7 Little Reasons for Hope

Children releasing turtles into the Mekong River as part of CI's Cantor's Turtle Conservation Project. (© CI/Photo by Sun Yoeung)

As a writer and editor for CI, I spend a lot of time reading and writing stories about some of CI’s most fascinating projects.

While compiling yesterday’s list of “7 Big Reasons for Hope,” I came across many “on the ground” activities that may not be successes that span the globe, but which are, quite simply, really cool stories that reveal the often-unexpected ties between people and nature. What follows is my highly subjective list of seven of my favorite CI stories from 2011 — shepherded by our dedicated staff around the world.

1. Turtles, Buddhist Monks and Tourism in Cambodia

The Cantor’s softshell turtle (Pelochelys cantorii) is almost extinct in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam; however, its 2007 rediscovery in central Cambodia offered new hope for conserving this rare species for future generations. The recently-opened Mekong Turtle Conservation Center (MTCC) is playing a key role in protecting one of the world’s largest freshwater turtles — of which the biggest known wild population survives in the nearby Mekong River.

Built on the grounds of the centuries-old 100 Pillar Pagoda, the MTCC is fully supported and co-funded by the monks who use the site. The facility provides a home to turtle hatchlings for about 10 months, at which point they are large enough to evade predators like waterbirds and large fish and are released back into the river.

The MTCC is the latest development in CI’s Cantor’s turtle conservation work, following the successful and ongoing community-led “nest protection program” started in 2007. The program offers monetary incentives to villagers who discover protect turtle nests while the eggs incubate. Since the project began, over 1,000 turtles have hatched successfully — with more than 300 hatching in the 2010-2011 nesting period alone.

The center seeks to generate revenue to sustain the project and support the neighboring community with its role as an ecotourism attraction and education center for turtle conservation, teaching Cambodians and tourists alike about the links between healthy ecosystems and healthy communities. Learn more.

2. Floating Classroom Educates Indonesian Villagers

In order to achieve truly sustainable management of the world’s natural resources, the initiative will have to come from the young people of this generation and the next. In 103 coastal villages of Indonesia’s remote Raja Ampat archipelago, many children don’t have to travel far to learn; we’re bringing the classroom to them.

In 2007, CI and the Nature Conservancy refurbished a former tuna long-liner boat as a floating education center complete with a classroom, library, performance space and other facilities. This boat, christened the MV Kalabia, docks in a new village every three days, bringing a new group of 10-50 children aboard. Through games, excursions and other interactive activities, students learn about the coral, mangrove and seagrass ecosystems where they live; how these habitats support the health of all species, including humans; and what they can do to fight the forces that threaten these ecosystems.

One of the Kalabia’s most popular activities is snorkeling, where children have the chance to see the difference between a healthy and degraded reef with their own eyes. After completing the program, students bring their course workbooks home, where many share their new-found knowledge with family and friends.

So far, more than 6,000 students and teachers have participated in the program. Learn more.

3. Small Business Owners Keep Climate Diaries in South Africa

The arid Namaqualand region of South Africa is predicted to grow hotter and drier with the impacts of climate change. In order to help local people adapt their livelihoods to changing weather conditions, Conservation South Africa’s (CSA) small grants program, Skeppies, is helping local business owners monitor how shifting weather patterns are affecting their projects.

Skeppies gave all the project implementers rain gauges, electronic thermometers and a “climate diary” to record their daily weather observations. These diaries have already proven helpful for some businesses; for example, one owner of a business that converts kelp into organic fertilizer was better able to predict the weather, which informed his schedule for drying the kelp in the sun, saving time and money.

Some projects have already successfully appealed to CSA’s “climate tech” program for adaptation infrastructure like water tanks and wind breaks. CSA is now working with Skeppies projects to install sophisticated automated weather stations in some areas, to introduce good science and encourage the projects’ partners and community members to also engage with and learn from the climate monitoring process. Learn more.

Flower in the páramos surrounding Bogotá. These ecosystems provide fresh water for more than 10 million people in and around Colombia's capital city. (© CI/ photo by Angel Parra)

4. New Conservation Corridor Protects Fresh Water for Colombian Capital

In the mountains surrounding Bogotá, Colombia’s páramo ecosystems are more than just a biodiversity hotspot — they also provide crucial freshwater sources for nearly 10 million people in Bogotá and surrounding municipalities.

In November, CI helped launch the Chingaza-Sumapaz-Guerrero Conservation Corridor initiative, which aims to connect the Chingaza and Sumapaz National Natural Parks, favoring the conservation of biodiversity and the adaptation to climate change effects. Seventy percent of the corridor was previously unprotected, primarily private land; CI is now working with landowners, both individuals and companies, to participate in developing and implementing a sustainable land-use arrangement.

To secure financing for conservation and restoration work while conserving forested areas and reforesting degraded lands, CI is also developing a forest carbon program which will mitigate the effects of climate change and generate carbon credits that can be sold on the carbon market. Read more (PDF – 1.21 MB) or watch this video.

5. Lost Frogs, Found

With last year’s Search for Lost Frogs, we sought to raise awareness about the plight of amphibians worldwide and generate new scientific data on the status of many species not seen in more than a decade. Since the launch of this campaign, three of our “10 Most Wanted Amphibians” have been rediscovered: Ecuador’s Rio Pescado stubfoot toad (Atelopus balios), Borneo’s Sambas stream toad (Ansonia latidisca) and Israel’s Hula painted frog (Discoglossus nigriventer).

Habitat loss, climate change and disease — particularly the mysterious chytrid fungus — have taken a toll on amphibian populations in recent years, causing some species to vanish without a trace in a single breeding season.

In another small ray of hope in a country mired in tragedy, an expedition in Haiti led by CI’s Global Amphibian Officer Dr. Robin Moore recently rediscovered six species that hadn’t been seen in 19 years, signaling that with a lot of help, all may not be lost for Haiti’s severely degraded forests. Learn more.

6. Kayapó Fund Provides Much Needed Support for Indigenous Peoples

Inhabiting the largest block of tropical forest protected by a single indigenous group — an area increasingly threatened by deforestation, gold mining and dam construction — the Brazilian Amazon’s Kayapó people are facing unprecedented challenges to their culture and livelihoods.

The creation of the Kayapó Fund — the first trust fund exclusively dedicated to the long-term support of the Kayapó — is a big step for both forest protection and the well-being of the Kayapó people. Grants will be targeted at terrestrial monitoring and protection of Kayapó land, which encompasses a territory the size of Iceland or the U.S. state of Ohio. The funds will also aid the development of sustainable economic activities which will benefit approximately 7,000 Kayapó people in five indigenous territories.

The fund will start operations with an initial donation of $8 million, with $4 million donated by Conservation International — including a large contribution through its Global Conservation Fund funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation — and another $4 million donated by Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) through the Amazon Fund. Learn more.

7. Using Shade-Grown Coffee to Fight Climate Change in Mexico

While traveling through Chiapas, Mexico earlier this year, I heard story after story of how shifting weather patterns attributed to climate change are affecting coffee cultivation in one of the country’s top coffee-growing regions. Scientists have predicted that land suitable for coffee production will shrink in the coming decades, putting the livelihoods of many farmers — as well as the future of the global commodity — in jeopardy.

For these reasons, CI’s work in Chiapas — and our renewed partnership with Starbucks — is more important than ever. By working with farmers, local NGOs and the government of Chiapas, we are promoting shade-grown coffee systems that produce sustainable coffee while providing habitat for unique species and absorbing carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Learn more.

Molly Bergen is the managing editor on CI’s communications team. Help support CI projects like these around the world.

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