In Papua New Guinea, protection of nature hinges on local support

Man in boat on Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

Local man in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. The country’s largely rural population interacts closely with nature every day; consequently, its protection relies on their support. (© William Crosse)

In one of the richest natural environments in the world, a rare step is being taken to empower local people to protect it.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a land of incredible biodiversity, harboring more species per square kilometer than nearly anywhere else on Earth. PNG’s people, meanwhile, are heavily reliant on nature: Many live in remote villages on isolated islands or deep in mountain rainforests, disconnected from roads and electricity, surviving on food from their gardens and the skill of their hunters and fishers. About 80% of the country’s population relies on subsistence agriculture.

Despite its natural splendor, Papua New Guinea is often overlooked by conservation and aid organizations. Poor Internet connectivity and high levels of corruption have kept the country largely isolated from the world; when news does emerge in Western media about PNG, it’s rarely good.

These perceptions can overshadow why Papua New Guinea is such an important place to care for.

Continue reading

Repost: 5 things sharks do for you

hammerhead shark, Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Hammerhead shark near Cocos Island, Costa Rica. (© Barry Peter/Flickr Creative Commons)

For Shark Week, we’re re-sharing one of Human Nature’s most popular blog posts of all time: “5 things you didn’t know sharks do for you.”

Pop culture has transformed these ocean predators into an animal many people love to fear, but the truth is we’re more of a danger to sharks than they are to us.

In fact, continued declines in shark populations could pose a problem for people, too; here are some reasons why.

Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature.

Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Recent findings illuminate dark world of ‘demon whale-biters’

The sharp teeth of a cookie-cutter shark.

The sharp teeth of a cookie-cutter shark, which feeds off of whales and other animals in the deep sea. (© JSUBiology)

Editor’s note: It’s Shark Week, which means we’re sharing some of our favorite stories about how the lives of sharks and other species — including humans — intersect. Today’s story underscores the many mysteries still hidden in the deep sea. Check out more Shark Week stories here.

A sei whale in search of its next meal sees the glowing outline of a fish. It swims toward the luminescent shape with its jaw open, ready to chomp, when the fish does something surprising: It suctions itself onto the whale with its lips and spins its body around, using its serrated teeth to remove a chunk of the whale’s flesh.

The perpetrator — called the “cookie-cutter shark” for the neat, circular wound it leaves — will bite whales, sharks, tuna — even humans — in its quest for food.

Continue reading

Whale shark watch: 4 things we’ve learned from tracking the world’s largest fish

Whale sharks in Cendrawasih Bay, Indonesia feeding on baitfish beneath a bagan (lift net) fishing platform.

Whale sharks in Cendrawasih Bay, Indonesia feeding on baitfish beneath a bagan (lift net) fishing platform. (© Shawn Heinrichs)

Editor’s note: To kick off Shark Week 2016, we’re bringing you the latest science news about the world’s largest fish. This blog was co-written by shark researchers Mark Erdmann, Abraham Sianipar and Megan Meyers.

Last year about this time, we wrote on Human Nature about a ground-breaking new whale shark satellite tagging program we had just launched in Cendrawasih Bay, in the Bird’s Head region of eastern Indonesia.

Whale sharks in Cendrawasih are frequently captured inadvertently in fishing nets which target the silverside baitfish that the sharks normally feed upon. Taking advantage of this, we were able to get close to these gentle giants and give them some high tech “bling” — fin-mount satellite tags which transmit their position (as well as depth and temperature data from their recent dives) every time the sharks come to the surface. Fin-mount satellite tags have long been used on other shark species, including tiger sharks and great whites, but were not in common use on whale sharks because the animals are simply too big to easily catch and pull alongside a research ship while attaching the tags. (Check out the video below — shot by Megan Meyers — to see one of these sharks up close.)

 We’ve now had tags deployed on five whale sharks for over a year, and have deployed an additional 11 tags over the past eight months. (Watch the sharks’ movements in real-time on our “whale shark tracker” page.) 

So far the tags have functioned beyond our highest expectations, providing a wealth of new insights into the behavior of the world’s largest fish. Here are four things we’ve learned:

Continue reading

Building guesthouses — not mines — on South Africa’s Wild Coast

Wild Coast, South Africa

Ever since titanium and other minerals were discovered in 1998 in South Africa’s Wild Coast region, local residents have been battling with mining companies for rights to the land. (© Peter Wollinga)

On the eastern shoreline of South Africa known as the Wild Coast, tensions are at a boiling point. Ever since titanium and other minerals were discovered in 1998 under the region’s famous red dunes, local residents have been battling with mining companies for rights to the land. On March 22, anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was murdered at his home. Other activists have been forced into hiding to prevent a similar fate.

Amid all this strife, a group of women is undertaking a last-ditch effort to hold onto their lands: expanding a tourism eco-lodge and related activities whose long-term income potential could leave mining in the dust.

Continue reading

For one of world’s foremost fish finders, ‘no better place’ than this dive site

flasher wrasse (Paracheilinus rennyae)

This flasher wrasse species (Paracheilinus rennyae) was discovered by Gerald Allen and Mark Erdmann in 2013. Among the 515 species that Allen has discovered, 11 of them are flasher wrasses. (© Gerald Allen/Conservation International)

Editor’s note: This week Conservation International’s (CI) first virtual reality film, “Valen’s Reef,” debuted at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity; watch the film here. Its spectacular setting — eastern Indonesia’s Bird’s Head region — contains some of the most species-rich waters on Earth. Many of these species were discovered by the same man: record-setting ichthyologist (and frequent CI collaborator) Dr. Gerald Allen. In this interview, Allen reflects on what he’s seen in his 46-year career. 

Question: You’re one of the world’s foremost ichthyologists. What first sparked your interest in fish? 

Answer: When I was 7 years old, my parents gave me a 5-gallon aquarium and a few tropical fish for Christmas; I’ve been fascinated by these creatures ever since. Fishes took a back seat during my teen years when I had an all-consuming passion for football and other sports, but a snorkelling session at Hawai‘i’s Waikiki Beach in 1963 instantly rekindled my interest in fishes. Fortunately, once the interest was revived I had the good fortune to receive guidance from some very influential people in the world of marine biology during my university days. Continue reading

Amid widespread coral bleaching, this reef is thriving

Coral reef in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Coral reef in eastern Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago in May 2016. (© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

Editor’s note: This week Conservation International’s first virtual reality film, “Valen’s Reef,” debuted at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity; watch the film here. Its spectacular setting — eastern Indonesia’s Bird’s Head region — contains some of the most species-rich waters on Earth; it could also hold clues for how to help our oceans adapt to climate change. CI marine scientist Mark Erdmann explains.

In recent months, numerous reports in the media have exposed the alarming levels of climate change-induced coral bleaching on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and many other locales across the Pacific Ocean. Aerial surveys suggest that over 93% of the Great Barrier Reef has been affected by bleaching, and Australian experts warn that in many areas this bleaching is so severe that it will likely result in 50–90% mortality of corals.

Indeed, many coral scientists are lamenting that coral-dominated reef systems as we know them will cease to exist within the next few decades — a shift that could spell the end for a number of fisheries and marine tourism industries and cause significant economic hardship and food security problems for tropical countries around the globe.

coral bleaching, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea

Bleached coral in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. While places like this have been decimated by bleaching in recent years, the waters of eastern Indonesia have thus far stayed mostly unaffected. (© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

The overall trend is clear; we must address climate change now or prepare to face a very different world than we now enjoy. However, I also feel compelled to note that there are “bright spots” in our oceans, and that we do still have time to act and conserve some of our most important marine ecosystems.

Continue reading

Lights, camera, coral: Under the sea, behind the scenes with a VR film crew

diver and coral in the Bird's Head, Indonesia

Eastern Indonesia’s Bird’s Head region, a biological treasure and the spectacular setting of Conservation International’s first virtual reality film, “Valen’s Reef.” (© Conservation International /photo by Mark Erdmann)

Editor’s note: Today, Conservation International’s first virtual reality (VR) film, “Valen’s Reef,” debuts at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity; watch the film here. Fresh off accompanying a VR film crew on the shoot in Indonesia’s Bird’s Head region, Conservation International (CI) filmmaker John Martin explains why filming in this new medium is so difficult — and so exciting.  

Question: In 15 years on CI’s visual storytelling team, you’ve filmed all over the world. What was special about this trip to eastern Indonesia’s Bird’s Head region?

Answer: After years of seeing incredible video footage and photos from people like Shawn Heinrichs of Blue Sphere Media, our very own Mark Erdmann and other colleagues who have been there, Raja Ampat [an archipelago within the Bird’s Head region] has long been on my bucket list of places to visit and film. When it was picked to be the topic of CI’s first virtual reality film, and I was asked to shoot the “behind-the-scenes” footage, I was thrilled. As a filmmaker who has spent almost my entire career telling visual stories within rectangular, two-dimensional frames, being able to be part of CI’s first-ever virtual reality film experience and to learn about the whole VR production process was very exciting.

Continue reading

What we’re reading: Vanishing rodents, climate ‘benefits’

A landscape shot of Kulusuk, a small village in Greenland with about 360 inhabitants. (© Ville Miettinen/Flickr Creative Commons)

A landscape shot of Kulusuk, a small village in Greenland with about 360 inhabitants. (© Ville Miettinen/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: Climate change made a lot of news in the past week. Here are a few notable stories that you may have missed.

  1. ‘Climate corridors’ could save wildlife

The story: The great wide open spaces of the western United States offer wildlife plenty of room to roam. The east, however, is a different story: The highly fragmented landscapes of the eastern U.S. pose a major obstacle for species fleeing for new habitats if climate change pushes temperatures beyond habitable levels, Popular Science reported.

The answer, according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the creation of “wildlife corridors” throughout the east that preserve or restore natural areas and which build bridges over (or tunnels under) busy roads.

Continue reading

In photos: From forest to mega-city, a river’s journey

girl washing face in water near Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, Indonesia

Young girl enjoys the benefits of having clean water piped into her village from the nearby Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, Indonesia. (© Jessica Scranton)

A two-hour drive inland from the smog and chaotic congestion of Jakarta, Indonesia, takes you to a place that may as well be worlds away. But the forests of Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park hold something that binds nature and city together: one of Java’s largest water reservoirs. In fact, more than 60 rivers flow from here to the outskirts of Jakarta and other parts of the island.

This water is sacred to those who live along the park’s edge and use the rivers for bathing, drinking, fishing and flooding their neon-green rice paddies to nurture their crops. It is an integral part of daily existence.

woman washing clothes near Lido, Indonesia

© Jessica Scranton

boy near rice paddy on edge of Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park

© Jessica Scranton

However, by the time the water has reached Jakarta it is a cesspool of toxic chemicals overflowing with trash, no longer safe for consumption. There, it creates a cycle of disease, infections and poor health for the impoverished families living along the city’s outlying riverbeds.

On a recent visit to Java to take photos for Conservation International (CI), I tried to document the close and complex relationship the communities of Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park have to water — as well as its journey downstream.

Continue reading