China ban on ivory trade only first step to saving elephants, expert says

elephant near Kenya's Mara North Conservancy

An elephant near Kenya’s Mara North Conservancy. China’s plan to shut down the world’s largest ivory market will undoubtedly impact elephant populations and the ivory trade, though how exactly remains to be seen. (© Jon McCormack)

The world’s largest ivory market will soon be shut down, according to the Chinese government.

Last week, China announced plans to phase out its domestic ivory market by the end of 2017 — a major development acknowledging the growing threat poaching poses to Africa’s dwindling elephant population, which has been cut in half in only 25 years.

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Best of 2016: Before-and-after photos reveal forest’s quick recovery

Schoolchildren planting trees with CI on the edges of the Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, Indonesia

Schoolchildren planting trees with CI on the edges of the Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, Indonesia. (© Jessica Scranton)

Editor’s note: As the end of 2016 approaches, Human Nature is revisiting some of our favorite stories of the year. To support crucial conservation work like this, consider making a donation to Conservation International.

Some of the world’s most iconic photos are famous for capturing a fleeting moment and infusing it with meaning. But photos can have another power, too: revealing the difference between what was and what is.

This year, Conservation International sent photographer Jessica Scranton back to the Green Wall project in Indonesia’s Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, four years after her first shoot there, to document the changes in the landscape — and people’s lives.

See what she found for yourself in this photo essay.

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Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. 

Best of 2016: How to discover nature’s value? Just ask

Young boy paddles a boat between houses in Acol, a floating village on Cambodia's Tonle Sap Lake

Young boy paddles a boat between houses in Acol, a floating village on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake. CI scientists are working in places like this to determine which natural areas are the most economically and culturally valuable for locals in order to prioritize protection. (© Conservation International/photo by Molly Bergen)

Editor’s note: As the end of 2016 approaches, Human Nature is revisiting some of our favorite stories of the year. To support crucial conservation work like this, consider making a donation to Conservation International

It’s common knowledge that nature provides important services for people, from clean fresh water to a steady supply of fresh fish. What’s less understood is how best to measure these benefits. Which parts of nature are the most important to protect? And how much can we chip away at them before they no longer provide the services we rely on?

In one of our favorite features of the year, CI scientist Rachel Neugarten takes on these tough questions and reveals the scientific process behind the search for the answers. But before deploying advanced mapping techniques and detailed biological surveys, our researchers rely first on a tool that is decidedly low-tech: in-depth conversations with the communities who depend on nature most.

Read the original post.

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Jamey Anderson is a staff writer for Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates.

Best of 2016: Thriving coral reef could bring hope in fight against changing climate

Coral reef in Indonesia's Raja Ampat archipelago.

Coral reef in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago. (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)

Editor’s note: As the end of 2016 approaches, Human Nature is revisiting some of our favorite stories of the year. To support crucial conservation work like this, consider making a donation to Conservation International.  

Devastating incidents of coral bleaching are making news across the globe: In 2016 alone, bleaching has afflicted 93 percent of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and caused 10 dive sites in Thailand to close. Indonesia is no exception; bleaching is severe across the country, threatening the coral-dominated reef systems that support fisheries and marine tourism, which in turn provide food and livelihoods for coastal communities.

But in one small, jewel-like archipelago in the province of West Papua, there is an outlier. The Raja Ampat archipelago — the world’s epicenter of marine biodiversity — has somehow managed to largely escape coral bleaching.

Find out why — and how this knowledge could help bolster other reefs against similar threats — in this original post.

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Sophie Bertazzo is a staff writer for Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates.

Best of 2016: Historic protections for Darwin’s island laboratory

A young sea lion naps on the beach in the Galápagos Islands. A new no-fishing sanctuary within the Galápagos Marine Reserve will help the islands' wildlife and economy.

A young sea lion naps on the beach in the Galápagos Islands. A new no-fishing sanctuary within the Galápagos Marine Reserve will help the islands’ wildlife and economy. (© Rod Mast)

Editor’s note: As the end of 2016 approaches, Human Nature is revisiting some of our favorite stories of the year. To support crucial conservation work like this, consider making a donation to Conservation International.

2016 was a banner year for marine protected areas around the world, from the creation of the world’s largest marine park, to the first U.S. national monument in the Atlantic, to new commitments from Colombia and Costa Rica, to a new ocean management target for Hawai‘i. But before any of these, the world celebrated new protections for a place home to the world’s highest concentration of sharks and a landmark in the history of ecology and evolution: the Galápagos Islands.

Find out what Ecuador’s historic creation of a 39,000-square-kilometer (15,000-square-mile) marine sanctuary — with no fishing allowed — will mean for the islands’ wildlife and economy in  the original post.

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Jamey Anderson is a staff writer for Conservation International.

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Best of 2016: This mother of 10 patrols Philippine forests in her spare time

Nolsita Siyang, a forest ranger who regularly patrols the protected area surrounding her village on the island of Palawan, Philippines.

Nolsita Siyang, a forest ranger who regularly patrols the protected area surrounding her village on the island of Palawan, Philippines. (© Conservation International/photo by Tim Noviello)

Editor’s note: As the end of 2016 approaches, Human Nature is revisiting some of our favorite stories of the year. To support crucial conservation work like this, consider making a donation to Conservation International.  

When some busy mothers get a second to spare, they take a moment to relax. Not Nolsita Siyang.

A member of the Palawan indigenous group, Siyang is a farmer and mother of 10 who, when she isn’t climbing several miles of muddy footpath between her mountain village and the market to sell her family’s surplus crops, can be found volunteering as a forest ranger in the Mount Mantalingahan Protected Landscape. Uncertainty about who she will encounter in the forest makes it a dangerous job — and she’s one of the only women doing it.

Find out why in this post from March.

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Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature.

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Your favorite science stories: 10 top blog posts from 2016

camera-trap photo of African leopard, Udzungwa Mountains, Tanzania

African leopard, a near threatened species, caught on film by a camera trap in Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains. Photo courtesy of Museo delle Scienze (Trento Museum of Science).

Covering topics from mangrove ecology to the world’s largest fish, many of Human Nature’s most popular blog posts of the year revealed our readers’ fascination with cutting-edge science.

  1. 6 things you need to know about mangroves (but never thought to ask)

Find out how your coconut shrimp appetizer may be contributing to the loss of coastal mangrove forests — and why these ecosystems are so critical to protect.

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The trees that could make or break Mexico City’s future

Lagunas de Zempoala National Park, Mexico

Lagunas de Zempoala National Park. The park is part of the Water Forest, an interconnected expanse of trees and natural grasslands that supply drinking water for more than 23 million people in and around Mexico City. (© Jessica Scranton)

Editor’s note: Last year, Human Nature blogged about the challenges of protecting the Bosque de Agua (Water Forest), a large swath of trees and grassland that supplies drinking water for more than 23 million people in and around Mexico City. This week, Conservation International’s (CI) Jürgen Hoth presented about the importance of grassland restoration at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 13) in Cancun; in this interview with Human Nature, he talks air pollution, the illegal drug trade and why planting trees isn’t always the answer.

Question: Mexico has been on something of a tree-planting frenzy lately. Why?

Answer: Last March, dangerous air pollution in Mexico City saw its worst spike in 11 years. This was largely due to thermal inversion: In the wintertime, warmer air near the Earth’s surface cannot disperse like in summertime because of the layer of colder, denser air on top, so the pollution remains concentrated.

Sadly, air pollution is nothing new for the country. The worst of Mexico’s pollution was in the early ’80s, when dead birds began falling from the sky. In 1985, we had a massive, deadly earthquake, and people realized that Mexico City was highly vulnerable. A lot of the polluting industry moved out of the city, which greatly improved air quality. So everyone was caught off guard last winter when they saw how severe the pollution was.

One problem is that Mexico City is still growing every day — and there are many more cars than there once were. The city has taken important steps forward with public transit, creating bicycle routes, etc., but most people still prefer to travel by car. During the worst smog, people stopped going to work and children stopped playing in the schoolyards, because the air quality was too dangerous. There was a huge public outcry, and the government’s response was “Let’s plant more trees.” The goal is now to plant 18 million trees. But here’s the thing: all trees are not created equal, as I have seen in my work in the Water Forest.

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The hidden star of ‘Moana’: the Pacific voyaging canoe


Editor’s note: The fate of the Pacific Islands has always been inextricably linked to the fate of the vast ocean in which they lie — an ocean which faces unprecedented threats.

In the wake of the success of Disney’s new film, “Moana,” in which a young girl journeys across the sea in a traditional sailing canoe, Conservation International (CI), Walt Disney Animation Studios and the Samoa Voyaging Society (SVS) have announced a new partnership to bring conservation education and awareness to coastal Samoan communities. With technical support from CI and the Samoan government, SVS Captain Fani Bruun and her crew will sail between villages on their traditional double-hulled voyaging canoe, the Gaualofa, and present free workshops on basic coastal and marine management. They will also host free screenings of “Moana.”

Human Nature asked Schannel van Dijken, marine program director for CI’s Pacific Oceanscape program, president of SVS and an experienced sailor of va’a (Polynesian sailing canoes) himself, to explain why these boats are so central to Polynesian culture.

Question: How has your experience sailing voyaging canoes affected how you view conservation?

Answer: I have been associated with the Samoa Voyaging Society since I started with CI in 2009. I have always felt connected to the ocean, so it was a natural fit to work with the voyaging society, and I easily gravitated to it. Voyaging is a perfect platform for education and outreach given the importance it holds for communities around the Pacific. The va’a has the power to reconnect our communities to their past and to honor what our ancestors did in migrating across the Pacific, colonizing these small specks of islands in the middle of the largest ocean in the world. The va’a honors the wisdom and expertise they had in doing that and reflects the way they viewed the natural world and the innate harmony they achieved with it. The canoe allows us to remind people of how we once lived, what we were capable of and how we viewed our natural world. By looking to the past, we are able to bring attention to the present, and ultimately to use the past to guide us into the future.

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To protect nature and boost economy, Cambodia must follow Costa Rica’s lead

capuchin monkey, Costa Rica

Capuchin monkey in Costa Rica. Over the past 30 years, the country has doubled its forest cover while growing its economy, largely through development of nature-based tourism. (© Conservation International/photo by Ashton Jones)

Editor’s note: In order to adequately protect the species and ecosystems that form the backbone of a healthy planet, their value must be better integrated into the global economy. As scientists and policymakers gather in Cancun to discuss how to achieve this, Conservation International’s (CI) Carlos Manuel Rodriguez shares how a recent policy exchange between two countries helped spread the word about how to do it.

On the mountain slopes of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, a group of Cambodians got their first glimpse of a flock of great green macaws perching in a nearby tree. More than 50 birds, representing as much as one-fourth of the total population of this endangered species, ate fruit and socialized as our group talked with Juan Campos, a Costa Rican farmer who over the last decade has improved his agricultural practices and now protects his forest. What caused this change? Campos now gets paid for the water his forested land produces, given its location uphill from a hydroelectric power plant.

This jungle-friendly farm provided the perfect backdrop for the purpose of our visit: showing Cambodian leaders how my home country has managed to transform its economy from one dependent on smallholder agriculture into a healthier one built on protecting and sustainably using nature. Continue reading