Climate action requires halting Europe’s unseen import: deforestation

forest, Gunung Gede National Park

Forest in Gunung Gede National Park, Indonesia. Much deforestation in tropical countries is spurred by demand for agricultural products from more developed nations. (© Conservation International/photo by Haroldo Castro)

Between 1990 and 2008, Europe cut down an area of forest the size of Portugal. Why didn’t Europeans notice? Because these trees weren’t disappearing on European soil — they were being cleared in tropical forests far away, to grow crops for European markets.

According to the U.N. Environment Programme, 80% of all deforestation is caused by agricultural expansion. A large portion of this is caused by major economies that are “importing” too much deforestation in the form of products like soy, palm oil, beef, coffee and cocoa. Global demand for these products is booming, and this is threatening forests that are vital to avoid catastrophic climate change.

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In reviving their traditions, Peruvian women find their voice

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

Awajún woman, Shampuyacu, Peru

Awajún woman in the village of Shampuyacu, in the buffer zone of Peru’s Alto Mayo Protected Forest. The women of this community recently set aside an area of forest where they could cultivate and harvest traditional plants — and keep traditional knowledge alive. (© Conservation International/photo by Andrea Wolfson)

In many societies, women are the keepers of traditional knowledge.

It is no different among the Awajún people of northern Peru, renowned as skilled warriors and for their women’s knowledge of plants as medicines and food. But, as is often the case, this traditional knowledge — passed down from mother to daughter — eroded as the modern world encroached.

When Conservation International (CI) began working with the Awajún community in the village of Shampuyacu in 2012 — near northern Peru’s Alto Mayo Protected Forest — the women saw an opportunity to bring back what had been lost.

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How 3,000 holes in the dirt can save a barren land — and alter a social landscape

wildflowers, Namaqualand, South Africa

Wildflowers in South Africa’s Namaqualand region. (© Conservation International/photo by John Martin)

The temperature hovered near freezing as farmer Katrina Schwartz and I stood before 3,000 shallow holes stretching as far as the eye could see.

A sudden freeze had recently hit Leliefontein, a town in the South African region of Namaqualand, after a long drought, causing major livestock losses for farmers. Land had turned barren; degraded by plowing and dominated by kraalbos and renosterbos, unpalatable plants that quickly dominate the landscape, soil restoration was an urgent priority.

Hence the freshly dug holes.

But this pitted landscape — aimed at catching water and reducing erosion — is about more than rejuvenating barren soil. These tiny holes, it turns out, are small blows against a stubborn social divide in South Africa. Continue reading

In search of tourist treasure, island chain banks on natural riches

dock in Anambas Islands, Indonesia

Dock in Tarempa in Indonesia’s Anambas Islands. CI is helping to empower local communities to conserve the islands’ natural wealth and ensure their livelihoods while the government develops tourism in the region. (© Conservation International/photo by Karen Villeda)

It was a rare and curious sight for this tiny seaside village: a steady swarm of expensive yachts dropping anchor.

On a sweltering Saturday in April, the fleet was making a stop in Tarempa, the capital of Indonesia’s Anambas Islands as part of a leg of Sail Malaysia 2015, an international yacht rally in the South China Sea. In Indonesia, high-profile visitors like these are more common in Bali than in Anambas, a cluster of more than 200 mostly uninhabited islands in the country’s northwest, off the coast of mainland Malaysia.

But if locals have their way, more visitors could be coming soon.

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What the environmental movement can learn from anti-smoking ads

(© moxduul via istockphoto)

To create a more sustainable global society, it is critical for companies to increase demand for green products and services — and advertising might hold the answer. (© moxduul via istockphoto)

In the early 2000s, the number of young people who smoked cigarettes in the United States dropped by about 40%. Public knowledge about the health hazards of cigarettes was nothing new — so why the sudden decline?

As it turns out, a single marketing campaign may have been largely responsible for the shift. Now it’s time for the environmental movement to follow suit.

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From rice to shrimp: How one unlikely crustacean is helping to save the Amazon

Editor’s note: Deforestation accounts for nearly 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the world’s nations prepare for the U.N. climate change summit in Paris in December — their milestone for creating a global climate agreement — Conservation International (CI) is demonstrating that one of the most effective solutions may also be the simplest: leaving trees standing.

Shrimp farming in rice paddies, San Martin, Peru. (© Conservation International/photo by Alejandra Naganoma)

Shrimp ponds replace a section of rice paddies in the San Martín region of Peru. The water from the ponds is cycled into the paddies downhill, conserving water and reducing the need for fertilizers. (© Conservation International/photo by Alejandra Naganoma)

Around the world, shrimp farms are getting a bad rap: Widespread destruction of mangrove forests that protect villages from storms. Inefficient water use. Disease.

Yet in the Peruvian rainforest, CI and partners are changing the way shrimp is raised — and helping farmers produce more food without clearing more trees.

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Making the Links: August 2015

A giant panda at the Bifengxia Panda Reserve in China. (© Martha de Jong-Lantink)

A giant panda at the Bifengxia Panda Reserve in China. (© Martha de Jong-Lantink)

This is my latest post in “Making the Links,” a monthly blog series that connects the dots between nature and people in the news. (To learn more about the goal of the series, read the first post.)

The nature in humans (stories secretly about nature)

1.     China’s Pearl River Delta overtakes Tokyo as world’s largest megacity  

According to the World Bank, rapid urbanization has caused this Chinese manufacturing region to become the world’s largest “megacity” in terms of both size and population. It’s now home to more people than Canada, Australia or Argentina. In the next two decades, several hundred million additional people are expected to move to cities in East Asia.

The link: Often linked to pollution and urban sprawl that destroys vital ecosystems, at first glance the world’s “concrete jungles” might appear to be the antithesis of nature — and with more than 10 million people each, megacities may look like the worst offenders. Researchers are continuing to shed light on the carbon footprint of megacities — but data suggests that when cities are built and expanded sustainably, their residents may have a smaller environmental impact than country dwellers due to smaller, denser living quarters, public transportation and other factors. As cities continue to grow, fostering smart growth and conserving the resources (like fresh water) that sustain them will become even more critical.

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Animals without borders: The challenge of protecting our oceans

humpback whale calf, Hawaii

Humpback whale calf in Hawaii. Found in all the world’s oceans, humpbacks migrate thousands of miles between calving and feeding grounds; the population that feeds in Monterey Bay in September will swim down to Baja California to mate. (© David Fleetham)

Editor’s note: For three nights beginning August 31, Conservation International’s (CI) Dr. M. Sanjayan will be co-hosting “Big Blue Live,” a live television event documenting the natural splendor of California’s Monterey Bay. Tune in at 8 p.m. EST/PST (or check your local listings) on PBS to see what he discovers — and before you watch, learn why migratory species need Monterey in this blog from Dr. Greg Stone.

Each year, humpback whales pass through Monterey Bay with their newborn pups, heading to winter feeding grounds off the coast of Mexico. Leatherback sea turtles — which nest more than 20,000 kilometers (almost 12,500 miles) away in Papua New Guinea — frequent the waters of Monterey to feed on jellyfish. Sooty shearwaters fly here from breeding grounds in New Zealand. Elephant seals, great white sharks, killer whales, dolphins and many other marine animals pass through Monterey Bay, all in a quest for survival.

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Bracing for the biggest El Niño on record: How climate change is upping the ante

Editor’s note: For three nights beginning August 31st, Conservation International’s (CI) Dr. M. Sanjayan will be co-hosting “Big Blue Live,” a live television event documenting the natural splendor of California’s Monterey Bay. Tune in at 8 p.m. EST/PST (or check your local listings) on PBS to see what he discovers — and in today’s blog, learn how this winter’s El Niño is expected to affect marine life in Monterey and beyond.

humpback whale breaching in Monterey Bay

Humpback whale breaching just offshore of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California. In the coming months, the strongest El Niño on record is predicted to take hold in the Pacific Ocean, where it will likely impact a range of wildlife. (© 2010 – Richard Ryan)

From Rolling Stone to Grist to The New York Times, it’s been all over the news in recent weeks: One of the strongest El Niños in history could be brewing in the Pacific. After the big El Niño of 1997–98 killed as many as 2,100 people and caused more than US$ 33 billion in property damage worldwide, many people are now starting to worry about what the coming “Godzilla El Niño” may leave in its wake.

El Niño suppresses the normal upwelling of cold water off the Pacific coast of the Americas, which carries with it vital nutrients that support plankton and fish species, kelp forests and sea mammals such as seals and sea lions. There’s still some question as to whether the trade winds will die down, causing El Niño to intensify later this year, but warmer waters in the Pacific have already begun to take a toll on marine life.

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4 things conservation scientists sometimes forget

entomologist collects moths from fur of three-toed sloth in Guyana

An entomologist collecting moths from the fur of a three-toed sloth in Guyana. Like other science fields, conservation research is constantly evolving; meetings like the International Congress of Conservation Biology allow conservation scientists to come together and exchange ideas. (© Piotr Naskrecki)

Call me an eco-nerd, but I think conservation brings together some of the coolest human beings on the planet. I get a little star-struck when I get to shake hands with Kent Redford or have a glass of wine with Robin Naidoo or hear Ana Rodrigues speak about her passion for researching the historical ecology of whales based on — of all things — ancient manuscripts written by monks.

Recently in Montpellier, France, I joined a group of Conservation International (CI) staff attending the International Congress of Conservation Biology, a meeting of more than 2,000 conservation scientists, students, researchers and practitioners from over 70 countries. Every two years, the conference convenes to present the latest research and developments in conservation science and practice.

Besides being inspired by some of my environmental heroes, I also was reminded of a few things that conservation scientists sometimes forget. Here are four of my biggest takeaways.

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