Ridge-to-reef Conservation Takes Hold on Hawaiian Island of Lāna‘i

We pull up to the edge of the steep red canyon and get our first view of the Maunalei Gulch, looking down at the biggest watershed on the Hawaiian island of Lāna‘i. As I look down, the bare valley walls of the canyon are exposed, devoid of plants that might keep soil from rushing down onto the island’s fringing coral reef below.

view from Maunalei Gulch, Lāna‘i, Hawaii

The steep bare canyon of Maunalei Gulch on the Hawaiian island of Lāna‘i. Watershed degradation from land-cover change has led to significant erosion impacting the reef downstream; CI and partners are working to restore the health of the system from ridge to reef. (© Conservation International/photo by Jack Kittinger)

From this vantage point in the wintertime, you can see humpback whales in the channel between Lāna‘i and the island of Molokaʻi, which is part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. During the winter, you can also see massive flash floods racing down this canyon when it rains, carving out soil and blanketing the adjacent reef with sediment until the reef takes on the color of a cappuccino.

By contrast, in the summer the Maunalei Gulch is almost bone-dry. As on many Pacific islands, watershed degradation from land-cover change has led to sustained high sediment runoff, which has damaged the nearshore reefs and fisheries that benefit many local people. Deforestation for agriculture, overuse of freshwater resources during the pineapple plantation era and overgrazing by introduced feral deer and mouflon sheep have led to the disappearance of Maunalei Stream — once the only permanent stream on the arid island.

To address these issues, in 2012 the CI Hawaiʻi program started working with Lānaʻi community members to implement a coastal restoration project in the area, combining traditional knowledge and modern science. Continue reading

Can Coffee Become the World’s First 100% Sustainably Sourced Commodity?

water splashes onto coffee berries, Chiapas

Water splashes onto coffee berries in Chiapas, Mexico. CI and Starbucks began our partnership in 1998 in Chiapas before expanding to other coffee-producing regions around the world. (© Conservation International/photo by Miguel Ángel de la Cueva)

Recently at Starbucks’ annual meeting of shareholders in Seattle, the company announced a major milestone: This year, 99% of beans bought by the world’s largest specialty coffee company will meet ethical and sustainable sourcing guidelines.

This achievement marks a remarkable and determined 15-year journey. It also demonstrates what great partnerships are able to achieve: the transformation of the most valued tropical agricultural commodity, coffee, from a force of ecological and social destabilization to a powerful engine of farmer equity and sustainability. Continue reading

Making the Links: March 2015

This is my third post in “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.)

Iguazu Falls

Aerial view of Iguazu Falls National Park. (© Conservation International/photo by John Martin)

Here’s my link roundup from March.

The Nature in Humans (Stories Secretly about Nature)

  1. Yemen’s Shiite Rebels Capture Presidential Palace in Aden

It’s been a tough few weeks for Yemen, as Iranian-backed rebels and a Saudi-supported coalition clash for control of the country, causing a rising number of civilian deaths and plunging the already conflict-weary region into chaos.

The link: There are undoubtedly numerous factors that have contributed to the outbreak of this devastating conflict; resource scarcity is one of them. As Thomas Friedman reported during a 2013 visit to Yemen, decades of deforestation and freshwater depletion have taken a toll on farming, reducing employment options and increasing the country’s vulnerability to conflict. Continue reading

How Camera-trap Data Can Help Us Predict Earthquakes

Since 2007, the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network — a coalition of CI, the Smithsonian Institution and the Wildlife Conservation Society — has collected more than 2 million photos from camera traps in tropical forests across the globe. Although the primary goal of this collection is to assess ecosystem health and document change, it can be used for a remarkable number of unexpected purposes, as evidenced by this recent study.

South American tapir camera-trap photo, Peru

South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris) captured on camera at the TEAM site in Peru’s Yanachaga-Chemillen National Park. (Photo courtesy of the TEAM Network and Missouri Botanical Gardens)

Earthquakes can cause horrific damage to communities across the world. In the United States alone, scientists estimate that earthquakes are responsible for roughly US$ 2.5 billion in damage per year. For poorer developing nations, though, earthquakes can be even more devastating and are responsible for an estimated 58,000 deaths worldwide each year.

The inability of researchers to accurately predict earthquakes has been a major impediment to reducing the high number of fatalities caused by these catastrophic events. However, by using camera trap data from the TEAM Network, researchers at Anglia Ruskin University may have found a way to identify when and where earthquakes will occur. Continue reading

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