As Oceans Warm, Hazards and Hope for Coral Reefs

Coral reefs in the Pacific and Indian oceans are showing early signs of suffering a mass bleaching event that was forecast earlier this year, experts say.

But a remote strand of Pacific reefs represents an “experiment” in how coral reefs — among the largest and most biologically diverse living structures on Earth — can recover from widespread bleaching.

(© Lasti Kurnia/Marine Photobank)

Mass coral bleaching like this in Indonesia occurs as higher ocean temperatures — exacerbated by climate change — destroy algae, which give coral their color and supply much of their food. (© Lasti Kurnia/Marine Photobank)

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In Age of Upheaval, World Heritage Sites Offer Model for Conservation

What do the Everglades, the Parthenon and the City of Quito, Ecuador, have in common?

They’re all UNESCO World Heritage Sites — places designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as being of exceptional cultural or natural significance.

These places also can serve as models for nature conservation.

© Keith A. Ellenbogen

A school of fish in the waters of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, the largest and deepest World Heritage Site. (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)

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Q&A: In Hard-Luck Haiti, a One-Man Mission to Save Its Coasts

Haitian environmentalist Jean Wiener was recently selected as a recipient of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, an honor bestowed on the world’s top grassroots environmental activists.

Since 2012, Mr. Wiener’s organization has received grants from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), a partnership of seven leading global organizations (including CI) dedicated to helping small NGOs protect the world’s most important and vulnerable natural areas. We spoke recently with Mr. Wiener.

Jean Wiener, a recipient of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for his efforts to create Haiti’s first marine protected areas. (© Goldman Environmental Prize)

Q: What led you to start your own organization in Haiti?

A: In 1989, I returned home to Haiti after studying biology at university in the U.S. I noticed there was more pollution than I remembered. Most of the fish were gone. Coral reefs were degrading.

I realized that there was no one taking care of Haiti’s coastal and marine environment. The Ministry of Agriculture had a fisheries department, but their job was to make sure that people could capture enough fish, not to ensure that coastal communities were using marine resources sustainably.

My organization, the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity, was officially recognized by the government in 1995. Twenty years later, we’re still the only institution in Haiti that takes a holistic approach to coastal and marine management.

This approach recognizes the complexity of the threats to ecosystems. Issues like overfishing, mangrove destruction and poverty are all inter-related, and solving them will require that all aspects of the problem be addressed. Continue reading

Dispatch from Atauro: Night Hikes, Bat Caves and a Trove of New Species

David Emmett is currently part of a team searching for new species on the island of Atauro in the Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste. Read previous blogs from his expedition.

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The CI team sets up a live trap to capture a civet to see if Atauro’s population is different from that found on Timor-Leste’s mainland. (Photo courtesy of Timor-Leste Rapid Assessment Program team)

In my last post, I noted how the water supply on Atauro is rarely more than a trickle. Late last week our freshwater team turned up something very surprising: a flowing stream that even some of the island’s residents didn’t know about.

The freshwater team, led by CI Timor-Leste Country Director Trudiann Dale, hiked for hours over rough terrain until they discovered the water flowing out of a limestone cave system. Within the crystal-clear water, the team found a range of freshwater insect species. Continue reading

Making the Links: May 2015

This is my fifth post in “Making the Links,” a monthly blog series in which I attempt to connect the dots between nature and people in the news. (To learn more about the goal of the series, read the first post.)

vegetables in Mexico City market

Produce for sale at a market in Mexico City. Roughly one-third of food produced worldwide is thrown away. (© Jessica Scranton)

Here’s my link roundup from May. Continue reading

Dispatch from Atauro: On Arid Island, Life Hinges on Forest

Editor’s Note: David Emmett is currently part of a team searching for new species on the little-studied island of Atauro in the Southeast Asian country of Timor-Leste. Read previous blogs from this expedition.

CI team in forest of Atauro Island, Timor-Leste

The CI team explores the forested hills of Atauro Island, Timor-Leste. Besides sheltering unique wildlife, these trees help maintain the island’s limited drinking water supply. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett )

One of the unusual features of the island of Atauro is the lack of fresh water. There are no lakes, ponds, rivers or large streams. The water supply is literally a trickle during the dry season, usually coming directly out of the limestone rock beneath the forest. It’s a permanent trickle though, which is enough for people to be able to live here.

This direct connection between nature and human survival is the basis of the local conservation ethic; people understand that protecting nature is non-negotiable. This is such a contrast with big cities, where we have lost that direct connection and most people take their water supply for granted, without knowing where it even comes from. Continue reading

On a Tiny Island, Searching for a Spitting Cobra

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of dispatches from David Emmett, senior vice president for CI’s Asia Pacific field division, as he sets out to the island of Atauro, Timor-Leste, in search of undiscovered species. Read other posts in this series. 

sunset, Atauro Island, Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste’s Atauro Island, where CI scientist David Emmett is currently part of a team conducting the island’s first biological survey. The goal of the survey — in addition to finding cool critters — is to encourage the Timorese government to designate the area as a ridge-to-reef protected area. (© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett)

We wake early to catch the boat to Atauro, the island north of mainland Timor-Leste. Our goal? To conduct a species survey aimed at encouraging the Timorese government to designate the area as a ridge-to-reef protected area. Continue reading

Why Do We Need Species? Fighting Climate Change, for One

Over the past 15 years, the environmental community has made incredible strides in understanding and promoting the critical role of ecosystem services — the benefits nature provides, from fresh water to climate regulation to recreation — for human well-being, the global economy and the future of life on our planet.

Where we have lagged behind is figuring out how species fit into the equation.

common dwarf salamander, Guatemala

A common dwarf salamander in Guatemala. By eating insects that eat leaves, salamanders help keep more leaves on the ground, which directs their carbon into the soil instead of the atmosphere, where it would contribute to climate change. (© Robin Moore/iLCP)

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Why This Celebrity Chef Only Serves Local Seafood

Lee Anne Wong

Among other accomplishments, Lee Anne Wong has cooked in some of the world’s best kitchens and appeared on TV series including “Top Chef.” On Tuesday’s episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped All-Stars,” she will be competing for a top prize of $75,000, which will go to CI Hawai’i should she win. (© Marina Miller)

Next Tuesday, celebrity chef Lee Anne Wong will be competing on the Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars for a top prize of US$ 75,000.

She has chosen CI’s Hawai‘i program as her charity of choice for the show. Learn why in our Q&A with her below — and don’t forget to tune in to the Food Network Tuesday, May 19th at 10 p.m. EST to see Lee Anne in action!

Q: What led you to choose Conservation International as your charity for Chopped All-Stars?

A: I recently worked with Conservation International Hawai‘i on the Big Island to help promote both sustainable seafood from local fishing villages and the integration of modern technology that will aid in the marketing, traceability and commerce for these small community-based programs. Now that I reside in Hawai‘i, the idea of sustainability takes on a whole new meaning. Our ocean’s health and its role as a resource — especially in coastal areas — is crucial to the future of Hawai‘i. Continue reading

Unlocking the Mystery of the Manta — Via Satellite

This week, a group of CI communications staff are meeting in Bali to gather stories from our field projects in Indonesia and across the Asia-Pacific region. Follow their journey on CI’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

manta rays gather near Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia

Manta rays gather at Manta Point, a dive site near the island of Nusa Penida off the coast of Bali, Indonesia. Over the course of its lifetime, a single manta ray can generate $1 million in tourism revenue. (© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann)

A light haze hangs in the early morning air at the docks in Sanur, a small beach district of Denpasar city on the east coast of Bali. There, I gather with nearly 20 of my colleagues from across Asia, the Pacific and the U.S in excited anticipation of the long day of manta ray tagging ahead of us.

The trip to Nusa Penida, an island just east of Sanur, would be relatively short were it not for the rough chop of the open ocean reminding us who is in charge. After more than a half-hour cruising through the rolling waves from the Indian Ocean, we arrive at Manta Point, a dive site flanked by cliffs about 200 feet [61 meters] high. Below us await corals, reef fish and (hopefully) manta rays. Continue reading