Field notes from the ‘Kingdom of Fishes’

Limestone karst formations in Triton Bay

The regency of Kaimana boasts spectacular limestone karst formations like this one, in Triton Bay. (© Conservation International/photo by Matt Fox)

In Kaimana, fishing is life. Located in the province of West Papua in eastern Indonesia, Kaimana’s vast coral reef systems, mangrove-lined estuaries and spectacular limestone karst bays support 1,050 species of reef fishes. More than 200 species are regularly fished for food or sold to regional markets.

How have the fish stocks stayed so healthy? Kaimana has experienced less fishing pressure and ecosystem degradation than neighboring regions due to its remoteness, but that is changing. As global fishing pressure increases to feed the more than 3 billion people who get vital nourishment from seafood, can this remote district in eastern Indonesia continue to balance the needs of fishers, consumers and the environment?

Indonesia’s waters have been open access for far too long, sparking a “tragedy of the commons” in which many fishers have no incentive to limit their catches. Now, the locals who refer to Kaimana as the “Kingdom of Fishes” are taking action to secure their fish populations before it’s too late.

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Illegal fishing persists in protected waters. Here’s how we’re fighting it

Scalloped hammerheads in the Galapagos Islands.

Illegal shark fishing along with increasing demand for shark fin soup has led to the removal of 95% of these scalloped hammerheads in the Galápagos Islands. (© Jeff Litton/Marine Photobank)

Recent ocean protection milestones such as the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in northwestern Hawai‘i are a victory for nature. But as Conservation International’s (CI) Laure Katz explained in a recent blog post, “It’s not as simple as drawing a line on a map.”

Marine protected area (MPA) effectiveness ultimately depends on enforcement — the park’s ability to catch violators and deter others who would take similar actions — and compliance — persuading people to voluntarily follow the rules. But the ocean is vast, and monitoring large swaths of it requires intensive labor and resources that many countries and communities simply don’t have. In MPAs that lack adequate monitoring and surveillance, enforcement is weak and illegal fishing is almost inevitable, contributing to the one in five fish caught worldwide that are believed to be linked to illegal activities.

There is no silver bullet for stopping illegal fishing. Fortunately, the rise of modern technology combined with expanded community engagement holds much promise of improving fisheries management. In MPAs representing some of the ocean’s unique and most valuable places, communities, governments and organizations like Conservation International (CI) are finding techniques that work. Here are a few of them.

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We can be heroes: Local leaders with super powers for conservation

CEPF Hotspot Heroes

Four Hotspot Heroes from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, a joint initiative of Conservation International and six other leading global organizations. Clockwise from top left, David Boseto of the Solomon Islands, Rebecca Pradhan of Bhutan, George Mateariki of the Cook Islands and Sissie Matela of South Africa. (© Robin Moore)

Editor’s note: From confronting invasive species on Pacific islands to promoting sustainable ranching in the mountains of South Africa, Conservation International (CI) supports local practitioners working on the front lines of some of the world’s most pressing conservation issues. CI is a partner in the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, a joint initiative of seven leading global organizations working to strengthen communities by preserving their natural heritage. To celebrate its 15th anniversary, the fund brought 15 “Hotspot Heroes” from around the globe to the World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, to showcase the power of locally driven conservation solutions. Human Nature asked some of these heroes to share the most surprising results of their work. Their answers accompany portraits by Robin Moore.

Milagre Nuvunga, Mozambique

Milagre Nuvunga

Milagre Nuvunga is co-founder and executive director of the MICAIA Foundation, which works to combat poverty and create sustainable livelihoods in the Chimanimani Mountains of Mozambique. (© Robin Moore)

“What surprised me was how much easier conservation work became when it was embedded in people’s own traditions. It speaks of respect for a people and their culture. Around the Chimanimani Mountains, communities are establishing their own conservation areas once it is made clear that they will go into the land registry as their own conservation area, an area to be managed by the community to protect their own water springs and key species that are critical to their well-being.”

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Why indigenous rights matter

Kayapó woman in the village of Ayukre in the Brazilian Amazon

Kayapó woman in the village of Ayukre in the Brazilian Amazon. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Editor’s note: The attention given to indigenous peoples in global policy processes such as the Paris Agreement reflects a growing acknowledgment of their knowledge, their rights and their crucial roles in helping to protect some of the world’s most important places for biodiversity.

But while the importance of indigenous rights is considered a given by conservation and development groups, it has been slow to gain wider awareness outside of policy circles. Many people in Western societies who care about protecting nature might be surprised to know that well-intentioned environmental policies hammered out in Rio, New York or Brussels can have unduly harmful effects on the world’s estimated 370 million indigenous people.

In this interview, Minnie Degawan, the director of Conservation International’s Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program, sheds some light on the challenges that indigenous peoples face with respect to nature conservation.

Question: In an increasingly globalized world where national boundaries are less important, why do indigenous groups deserve special treatment or recognition?

Answer: Let’s be clear: Indigenous peoples do not ask for special rights or treatment. Rather, they seek recognition of their contributions in sustainably managing their territories for generations — a recognition of the fact that they have been subjected and continue to be subjected to the worst forms of oppression through land dispossession. This then destroys the basis of their knowledge systems, which can be sources of knowledge for dealing with challenges related to climate change.

Indigenous peoples are victims of climate change, and yet they have knowledge developed from years of interacting with the environment that could benefit humanity; they want to partner with others in finding solutions, but it has to be a just partnership.

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How an ancient tradition could save Hawai’i’s oceans

A girl holds a he'e or octopus, Hawaii

A girl holds an octopus in Hawai’i. By working with communities to restore fishponds and other traditional fisheries management practices, Conservation International aims to revive cultural knowledge that will help improve local food security and reduce Hawai’i’s dependence on seafood imports. ( © Conservation International/photo by S. Kēhaunani Springer)

As wild fisheries worldwide have collapsed, fish farms have proliferated to keep up with an ever-increasing global demand for fish. This rapid expansion has often come at the expense of valuable coastal ecosystems such as mangroves — but the revival of an ancient cultural tradition is proving that this isn’t the only option.

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Protected area or ‘paper park’? Ocean protection means more than lines on a map

Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Aerial view of the island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia. (© Photo Rodolphe Holler)

Editor’s note: Last week President Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in northwestern Hawai‘i, making it the largest marine protected area (MPA) in the world. But how do lines on a map translate into actual conservation outcomes for the world’s oceans?

It largely comes down to deliberate design, local support and effective enforcement, explains Conservation International (CI) Seascapes Director Laure Katz. In this interview, Katz gives an inside look into how the world’s “biggest common resource” is managed — or not.

Question: What exactly is an MPA?

Answer: A marine protected area, or MPA, is an area of the ocean that has been designated for specific management. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), classifications of protected areas range from those allowing sustainable use of natural resources, with zones managed for different purposes, to reserves entirely closed off to extractive activities.

Q: How much of the ocean is currently protected?

A: Including the newly expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM), we’re approaching 4 percent. There’s definitely been a huge uptick in the pace of MPA creation, which is fantastic, but despite recent progress, we still have a major MPA shortage worldwide.

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Hawai‘i aims to more than double ‘effectively managed’ ocean by 2030

Sunset in Kauai, Hawai'i.

Sunset in Kauai, Hawai’i. (© Luana Luna)

Editor’s note: Last week, Hawai‘i made waves with U.S. President Barack Obama’s expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM), a stretch of islets and waters in the far northwestern (and largely unpopulated) reaches of the Hawaiian archipelago. The expansion made PMNM the largest marine protected area in the world.

The waters of the main Hawaiian islands, however, are no less threatened — climate change alone will worsen coral bleaching throughout the state, which we witnessed for the first time in 2015. To maintain the health of its waters and marine life, the governor of Hawai‘i announced at the opening of the World Conservation Congress today that the state will set a target for “effective management” over 30 percent of its nearshore waters by 2030. 

In a recent interview, Jack Kittinger, senior director of Conservation International’s Hawai‘i program, explained what this means.

Question: Let’s start out with the basics. What would you say is the biggest overall threat to the oceans around Hawai‘i’s main islands?

Answer: There isn’t just one — there are several major threats. But I’d say my top four are climate change (including coral bleaching from high water temperatures, and ocean acidification), land-based pollution (in particular sedimentation and marine debris, but also nutrients and other pollutants), invasive species and overfishing.

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New study paints grim picture for Africa’s forest elephants

African forest elephant, Nouabale Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo

African forest elephant photographed by a camera trap in Nouabale Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo. (Courtesy of TEAM Network and Wildlife Conservation Society)

Poaching has killed off 60 percent of Africa’s forest-dwelling elephants since 2002 alone, a new study has found.

The animals reproduce too slowly for their populations to keep up with the rise of poaching in their range in the Congo basin, according to the study, published Wednesday in the Journal of Applied Ecology. As The Guardian reported:

The research found that not only does it take more than 20 years for female forest elephants to begin reproducing, but they also give birth only once every five to six years. This reproduction rate means that population growth is around three times slower than [Africa’s] savannah elephants.

“I am really worried about the future of this species,” George Wittemyer, a co-author of the paper, told The Guardian. “They face a very real chance of extinction if ivory poaching continues unabated. Our work indicates that recovery from the extensive poaching they have experienced requires decades, and we really don’t see evidence to make us optimistic that we are going to get that sort of reprieve.”

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Why you should care about the World Conservation Congress

A malachite sunbird rests on a flower in South Africa

A malachite sunbird rests on a flower in South Africa. (© Scotch Macaskill)

Editor’s note: Call it the “World Cup of conservation.”

On September 1, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress will kick off in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. Held every four years, the congress brings together thousands of leaders and decision-makers from government, civil society, indigenous groups, business and academia from around the globe to discuss the most pressing environmental issues of our time. Kristen Walker Painemilla, senior vice president of Conservation International’s (CI) Policy Center for Environment and Peace, sat down with Human Nature to explain why this event matters.

Question: What is the World Conservation Congress?

Answer: CI is a member of IUCN, a membership union uniquely composed of government and civil society organizations whose members work collectively to leverage knowledge and tools that set a broad agenda for the environment.

Every four years, the IUCN World Conservation Congress allows all of the members to come together and take the pulse of what has been done and figure out what we still need to do to conserve the environment and harness the solutions nature offers to global challenges.

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On the trail of ‘Sharky McSharkface’

CI Indonesia is one of the first organizations to use “fin-mounted” satellite tags to learn more about the migration patterns of the local whale shark population. Shot in southern Cenderawasih Bay Marine National Park, Bird's Head Seascape, West Papua, Indonesia, just off the village of Kwatisore.

Conservation International is one of the first organizations to use “fin-mounted” satellite tags to learn more about the migration patterns of the local whale shark population. Shot in southern Cenderawasih Bay Marine National Park, West Papua, Indonesia. (© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

Editor’s note: Tuesday, August 30, is International Whale Shark Day.

Sharky McSharkface and Blue Bandit may not know it, but thanks to the combined power of satellite technology and the Internet, people around the world can see where they’ve been.

Last month, these two whale sharks were given names chosen by the Conservation International (CI) community. Their movements — along with those of 10 other whale sharks currently sporting satellite tags in and around Indonesia’s Cendrawasih Bay — can be viewed in near real-time on CI’s whale shark tracker page.

“Sharky McSharkface and Blue Bandit are perhaps the two tracked sharks with the most interesting stories to tell right now,” said Mark Erdmann, vice president of CI’s Asia-Pacific marine programs. “After nearly 15 months of tracking them — a record time period for whale shark satellite tagging — they’ve led massively different lives despite both being 4.5 meter [15-foot] males of roughly the same age.”

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