Meet Conservation International’s Newest Leader, Dr. M. Sanjayan

Since CI was founded 27 years ago today, growth and innovation have been critical to bring the organization closer to achieving our ultimate goal: protecting and restoring nature for the sake of people everywhere.

In that spirit, we’re excited to announce that Dr. M Sanjayan — visionary scientist and conservation thought leader — is joining our team as executive vice president overseeing development and communications strategy. Sanjayan comes to us after 16 years at The Nature Conservancy; he discusses what drives his conservation passion below.

M. Sanjayan

Dr. M. Sanjayan, CI’s new executive vice president. (© Ami Vitale/amivitale.com)

Q: What inspired you to join CI’s team at this time?

A: CI is a bold yet nimble organization working in some of the most amazing places on Earth, and its mission of saving nature to ensure human communities thrive resonates deeply with me.

This is a crucial moment not just for the organization but also for the conservation movement itself. For me, loving nature comes easily, but engaging all segments of society in conservation requires a much broader framework. The upcoming launch of CI’s new campaign will strongly anchor the conservation of nature as necessary and essential for the persistence and improvement of human life on our planet.

I suppose I also have a personal bone to pick, too. You know, my family really wanted me to become a doctor. Shortly after receiving my Ph.D. in biology, my grandmother began introducing me as “a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.” I’d like to prove her wrong.

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What’s It Like to Make an IMAX Movie? Q&A with Director Greg MacGillivray

Last week, we blogged about “Journey to the South Pacific,” a new IMAX 3D film chronicling a boy named Jawi as he discovers the ocean’s beauty and importance, thanks in part to the MV Kalabia, an environmental education boat. Today, I interview Greg MacGillivray, the film’s director, about his experience making the film.

Greg MacGillivray filming in West Papua, Indonesia

Greg MacGillivray, director of the IMAX 3D film “Journey to the South Pacific,” filming in West Papua, Indonesia. (© 2014 IMAX Corporation and MacGillivray Freeman Films. IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.)

Q: Why did you decide to make this film?

A: After completing our last IMAX film “To The Arctic,” which explored the perils of climate change for polar bears, we wanted to make an upbeat film about successful ocean conservation.

Extensive research consultation with our One World One Ocean Campaign science advisors led us to West Papua and the Bird’s Head Seascape. The more we talked to scientists and divers working in this area, the more we became convinced that we had found both an area with spectacular visuals above and below the water that were worthy of the IMAX format, but also a story of creative community efforts to preserve reefs whose diversity encompasses 75% of the world’s coral species.

When we spoke to Dr. Mark Erdmann, senior advisor for CI-Indonesia’s marine program, and learned about the Kalabia — the tuna trawler turned floating classroom that now teaches island children about their ocean environment — we knew we had a great story.

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6 Books to Read This Winter

Paradise Harbor, Antarctica

Paradise Harbor, Antarctica. (© Levi S. Norton)

January is a great time for reading.

Why? Maybe you’re still plugging away on your New Year’s resolution of self-improvement. Perhaps you (like me) feel like riding out frigid winter temperatures curled up next to a fire with a book. Or maybe you live in the Southern Hemisphere and want to withstand record heat waves by basking under a beach umbrella with a good read.

In any case, here are six more book recommendations from CI staff about nature and/or sustainable development. (This post is a follow-up to last August’s popular post, “12 Nature Books to Read This Summer: CI Staff Picks.”)

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Indonesian Floating Classroom Comes to the Big Screen

Kalabia, an environmental education boat in Indonesia, arrives in a village

The MV Kalabia, an environmental education boat in Indonesia, arrives in a new village in the Raja Ampat archipelago. (© 2014 IMAX Corporation and MacGillivray Freeman Films. IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.)

Aboard the MV Kalabia, an education boat in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago, our movie theatre consists of a makeshift screen made from a white bedsheet strung over the top deck of the boat. During our movie nights, villagers come and sit on the wooden docks to watch educational films.

But this month, thousands of moviegoers on the other side of the world will get a glimpse at the stunning views, fascinating creatures and vibrant communities I get to see every day here in Raja Ampat — on a multistory, 3D IMAX platform!

The new 3D IMAX film, “Journey to the South Pacific,” documents human and marine life in the coastal areas of the Bird’s Head Seascape, often described as the global epicentre of marine biodiversity. It’s also home to thousands of people who depend on marine resources for food, coastal protection, tourism income and other benefits.

However, these benefits are under threat from a range of human activities, including destructive fishing using dynamite and cyanide, consumption of sea turtles and their eggs, throwing garbage into the ocean, coral mining for construction, pollution from mining activities and overfishing of certain species such as sharks, groupers and anchovies.

Since 2008, the Kalabia — a former tuna-trawling boat — has been touring the islands of Raja Ampat, spending a few days at each village to deliver a highly interactive conservation education program to the children of these communities.

For three weeks in January 2013, the Kalabia education team hosted the MacGillivray Freeman film crew in several villages around Dampier Strait Marine Protected Area (MPA). The film is focused on positive action for the ocean and will feature the Kalabia education program as the story’s “heartbeat.”

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Savings Group Supports Small Business in Cambodian Floating Village

woman and daughter in floating house, Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

Sophy, a member of the new savings group, poses with her daughter in their floating house on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake. (© CI/photo by Molly Bergen)

Every month in the middle of a Cambodian lake, a group of women gathers to talk about money.

These women live in Acol, a 32-family floating village located a half-hour’s boat ride from the shore of Tonle Sap Lake. As you might expect, their entire lives revolve around the fish swimming beneath their houses. CI’s new savings group is helping to ensure that these families can maintain their incomes whether or not fish remain abundant.

For centuries, people have built their houses on Tonle Sap Lake in order to have easy access to its massive freshwater fishery, which is one of the world’s largest.

Families here tend to have larger incomes than those on land, but their homes — made buoyant by plastic barrels and rafts of bamboo — require much more upkeep than terrestrial houses. And thanks to a number of threats to the fishery, including a growing human population, destruction of flooded forest that serves as a critical fish breeding area, and continued use of illegal, unsustainable fishing methods, catching enough fish to survive is by no means a certainty.

Sophy is among those who have lived their whole lives on the lake. Several years ago, her husband, Mao, got sick, and she took out a bank loan to pay his medical bills. He recovered, but the loan’s high interest rate quickly drove her family into debt. Soon they owed the bank about 2 million riel (US$ 500), a huge sum that prevented them from paying school fees for their five children.

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Gender, Climate Change and Livestock Management on the East African Plains

Maasai men in Kenya

A group of Maasai men in Kenya. (© CI/photo by Gina Buchanan)

Beatrice Lempaira is a Maasai woman living in a semi-nomadic community on a vast stretch of open land to the northwest of Mount Kenya. Making up one of East Africa’s most famous indigenous groups, these red- and purple-robed Maasai herders have been grazing their cattle on the plains of Kenya and Tanzania for centuries.

Beatrice was the first woman from her village to attend university. Now she’s one of CI’s newest indigenous fellows.

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10 Marine Areas We Must Protect

If you walk on the beach and look out at your nearest stretch of the global ocean, it can be hard to fathom the incredible diversity that lies beneath the waves. Our oceans contain an estimated 2.2 million species, the vast majority of which have never been seen or described by scientists.

cuttlefish in Papua New Guinea

A cuttlefish in Papua New Guinea. The country has high levels of marine biodiversity, including pygmy seahorses, reef sharks and tropical fishes, and is considerably less impacted than other areas in the region. (© Trond Larsen)

However, in recent years we’ve been making serious headway in trying to understand the diversity that supports an incredible array of benefits that we rely on our oceans to provide. The well-being of hundreds of millions of coastal people relies on the nutrition and employment provided by fisheries and the coastal protection provided by habitats like mangroves and coral reefs. Yet despite our oceans’ value, until recently we lacked a global map of marine areas where we should prioritize biodiversity conservation efforts.

To remedy this, CI — in collaboration with scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and BirdLife International — has published a new study today in the journal PLOS ONE.

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3 Conservation Champions Who Rocked Our World in 2013

Monique Pool, founder of Green Heritage Fund Suriname

In Paramaribo, Suriname, sloths displaced by deforestation are rescued and released back into the wild with the help of Green Heritage Fund Suriname (GHFS). Monique Pool, founder of GHFS leads the rescue effort. (© CI/photo by Becca Field)

It has been an incredible year for CI’s visual storytelling team. Thanks to the Visual Storytelling Alliance — a partnership between CI and Sony — we have managed to document incredible stories about CI’s work on the ground and meet some pretty incredible people along the way.

During the course of 2013, we were fortunate to have met and worked with three amazing conservation champions who are important friends and partners to CI.

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7 Blog Posts You Didn’t Read — But Should — in 2013

If I’ve learned anything in my four years managing CI’s blog, it’s this: blog views can be unpredictable. Obviously good content is crucial, but sometimes a great post — one that’s interesting, timely and a unique source of information on an important issue — just doesn’t get the attention I’m hoping it will.

island near Samoa

Aerial view of an island near Samoa. (© CI/photo by Haroldo Castro)

As a follow-up to last week’s list of our 10 most popular blogs of 2013, here are seven posts you may have missed this year — blogs that may give you a little more insight into the many ways in which the health of nature (or lack thereof) impacts all our lives.

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