Climate-induced species migrations could upend human society: study


Bigeye and Skipjack tuna in Pacific Ocean. (© Fabien Forget/ISSF).

Editor’s note: If the tuna that Pacific Island communities have reliably fished for generations suddenly change their behavior — teeming in totally new areas of the ocean or in smaller numbers, for example — this behavioral shift doesn’t affect only the tuna. Caused by warming waters due to climate change, this shift affects everything and everyone, from other species in the marine food chain to the livelihoods of fishers all over the Pacific.

A groundbreaking conference in Australia last year raised awareness about the full picture of mass species migration in response to climate change — and what it means for human well-being. The conference’s key findings were recently published in a global review in ScienceHuman Nature sat down with Conservation International consultant and Pacific Islands fisheries and food security expert Johann Bell to learn more.

Question: Last year’s conference was fittingly titled “Species on the Move.” Can you explain what that means?

Answer: When we say that species are “moving,” we’re talking about two things: changes in the overall distributions of species that is, their occurrences in places where they haven’t been observed before; and changes in their relative abundances within their known distributions.

The first of these movements is easy to detect people observe species they have never seen before in a given place. The second can be subtler: For example, there may be little change in the overall distribution of a Southern Hemisphere coral reef fish species (because it is blocked from spreading further south due to the absence of coral reef habitat), but it becomes more abundant in the south of its distribution than in the north.

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Coins, cigarettes, stewardship: In Indonesia, ocean conservation means giving back

Manta Ray

Manta ray in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. (© Trond Larsen)

In the small fishing villages of West Papua, Indonesia — home to the single greatest reservoir of marine life on the planet — material offerings like coins and cigarettes fulfill a crucial ceremonial purpose: By sending these modern trappings of wealth down to the blue depths, community elders “feed” the sea to ensure its continued bounty.

It’s a ritual that reflects a larger commitment by the community to give back to the ecosystem that gives it so much.

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My ‘aha!’ moment: A trip to an empty nature reserve


David Emmett meeting a local python. (Courtesy of David Emmett)

Editor’s note: In honor of Conservation International’s (CI) 30th anniversary, this is the latest post in an occasional series called “My ‘aha!’ moment,” in which CI staff reflect on moments of insight or discovery that paved the way for their careers in conservation. For David Emmett, senior vice president for CI’s Asia-Pacific field division, that moment came during a field trip with schoolchildren in Malawi. Read other posts in this series.

I can’t remember a time when nature wasn’t a source of inspiration for me. My ‘aha!’ moment came when I discovered just how valuable it is to others.

My father is an entomologist, so my childhood home was often full of containers of exotic insects. Our family embraced nature as an integral part of our life, and I have many wonderful memories of family time spent outdoors.

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One year after devastation in Fiji, resilience takes root

Farm in Tokaimalo, Fiji.

Farm in Tokaimalo, Fiji. CI Fiji is helping local farmers restore farms and ecosystems destroyed by Tropical Cyclone Winston and strengthen themselves against future storms. (© Conservation International/photo by Lauren Brielle Neville)

Editor’s note:  Human Nature is exploring the complexities of living in, using and protecting one of the planet’s most valuable types of ecosystems — tropical forests — in a series we’re calling “No forest, no future.” Read other posts in this series.

A year after Tropical Cyclone Winston — the largest storm on record in the Southern Hemisphere — whipped across Fiji’s main island on Feb. 20, 2016, remnants of the storm’s devastation and ferocity remain. Villages are still distinguished by partially reconstructed houses, the result of material shortages following the storm. UNICEF tents are scattered across the landscape. In hard-hit areas, Fiji’s coral reefs are now fragmented, damaged by pounding waves fueled by winds gusting over 200 kilometers (124 miles) an hour.

For many, the memories of Cyclone Winston remain vivid and painful.

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Key to protecting the ocean? Money and manpower, study finds

Man fishing in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

A man uses a traditional fishing spear in the Ayau Marine Protected Area in Raja Ampat, Indonesia instead of illegal fishing methods such as using explosives or cyanide. The protected area’s fish population has rebounded due to effective management, including adequate staffing and budget. (© Conservation International/Janny “Heintje” Rotinsulu)

Editor’s note: You can draw lines on a map to “protect” an area of ocean, but does that mean that local communities and wildlife will be better off? According to new research, the answer is “not necessarily.”  

A new paper published in the journal Nature offers data to back up something conservationists have argued for a long time: Marine protected areas (MPAs) need adequate money and staff to reach their full potential (as a recent groundbreaking initiative in Indonesia illustrates).

Two of the study’s authors — lead researcher and visiting scholar at Conservation International (CI) David Gill, and CI Senior Director of Social Science Mike Mascia — recently sat down to discuss the three questions their research sought to answer and what their conclusions mean for MPAs around the world.

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To a country on the edge of development, what is nature worth?

East Nimba Nature Reserve, Liberia

Liberia’s East Nimba Nature Reserve. (© Conservation International/photo by Bailey Evans)

Editor’s note: Human Nature is exploring the complexities of living in, using and protecting one of the planet’s most valuable types of ecosystems — tropical forests — in a series we’re calling “No forest, no future.” Read other posts in this series.

The intensity of light in the tropics makes everything brighter. In Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, women wear loud printed dresses and carry multicolored packages through crowded marketplaces. Driving from Monrovia to Liberia’s countryside, city streets transform into dense green vegetation that, if left unchecked, will strangle buildings within months. Further from the city, thick stands of trees crowd the road, punctuated by occasional small villages and garden plots. In some places, the forest has been replaced by uniform rows of tall, straight trees: rubber plantations. In others, it opens up to a sea of dark green fronds: oil palm.

I was in the small West African country as part of a team tasked with mapping and valuing the country’s “natural capital” — the biodiversity and ecosystems that provide benefits (such as food, water, energy and raw materials) to people and the economy. Due to its heartbreaking history of civil conflict and the recent Ebola epidemic, very little research on Liberia’s natural ecosystems has been possible since the 1980s. In previous projects mapping important areas in Madagascar, Cambodia and Amazonia, our team often had to struggle to piece together information from multiple sources. Liberia presented a new set of challenges: To document nature use and loss in a country with little recent data, where do you begin?

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My ‘aha!’ moment: A day in the life of an illegal logger

Sepahua, Peru

Sepahua, Peru in 2012, one decade after Natasha Calderwood completed the research project that set her on a conservation career path. (© Asier Solana Bermejo/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: In honor of Conservation International’s (CI) 30th anniversary, this is the third post in an occasional series called “ My ‘aha!’ moment,” in which CI staff reflect on moments of insight or discovery that paved the way for their careers in conservation. For Natasha Calderwood, director of projects for CI’s Carbon Fund, that moment came during a summer she spent in the Peruvian Amazon. Read other posts in this series.

In 2002, I was completing my second year of an undergraduate degree in French and Spanish literature. But by the end of my first year I already knew a career in publishing or academia was not for me. So that summer, with a sense of adventure and a love for nature nurtured during my childhood in Mexico, I joined a seven-student research expedition to the Peruvian Amazon.

We were headed to a frontier riverine town called Sepahua, a settlement of 4,000 residents sandwiched between four ecologically important reserves rich with teak and mahogany. Fifteen years later, these forests are still home to a number of indigenous tribes who choose to isolate themselves from the outside world. Our team’s goal was to complete additional research on the threats — namely illegal logging and mining and gas exploration — that were putting increasing pressure on these forests and on the indigenous peoples who lived there.

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Behind an island landslide, a degraded forest

Coeur de Voh

New Caledonia’s “Coeur de Voh” is a heart-shaped patch of vegetation in Voh commune in the Northern Province of the island. (©cachou44/istockphoto)

Editor’s note: Human Nature is exploring the complexities of living in, using and protecting one of the planet’s most valuable types of ecosystems — tropical forests — in a series we’re calling “No forest, no future.” Read other posts in this series.

On November 22, 2016, a few weeks before New Caledonia’s rainy season normally begins, a night of unceasing rainfall in the island territory’s Néaoua Valley caused the greatest flood in human memory and numerous landslides that brought the earth crashing down on the 300 residents of two tribes in the community of Houailou. As the waters rose and hill slopes simultaneously collapsed, 70 houses were flooded and another 12 were buried or destroyed. Eight people disappeared, and the community found itself facing US$ 2 million in damages.

“The flood came up from the valley floor to my house so fast that I knew right away I couldn’t save anything; I only had time to run away,” said Kiki Marara from the Kamoui tribe. Maxime Poedi from the neighboring Goareu tribe added, “Within minutes after the flood hit my house, I heard a very loud noise, like an aircraft taking off — a wave of trees and rocks rushed down the mountain on the side of the valley. My brother’s house was eventually destroyed by this mixture of water, mud, wood and huge rocks the size of cars. We lost two people and are still missing two.”

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My ‘aha!’ moment: In Madagascar, a fisheries discussion without the fishers

woman octopus fisher in southwest Madagascar

In this remote community in southwest Madagascar, women fish for octopus in the shallows while the men take fishing boats out to deeper waters. In order to catch their prey, the women wait for the tide to recede, gather their children and spears, and head out to the reef flats where the octopus hide in their dens. (© Kame Westerman)

Editor’s note: In honor of Conservation International’s (CI) 30th anniversary, this is the second post in an occasional series called “My ‘aha!’ moment,” in which Conservation International staff reflect on moments of insight or discovery that paved the way for their careers in conservation. On International Women’s Day, CI Gender Advisor Kame Westerman reflects on a realization she had while working with octopus fishers in Madagascar. Read other posts in this series. 

I was sitting on a narrow bench in the community center — a hot, dim room lit only by small windows and bright sunlight streaming in through cracks in the wooden walls. Outside, the sound of waves hitting the beach only 20 feet away and a slight dry breeze from inland provided some relief. At the front of the room stood Roger Samba an energetic man with graying hair and bright, kind eyes. He held the audience captive, leading them through the annual planning process for the local octopus fishery closures.

In this remote, arid region of southwest Madagascar, octopus is the area’s main income source, providing much-needed cash for nearly every family. For years now, the communities in this region have been closing off certain areas of their reef flats where reef and shoreline meet — for several months at a time to allow the fishery to recover. It has proven very successful, both biologically and economically, and has been replicated around the region, including in CI co-managed sites.

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Nature’s new ambassador: A conversation with Christiana Figueres

(Christina Figueres)

Christiana Figueres (left), executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, celebrates the historic adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December, 2015 with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left); Laurent Fabius (second from right), minister for foreign affairs of France and president of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris; and François Hollande (right), president of France. (© UN Photo/Mark Garten/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: Seven years ago, Christiana Figueres was asked to do the impossible. Months after the failure of the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen, she took the reins of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change with a mandate to rebuild the global diplomatic process on climate change. Five short years later, the world agreed to the first-ever binding global agreement on climate change in Paris, a stunning achievement for climate action. Now as a Lui-Walton Distinguished Fellow at Conservation International, Figueres is working to ensure that nature plays its part in making the Paris Agreement real. In this interview, Figueres talks cities, women and the climate change actions that must come next.

Question: Why is protecting nature important to fight climate change, and how are you using the Lui-Walton Innovators Fellowship to further your work?

Answer: I come mostly from an energy background. My association with Conservation International and with this fellowship is giving me an additional window into everything having to do with nature-based solutions, because nature is 30 percent of the problem and hence 30 percent of the solution to climate change. If we do a much better job at land use, if we do a much better job at reducing deforestation in the next few decades, if we do a much better job in agricultural practices, then we can reduce emissions, and we can make land much more productive, and we can make our forests much stronger sinks, or absorbers, of emissions. Over the next decades, by 2050 at the latest, we need to have a global economy that is not emitting any more than can be naturally absorbed by the planet, which means that land-based solutions are a very important part of that formula.

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