Making the Links: July 2015

lion, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Lion in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. (© Levi S. Norton)

This is my latest post in “Making 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)

Time to stare at a live feed of this underwater garden

This article shares a live video feed of an experimental underwater greenhouse off the coast of Italy called Nemo’s Garden. Consistent water temperature and humidity enable crops inside to grow much faster than on land. Currently focused on lettuce, beans and strawberries, the creators will soon expand to new crops like mushrooms.

The link: If successful, innovations like this could reshape how (and how much) we grow. As sea levels continue to rise and shifting weather patterns attributed to climate change make farming on land less predictable, it could also be a creative way of adapting to our new environment.

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6 species ‘friendships’ that keep our planet healthy

The diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema) found only in the rainforest of Madagascar, enjoys sun bathing and can leap 30 feet in one bound. Lemurs are vital to spreading seeds through the forest and are thus natural planters key to ecosystem health. CI has, with partners, successfully reintroduced these lemurs back into rainforest regions from which they had previously disappeared.

Lemurs eat tree fruits and disperse seeds through their feces, making them vital to the health of Madagascar’s rainforests. (© Conservation International/photo by Cristina Mittermeier)

Sometimes friendships take root in the last place you’d expect. To celebrate the U.N.’s International Day of Friendship, here’s a list of “friendships” in nature that help species survive — and keep ecosystems running smoothly.

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To help feed China, just add trees

Tibetan woman, Li County, Sichuan province, China

A Tibetan woman in Li County in southwestern China’s Sichuan province. The ancestors of many residents of the village of Ganpu migrated here from Tibet centuries ago; this heritage makes the town a popular tourist draw for nearby city-dwellers. (© Conservation International/photo by Min Fan)

Editor’s note: China contains one-fifth of the world’s people — and just 8% of its arable land. Much of this land is already degraded, leading the country to look to farming in places like Southeast Asia and Africa — places with food scarcities of their own.

Bolstering crop yields by improving the health of ecosystems in the Chinese countryside could reduce the need to import food from other countries — while improving livelihoods for many of China’s rural citizens. CI China Program Assistant Wansu Xu explains. Continue reading

5 things you didn’t know about wildlife trafficking

tiger in India

Male tiger in India. The world has lost more than 90% of wild tigers in just over a century. (© Conservation International/photo by Frank Hawkins)

Wildlife trafficking ruins lives and threatens security and economies around the world.

The illicit trade in wildlife products is predicated on the deaths of defenseless iconic animal species, many of which face extinction as a result of this rapidly growing enterprise — and its effects are felt far and wide.

The scale of the problem has exploded in recent years, and policymakers are working to turn the tide before it’s too late. A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would help clamp down on this illegal trade — and protect U.S. security in the process.

Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about wildlife trafficking. Continue reading

Wildlife trafficking: A threat to your security

elephants, Kenya

Elephants in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. (© Art Wolfe/

Wildlife trafficking is a US$ 8–10 billion illegal enterprise that threatens iconic species, including elephants and rhinos, as well as U.S. and global security. Wildlife trafficking is directly connected to criminal networks, and many experts have found a connection with terrorist organizations.

The crisis has now reached a crescendo. One recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 100,000 African elephants were killed for ivory between 2010 and 2012. Continue reading

Beating the heat: 5 species that are cooler than you are

With record-breaking heat waves from the U.S. to northern Europe, summer 2015 has people seeking relief in air-conditioned buildings and swimming pools.

But wild animals don’t have these amenities (minus the occasional lost bear cub or overheated moose). Instead, nature has given them some extraordinary adaptations that enable them to beat the heat — adaptations that could teach humans a thing or two about creating more environmentally friendly ways to stay cool.

Here are five examples.

Termite mounds

© Pete Oxford/iLCP

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Saving a shipwreck to save a village

USAT Liberty shipwreck, Bali, Indonesia

Off the coast of Bali, the USAT Liberty shipwreck and surrounding coral reef is one of the island’s most popular diver tourism sites. (© Klaus Stiefel)

Editor’s Note: New life — and a way of life — emerged from a World War II shipwreck. But the wreck itself is now in danger of crumbling, taking a community’s livelihood along with it. Can this wreck — and a village’s future — be salvaged? CI’s Kelsey Rosenbaum explains.

In 1942, a Japanese submarine torpedoed an American transport ship in Indonesian waters. In hopes of salvaging its cargo, the damaged ship was towed — and eventually beached — on the northeastern coast of Bali; the eruption of Bali’s Mount Agung in 1963 caused the ship to slide into the ocean.

In the decades since, the submerged wreck of the USAT (United States Army Transport) Liberty has played a surprising role in the lives of people nearby — spurring efforts, including a recent meeting between CI staff and community members, to protect the site where it now rests. Continue reading

Reconnecting with nature in the shadow of war

Woman and her children in Timor-Leste. (© Conservation International/photo by Lynn Tang)

Woman and her children in Timor-Leste. In a country where historic conflict has drastically impacted the environment and community dynamics, CI is helping to spark dialogue between local community members and government officials to promote peace through conservation agreements. (© Conservation International/photo by Lynn Tang)

This is the second blog in Human Nature’s series on environmental peacebuilding, which chronicles CI’s growing role in this emerging field of research. Today’s post focuses on our case study in Timor-Leste.

In my tiny, half-an-island country of Timor-Leste, cemeteries smell of jasmine and come to life on All Saints’ Day. Families have picnics and kids roam wild over the tombstones. Here, stepping on somebody else’s family tombstones is not seen as an offense but as the norm; after all, since there isn’t enough land to hold so many graves, not stepping on one is impossible unless you have mastered levitation.

We eat, drink and pray for our long-gone relatives. We spend small fortunes rebuilding and redecorating our cemetery plots. In my 13 years working and living in Timor-Leste, I’ve found that my compatriots smile and try to use humor to make the best of any situation — a seeming lightheartedness that masks the atrocities endured by so many of them, which have filled so many mass graves.

Over several centuries, the people of Timor-Leste have experienced prolonged periods of war and armed conflict. This history consciously or unconsciously shapes the way in which we Timorese relate to one another and to the natural resources upon which we depend for food and livelihoods. Continue reading

Opportunity, calamity in the balance amid plans to mine the deep sea

baby octopus (Graneledone verrucosa)

A baby octopus (Graneledone verrucosa) moves across the seabed. Seabed mining poses a risk to marine ecosystems, but good management practices can help ensure that this operation is done safely and sustainably. (© NOAA Ocean Explorer)

Editor’s note: The search for new sources of metals and minerals for the world’s growing consumer class is heading underwater. The potential for mining the seabed has companies excited — but could pose environmental threats if not done carefully.

A paper published today in the journal Science presents recommendations for how the International Seabed Authority can work to ensure that the world’s seabeds are managed sustainably for the benefit of all people. Jack Kittinger, director of Conservation International Hawai‘i and coauthor of the paper, explains.  

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Whale shark ‘bling’ could unlock mysteries of giants of the deep

The whale shark is a heavyweight in more ways than one.

Rhincodon typus is the world’s largest fish, reaching a whopping 18 meters (59 feet) in length and weighing up to 21 tons.

Its economic impact is just as massive. A recent study on whale shark tourism in a single atoll in the Maldives showed that tourists there spend nearly US$ 10 million annually for the privilege of swimming with whale sharks. Countries as diverse as Belize, the Seychelles and Australia similarly nurture multimillion-dollar whale-shark tourism industries — often based on only short 6- to 12-week seasons when the whale sharks are present.

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