What coffee and airplanes could mean for forests

Wife and husband harvest Arabica coffee fruit from their coffee trees on recently deforested land in North Sumatra.

Wife and husband farmers Hasbulah Lubis, 44, and Rofiqoh Nasution, 35, harvest Arabica coffee fruit on recently deforested land in Pagar Gunung village near Batang Gadis National Park in North Sumatra, Indonesia. (© Conservation International/photo by Tory Read)

When a forest is lost anywhere, people feel it everywhere — even though they might not realize it until it’s too late.

It’s probably good news, then, that in recent weeks, forests have been linked to coffee, groundwater supplies and the airline industry — topics that tend to elicit more concern from policymakers and the public. If these issues can help bring more attention to forests, it might not be too late to save them.

The stories:

1. Could coffee cravings, climate change be forests’ downfall?

Coffee is produced in more than 70 countries on five continents — but the coffee industry will need to produce between 4 million and 14 million additional tons of coffee per year by 2050 to meet growing demand. Meanwhile, climate change is affecting growing conditions and limiting growing regions, influencing how much coffee production can expand to meet demand. A new paper examines how climate change will affect where coffee is grown — and how it could trigger a new round of deforestation if coffee producers are unable to increase productivity on existing coffee farms.

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What we’re reading: Mekong megadrought, melting chocolate

A view of the Mekong river basin from Laos.

A view of the Mekong River basin from Laos, one of the six countries supported by it. (© jmbaud74/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this occasional series, Human Nature shares three recent stories of interest in our world.

1. Mekong megadrought erodes food security

The story: The worst drought ever recorded in Vietnam is parching lands and threatening the possibility of a food crisis in parts of Southeast Asia, Science magazine reported. A U.N. report released in March notes that the Mekong River is at its lowest levels since records began nearly a century ago.

Experts point to the El Niño weather phenomenon as a major cause of the drought, abetted by a proliferation of dams upstream that have further constricted the flow of the river.

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Verdicts in turtle conservationist’s murder a rare rebuke of crimes against environmentalists

baby leatherback sea turtle on beach

Jairo Mora Sandoval, a sea turtle activist who had spoken out against poaching of sea turtle eggs on the Costa Rican beaches where he worked, was murdered in 2013. With the conviction of four men in the recent trial, Costa Rican authorities are sending a message that they won’t let such actions go unpunished. (© Jolene Bertoldi/Flickr Creative Commons)

A recent rash of murders of environmental activists in Latin America has underscored the dangers of speaking up for the ecosystems and species that cannot — and the courage of those who do so anyway.

These crimes often go unsolved — making the recent conviction of four men suspected in the murder of Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval a rare and hopeful sign.

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In recovery from massive typhoon, Philippine town struggles to balance complex motives

fish for sale, Concepcion, Philippines

Fish for sale at the market in Concepcion, Philippines. Since Typhoon Haiyan destroyed many coral reefs offshore, local fish catch has been much reduced; however, thanks to the construction of artificial reefs and expansion of local “no-take” zones, it is beginning to bounce back. (© Conservation International/photo by Tim Noviello)

In the wake of the strongest storm to ever hit land, how does a flattened town recover?

More than two years after Typhoon Haiyan pummeled the Philippine island of Iloilo, life is somewhat back to normal for many residents of the coastal town of Concepcion. But in a place that expects more frequent, stronger storms as climate change continues to take hold, balancing caution and ambition in plans for the future is a daily challenge.

In this special report, we document how Concepcion is adapting to the “new normal” — despite some contradictions.

Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature.

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As a vital lake vanishes, a woman fights for the people it leaves behind

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim

Through groups such as the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim helps to represent the world’s many indigenous peoples in global climate change negotiations. (© Conservation International)

Editor’s note: Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim grew up in an Mbororo indigenous community in south-central Chad. Now, through affiliations with groups including the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, she travels around the world speaking up for the rights of indigenous peoples and women. In December 2015, Vogue named her one of their 13 “climate warriors”; on April 22, she will speak at the U.N. signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement in New York.

In a recent conversation, Ibrahim — a former Conservation International (CI) indigenous leaders conservation fellow — shared what motivates her to keep leading the charge on this important work.

Question: How did you make the leap from your community in Chad to the global stage?

Answer: I never stop thanking my mom. When I was young, my mom had a friend who was sick; one time the woman drank medicine and got sicker. When my mom took her to the hospital, the doctor said that she could have died; the medicine wasn’t for drinking, but because she couldn’t read, she didn’t know. My mom realized this since she was also illiterate, this could have happened to her, too. She decided then that this would never happen to her kids. So she sent all of us to school: my three brothers, my sister and myself. The people in her community thought she was crazy, especially educating girls.

Every time we had a school vacation, we returned from the capital of N’Djamena to my mom’s community. She didn’t want us losing our culture, but she also didn’t want us to miss out on the value of Western education. For many years, she worked incredibly hard — never sleeping, selling cows to pay all our school expenses.

As I got older, I became more aware that across the world, indigenous communities are among the most marginalized populations. In my efforts to create a community organization that would protect indigenous and human rights and encourage environmental protection, I eventually was invited to attend a meeting about indigenous women in Cameroon in 2000; that was the first time I got involved internationally.

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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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