Madagascar’s rainforests. (© Conservation International/photo by Cristina Mittermeier)

Sometimes friendships take root in the last place you’d expect. To celebrate the U.N.’s International Day of Friendship, here’s a list of “friendships” in nature that help species survive — and keep ecosystems running smoothly.

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