Before and after: In four short years, new forest takes root

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)

As a freelance photographer, I’ve shot everything from Tibetan wheat farmers to reproductive health clinics in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’ve become skilled at capturing a “day in the life” of many of my subjects, but it’s rare that I get the chance to go back and discover what happened to them after I caught them on film.

In 2012, I spent two days on my first Conservation International (CI) assignment, photographing the Green Wall project in the Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, about two hours’ drive from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. When I returned four years later for another assignment, I was struck by what had changed — and what had stayed the same.

Continue reading

In cyclone-plagued country, forests help farmers recover

A woman carrying a bucket, Madagascar

New research derived from interviews with 200 smallholder farmers in eastern Madagascar underscores the role that forests can play in helping impoverished communities prepare for and recover from cyclones. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

When Cyclone Giovanna hurled violent winds and 35.5 centimeters (14 inches) of rainfall onto Madagascar over three days in February 2012, it left a path of destruction in its wake, destroying more than 44,000 houses, damaging upwards of 12,500 hectares (30,888 acres) of farmland and affecting a quarter of a million people.

Madagascar not only has one of the highest rates of cyclones in Africa, it is one of the most cyclone-prone tropical countries in the world — and even when the storms aren’t deadly, they’re disastrous. A paper published this month in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction examines for the first time the strategies used by vulnerable Malagasy smallholder farmers to cope with the impacts of cyclones — and the importance of forests in helping those farmers recover.

Continue reading

Amid lifelong search for lions, 20 cherished minutes

lion in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

Lion in Tanzania’s Mikumi National Park. Across Africa, lions have experienced population declines in recent years; researchers predict their numbers could drop by 50% over the next two decades. (© Conservation International/photo by John Martin)

In over 15 years of traveling with Conservation International’s (CI) visual storytelling team, I have been fortunate to visit many of our planet’s most magnificent wilderness areas. During field expeditions to film and photograph nature and its interaction with people, I have also encountered a great variety of animals and plants, from lemurs in Madagascar to humpback whales off the Brazilian coast to giant succulent plants in South Africa. But until recently I had yet to have a wild encounter with my all-time favorite animal: the lion.

Continue reading

When protecting nature isn’t enough

aerial view of Polopiña island, Iloilo, Philippines

Aerial drone footage reveals just how close many fishers in the Philippines live to the coast. (© Conservation International/photo by Tim Noviello)

During a recent visit to a coastal village on the Philippine island of Iloilo, Conservation International marine scientist Emily Pidgeon asked residents how high the storm surge had been during Typhoon Haiyan, the massive storm that devastated the country in November 2013. Their answer: higher than the coconut tree she was standing under.

“Storms like Haiyan are coming again; it’s a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’” said Pidgeon. “And honestly, there is no number of mangroves that can protect that village from that level of storm surge. Protecting nature is often the cheapest, easiest answer, but it’s only one part of the overall solution — and figuring out how to adequately adapt to climate change requires every tool in the box.”

Pidgeon is part of a global team working to combine these tools to help Philippine communities adapt to stormier seas. In this special report, she explains the tough choices inherent in this process.

Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature. 

Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

What the Hawaiian language revival means for conservation

girl on Makaha beach, Hawai'i

A Hawaiian girl dips her toes in the Pacific on Makaha beach, Hawai’i. After decades of cultural suppression, a slow revival of the Hawaiian language, culture, and spirituality is taking place. A huge part of that spirituality is their connection to the sea. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

In Hawai‘i, we have a proverb that says “He aliʻi ka ʻāina, he kauwā ke kanaka”: “The land is a chief, and man is its servant.” In our worldview, there is no separation between nature and people; just as the land takes care of us, we need to take care of the land.

This concept may seem simple, but years of cultural repression following the United States’ takeover of Hawai‘i jeopardized this connection — and we’re only now beginning to restore it. Much of this recovery is due to the resurgence of the Hawaiian language.

Continue reading

5 ways indigenous knowledge can solve global problems

Surinamese indigenous people wearing traditional dress

Indigenous Surinamese people in traditional dress. Indigenous communities in the country recently declared the Southern Suriname Conservation Corridor with the government’s support and recognition. The area protects 7.2 million hectares (17.8 million acres) of tropical forest vital for carbon sequestration and water filtration. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Too often, the voices of the world’s 370 million indigenous people are left out of global conversations on critical issues, such as climate change. This isn’t just bad news for indigenous groups; the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples could help address environmental problems that plague the entire planet.

As Conservation International’s (CI) Johnson Cerda framed it: “The knowledge of Indigenous peoples continues to provide key information to protect the resources of the Mother Earth, and to create opportunities for climate change adaptation and mitigation actions across diverse ecosystems.” Cerda is an indigenous Kichwa from the Ecuadorian Amazon who leads CI’s work with the Dedicated Grant Mechanism for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, a global initiative of which CI is the executing agency

As the 15th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues kicks off in New York, here are five things we can learn from traditional knowledge passed down through time.

1. Restoring Hawai‘i’s native fish ponds

Right now, 63% of Hawai‘i’s seafood is imported — a surprising stat for an island chain in the middle of the Pacific. But those waters are far from pristine; pollution runoff, overfishing and coral reef degradation all mean that many seafood specials are flown in from thousands of miles away.

To address this, some native Hawaiians have turned to Hanai i’a, the practice of raising fish in loko i’a, the fish ponds built on the coasts by their ancestors. These fish ponds once provided millions of pounds of seafood to local communities, simultaneously restocking surrounding reefs with fish when pond managers release stock into the wild. Given their location in coastal zones, resurrecting a single fish pond requires completing a complex permitting procedure — so Conservation International (CI) is helping streamline the process.

By rekindling time-tested hunting, fishing, farming and gathering traditions, communities in Hawai‘i and worldwide can become more self-sufficient — and often reduce their environmental footprints while doing so.

Continue reading

7 species with moms weirder than yours

Greater blue-ringed octopus with eggs

This greater blue-ringed octopus, featured here with her eggs, may end up eating her own tentacle while protecting them. (© Rickard Zerpe/Flickr Creative Commons)

Maybe you had a very protective mother. Or a strict mother. (Or a neurotic one.)

You’d have nothing on the animal world, where mothers in the wild are known to nurse their young for several years, or sacrifice their own limbs to protect them — or drink their babies’ blood. (It’s true.)

This Mother’s Day, we’re taking a look at a few of the more unusual mothering habits in the animal kingdom.

1. Giving an arm and a leg (or a tentacle) for your children.

Ever the overachiever, the female octopus can lay up to hundreds of thousands of eggs in one go. Over the eggs’ development period — anywhere from 40 days to 53 months in the case of one record-breaking species, Graneledone boreopacifica — these maternal cephalopods gently blow water currents over the eggs to provide them with oxygen and keep them clean. Unwilling to leave her brood to hunt for food, the mother octopus often resorts to eating one or two of her own tentacles for sustenance while waiting for them to hatch.

2. And you thought triplets were a handful.

Continue reading

Stopping overfishing? There’s an app for that

fisherman, sunset, Thailand

Fisherman at sunset in Thailand. (© Polsin Junpangpen)

Smartphone apps have revolutionized how we bank, how we take the bus, even how we date.

Add “how we fish” to the list.

As overfishing continues to push global fish populations to the brink of collapse, app developers are seeking to apply a similar efficiency to one of the world’s most urgent problems.

Continue reading

What we’re reading: Blackouts in Venezuela, ‘green Oscars’ in Indonesia

Orangutan in Borneo.

An orangutan hangs from a tree while having a snack on the island of Borneo. The island’s orangutans are benefiting from a program devised by a dental surgeon, wherein health care incentives are used to discourage logging. The program earned the surgeon a “green Oscar.” (© Trond Larsen)

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. Venezuela declares a 2-day workweek because of dire energy shortages

The story: Public-sector employees in this South American country had an unscheduled five-day weekend due to electricity rationing, the Washington Post reported. An El Niño-induced drought is drying up the water supply to Venezuela’s dams, including the massive Guri Dam, one of the largest in the world (and one that supplies 60% of the country’s electricity). Things got so bad that the embattled government decided to furlough public employees — a third of the country’s labor force — for the majority of the workweek.

With El Niño likely to worsen in the coming years, the situation is not likely to get any rosier for the country, already racked by everything from political and economic instability to a shortage of beer.

What’s next: If significant precipitation does not fall within a few weeks, the Post reported, much of the country will be at risk of near-total blackout.

Read more here. 

2. Tanzania’s forest conservation at risk as funds run out

Continue reading

Cambodia makes bold move to protect its vanishing forests

forest at Prey Lang, Stung Treng, Cambodia

Prey Lang is one of five forest areas in Cambodia that will see expanded protection based on the government’s recent announcement. Prey Lang contains the most carbon-rich forest in Cambodia, making it a critical landscape for mitigating climate change. (© Jeremy Holden)

One of the most threatened tropical forest areas in the world just got some good news.

The Cambodian government on Friday announced the creation of five new protected forests totaling almost 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres). The Southeast Asian country’s protected lands now stand at 5.5 million hectares (13.6 million acres) — more than one-fourth of its total land area — a signal that Cambodia is getting serious about clamping down on one of the highest deforestation rates in the world.

Continue reading