CI’s 10 Most Popular Blog Posts of 2013

cocoa frog in Suriname

This photo — of a sleek chocolate-colored “cocoa” frog that may be new to science — comes from Human Nature’s most popular blog of 2013. The frog was found on a recent scientific expedition in the Surinamese rainforest. (© Stuart V Nielsen)

2013 was a big year for Human Nature.

In addition to re-launching the blog under its new name, we have published 125 posts written by 79 authors coming from places as diverse as Madagascar, China, Timor-Leste and Brazil.

Some people blogged from tents in rainforests or boats out at sea; others wrote from meeting halls where world leaders made decisions that will reverberate across the globe. We shared stories of groundbreaking partnerships, exciting discoveries and monumental challenges.

As this blog’s editor, looking back at the year’s most popular blogs (as well as the least popular ones) gives me insight into what you, the readers, are most interested in learning about. I look forward to bringing you more great stories in 2014 — stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are our 10 most-viewed posts of 2013.

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‘Big Data’ Is an Investment in Nature — and Human Well-being

The foundation of Conservation International is built upon the integration of comprehensive data and responsive science.

setting up camera trap in Udzungwa National Park, Tanzania

A researcher sets a camera trap in Tanzania’s Udzungwa National Park. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Those committed to this premise invest in good data and sound measurement tools to understand how nature is changing. These tools must be utilized to investigate whether humanity’s use of nature’s life-supporting services is sustainable or not. Just as regular doctor visits can help keep people healthy, the early detection of planetary problems is crucial to our survival.

Last week in Barcelona, we announced a visionary partnership with Hewlett Packard (HP) called HP Earth Insights. This program will revolutionize the way we monitor, report and understand the health of ecosystems.

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Manta Ray Research Boosts Smart Policies and Ecotourism in Indonesia

Recently returned from a manta ray research expedition with CI’s team in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, guest blogger Shawn Heinrichs shares his experience — and a few of his stunning photos — with Human Nature.

baby manta ray, Wayag Bay, Indonesia

Baby reef manta in Wayag Bay, Indonesia. (© Shawn Heinrichs)

Raja Ampat is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the Coral Triangle, the very epicenter of global marine biodiversity. It’s also home to one of the most charismatic and graceful of marine creatures: the manta ray.

Ever since my first encounter with a manta ray a decade ago, I have been captivated by the gentle, curious and intelligent nature of these ocean giants. Upon discovering they were under severe threat from exploitation for their gills, I made it my life’s mission to secure global protection for these vulnerable creatures.

Given that Indonesia is one of the top manta tourism destinations on Earth, this expedition took on particular significance for me.

children in Sawinggrai, Indonesia

Children of Sawinggrai village in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago. (© Shawn Heinrichs)

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In the Philippines, Fighting Climate Change Impacts with Nature (Part 2)

This is the second half of a two-part blog about the role that restoring and protecting ecosystems like mangroves, reefs and forests can play in buffering communities from extreme weather events like Typhoon Haiyan. Read Part 1. (Note: Although this blog was written prior to the storm, we were relieved to learn that the regions discussed were largely spared from destruction.)

planting mangrove seedling in Silonay, Philippines

Lynn Tang plants a mangrove seedling in Silonay, Philippines. Mangrove replanting on another Philippine island (Samar) is thought to have played a role in the region’s relatively minor damage from Typhoon Haiyan. (© CI/photo by Kristin Prukop)

In 2008, CI-Philippines conducted a climate change vulnerability assessment in the Verde Island Passage, a species-rich region that is highly valued as a fishing ground, tourist site and shipping lane between the Philippine islands. The assessment identified the coastal community of Silonay as one of the most vulnerable to storm surges and sea level rise.

When CI recently gave me the opportunity to see this village for myself and learn more about the work that CI is doing there, I jumped at the chance.

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In the Philippines, Fighting Climate Change Impacts with Nature (Part 1)

man in Quirino province, Philippines

Provincial manager and CI partner working to stop deforestation in the watershed in Quirino province, Philippines. (© CI/photo by Lynn Tang)

Last month, Typhoon Haiyan — possibly the largest tropical typhoon to make landfall in recorded history  — devastated the Philippines, leaving more than 6,000 dead, almost 1,800 missing and millions homeless. Dealing with natural disasters has always been a part of life on Earth; however, scientists predict that the continued impacts of climate change will make extreme weather events more frequent.

Science has found that maintaining and restoring intact ecosystems like mangroves, reefs and forests can help buffer communities from these occurrences. This week, CI’s Lynn Tang shares a couple of the ways CI is promoting these activities in the Philippines. (Note: Although this post was written prior to the storm, we were relieved to learn that this region was largely spared from destruction.)

It is my first time in the Philippines. As we drive north out of the capital city of Manila, we are surrounded by miles and miles of deforested land. After eight hours of driving through degraded land and agricultural plantations, I start to wonder if there is any primary forest left in this country, despite its reputation as one of the world’s 17 “megadiverse” countries that harbor the majority of the Earth’s species.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Before arriving in the Philippines, my guidebook told me that the rate of deforestation here is one of the highest in the world. In fact, the Philippines is fourth on the list of the world’s 10 most threatened forests. Most of the lowland forests have been cleared and only 7% of the country’s original forest remains. I take photos of hills that have been cleared of forests, and patches of burnt land within precious watersheds.

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The Climate Games Continue: Reflections on the 2013 UN Climate Change Conference

Representatives from every government in the world just concluded two weeks of discussions in Warsaw, Poland on how to collectively address climate change at the 19th annual meeting of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 19).

Most years, the host city’s largest convention center houses the meeting’s 10,000+ participants. This year, however, Poland’s National Stadium was the venue for the dialogue, raising the question of how similar, and how different, the political exchanges are to a sports match.

flooded car in Thailand

Flooded car in Thailand, with rescue boat full of people in the background. Climate change is thought to be linked to an increase in extreme weather events like storms and droughts. (© Giedrius Dagys)

COP 19 Goalposts

There were several major issues to “score” on in Warsaw. While also addressing some smaller issues, governments were expected to find ways to advance negotiations on:

  • REDD+ guidelines for international implementation and coordination. REDD+, a system that provides financial incentives for developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by preventing the destruction of their forests, has been successfully implemented in many pilot projects, but requires additional guidelines and coordination to function effectively at the national and international levels.
  • Addressing loss and damage. It was decided at the 2012 COP that this year countries would agree on a mechanism to address “loss and damage,” or what to do when adaptation is not enough to address climate change impacts, such as if an island disappears due to sea level rise.
  • Provision of climate finance. Almost every issue under the UNFCCC hinges on finance — how much money is needed, who should provide it and to whom it should be given. Although some progress has been made in the past, there is no clear roadmap for scaling up the private and public sector resources needed.
  • Creation of a new climate agreement by 2015. At the 2011 COP, countries decided to negotiate a new climate agreement by 2015 that would go into effect in 2020. With little time left before 2015, governments needed to define a roadmap for negotiations and lay the foundation for these discussions in Warsaw.

The first half of the conference saw action largely as expected. There was some back and forth on the issues, and while there were no excessive delays as we had seen earlier this year in Bonn, it was clear countries knew they had the second half for their big push. However, we were pleased to see some concrete gains made, including the decision to strengthen information sharing on ecosystem-based adaptation.

Even so, a nervous energy ran through all participants as the whistle blew for the second half, as we all wondered if goals could be made, or if the meeting would end in deadlock.

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13 Illegal Fishers Jailed in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Archipelago

Wayag Lagoon, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago is known to be among the world’s most species-rich marine sites. These waters also provide important benefits to people, including fish, coastal protection and a growing tourism industry.(© Will Turner)

Back in September, the navy headquarters in Sorong, West Papua received information from the community marine protected area (MPA) patrol group that a Philippine fishing boat had entered Indonesian waters and was fishing illegally in the Ayau Asia MPA. During the night, the boat proceeded toward the Ayau Asia islands in search of fish and other marine life in shallower waters.

Upon receiving this news, the following day several MPA patrol teams, which are strongly supported by CI, set out to sea in search of the vessel. It wasn’t long before one of the teams captured the boat and arrested its 13 crew members, who were brought back to Sorong and detained for legal prosecution. Among the illegal catch found on the ship were Napoleon wrasse and green turtles, which were used as evidence for the subsequent court case. The boat had been underway for only two days before it was seized, giving fishermen little time to poach within these protected waters.

It took the official court in Sorong just over a month to complete the prosecution process and charge the arrested fishermen. Each was sentenced to eight months in prison, while the boat and all its equipment was confiscated and destroyed.

While it is not uncommon for illegal fishermen to be caught by MPA patrol teams in the Bird’s Head Seascape, the formal prosecution processes following their arrest are often ineffectual. This case’s successful prosecution represents a significant milestone for the Raja Ampat government in its fight to protect these beautiful, vital waters — and without the strong cooperation of local communities, this result would not have been possible.

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Typhoon Haiyan’s Impact Felt in Warsaw

Mangrove reforestation site in Verde Island Passage.

Mangrove reforestation site in Verde Island Passage, where CI works with partners to find solutions to reduce the risks of climate change. (© Conservation International/photo by Lynn Tang)

It is with a heavy heart I have gone about my business at the climate negotiations in Warsaw each day knowing that about 12 million people are affected by the recent devastating Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda.

Historic in its scope, meteorologists, including experts from NASA, concluded that it is the most destructive and powerful tropical cyclone to ever make landfall (it made a total of six landfalls). It is hard to imagine that such an intense storm (stronger than Katrina or Sandy) would not leave death and destruction in its path, even with the best preparations in place.

Despite the pre-emptive evacuations, Haiyan’s devastation claimed thousands of lives. According to the U.N., the current death toll is 4,460. About 12,501 are injured and 1,186 still missing according to the Philippine disaster council. About 3 million people have been displaced, with about 400,000 living in more than 1,186 evacuation centers.

The images on TV are heartbreaking and the stories of death and destruction brought chills and intense emotions. I, like Filipinos and people around the world, am heartbroken at the images and stories from survivors of this horrifying event. A mother being told by her daughter to let go and save herself. A child walking aimlessly after losing her entire family.  A father unable to save his family. A picture of a family huddled together in death and stories about death in evacuation centers. In many islands, villages and municipalities, more than 90% of homes and infrastructure were destroyed and people have nothing left to go back to.  These are not just stories. These are grim and shocking realities.

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Protecting One of World’s Largest Freshwater Fisheries, One Village at a Time

boy paddling boat in Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

A boy travels between houses in the floating village of Acol on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake. Located miles from shore, life in this village is built around fishing in one of the world’s largest freshwater fisheries. (© CI/photo by Molly Bergen)

When you hear the word “fishery,” certain images may come to mind: ocean trawlers far from shore, sharks caught in nets, beachside fish markets. But today on World Fisheries Day, I’d like to draw your attention to a different kind of fishery — the freshwater kind.

According to the IUCN, inland fisheries represent more than one-quarter of global fisheries production every year. Over 68% of these are located in developing countries.  Millions of people depend on freshwater fisheries for their livelihoods, yet these ecosystems face numerous threats.

Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake is a prime example. The largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, the lake and connected river system is an ecological wonder. Twice a year, the Tonle Sap River changes direction, feeding into (or draining from) the lake, depending on the time of year.

During the wet season, the lake doubles in size, flooding the nearby forest. These submerged trees serve as excellent breeding grounds for fish — one reason the Tonle Sap and the connected Mekong River make up one of the most productive freshwater fisheries in the world. Three million people depend on the Tonle Sap for their main source of protein.

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In Cambodia, Environmental Challenges Mirror the Past

It’s an amazing sight to see one of the world’s greatest man-made monuments slowly being reclaimed by the jungle.

Ta Prohm temple, Cambodia

A spung tree growing on the ruins of Ta Prohm temple near Angkor Wat, Cambodia. (© CI/photo by Molly Bergen)

I’m in Cambodia, at the site of the ancient Khmer capital of Angkor. Its most famous temple, Angkor Wat, is impressive to be sure, but my favorite temple is Ta Prohm, where the roots of giant trees called spung (Tetrameles nudiflora) creep over intricately carved doorways, columns and spires. Parakeets and cicadas punctuate the humid air with their shrill calls.

As I walk through this centuries-old ruin, I imagine what the scene would look like in a time-lapse video, with tree roots wrapping around ancient stones like snakes and squeezing them until they crumble.

Thousands of people wander through Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples every day — snapping photos, following umbrella-carrying tour guides — yet I wonder how many of them stop to think about why the people who built these architectural marvels abandoned it in the first place.

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