Teeth to tail: 6 stories about sharks this week

A Blacktip reef shark cruises the shallow reefs of a tropical lagoon. (© Kydd Pollock/Marine Photobank)

Editor’s note: Shark Week 2017 kicks off in a couple of days, featuring everything from an Olympian racing a great white to our very own scientist’s exploration of “alien” species. Before you dive in, take a look at six of Human Nature’s most popular shark stories — and scroll down to the end to see our Shark Week Photo Gallery.

shark in Fiji

1. 5 things you didn’t know sharks do for you

Did you know? Sharks help move carbon through the ocean — and they just might be the key to helping scientists cure certain diseases.

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4 ways climate change is making life harder for tigers

Indochinese tigers

Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti) in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia. (© Conservation International/photo by Haroldo Castro)

Editor’s note:  In the past century, 97 percent of the world’s tiger population has vanished, leaving only about 3,900 individuals left in the wild. Poaching, deforestation and development have driven this sharp decline. Now, from the pine forests of Russia to the rainforests of Indonesia, a new threat looms for these remaining tigers: climate change.

1. Rising sea levels

In India and neighboring Bangladesh, rising sea levels are shrinking coastal habitat for hundreds of endangered Bengal tigers that rely on the area’s mangrove forest, the largest in the world. Higher waters erode this patchwork of islands, called the Sundarbans, and cause salt water to migrate into fresh water, polluting the tigers’ drinking source. Tigers must find new freshwater sources and move to higher ground, escalating conflicts with communities living there.

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U.S. Congress nips move to stop military from studying climate change

Corn farmer Kela Gelo

Corn farmer Kela Gelo in the village of Buya near Yabello, Southern Ethiopia. He only got a few ears this year because of the drought. (© Peter Essick/Aurora Photos)

In a surprising move, dozens of Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives last week joined with Democrats to defeat a measure that would have prevented the U.S. Department of Defense from studying the effects of climate change on the military.

The measure, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act — the law that spells out the U.S. military’s policies and programs — would have blocked a study into climate impacts and removed language from the act calling climate change a “direct threat” to U.S. national security. Forty-six Republicans joined Democrats to defeat the amendment.

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In the news: Escaped lions highlight plight of park neighbors

© Trond Larsen

A lion in Kruger National Park, South Africa. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: A recent case of escaped lions in South Africa’s Kruger National Park illustrates the tension that can exist between people and wildlife around protected areas. In the coming weeks, Human Nature will feature a series of stories from the communities surrounding Kruger, exploring the challenges — and opportunities — they face in living next to one of Africa’s most famous wildlife reserves.

Three lions that escaped from Kruger National Park earlier this week have been killed, according to multiple news reports.

The tragic conclusion follows a days-long search by park rangers in the villages surrounding Kruger. Residents were warned by park officials to “exercise extreme caution” in going about their daily lives. This week’s search is the second time this year that lions have escaped Kruger into nearby communities.

According to Keith Roberts, Conservation International’s executive director for wildlife trafficking, escaped animals represent just one example of how difficult it can be to live near a wildlife area.

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Decoding wildlife crime: 3 stories you need to read

© Charlie Shoemaker

Rangers feed orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya. (© Charlie Shoemaker)

Editor’s note: Wildlife trafficking is wiping out Earth’s most iconic species, funding organized crime and threatening our economic and global security. Despite the aggressive efforts of governments and international bodies such as Interpol to address wildlife crime at all levels, it remains one of the most lucrative criminal activities in the world. According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the illegal wildlife trade is worth roughly US$ 20 billion a year, placing it just under guns, drugs and human trafficking.

What makes this a “high-profit low-risk crime” — and why is it so hard to fight? Here, Human Nature breaks down common misconceptions about wildlife crime, examines the challenges the international community faces in fighting it, and identifies potential solutions — including how you can help. 

tiger in India1.5 things you didn’t know about wildlife trafficking

Protecting species also means protecting national security  wildlife crime has been linked to terrorist organizations such as al-Shabab. Countries benefit hugely from the protection of iconic species: The loss to tourism of a single elephant over its lifetime is more than US$ 1.6 million.

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Field notes from the Lost City

Numerous streams and rivers crisscross the area surrounding the Lost City. The intact forest purifies these crystal clear waters. (© Trond Larsen)

Editor’s note: A team of researchers with Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program recently returned from the Lost City in Honduras, a newly discovered set of ruins deep within the Mosquitia rainforest. The group conducted a biological survey of the surrounding area, a previously unexplored tract of pristine forest. In this post, the expedition’s lead scientist, Trond Larsen, reflects on the team’s findings and recalls an unexpected encounter.

A warm drizzle beaded on my face as I scoured overhanging leaves with my headlamp in search of creatures heard but unseen. The varied calls of crickets, birds and frogs pulsed through the forest. As I returned down a narrow canyon to my camp, I looked up and froze with shock. A large pair of glowing orange eyes, set afire by my light, emerged from the inky blackness.

This is the rainforest surrounding the Lost City.

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Lessons learned in the ‘Kingdom of Fishes’


Kaimana Marine Protected Area in West Papua, Indonesia. (© Conservation International/photo by Laure Katz)

Editor’s note: Indonesia’s Kaimana region is 36,000 square kilometers (13,900 square miles) of land and sea that make up the “bird’s neck” of Papua Island and house about 75 percent of the world’s coral species. Yet the natural splendor of Kaimana — referred to by locals as the “Kingdom of Fishes” — is not immune to environmental challenges. From national regulations that clashed with sustainable local policies to destructive fishing practices that poisoned the water and fish, Kaimana was in need of a conservation intervention. 

That’s when Conservation International (CI) stepped in.

After a decade working to restore ocean health and community well-being in Kaimana, CI Indonesia’s marine program director, Victor Nikijuluw, shares his lessons learned — such as recognizing the crucial role local churches can play in driving conservation success. 

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America’s largest national monument is under threat

Aerial view

An aerial view of Pearl and Hermes Atoll in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The image shows the intricate coral matrix in the blue lagoon. (© NOAA)

Editor’s note: This post was updated on August 17, 2017. The comment period has officially closed. Thank you to all who took action!

U.S. President Donald Trump has issued an unprecedented executive order instructing the Department of the Interior to review all national monuments greater than 100,000 acres created since 1996. After the review, the president could attempt to shrink or delist these national monuments — an action that, while likely to be challenged in court, could have severe consequences for the conservation of the United States’ critical natural areas. Conservation International’s (CI) senior vice president for oceans, ‘Aulani Wilhelm — a Native Hawaiian and the monument’s first superintendent — considers the importance of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the national monuments on the chopping block.

At a time when the United States should be celebrating the 11th anniversary of one of the best presidential decisions ever made to protect the ocean — the establishment of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument — American citizens are instead being asked their opinion on whether or not it should exist at all.

Yet, Americans have already spoken overwhelmingly in support of strong protections for this special ocean region for over 20 years, including every public process held since 1998. Today Papahānaumokuākea enjoys widespread support from local to international levels. It’s incomprehensible, then, that this global pioneer in the engagement of indigenous people in management and large-scale ocean conservation would be placed under “review.”

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In the news: 6 steps to ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’


A group of penguins stands before an iceberg in Antarctica. (© Antrey)

Ahead of the G20 summit of world leaders next week in Hamburg, Germany, a group of prominent climate advocates and researchers led by Christiana Figueres have outlined what the world must do in the next three years to stay ahead of a climate crisis.

Figueres, a Lui-Walton Distinguished Fellow at Conservation International (CI) and the former head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, is the lead author of a commentary published today in the scientific journal Nature, with CI Chairman and CEO Peter Seligmann among its co-signers.

The group identifies six key milestones to reach by 2020, the year by which global carbon emissions must begin to fall to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The milestones cover energy, infrastructure, transport, land, industry and finance — with the role of nature highlighted as critical to meeting climate goals, many of them outlined in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. “When it comes to climate, timing is everything,” the article states. “[S]hould emissions continue to rise beyond 2020, or even remain level, the temperature goals set in Paris become almost unattainable.”

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New to science: Species discovery in the waters of Fiji

Gerry Allen photographing a secretive hawkfish

Gerry Allen photographing a secretive hawkfish hidden in a coral head. During the marine RAP (Rapid Assessment Program) in the Lau Seascape, the team attempted to photograph as many reef fish species as possible, particularly those that are rare or appear new. (© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

Editor’s note: The article below is excerpted from a Special Report on the Lau Seascape in Fiji. It was originally published on June 2, 2017. 

Last month, a team of conservationists set sail from the island of Fiji. Their mission: to survey marine life in the Lau Islands, an unheralded group of islets scattered over thousands of square miles of the South Pacific. (Read the first story in the series here.)

Researchers routinely find new marine species — a testament to how little we still know about our oceans.

This expedition was no exception. In this post, team members Mark Erdmann of Conservation International and renowned ichthyologist Gerry Allen report on some of the new species they believe they found during their dives in this little-explored part of the world.

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