Melting ice a ticking time bomb for Pacific islands

On the island of Tarawa, under gently drifting popcorn-shaped clouds in the remotest part of the south Pacific, you don’t think of ice.

Tarawa is a sliver of land bent like a sickle against the blue flat sheen of tropical ocean that seems to stretch forever in all directions. There is no naturally formed ice within thousands of miles. Yet in this capital city of the Republic of Kiribati, ice will have much to do with the survival of its people.

Sea-level rise caused by the expansion of warmer water and the addition of new water from melting ice due to global climate change represents a serious threat to the world’s low-lying regions. For an atoll like Tarawa — an island built of coral resting atop an underwater volcano — it is a clear and imminent danger.

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‘Conservation province’ could generate sea change in Indonesia

About three-fourths of all known hard coral species can be found in the waters of Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape, including here in Raja Ampat’s Wayag Lagoon. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

The world watched as wildfires raged in parts of Indonesia last month, filling the skies with smoke and even causing the country’s president to cut short a trip to Washington.

Not making headlines, however, is a recent bit of good news from the Southeast Asian country.

In October, West Papua declared itself a “conservation province,” establishing a legal framework for conservation efforts in one of Indonesia’s most picturesque regions — and a potential model for more effective conservation throughout the archipelago.

“It’s a bold vision from the government,” said Ketut Putra of Conservation International (CI), which has worked in West Papua for a decade and which consulted with the provincial governor, Abraham Atururi, on the plan.

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U.S. House passes wildlife trafficking bill

A rhino in South Africa (© Rod Mast)

Last year, more than 1,000 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone. A new bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives would help strengthen wildlife enforcement networks. (© Rod Mast)

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill to combat wildlife trafficking. The Global Anti-Poaching Act, H.R. 2494, passed by voice vote and will now go to the Senate for consideration.

The bill, introduced in May by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, passed the House with 113 co-sponsors — 46 Republicans and 67 Democrats. Conservation International (CI) actively supported passage of the bill.

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In Papua New Guinea, conservation efforts overlook crucial group: women


Serena Ketaloya, local CI partner in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

Serena Ketaloya, who lives in the village of Porotona in Papua New Guinea’s Milne Bay province. Ketaloya has been collaborating with CI to start conversations about environmental management among local women, who historically have had little say in community decisions. (© Conservation International/photo by Whitney Anderson)

In a small house in a remote island village, a group of women sat together, talking and sharing their stories. To an observer, this scene in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, might seem ordinary — but in fact it reveals a profound change taking place. Raised in a culture dominated by men, these women have long played an integral role in their families and villages, yet they were rarely asked for their input in community affairs. This was all about to change.

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Making the Links: October 2015

(© Robert Harding Picture Library Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)

With Ethiopia experiencing its worst drought in a decade, farmers are restoring to selling firewood and charcoal to feed their families. (© Robert Harding Picture Library Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)

This is our latest post inMaking 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)

Boeing says it created lightest metal ever

To help airlines save fuel — and huge amounts of money — Boeing has created the lightest metal ever, a composite carbon fiber material. Described as “99.99% air,” the material — called microlattice — lays the groundwork for creating new structural components in planes that can reduce weight and improve fuel efficiency. 

The link: The structure of this new metal is not unlike that of bones — rigid and strong on the outside but mostly hollow on the inside, and therefore not easily crushed. Nature is full of other examples of efficient design, and for many years, people have been imitating nature’s designs to solve human problems. For example, shark anatomy — from the animal’s skin and tail to its speed — has inspired smart design for products such as watercraft, cars and water turbines. And a shopping center in Harare, Zimbabwe, is famous for its eco-friendly ventilation system that was inspired by termites.

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‘One really sick reef’: To protect wildlife, Cuba faces tough challenges, choices

A scrawled filefish (Aluterus scriptus) pecks at a moon jelly (Aurelia aurita) above a healthy stand of elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) in shallow waters off Cuba’s Isle of Youth. (© David E. Guggenheim)

A scrawled filefish pecks at a moon jelly above a healthy stand of elkhorn coral in shallow waters off Cuba’s Isla de la Juventud. (© David E. Guggenheim)

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a two-part series from coral reef scientist Les Kaufman’s recent research trip to Cuba. Read Part 1 here.

A journey to Cuba’s Zapata National Park had revealed to us just how much of the country’s unique natural treasures remained. But a dive in Cuba’s coastal waters was to tell a different story.

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4 things we’ve discovered from tagging Indonesia’s mantas


manta ray, Indonesia

Manta ray in Indonesia. Mantas are hunted — in Indonesia and elsewhere — for their gill rakers, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. However, studies have shown that mantas are worth exponentially more if kept alive. Over the course of its lifetime, a single manta ray can generate $1 million in tourism revenue. (© Shawn Heinrichs)

Manta rays are among dive tourists’ most beloved swimming companions. But despite frequent interactions between humans and mantas, we did not know much about them — until now.

Since 2014, Conservation International (CI) and its partners (including the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, S.E.A. Aquarium and Manta Trust) have been fitting mantas in Indonesia with satellite tags to learn more about their behavior and how we can best protect them.

Thanks to these tags, here are four things we’ve discovered so far.

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After diplomatic thaw, Cuba looks to protect nature from rising tide of tourism

bee hummingbird, Cuba

The famous bee hummingbird — the world’s tiniest bird — is only found in Cuba. This female is feeding from a hand-held flower at a rendezvous point for this sadly declining species. (© Les Kaufman)

Editor’s note: Earlier this month, Cuba and the U.S. agreed to work together to protect marine life in their adjacent seas. Coral scientist and CI Marine Conservation Fellow Les Kaufman recently traveled to Cuba to survey the health of its biodiversity, which has been off-limits to U.S. citizens for decades.

During my decades of coral reef research on the northern coast of Jamaica, my colleagues and I often ended our work days, good Jamaican rum in hand, staring through the heat lightning across the Caribbean toward Cuba.

Isolated by a decades-long freeze on trade and tourism with its massive neighbor to the north, Cuba’s vintage-car-lined streets and vibrant culture have long held allure for outsiders. But I was just as interested in what lay below the surface.

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‘Big, hot blob’ puts Hawaiian reefs at risk

marine biologist assesses coral bleaching off coast of Oahu, Hawaii, 2014

A marine biologist assesses coral bleaching in Hawai’i’s Kaneohe Bay during Oahu’s first ever mass bleaching event in late 2014. As local threats combine with El Niño impacts, Hawai’i is bracing for a record coral bleaching event in the coming months. (© XL Catlin Seaview Survey)

The 1997 El Niño climate event resulted in extreme weather conditions across the Pacific Ocean.

But one place in the middle of the Pacific emerged mostly unscathed: Hawai‘i.

This time around, as one of the strongest El Niños on record continues to intensify in the Pacific, it’s a different story.

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Madagascar’s sacred forests have a guardian — in space

Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

Madagascar’s Avenue of the Baobabs at sunset. Outside of protected areas, one of the major threats to these iconic trees is fires resulting from tavy, the local name for slash-and-burn agriculture. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

For most people in Madagascar, fire is a way of life.

It is the primary source of light, heat and cooking; burning old grass to encourage new growth for cattle grazing is a traditional part of agriculture in the African island country.

But when conditions are dry and windy, these fires can get out of hand — and the results can be devastating. As climate change brings higher temperatures, and deforestation and habitat degradation increase landscapes’ susceptibility to burn, uncontrolled fire has never been a bigger threat.

What if there was a way to let farmers in Madagascar know when it’s too dangerous to start a fire?

Thanks to cutting-edge technology developed by Conservation International (CI), there is.

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