New Caledonia Establishes World’s Largest Marine Park

Last week, the government of New Caledonia legally established the world’s largest marine managed area, which will cover 95% of the French territory’s waters. CI-New Caledonia Program Director Jean-Christophe Lefeuvre answers some questions about this important milestone.

fisherman, New Caledonia

A fisherman in New Caledonia. The French territory has just established the world’s largest marine park, which will cover an area more than three times the size of Germany. (© Conservation International/photo by Lily Clarke)

Q: Why should this area be protected?

A: The waters within Le Parc Naturel de la Mer de Corail (Natural Park of the Coral Sea) were chosen for protection because of several outstanding features, including deep sediment basins, seamounts and coral reefs. The Chesterfield and Bellona barrier reefs — which form one of Earth’s largest reef structures — cover an area of 1,324 square kilometers (511 square miles). The park also includes the deepest site in France: 7,919 meters (25,980 feet) below sea level.

These unique formations and geological diversity create habitat for an extraordinary number of species. So far, scientists have recorded 48 species of shark, 25 marine mammal species, 19 species of nesting birds and five kinds of sea turtle.

High levels of biodiversity are indicators of healthy ecosystems, which provide direct benefits for New Caledonia’s people, such as fish catch and income from tourists visiting the island’s scenic beaches.

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Climate Scientists Are People, Too

scientist at weather station in Malaysia

Researcher Christine Fletcher stands atop a weather station in Malaysia’s Pasoh Forest Reserve. (© Benjamin Drummond)

I’m a correspondent for Showtime’s new series “Years of Living Dangerously — in good company with a range of other dedicated climate change advocates, including Harrison Ford, Jessica Alba, Thomas Friedman and Don Cheadle.

As I’ve been going around the U.S. speaking about the series at venues from South by Southwest to the World Bank, audiences repeatedly ask me one question: “What have you learned about climate change from working on this series?”

My answer is simple: When it comes to science-laden topics like climate change, the messenger is as important as the message.

Take Dr. Kim Cobb, an all-star climatologist from Georgia Tech. Her work routinely takes her to far-flung destinations 10,000 miles away from her husband and kids in Atlanta. Viewers will meet her this Sunday, when my “Years of Living Dangerously” episode (the third in the series) debuts, and they will love her.

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Ocean Health Is Human Health

The largest place on the planet is in trouble.

Oceans cover 71% of the Earth’s surface, and ocean ecosystems generate at least US$ 21 trillion in economic benefits each year.

fisherman in Benin

A fisherman casts a net in Benin. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

But a perfect storm of massive challenges, from collapsing fisheries to plastic pollution to ocean acidification, is threatening the integrity of marine ecosystems. These threats put at risk the essential benefits people receive from healthy oceans: sustainable fisheries, coastal protection, carbon sequestration, coastal economies and livelihoods, tourism and recreation and many others.

This week, I was one of 700 leaders from governments, business, civil society and communities attending the Global Oceans Action Summit in The Hague, Netherlands. I am encouraged by the fact that many countries and businesses attending the summit have moved beyond the point of talking about problems to taking immediate action for ocean health and begin the transition toward a more sustainable society.

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Companies Place Greater Value on Natural Capital

coffee farm in Chiapas, Mexico

A coffee farm in Chiapas, Mexico. Shade-grown coffee cultivation not only keeps forests standing, it’s more economically and environmentally viable in the long term compared with “sun-grown” plantations. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Here’s a pop quiz: Do you know what “natural capital” is?

This term — used to describe the resources and services, from timber to pollination to oxygen production, that nature provides all of us — may not have made its way into the lexicon of most dinnertime conversations just yet. Yet businesses are increasingly embracing the fact that protecting and restoring the ecosystems that impact their production is not only essential for the long-term viability of their companies, but for the future of humanity.

Yesterday, Dr. Pavan Sukhdev — a CI board member and environmental economist — published a blog on The Huffington Post on this very topic. The blog is part of a series from The Huffington Post and The B Team, a new initiative that aims to encourage the business sector to become a driving force for the well-being of people and the planet.

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The EU’s Carbon Footprint Is Bigger Than You Think

The European Union (EU) prides itself on being among the developed world’s most progressive champions of a low-carbon economy. Since 1990, the EU has decreased its carbon emissions by 8% — a good achievement compared to other large powers.

cropland bordering rainforest, Iguacu National Park, Brazil

Cropland bordering rainforest habitat near Brazil’s Iguacu National Park. According to a recent study, one-third of Brazil’s emissions from deforestation are “exported” in the form of soy and cattle. (© Frans Lanting / Frans Lanting Stock)

That story, however, hides another one: Throughout the same period of time, the EU has massively increased its imports of carbon-intensive products.

One example is the importation of consumer goods to the EU from China, the global leader in greenhouse gas emissions. Since 1990, a large number of EU factories have relocated to China, essentially transferring emissions from one continent to another. A lot of the demand remains in Europe, however, and that side of the footprint is not accounted for.

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Women’s Collective Revitalizes Costa Rican Island Community

women's collective founders, Chira Island, Costa Rica

Liliana (left) and Isabel (right), two founding members of a women’s collective on the Costa Rican island of Chira. (© Conservation International/photo by Annette Fischel)

“We had always known our mangroves were very important.” So began Liliana’s story.

My colleague Emily Pidgeon and I were sitting with Liliana and Isabel, two founding members of the Chira Island women’s collective, in a lodge called La Amistad (“Friendship”). It was they — together with the collective’s 13 other members — who had first dreamt of building this lodge with their own hands.

Sitting in a quiet, tree-covered property on the outskirts of the community of Palito, the lodge is now managed by Liliana, Isabel and Teodora, the only members of the collective who withstood the group’s difficult early stages.

Throughout the next two hours the women calmly described how they had overcome extreme opposition from their husbands, families, community and beyond to bring income, education and security to Palito, a striving coastal community on Costa Rica’s largest island, Chira. The island is located within the Gulf of Nicoya, the country’s most productive estuary.

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Why Palm Oil Isn’t the Enemy

If you watched last night’s premiere of “Years of Living Dangerously,” the new Showtime series about the impacts of climate change, you likely found yourself thinking palm oil’s pretty bad stuff.

oil palm fruit in Malaysia

Oil palm fruit in Malaysia. Palm oil may be found in half the products on an average supermarket shelf. (© Benjamin Drummond)

As CI vice chair Harrison Ford flew over scorched patches of former forest being planted with palm oil and visited orphaned orangutans in Indonesia, it’s hard not to have a visceral reaction to this devastation.

So you may be surprised to hear an environmentalist say that palm oil itself isn’t the enemy — it’s where and how it’s grown that we need to change.

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Assessing the Health of Brazil’s Ocean

Every year, millions of people pour onto Brazil’s beaches to soak up the sun, supporting local economies and thousands of jobs. The country’s sardine, corvina and snapper fisheries provide food and livelihoods for millions more.

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio de Janeiro’s famous Ipanema Beach. (© OSTILL)

With a coastline stretching 7,491 kilometers (4,655 miles) and over two-thirds of the country’s population residing in its 17 coastal states, Brazil is undoubtedly big ocean country. However, there has been no way of assessing the health of the country’s oceans and coasts in a holistic way — until now.

This week, an Ocean Health Index regional assessment of Brazil’s coastal states was published in the journal PLOS ONE, providing a much-needed mechanism to understand and manage the country’s oceans.

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The New Face of Climate Change

Earlier this week, Fabio Scarano blogged about the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Today, Sanjayan shares his own take on the newest findings.

children in Madagascar

Children in Madagascar. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

According to the latest IPCC report, climate change will cause massive food shortages, put coastal communities at risk, destroy freshwater supplies and increase conflict worldwide. And the impact will not be evenly spread; those who can least afford it, in marginal crowded geographies, will suffer the most.

It’s enough to make you batten down the hatches and look for tips from the National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers.” But I don’t look at it entirely that way.

The report finally puts a new face on climate change: ours. And that’s a change we need.

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Is There a Silver Lining to the New IPCC Climate Change Report?

If you’ve been paying attention, the findings in the newest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will not come as a surprise.

From Typhoon Haiyan to drought in California and Australia to extreme flooding in the Amazon, shifting weather patterns attributed to climate change are taking a toll on lives and livelihoods across the globe.

mangroves and coral reefs in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Mangroves and coral reefs in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Coastal ecosystems like these help buffer coasts from storms, which are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change. (© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock)

The Fifth Assessment Report released today in Japan further underscores the dangerous path we are on. However, I believe there’s a silver lining: a greater understanding of the most effective ways to fight back. To successfully adapt to climate change, it is essential to reduce poverty while protecting nature.

Despite the grim scenarios projected by the IPCC seven years ago in the Fourth Assessment Report — which, I should add, earned the group a Nobel Peace Prize — our global society did not take significant action to halt greenhouse gas emissions or attempt to reduce the devastating impacts of climate change. Therefore, while a drastic reduction in global emissions is still critical, it is no longer enough. We are already living in the age of adaptation.

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