Dispatch from Atauro: On Arid Island, Life Hinges on Forest

Editor’s Note: David Emmett is currently part of a team searching for new species on the little-studied island of Atauro in the Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste. Read previous blogs from this expedition.

CI team in forest of Atauro Island, Timor-Leste

The CI team explores the forested hills of Atauro Island, Timor-Leste. Besides sheltering unique wildlife, these trees help maintain the island’s limited drinking water supply. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett )

One of the unusual features of the island of Atauro is the lack of fresh water. There are no lakes, ponds, rivers or large streams. The water supply is literally a trickle during the dry season, usually coming directly out of the limestone rock beneath the forest. It’s a permanent trickle though, which is enough for people to be able to live here.

This direct connection between nature and human survival is the basis of the local conservation ethic; people understand that protecting nature is non-negotiable. This is such a contrast with big cities, where we have lost that direct connection and most people take their water supply for granted, without knowing where it even comes from. Continue reading

On a Tiny Island, Searching for a Spitting Cobra

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of dispatches from David Emmett, senior vice president for CI’s Asia Pacific field division, as he sets out to the island of Atauro, Timor-Leste, in search of undiscovered species. Read other posts in this series. 

sunset, Atauro Island, Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste’s Atauro Island, where CI scientist David Emmett is currently part of a team conducting the island’s first biological survey. The goal of the survey — in addition to finding cool critters — is to encourage the Timorese government to designate the area as a ridge-to-reef protected area. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett)

We wake early to catch the boat to Atauro, the island north of mainland Timor-Leste. Our goal? To conduct a species survey aimed at encouraging the Timorese government to designate the area as a ridge-to-reef protected area. Continue reading

Why Do We Need Species? Fighting Climate Change, for One

Over the past 15 years, the environmental community has made incredible strides in understanding and promoting the critical role of ecosystem services — the benefits nature provides, from fresh water to climate regulation to recreation — for human well-being, the global economy and the future of life on our planet.

Where we have lagged behind is figuring out how species fit into the equation.

common dwarf salamander, Guatemala

A common dwarf salamander in Guatemala. By eating insects that eat leaves, salamanders help keep more leaves on the ground, which directs their carbon into the soil instead of the atmosphere, where it would contribute to climate change. (© Robin Moore/iLCP)

Continue reading

Why This Celebrity Chef Only Serves Local Seafood

Lee Anne Wong

Among other accomplishments, Lee Anne Wong has cooked in some of the world’s best kitchens and appeared on TV series including “Top Chef.” On Tuesday’s episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped All-Stars,” she will be competing for a top prize of $75,000, which will go to CI Hawai’i should she win. (© Marina Miller)

Next Tuesday, celebrity chef Lee Anne Wong will be competing on the Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars for a top prize of US$ 75,000.

She has chosen CI’s Hawai‘i program as her charity of choice for the show. Learn why in our Q&A with her below — and don’t forget to tune in to the Food Network Tuesday, May 19th at 10 p.m. EST to see Lee Anne in action!

Q: What led you to choose Conservation International as your charity for Chopped All-Stars?

A: I recently worked with Conservation International Hawai‘i on the Big Island to help promote both sustainable seafood from local fishing villages and the integration of modern technology that will aid in the marketing, traceability and commerce for these small community-based programs. Now that I reside in Hawai‘i, the idea of sustainability takes on a whole new meaning. Our ocean’s health and its role as a resource — especially in coastal areas — is crucial to the future of Hawai‘i. Continue reading

Unlocking the Mystery of the Manta — Via Satellite

This week, a group of CI communications staff are meeting in Bali to gather stories from our field projects in Indonesia and across the Asia-Pacific region. Follow their journey on CI’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

manta rays gather near Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

Manta rays gather at Manta Point, a dive site near the island of Nusa Penida off the coast of Bali, Indonesia. Over the course of its lifetime, a single manta ray can generate $1 million in tourism revenue. (© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

A light haze hangs in the early morning air at the docks in Sanur, a small beach district of Denpasar city on the east coast of Bali. There, I gather with nearly 20 of my colleagues from across Asia, the Pacific and the U.S in excited anticipation of the long day of manta ray tagging ahead of us.

The trip to Nusa Penida, an island just east of Sanur, would be relatively short were it not for the rough chop of the open ocean reminding us who is in charge. After more than a half-hour cruising through the rolling waves from the Indian Ocean, we arrive at Manta Point, a dive site flanked by cliffs about 200 feet [61 meters] high. Below us await corals, reef fish and (hopefully) manta rays. Continue reading

Conservation Tools: How Drones Can Save Rainforests

This is the latest post in our “Conservation Tools” blog series, which spotlights how cutting-edge technology is helping scientists explore and protect nature.

rangers learn to use conservation drones, Suriname

Rangers learn how to use conservation drones in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. (© Conservation International/photo by Ivor Balsemhof)

In recent years, drones have leapt out of science fiction into the modern world. They’re now lauded as a potential tool for everything from national security to dry-cleaning delivery.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (as they’re officially known) haven’t been met with open arms by everyone; people around the world have voiced security and privacy concerns. Yet when it comes to conservation, drones may be one of the most important technological innovations in decades — one that could revolutionize how effective we are at protecting Earth’s most valuable resources.

Continue reading

Building Roads, Protecting Forests: Community Resilience in the Bolivian Amazon

Sunrise in the Amazon Basin, Bolivia. (© Jonathan Hood)

Sunrise in the Amazon Basin, Bolivia. The region’s Madidi National Park is home of the indigenous Tacana people, who depend on the biologically diverse rainforest for their livelihoods. (© Jonathan Hood)

When it comes to protecting forests in the Amazon, roads don’t have the best reputation.

By enabling access to land, new roads attract human activities such as agriculture and hunting that can degrade critical forest ecosystems that provide innumerable benefits to people and the climate.

On the other hand, roads are a vital conduit for rural livelihoods and resilience.

How can we balance protection of these forests and the well-being of local communities? Continue reading

Making the Links: April 2015

This is my fourth post in “Making the Links,” a monthly blog series in which I attempt to connect the dots between nature and people in some recent news stories. (To learn more about the goal of the series, read the first post.)

Bogotá, Colombia

Bogotá, Colombia. The city’s 8 million residents rely on surrounding forest and páramo ecosystems for most of their freshwater supply. (© Andres Rueda)

Here’s my link roundup from April.

The Nature in Humans (Stories Secretly about Nature)

  1. You Aren’t Spending Enough to Boost Economy

This CNN Money article reports that consumer spending in the U.S. had a small rebound in March after three months of declining retail sales. Among other things, the month saw an increase in American spending on cars, building materials and eating out.

The link: This story understandably views economic health through the lens of our current global economic system, which values the continuous purchase of new goods and services. What it doesn’t take into account is the ultimate price of overconsumption: the degradation of the lands and waters that provide these materials and other benefits for all of humanity.

In his 2011 TED Talk, environmental economist and CI board member Pavan Sukhdev called this disconnection the “economic invisibility of nature” — and urged that the value of ecosystems be incorporated into economic measurements to ensure long-term sustainability. Continue reading

Camera-trap Photo Contest: And the Winners Are…

This week, CI is celebrating the use of our #NatureIsSpeaking hashtag more than 1 million times on social media — meaning that HP will generously give CI US$ 1 million in support. Most of this funding will go toward HP Earth Insights, a partnership that uses HP technology to improve the analysis of rainforest data collected by the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network. This is the final post in a three-part blog series; read previous posts

TEAM researchers set camera trap, Uganda

TEAM researchers set a camera trap in Uganda. (© Benjamin Drummond)

The phrase “collecting data” may conjure images of white-coated lab technicians examining test tubes and jotting down notes in a windowless room. But when your data is camera-trap images from some of the world’s most pristine tropical forests, things get much more exciting.

For TEAM researchers in 15 countries from Malaysia to Madagascar, setting up camera traps isn’t always an easy feat. Just reaching the desired site may require days of travel and facing sudden rainstorms, biting insects, landslides and car or boat trouble along the way. When the researchers make their way back to the site 30 days later to collect the memory cards from the cameras, they sometimes find the cameras have stopped working due to extreme weather events or damage by humans or animals. (Learn more by following TEAM scientist Badru Mugerwa through the Ugandan forest in the short film below.)


Luckily, all this hard work has a great reward: remarkable photos that often capture rare animals seldom seen by human eyes.

TEAM recently held a photo contest among its 17 field sites spread out across the tropics in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Here are the winners in each of the four categories: Continue reading

What Camera Traps Reveal about How Colombian Communities Use Forests

Yesterday we announced a big milestone for CI and our supporters: more than 1 million uses of the #NatureIsSpeaking hashtag on social media. This means that HP will donate US$ 1 million to CI, primarily funding our work through the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network.

ocelot caught on camera trap, Curare, Colombia

Ocelot caught on camera in Curare, Colombia, where CI and partners are kicking off a project using camera traps to monitor the density of large animals, many of which are important food sources for indigenous communities in the region. (Photo courtesy of CI Colombia/ASSETS)

At 17 sites across the world’s tropical forests, TEAM researchers use camera traps and other technology to gather ecological data that can be used for a variety of purposes, from discouraging poaching to managing threatened species in protected areas, and even helping to predict earthquakes.

Today’s blog from Jorge Ahumada shares another interesting way we’re using TEAM data to listen to nature in Colombia. (Jorge will be doing a Facebook chat about TEAM this Thursday, answering as many reader questions as possible. Check it out from 1-2 p.m. EST — and in the meantime, feel free to leave a question for Jorge in the blog comments.)

If nature were classical music, tropical forests would be Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Tropical forests are the most complex, diverse and grand natural systems on the planet. Globally, one in four people depend on them for their livelihoods. But the question still remains: How do all the services that these forests provide actually make life possible for the people who live there? Continue reading