Nature inextricably linked to companies’ bottom lines

Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Iguazu Falls in Brazil. (© Conservation International/photo by John Martin)

Editor’s note: Achieving the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals is essential to protect nature and save the bottom lines of businesses everywhere, a leading conservationist told business leaders this week at a meeting of the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, the U.N. Global Compact.

“The goal of protecting nature isn’t an addition — it’s integral to the success of the entire spectrum of the Sustainable Development Goals. You can’t address issues of equity, of health, of hunger without recognizing the role nature plays in addressing these challenges,” said Peter Seligmann, the CEO of Conservation International (CI).

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals that have been adopted by U.N. member states aimed at ending poverty, fighting inequality and tackling climate change by 2030.

Seligmann’s talk touched on everything from current corporate trends in sustainable production to the “Aha!” moment of the conservation movement. An edited transcript of his speech follows.

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Murders of environmental activists reflect chronic clashes over resource use

Berta Caceres

Berta Caceres at the banks of the Gualcarque River in western Honduras, where she led a prolonged protest against construction on the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which poses grave threats to the local environment, river and indigenous Lenca people. She was murdered in her home in March 2016. (© Goldman Environmental Prize)

When I heard of the horrific murder of Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist who had spent years fighting to protect her community’s traditional lands, I was shocked — though perhaps I shouldn’t have been.

A recent study conducted by international watchdog group Global Witness found that Honduras is currently the most dangerous country to be an environmental activist, with 109 activists murdered between 2010 and 2014. Two weeks after Berta’s death, another member of her organization, Nelson García, was also killed for his involvement in the movement. Their murderers are still at large.

This distressing news isn’t just a terrible loss for the family and loved ones of Berta, Nelson and the other victims. It’s also a chronic symptom of clashes between resource users taking place around the globe — and a frightening omen for the future of the land these activists fought to protect.

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Investigation finds rampant illegal fishing in Costa Rica

fisherman, Costa Rica

Fisherman in Garza, Costa Rica. Authorities estimate that as many as half of Costa Rica’s small-scale fishers may not have fishing licenses — which means that the toll of current fish catch on the country’s waters may be worse than we think. (© Chris Goldberg/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Pew Charitable Trusts estimates that one in five fish consumed worldwide may be caught illegally — each one a small drop in the ocean in a multi-billion-dollar industry of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

“In Costa Rica, where authorities believe that as many as half of the small-scale fishers who make up the country’s fishing fleet don’t have fishing licenses, that proportion is likely higher,” said Mónika Naranjo González, who recently joined a team from Conservation International (CI) Costa Rica to conduct a local investigation into this issue.

Limited resources and weak enforcement have combined to push some marine species in Costa Rica’s waters to their limits. According to an annual study assessing the well-being of the country, in the Gulf of Nicoya, populations of certain species of high commercial value are projected to collapse by 2020.

CI’s investigation found that the problem was worse than they thought.

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New marine sanctuary in Galápagos Islands a ‘game-changer’ for wildlife

hammerhead sharks, Galapagos Islands

Hammerhead sharks in Galápagos Islands. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

Ecuador on Monday announced the creation of a marine sanctuary in the Galápagos Islands in an effort to protect an area crucial for biodiversity — as well as Ecuador’s economy.

The new sanctuary within the Galápagos Marine Reserve bans all fishing in an almost 39,000-square-kilometer (15,000-square-mile) swath of ocean — an area about the size of Switzerland — around Darwin and Wolf islands, the northernmost islands in the Pacific archipelago. Scientists heralded the move as a coup for conservation in an area that has been deemed too fragile and exceptionally unique to sustain even low fishing levels.

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In photos: Documenting Suriname’s unexplored wilderness

A year ago this month, the Trio and Wayana indigenous groups declared the Southern Suriname Conservation Corridor, a 7.2 million-hectare (17.8 million-acre) reserve that brought the “greenest country on Earth” to new heights.

This environmental triumph was partially inspired by another one several years earlier: the 2012 discovery in this unexplored wilderness of more than 60 species never before documented by science. The species were found during a Conservation International-led Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) survey, undertaken to shed light on the biological and social importance of this unique place.

This week, photographer Randy Olson is taking over CI’s Instagram account, showcasing a few of his favorite images from several weeks in one of the most remote jungles on Earth. We’ve shared a few below, along with condensed versions of Olson’s captions. Check out our Instagram page for more dazzling photos of species that humans rarely see.


© Randy Olson. Click on the photo to see more of Randy Olson’s images on CI’s Instagram.

“Burton Lim collects and photographs this flat-faced fruit-eating bat (Artibeus planirostris). It is not one of the new species we discovered on this trip, but that doesn’t take away from seeing an animal like this in the wild. Our team documented 28 bat species on the trip.”

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Cloud-piercing satellites unleash torrent of new data, new insights into planet Earth

satellite image of Earth from space.

Satellite technology allowing scientists and policymakers to observe and monitor changes on the Earth’s surface has become a vital conservation tool to help us better understand our planet and the ways we are changing it. By sharing open-source data from a radar-based satellite, the European Space Agency enables more precise monitoring and mapping of changes to land use in tropical places where clouds are a persistent feature. (© NASA)

The ability to observe and monitor changes to the Earth’s surface via satellite — known as “remote sensing” — has become an indispensable tool for scientists and policymakers, vastly expanding our understanding of climate, forests, farming and more.

Too often, however, our high-tech vision has been obscured by something so quotidian: clouds.

That’s no longer a problem, thanks to new technology that for the first time is at the fingertips of scientists around the world.

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A scientific treasure hunt to find — and save — nature’s ‘capital’

floating village, Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

The floating village of Akol in the middle of Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake. The lake — the world’s fourth-largest inland fishery — provides the main source of protein for one-third of the country’s population. (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

At Conservation International (CI), we like to say, “People need nature to thrive.” But behind that statement are countless questions revealing a more complicated reality: Where is the nature that people need? Which places are most important to protect? And how much can we chip away at various ecosystems before their value is compromised?

Take Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in Asia. The nation’s 15 million residents are directly dependent on nature for fish to eat, drinking water and meeting other basic needs. As the Cambodian government strives to develop the country’s economy and improve the lives of its people, it must balance development with the need to maintain the lifeline that nature provides for people.

If nature is not adequately protected, human well-being will ultimately decline. Figuring out which places and resources are most critical to conserve is the first step.

To help countries meet this challenge, a team of scientists at CI has developed a framework for mapping essential “natural capital” — the biodiversity and ecosystems that support human well-being. Cambodia was one of the first places we tested it out.

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5 things you might not know about mountains and climate change

Los Glaciares National Park (© Art Wolfe/

Mountains are seemingly timeless structures, but that doesn’t mean they are invulnerable to change. Climate change poses significant threats to mountain ranges around the world. including this one in Argentina. (© Art Wolfe/

Ancient. Enduring. Unshakable?

The health of the world’s mountains is not set in stone. As the climate changes, mountains are changing, and their contributions to the health of the planet — and to human well-being — could shift in ways we cannot predict.

On March 15, Conservation International released “Mountain,” the newest film in its “Nature Is Speaking” series. Voiced by the actor Lee Pace, the film seeks to give a voice to the world’s mountains and to highlight the threats that they face.

While much attention is focused on protecting forests, wetlands and coral reefs, mountains are sometimes taken for granted — yet climate change could crumble their ability to support life as we know it.

Here are a few things you might not know about mountains. Continue reading

Q&A on the business of conservation: Coffee, greenwashing, storytelling

Singapore skyline at night

Singapore skyline. Ensuring sustainable economic growth worldwide requires working with corporations in places like this city-state, which is a global business hub. (© Lucian Teo)

Going “green” is not an extra feature for businesses — it’s now mainstream, according to a leading conservation scientist who emphasized the need for businesses to tell their sustainability stories in a more compelling way.

Speaking in a Q&A session at the eighth annual GreenBiz conference in Arizona earlier this month, Conservation International (CI) Chief Scientist and Executive Vice President M. Sanjayan shared his experiences with host Joel Makower about CI’s work with businesses — and about future trends in the business and sustainability world.

Edited highlights from Sanjayan’s discussion:

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Fishing ban in remote Pacific waters is working, report finds

Phoenix Islands Protected Area. (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)

A lively reef in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, set aside as a marine protected area by the island nation of Kiribati in 2006. Commercial fishing was banned there in 2015. (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)

A ban on commercial fishing in one of the world’s most significant hotspots of marine biodiversity appears to be working, according to a new report.

The proof is in the pictures — in this case, satellite images compiled by Global Fishing Watch, a web-based platform developed by the marine conservation organization Oceana, in partnership with Google and SkyTruth. Continue reading