In the Colombian Amazon, Men and Women Share Conservation Benefits

This blog is the eighth post in Human Nature’s “Gender + Conservation” blog series

local woman being interviewed by CI for gender and conservation study, Colombia

In Colombia, CI recently spent two months conducting interviews with community members in the Amazon region to better understand how men and women are impacted by conservation efforts. (© Conservation International/photo by Erwin Palacios)

Deep in the Amazonian rainforest of southern Colombia, the thunderous Rio Caquetá winds through the densely forested flatlands before entering nearby Brazil as the Rio Japurá. Across this remote region, a series of indigenous reserves, national parks and forest reserves conserve and protect some 2.5 million hectares (almost 6.2 million acres) of unparalleled wildlife, including the black caiman and the black-headed uakari. This area is also home to several small indigenous and campesino (peasant) communities dotted along the mighty Caquetá.

Over the last 100 years, these communities have witnessed a boom and bust economy based on unsustainable extraction of rubber, cocaine, cedar and gold. Weak governance and a growing demand for fish for both local consumption and national markets have also led to an uncontrolled extraction of fisheries resources in these rivers and nearby lakes.

For more than a decade, CI Colombia has worked with these communities to identify and address the factors affecting the sustainable use of natural resources in their territories. In my 18 years of working in the Amazon, I’ve traveled many miles by river and small creek, had numerous encounters with magnificent wild animals, eaten countless meals with community members and had as many long and passionate conversations with them. These discussions have allowed me to see that we share many common views and aspirations about the future of these forests and the people who live here. Continue reading

This Job Training Is Better than Yours: Learning Dive Safety in New Caledonia

dive safety training participants let local kids try out their equipment, New Caledonia

Dive safety training participants in New Caledonia let local kids try out their equipment. (© Conservation International/photo by Edgardo Ochoa)

Not many people get to spend their work days scuba diving on some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs. But for my colleagues and me in New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific, regularly monitoring the health of these important ecosystems is an important part of our jobs.

Yet diving poses a certain degree of risk; everything from faulty equipment to accidents to marine animals occasionally threatens the safety — or even lives — of divers. When it comes to CI’s work, that’s where Edgardo Ochoa comes in.

As CI’s dive safety officer, Edgardo recently led a dive safety training with staff and partners in New Caledonia — ensuring that not only will we be more safe while diving, but that we can do our jobs better. Continue reading

How Ecuador is Reducing Poverty by Conserving Native Forests

 A´I Cofán family relaxing in home in Ecuadorian rainforest

The A´I Cofán people are among those benefitting from Ecuador’s Socio Bosque program. Since they are now compensated for conserving the rainforest, the A´I Cofán are able to enjoy modern convenience while holding on to their cultural heritage. (© Conservation International/photo by Lucas Bustamante)

Each year on March 21st, the U.N.’s International Day of Forests celebrates the value of Earth’s forest ecosystems, on which nearly one in four people depend on in some way for their livelihoods.

Here in my home country of Ecuador, the national government’s Socio Bosque (Forest Partners) program has made great strides over the past few years in conserving forests and improving the lives of local communities. This week, I’m excited to host Peter Stonier and John Martin from CI’s visual storytelling team, who have come all the way from Washington, D.C. to document what I consider one of the most successful — yet underpublicized — forest conservation initiatives.   Continue reading

Cyclone Pam Signals Slow-motion Disaster in Kiribati

This week, dire news continues to come in from Vanuatu, as residents struggle to recover from the destruction unleashed by Cyclone Pam on the island nation. Although Vanuatu may have experienced the most damage, it’s not the only place to feel the impacts. Today on Human Nature, CI’s Greg Stone reports from Kiribati.

lagoon, Tarawa, Kiribati

A lagoon in Tarawa, Kiribati. Although all seems placid in this photo, taken a few days after Cyclone Pam, the storm caused major damage to the capital’s main causeway. (© Conservation International/photo by Greg Stone)

The sun rose quick and quiet over Tarawa. This island is home to the capital of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati, the largest atoll nation in the world and the only country that is in all four hemispheres; its 33 islands in the Central Pacific straddle both the equator and the international dateline.

The previous evening had been pleasant, with a genial ocean breeze. Now the sun commanded the sky and drove the temperature above 90 degrees Fahrenheit [32 degrees Celsius]. Sweat ran down my back and off my forehead as I walked along the edge of the lagoon.

I had returned to Kiribati to meet with government officials and partners working together on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), a project CI has been involved with for over 10 years. I had more than PIPA on my mind, however, as Cyclone Pam — a Category 5 storm — had just spun like a giant pinwheel across the South Pacific. At its strongest, it generated gusts of wind up to nearly 200 miles an hour, flattening thousands of buildings and killing at least 11.

Unlike Vanuatu, Cyclone Pam did not directly hit Tarawa, nor any of the islands in Kiribati. However, the waves it generated pummeled many of the islands, which rise no more than a few meters above the ocean. Continue reading

To Fight Climate Change with Forests, Two Steps Forward

forest in Papua New Guinea

Forest in Papua New Guinea. The world’s tropical forests are often called the “lungs of the Earth,” absorbing carbon dioxide and converting it into oxygen. When forests are cut down, that carbon is released back into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change. (© Trond Larsen)

In 2013 I blogged about why the world needed to support a global forest carbon market, which was in a tough spot. A year and a half later, recent successes are building momentum that we hope will result in a comprehensive U.N. climate change agreement in Paris later this year.

Although conservation funding still remains woefully inadequate to tackle global deforestation, signs of change are pointing in the right direction as individuals, companies and organizations step up to assume responsibility and address the most glaring of gaps.

This month, I’ve been heartened to hear two important developments connected to CI’s work: Continue reading

In Remote Indonesian Villages, Driving Conservation Through Film

Last year, John Weller and Shawn Heinrichs blogged about their film”Guardians of Raja Ampat,” which they produced in conjunction with CI. Now, they’ve just returned from an Indonesian tour showing the film to one of its most important audiences: its subjects. 

villagers attend screening of "Guardians of Raja Ampat" in Indonesia

Villagers in Raja Ampat attends a screening of “Guardians of Raja Ampat,” a new film pro ducted in conjunction with CI. (© Shawn Heinrichs)

A thousand faces glowed in the light of the two-story-tall outdoor theater screen. The mood of the crowd changed minute by minute in reaction to the film: excited whispers and inside jokes as they saw themselves and their village on screen; pursed lips and angry sideways glances as a fish bomb exploded; nods of agreement, sweet smiles and even tears at the end.

villagers watch "Guardians of Raja Ampat" in Indonesia

A giant inflatable manta ray sets the scene for an audience of Indonesian villagers watching “Guardians of Raja Ampat.” (© Shawn Heinrichs)

But the end of the film was only the midpoint in this event. Moments later, hundreds of fists flew into the air as Edo Kondologit — Papua’s most famous singer, who donated his time to headline the tour — leaned forward into the climax of his songAku Papua” (“I Am Papua”). The crowd screamed the lyrics into the night, proclaiming their heritage, declaring their solidarity in the name of conservation. Continue reading

Recent Victories Show Momentum for Fighting Wildlife Trafficking

rangers conducting night patrols, Lewa Conservancy, Kenya

Highly trained rangers conducting night patrols at the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya. (© M. Sanjayan)

Today is World Wildlife Day, an important observance for raising awareness about the extinction crisis taking hold of our planet.

The situation on the ground remains dire. Elephants and rhinos remain in poachers’ crosshairs. Sharks and rays are illegally targeted in the Pacific. And the pangolin, a harmless, scaled forest mammal that eats ants and termites, now has the added distinction of being the most trafficked mammal on the planet, with over a million snatched from the wild in just a decade.

Humans too are caught in the poachers’ snare, with communities displaced by armed gangs and the disruption of ecotourism. Worldwide, two anti-poaching game rangers are killed every week. And the links between illegal wildlife trafficking and global security are becoming increasingly clear.

But two recent, very significant developments offer a glimmer of hope: Continue reading

Making the Links: February 2015

In January I launched “Making the Links,” a monthly blog series in which I attempt to connect the dots between nature and people in some recent news stories. (To learn more about the goal of the series, read the first post.)

gray wolf

Gray wolf numbers are bouncing back in the American West, spurring rancher concerns about protecting their herds. However, wolves play an important role in their native habitats, and getting rid of them may not actually reduce livestock loss. (© John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS)

Here’s my link roundup from February. Continue reading

Environmental Peacebuilding: Conservation Agreements Reduce People-park Conflict in Liberia

This is the first blog in Human Nature’s “Environmental Peacebuilding” series, which will chronicle CI’s growing role in this emerging field of research. Today’s post focuses on our case study in Liberia.

villagers in Liberia

Village residents in rural Liberia. As the country continues to recover from a civil war (and, more recently, the deadly Ebola outbreak), CI is working with the government and communities to ensure that local people are empowered to protect and benefit from the natural ecosystems on which they depend. (© Conservation International/photo by Mike Matarasso)

When I began working in Liberia right after the Accra settlement ended Liberia’s civil war in 2003, I could not help worrying about whether the peace would last. Burnt-out cars lined the streets of Monrovia, bullet holes scarred many of its buildings and the wary U.N. peacekeepers manning checkpoints behind sandbags and barbed wire reinforced the sense that violence could flare up again at any time.

Now, 12 years later, the roads are lit by streetlights rather than smoky fires in oil drums, the checkpoints have been dismantled, and I would like to believe that the country has put civil war firmly in the past.

That said, Liberia’s development needs are enormous. For the majority of Liberia’s 4.3 million people, daily life was a struggle even before last year’s deadly Ebola outbreak that so far has taken the lives of 3,900 Liberians. More than half the population lives below the poverty line. Continue reading

To Fight Another Dust Bowl, Improved Freshwater Management Crucial

In a study released last week, NASA warned of a pending “megadrought” in the American Southwest and Central Plains, invoking comparisons to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The study, conducted by researchers from NASA and Cornell and Columbia universities, predicted that such a drought could start within the next 35 years, cause severe water shortages and destroy vegetation across the region.

baked earth, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Baked earth in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Climate change is predicted to reduce rainfall in many areas across the globe, including the American Southwest and Central Plains. (© Sam D Cruz)

The Dust Bowl lasted about a decade; this drought could extend three decades or longer, putting recent water shortages in California and Texas into tighter perspective. According to one of the study’s co-authors, Cornell’s Toby Ault, “We really need to start thinking in longer-term horizons about how we’re going to manage it.” Continue reading