300 hours underwater: Delight and danger diving in Lau

Editor’s note: Below is an excerpt from a Special Report on the Lau Seascape in Fiji. It was originally published on June 7, 2017. 

Last month, a team of conservationists set sail from the island of Fiji. Their mission: to survey marine life in the Lau Islands, an unheralded group of islets scattered over thousands of square miles of the South Pacific.

They were seeking out species — but also clues to the health of these little-explored waters. With warming seas wreaking havoc on coral reefs and upending fish migrations throughout the Pacific, managing this area will be crucial for ensuring its resilience to climate change — and ensuring that it can continue to provide food and livelihoods for the thousands who call the Lau Islands home. (Read the first story in this series here.)

In this report, Edgardo Ochoa, marine safety officer at Conservation International, recounts the resplendence and the risks of daily dives in remote waters — as well as some of the unfortunate finds he came across in the deep.

When I came across the fishing line, I knew immediately what it was — the material, the thickness, the size. My air was low, but I needed to at least try to retrieve it, or it would remain tangled in the reef. To roll up the lines, I have a specific technique to protect myself from the fishing hooks: wrapping the line in on itself and making several large bundles to gather as much as the line as possible (see video above). In this case, the section I retrieved was 500 meters (1,600 feet) long.

Five hundred meters that some commercial fishing boat cut off and left in this pristine coral reef to damage it for years.

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To see conservation success, we need to look through a ‘gender lens’

Woman and her grandson prepare to fish

Woman and her grandson prepare to fish at Wainadawa creek near Nadakuni Village in the Sovi Basin, Fiji. (© Conservation International/photo by Peg Arrington)

Editor’s note: To achieve an effective conservation outcome, you need a crucial piece of information: how women and men in the community use nature differently. In the waters off many Pacific Islands, for example, you’ll often find women gleaning in the shallows while men fish in deep waters two fundamentally different uses of marine resources. Understanding the distinct roles and responsibilities of women and men and how conservation work impacts them is critical to supporting communities and making conservation efforts successful.

To help further this understanding and to strengthen the skills of CI staff and partners, Conservation International (CI) recently piloted field-based gender workshops in Fiji, Samoa and Ecuador. Human Nature sat down with Kame Westerman, CI’s adviser for gender and conservation, and Whitney Anderson, gender focal point for Asia-Pacific, to discuss what we all need to learn about gender and conservation.

Question: What does gender have to do with conservation? 

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7 animal dads that go above and beyond

Penguin chick

An emperor penguin chick being kept warm by one parent as the other hunts for food. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

Parenting in the animal world isn’t easy — have you ever had to protect your children from hungry predators? This Father’s Day, we’re celebrating animal dads that perform amazing feats to care for their young — enduring freezing temperatures for months, traveling more than 100 miles to find water and carrying newborns in their mouths to protect them from harm.

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Tracing tuna from sea to fork

Tuna accounts for about 15 percent of the global value of all wild-caught fisheries. (© Gary Stokes)

Editor’s note: Tuna was on the menu last week at the U.N. Ocean Conference in New York, where representatives from civil society, governments and the private sector came together to sign the Tuna 2020 Traceability Declaration to promote sustainability for the world’s most important food fish. Its goal: to make all tuna fully traceable by 2020.

Promoted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the declaration is a non-binding effort to galvanize governments, businesses and nonprofits to improve the health of tuna fisheries around the world. As Greg Stone, a marine conservation expert at Conservation International, explained in a recent interview, it’s a step toward an even more ambitious goal of total traceability in the global commercial fishing industry. An edited transcript follows.

Question: Where did the idea for tuna traceability come from?

Answer: The idea came out of a discussion among big European retailers and a variety of groups who all agreed that the traceability of seafood was the most important thing to them. So much of our terrestrially grown food is carefully traced — from “farm to fork” — but the ocean is in the dark ages when it comes to this kind of thing.

It’s such a big issue, so how do you start? So it was decided that tuna is a good place to start. It’s only about 6 percent of global catch but it’s about 15 percent of the global value of wild-caught fisheries; it’s international; and it’s something you kind of get your arms around, almost. It’s big but it’s not super big.

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For better, faster ocean science, researchers look to the cloud

Humpback whale

Humpback whale. (© Rodolphe Holler)

Editor’s note: For the past five years, the team behind the global ocean health report card, Ocean Health Index (OHI), have been trying to figure out how to reproduce their science faster. Assessing the scores on everything from biodiversity to tourism for 220 coastal nations and territories is a massive undertaking — and it involves synthesizing data from nearly 100 sources.

OHI scientists — including several from Conservation International, the index’s co-developer — knew there was a way to do “better science in less time.” A new paper in the journal Nature details how they were able to do just that: By borrowing philosophies, tools and workflows primarily created for software development, OHI scientists fundamentally changed their approach to science. Human Nature sat down with the study’s lead author, Ocean Health Index project scientist Julia Stewart Lowndes, to discuss the key to this new approach: open science.

Question: How is open science the key to better science, faster?

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On World Oceans Day, Disney’s ‘Moana’ resonates with message of conservation

Editor’s note: Today’s post is the fourth in our Sea the Future series offering expert insight into the latest oceans news. The topic: connecting with coastal communities using a unique approach. 

Traveling aboard the Gaualofa, Samoa’s traditional double-hulled voyaging canoe, a team of voyaging and environmental experts spent 12 days sailing around the islands of Samoa holding outdoor screenings of Disney’s “Moana.” They were completing a pilot campaign for marine education in the Pacific Islands that used the film’s central themes of ocean conservation and Polynesian culture to connect with children and adults alike.  

Human Nature sat down with Schannel “Sagele” van Dijken, Conservation International’s (CI) Pacific Islands marine program director and Samoa country program lead, to discuss the trip. Watch the exclusive video about the trip above. 

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Special report: South Pacific survey finds new species, new concerns for coral reefs

Volau Tiko, a scientist with the Fiji Department of Fisheries, lays a transect tape while surveying for sea cucumbers and giant clams in the Lau Islands of Fiji.

Volau Tiko, a scientist with the Fiji Department of Fisheries, lays a transect tape while surveying for sea cucumbers and giant clams in the Lau Islands of Fiji. (© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

As the world’s coral reefs suffer from the effects of climate change, a recent expedition to survey reefs in a little-explored corner of the Pacific did not know exactly what they would find.

The survey, in the Lau Islands of Fiji, sought to gauge the health of the reefs there for clues to their resilience.

What they found was a study in contrasts: Robust populations of sharks and reef fish, but disturbingly small populations of crucial invertebrates. One of the healthiest reefs anyone on the team had ever seen, but others that were being smothered by algae-like growths or discarded fishing nets. Potentially new fish species, but also the scourge of the oceans: trash.

The team, which included several Conservation International staff as well as local leaders and experts, put in 300 hours of diving during the 12-day trip, dodging two cyclones along the way.

Here is their story, as told by the people on the trip.

Read more here.

‘People are more important’: A conversation with Anote Tong

Former President Anote Tong of Kiribati, a Lui-Walton Distinguished Fellow at Conservation International. (© Conservation International/photo by Toby de Jong)

Editor’s note: The island nation of Kiribati has a geography that boggles the mind. At 3.5 million square kilometers (1.4 million square miles), the country’s exclusive economic zone is the 12th largest in the world, just behind Brazil’s. And yet Kiribati is 99.98 percent ocean, with its total land area only about the size of New York City. With so much ocean, Kiribati is experiencing the future of our oceans now. With the U.N. Oceans Conference under way this week, Human Nature talks with former Kiribati President Anote Tong — a Lui-Walton Distinguished Fellow at Conservation International — about storm swells, the Law of the Sea and what it means to be a “rational radical.”

How did you first become involved in conservation?

As leader of a nation that is on the front line of the climate change challenge, I went through a lot of struggles trying to get the international community to listen to our voice, to try to put into focus the human dimension of what I believe to be the greatest moral challenge facing humanity at this time — at any time. In trying to do that, I demanded of the international community that there be commitments, that there be sacrifice. In our own case, we did this by designating a very significant part of our ocean as a maritime protected area, constituting something like 11 percent or in total more than 400,000 square kilometers (150,000 square miles) of our ocean — a part of our ocean that is one of the most fertile fishing grounds. That was our contribution — our sacrifice to humanity in terms of our sustainability in the future — so that not only can we benefit today but so our children and our grandchildren can also be able to benefit from the fishery into the future.

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Amid Paris pact uncertainty, global goals set course for protecting nature

Local fishermen, Timor-Leste

Local fishermen launch their boat at Valu Beach, in Nino Konis Santana National Park, Timor-Leste. (© World Wildlife Fund, Inc. / Matthew Abbott)

Editor’s note: Today’s post is the third in our Sea the Future series offering expert insight into the latest oceans news. The topic: the Sustainable Development Goals, which are the focus of the global U.N. Ocean Conference that begins tomorrow.

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serve as a guide for the international community to protect nature and improve human well-being. As countries gather in New York this week to focus on the health of the world’s oceans, the need for international cooperation and action is more pressing than ever.

At the U.N. Ocean Conference, leaders will grapple with some of the most challenging issues facing our oceans — from pollution to climate change to development.

The conference is part of a global commitment to enact Goal 14, “Life Below Water,” one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals that aim to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change by 2030. As humanity pushes the limits of Earth’s ability to sustain us, these critical goals represent the first-ever attempt by the global community to map a clear and holistic pathway for sustainable development — and to hold nations accountable for their progress.

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5 questions you’ve wanted to ask about the Paris Agreement

© Yann Caradec/Flickr Creative Commons

The Eiffel Tower illuminated for the U.N. climate talks in 2015. (© Yann Caradec/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: This post was updated on June 2, 2017. 

Nearly 18 months ago, the international community came together in Paris to sign the largest global agreement on climate change to date — including a strong endorsement of nature’s role in addressing climate change. With the Paris Agreement back in the news, Human Nature takes a look at five things you need to know about the historic international accord.

I’m in favor of action on climate change, but isn’t there a tradeoff between following the Paris Agreement and growing the economy?

Quite the opposite. Business leaders agree that the Paris Agreement is good for the American economy. In a series of open letters to the president, chief executives from many of America’s largest corporations — from Apple to Cargill to Coca-Cola to Walmart — have advocated for continued American participation in the Paris Agreement. Why? A strong Paris Agreement means that all countries will be working toward the same climate goal, leveling the playing field for American manufacturers and creating new markets abroad for climate-friendly technology like solar panels and energy-efficient appliances. Corporate chiefs also argue that the agreement provides needed certainty for planning long-term investments and will reduce climate-related risks. In fact, acting now on climate change is our best insurance policy against the most harmful impacts of climate change.

We have seen this before. When the world agreed in the late 1980s to phase out the use of ozone-depleting chemicals, American chemical manufacturers led the charge to develop ozone-safe replacements, and their business benefited as a result. Today, American companies are poised to lead on climate action worldwide, and the Paris Agreement represents an opportunity to grow their businesses.

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