In Costa Rica, a changing climate offers a teachable moment — for teachers

ECO Classroom leader crosses a flooded path in Costa Rica

Peggy Lubchenco (trip co-leader and STEM Education Special for ECO Classroom) tries to cross a flooded path. Heavy rains are not uncommon in La Selva, Costa Rica, but their intensity and frequency may be increasing as a result of climate change. (© Conservation International/photo by Steve Gaines)

It was a sight that had never been seen before at Costa Rica’s La Selva Biological Station.

But it wasn’t a glimpse of rare wildlife — it was rain.

In the span of one week in June, the Old Port River near the research facility in the Central American country’s forested interior flooded three times, destroying houses in the surrounding area. It was one the most intense rainfall events ever experienced in Costa Rica, and a sign of things to come, as climate change promises more extreme weather there in the future.

Fitting, then, that Costa Rica is providing a teachable moment on climate science for those who need it most: teachers.

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Low-flying, crime-sniffing drones: Coming soon to the Amazon?

Braulio Andrade, CI Peru administrative contract manager, shows off CI's Iris+ drone to Melanio Perez, who benefits from CI's conservation agreement program. © Conservation International/photo by Cassandra Kane)

Braulio Andrade, an administrative contract manager for Conservation International (CI) Peru, explains how an IRIS+ drone works. Listening intently is local resident Melanio Pérez, whose family benefits from CI’s conservation agreement program in the Alto Mayo Protected Forest. (© Conservation International/photo by Cassandra Kane)

It was a massive illegal operation, eating away at the world’s largest tropical forest — and it was hiding in plain sight.

In September, The Guardian reported spotting as many as 30 trucks carrying logged trees along three illegal logging roads in Peru’s eastern Amazonian region. The roads, each measuring up to 51 kilometers (32 miles) long, terminated at a dock on the Ucayali River, a major Amazon tributary.

“These images show us what we knew was happening, but could not see,” Julia Urrunaga, Peru director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, told The Guardian.

With the rise of remote sensing, illegal logging is detectable — but deforestation can take time to become visible to satellites, and recent reports suggest that loggers are devising new tactics to avoid detection from eyes in the sky.

What if there was a way to see illegal logging in real-time — and even detect the smell of the fire and the sound of the chainsaws used to fell the trees?

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In Peru, grounds for optimism for future of sustainable coffee

Roasted coffee beans in a burlap sack. (© F. Schussler/PhotoLink)

International Coffee Day: A wake-up call for the future of one of the world’s favorite pleasures — and one of the most important cash crops for 25 million small-scale farmers. (© F. Schussler/PhotoLink)

If we do nothing, sometime later this century the world just may run out of coffee.

As temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change due to climate variability, coffee farms will have to move to new areas just to maintain the same level of production — which is already happening in some parts of the world. At this rate, experts predict that the quality of coffee will drop, prices will rise, coffee-farming communities will suffer and deforestation will increase as more upland tropical forests are cleared to make way for new plantations.

Scared yet?

Today (October 1) — International Coffee Day — is a day to celebrate our global affinity for coffee and the 600 billion cups we collectively drink every year. But it’s also a wake-up call for the future of one of the world’s favorite pleasures — and one of the most important cash crops for rural communities throughout the tropics.

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Wake up: You need sustainable coffee

The morning drink of choice for millions of people around the world starts with a tree in a tropical country.

Unfortunately, the harvest of this magical bean is not always sustainable. In some cases, coffee production drives deforestation and increases the likelihood of infestation by pests and disease (raising the price of your cup in the process).

Scroll down to find out more about sustainable coffee, and click here to read about how one coffee-growing community in Peru has shown that sustainability is good for the bottom line.


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

Your morning cup: now with more trees

A coffee farmer works with tree seedlings in Chiapas, Mexico. (© Conservation International/photo by Miguel Ángel de la Cueva)

A coffee farmer works with tree seedlings in Chiapas, Mexico. Starting on National Coffee Day (September 29), Starbucks will donate 70 cents (the cost of a tree) to Conservation International for every bag of coffee sold at participating stores in the U.S. and Canada — funds that will provide trees directly to coffee farmers in El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia and Mexico. (© Conservation International/photo by Miguel Ángel de la Cueva)

I came to work in conservation through my love of trees.

These days I spend most of my time thinking about the future of a tree that many people love, even if they don’t think about it very much: the coffee tree.

The irony is not lost on me that I don’t actually drink coffee, though I’m definitely in the minority on this: Globally, people drink 600 billion cups of coffee every year. With US$ 22 billion in global sales, coffee is the world’s most traded tropical agricultural commodity.

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U.S. flexing muscle against wildlife trafficking, terrorist groups

Around 96 elephants a day are illegally slaughtered in Africa — and around 100,000 were killed between 2010 and 2012. (© Rod Mast)

A recent surge in the trafficking of rhino horns and elephant tusks has attracted the attention of lawmakers in Washington, where bipartisan efforts have sprung up to protect iconic and other species — and stop the flow of money that the killing has unleashed.

A growing body of evidence is showing that the upswing in trafficking is financing an increasingly sophisticated — and dangerous — criminal enterprise around the trafficking of wildlife goods such as elephant ivory, rhino horn, shark fins and other species such as pangolins.

“It’s not just the killing of animals — it’s the trafficking,” said Jill Sigal, a Senior Vice President at Conservation International who leads the organization’s U.S. Government Policy division. “This money is going to fund terrorist groups and criminal networks: There’s a direct connection between wildlife trafficking and U.S. economic and national security, and it affects everybody.”

“There is a larger impact from the killing of these animals, and that should be of concern to all of us.”

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To tackle poverty and development, nature takes center stage

© Rodrigo Soldon 2/Flickr Creative Commons

Twenty-three years ago in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the first Earth Summit called for the full integration of environmental, social and economic objectives into development planning. What do the U.N.’s new goals have in store for people — and nature? (© Rodrigo Soldon 2/Flickr Creative Commons)

Later this week, world leaders will gather in New York to make some big decisions about the future of our planet. With the ambitious aim of ending global poverty, they will agree on a set of international development goals that incorporate human development, economic growth and nature conservation — the three pillars of sustainability — with the addition of good governance.

These targets — known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — will set the stage for how humanity will continue to raise global living standards without further degrading our natural resources to do it.

For those who haven’t been following the process closely, the SDGs will replace and expand upon the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), established in 2000 as a blueprint for development investments over the past 15 years.

The MDGs will expire at the end of this year, and the new SDGs that replace them must be: action-oriented, concise, easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries — while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.

If that sounds like a tall order, it’s because it certainly is.

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Climate action requires halting Europe’s unseen import: deforestation

forest, Gunung Gede National Park

Forest in Gunung Gede National Park, Indonesia. Much deforestation in tropical countries is spurred by demand for agricultural products from more developed nations. (© Conservation International/photo by Haroldo Castro)

Between 1990 and 2008, Europe cut down an area of forest the size of Portugal. Why didn’t Europeans notice? Because these trees weren’t disappearing on European soil — they were being cleared in tropical forests far away, to grow crops for European markets.

According to the U.N. Environment Programme, 80% of all deforestation is caused by agricultural expansion. A large portion of this is caused by major economies that are “importing” too much deforestation in the form of products like soy, palm oil, beef, coffee and cocoa. Global demand for these products is booming, and this is threatening forests that are vital to avoid catastrophic climate change.

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In reviving their traditions, Peruvian women find their voice

This is the latest post in Human Nature’s “Gender + Conservation” blog series

Awajún woman, Shampuyacu, Peru

Awajún woman in the village of Shampuyacu, in the buffer zone of Peru’s Alto Mayo Protected Forest. The women of this community recently set aside an area of forest where they could cultivate and harvest traditional plants — and keep traditional knowledge alive. (© Conservation International/photo by Andrea Wolfson)

In many societies, women are the keepers of traditional knowledge.

It is no different among the Awajún people of northern Peru, renowned as skilled warriors and for their women’s knowledge of plants as medicines and food. But, as is often the case, this traditional knowledge — passed down from mother to daughter — eroded as the modern world encroached.

When Conservation International (CI) began working with the Awajún community in the village of Shampuyacu in 2012 — near northern Peru’s Alto Mayo Protected Forest — the women saw an opportunity to bring back what had been lost.

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How 3,000 holes in the dirt can save a barren land — and alter a social landscape

wildflowers, Namaqualand, South Africa

Wildflowers in South Africa’s Namaqualand region. (© Conservation International/photo by John Martin)

The temperature hovered near freezing as farmer Katrina Schwartz and I stood before 3,000 shallow holes stretching as far as the eye could see.

A sudden freeze had recently hit Leliefontein, a town in the South African region of Namaqualand, after a long drought, causing major livestock losses for farmers. Land had turned barren; degraded by plowing and dominated by kraalbos and renosterbos, unpalatable plants that quickly dominate the landscape, soil restoration was an urgent priority.

Hence the freshly dug holes.

But this pitted landscape — aimed at catching water and reducing erosion — is about more than rejuvenating barren soil. These tiny holes, it turns out, are small blows against a stubborn social divide in South Africa. Continue reading