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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Helping Nature Help People at a Brazilian Historical Landmark

At the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 19th Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP 19) currently underway in Warsaw, Poland, one of CI’s objectives is to spread the word about the critical role that ecosystem-based adaptation must play to help communities adjust to the impacts of climate change. Today on Human Nature, CI’s Camila Donatti blogs about a recent visit she made to a project on Brazil’s “Discovery Coast.”

Atlantic Forest

The Atlantic Forest is one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. (© Conservation International/photo by Camila Donatti)

When the Portuguese first arrived in Brazil in the year 1500, the first place they settled was what is now the municipality of Porto Seguro (“safe port”) in the state of Bahia — at least that’s what the history books say.  The first sight of the Portuguese sailors was the magnificent Atlantic Forest. As an ecologist born and raised in Brazil, and with the Atlantic Forest very close to my heart — and to my hometown — I wish I could be transported back in time to see what the Portuguese saw that day.

More than 500 years later, this forest — one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth — has suffered several cycles of heavy exploitation and destruction by practices like logging, extensive cattle ranching, sugar cane and coffee plantations and urbanization. As you can probably imagine, these forces affected more than the natural ecosystems. Most of the indigenous groups that once lived in the Atlantic Forest were uprooted or wiped out completely. Many of these threats continue today. Only 7% of the Atlantic Forest’s original area currently remains, most of it limited to a few protected areas surrounded and pressured by human activities.

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At Climate Meeting in Warsaw, All Eyes Should be on Peru

In correlation with the 19th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 19) — currently underway in Warsaw, Poland — Human Nature is spotlighting some of the ways that communities, businesses, provinces and individual countries are making strides on climate change action. Today’s post focuses on Peru; read all our COP 19 posts.

Farm in the Alto Mayo Protected Forest in peru

Beautiful farm on the edge of the Alto Mayo Protected Forest. San Martin, Peru (© Conservation International/photo by Bailey Evans)

As country delegations gather in Poland this week, destruction continues of one of the world’s most overlooked barriers between us and a dangerously warm climate: tropical forests. Indeed, a forest the size of England is destroyed annually, releasing huge amounts of carbon back into the atmosphere.

Since the UNFCCC began discussing it more than a decade ago, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) has been embraced by many to be a promising solution to this global problem. By providing financial incentives for developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, REDD+ was designed to allow these countries to sustain economic growth while simultaneously preventing, or even halting the destruction of their forests. Their avoided emissions would then be “sold” in the form of carbon credits to buyers in developed countries.

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Will We See Global Climate Action in Warsaw?

This week in Warsaw, Poland, delegations from across the globe are gathering to discuss one of the biggest issues of our time at the 19th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 19). Before heading to Warsaw, Shyla Raghav, CI’s senior manager of climate adaptation policy, took time to answer some of my questions.

Without a clear roadmap on mobilizing funds to meet agreed goals, negotiators are unable to adequately scale up both public and private sector sources of funding.

Without a clear roadmap on mobilizing funds to meet agreed goals, negotiators are unable to adequately scale up both public and private sector sources of funding. (© Conservation International/photo by Jan Schipper)

Q: After minimal progress at the annual climate meeting last year in Qatar, many in the climate community aren’t expecting much big news coming out of the Warsaw conference. Why go through with the conference at all? 

A: Those of us who work on climate change issues work more than two weeks a year. Despite the somewhat dismal state of negotiations, oftentimes the main highlight of COP meetings is the platform it provides participants to share ideas, expand the scientific and policy knowledge base and forge partnerships that catalyze action at various levels around the world. Particularly for an international organization like CI, COPs allow us to pull together our staff, expertise and experience from across the globe to collaborate and coordinate our efforts, learning from successes and challenges alike.

I would be remiss not to mention, however, the disappointment within the climate change community regarding the snail-like pace of the negotiations. The increasing body of science indicating the need to act on reducing emissions and building resilient societies has not been matched with adequate political will to take concrete steps to confront the climate crisis. However, thanks to the Durban Platform — the outcome document of the 2011 COP — there is tremendous potential for the process to produce a comprehensive new climate treaty in 2015 that puts our global community on a pathway to reducing emissions.

While we must continue to support the negotiation process (after all, the world has no other forum that will allow us to confront global challenges collectively), the biggest end result of this COP may in fact be a revitalized understanding of how climate change links to all aspects and sectors of life. There’s tremendous scope to advance beyond what has been discussed at COP through civil society networks and platforms.

Q: Do you think the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report will influence the negotiations?

A: Absolutely. The IPCC’s Working Group I (WGI) report, which explores the physical science basis of climate change, has reconfirmed that climate change is real, caused by humans, and has already resulted in severe impacts such as droughts, floods and increased storm intensity.

While these impacts are already severely impacting many regions of the world, the consequences of inaction will continue to amplify based on our current and future emissions. Having surpassed an atmospheric concentration of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas driving climate change, the urgency to act is ever more prevalent if warming is to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius, beyond which catastrophic impacts are projected.

The IPCC findings will serve as an important reminder to negotiators and COP participants and will likely form the foundation of discussions and negotiations. 

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Forging Ahead Toward a Sustainable Africa

hippos in Okavango Delta, Botswana

Hippos at sunset in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. (© Rod Mast)

To some, the May 2012 summit in Gaborone, Botswana may have seemed like just another meeting of powerful leaders that was all talk and no action. October’s follow-up meeting proved the skeptics wrong.

Last year’s summit — convened by the government of Botswana with support from CI — gathered 10 African heads of state, together with public and private sector partners, to discuss how best to incorporate nature into development decisions. This meeting gave birth to the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA), within which participating countries (Botswana, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania) agreed that in order to ensure the continued contribution of intact ecosystems to sustainable economic growth and human well-being, the following actions are key:

  • Integrating the value of “natural  capital” — the goods and services that nature provides — into national accounting and development planning;
  • Building social and institutional networks and reducing poverty by transitioning from exploiting ecosystems to protecting them for long-term sustainable use; and
  • Expanding awareness efforts, research and influence on policy.

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How Shell, Chevron and Coke Tackle the Energy-Water-Food Nexus

This blog was originally published on GreenBiz. Read the full post. 

rice crop in Tanzania

Rice crop in Tanzania. The U.N. estimates that in the next 15 to 20 years alone the world will need 30% more water, 45% more energy and 50% more food. (© Benjamin Drummond)

We know how important food, water and energy are to our daily lives, but what happens when we fail to value them as critical, interconnected resources for our economy?

In the summer of 2012, the U.S. was impacted by one of the worst droughts in recent decades. Eighty percent of U.S. farms and ranches were impacted, crop losses exceeded US$ 20 billion and unforeseen ripple effects followed.

With corn crops withering from the lack of rainfall, prices for food and livestock feed supplies rose, as did ethanol, predominantly sourced from corn. Numerous power plants had to scale back operations or even shut down because the water temperatures of many rivers, lakes and estuaries had increased to the point where they could not be used for cooling. Household, municipal and farm wells in the Midwest had to be extended deeper into rapidly depleting aquifers to make up for the lack of rainfall, draining groundwater supplies and demanding more electricity to run the pumps.

It is estimated that consumers will feel these ripple effects for years to come — over the next year alone, this impact could result in personal costs up to $50 billion.

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Ensuring a Future for Vultures, Nature’s Cleanup Crew

In the spirit of Halloween, we share the story of one of nature’s “creepy creatures” that is more important than most people realize.

Indian  vulture

Indian vulture in Madhya Pradesh, India. Like Nepal, India has seen a massive decline in its vulture populations in recent years. (© Yann via Wikimedia Commons)

In many cultures, vultures have long had a bad reputation as ominous animals that signal death wherever they go. In fact, vultures play a critical role in keeping all of us healthy.

Not long ago, millions of vultures roamed the skies across South Asia, cleaning up livestock carcasses and reducing the likelihood of disease transmission. They are sacred to the Hindu and vital for Tibetan Buddhists in northern Nepal and Parsi in India for disposal of their dead.

But now these birds are helpless against a surprising enemy: a drug called diclofenac that has decimated the vulture population by as much as 99.9% in less than two decades. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists four of the nine species in the region as Critically Endangered; an additional species is listed as Endangered. Their absence has led to growing populations of rats, feral dogs and other scavengers, increasing the potential for the spread of diseases like rabies, anthrax and the plague.

Diclofenac is widely used to relieve pain and reduce fever and inflammation. Until recently, it was among the most popular drugs in veterinary treatment of cattle. When vultures feed on livestock that have been given this drug, it causes kidney failure. Scientists estimate that a 30-milliliter vial of diclofenac is enough to kill around 500 vultures.

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Wildlife Survey Reveals Precarious State of New Caledonia’s Ecosystems

Earlier this month, CI’s Trond Larsen reported the discovery of 60 new species — and near-pristine ecosystems — on a survey of southeastern Suriname with the Rapid Assessment Program (RAP). Today, François Tron shares new findings from a survey half a world away in New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific.

Mount Panié, New Caledonia

View from top of Mount Panié in New Caledonia. Although long thought to be home to many unique species, the RAP survey was the first in-depth wildlife survey ever conducted. (© CI/photo by François Tron)

I recently led a team of scientists on an expedition up Mount Panié — the tallest mountain in New Caledonia — with the goal of documenting the species we came across, the pressures they are facing and how this natural system benefits people. What we found reveals much about the state of the environment on this remote island: extraordinary native plants and animals, invasive species that are threatening to crowd them out, and other issues raising concern for the future of local communities.

Slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey, New Caledonia is one of the world’s smallest and richest biodiversity hotspots — a place with a high concentration of extremely threatened species found nowhere else on the planet.

New Caledonia’s forests, which are among the world’s 10 most threatened forest hotspots, are critical for the livelihoods of local people. About 40% of the country’s population live in rural areas and depend on the forest for drinking water, wild game, medicinal plants and other resources.

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Fish to Thrive: Marine Protection Helps Give Poor Communities a Leg Up

This is the final blog in a three-part series from Rachel Neugarten’s recent visit to Madagascar. Read parts one and two.

children in Madagascar

Children in Ampodrahazo, one of the four villages surrounding the bay. They loved posing for pictures then pointing and laughing at the results. (© CI/photo by Rachel Neugarten)

At the next village I visited, Ampodrahazo, the story was the same. The community had better water for drinking thanks to a new well, but without rain, no crops could be planted. No electricity. No doctor.

This village had a school, which CI had helped to renovate, and a new community building as well, but the two buildings were too small to house the 120 students who attended. The community president was short on funds to pay the teachers’ salaries, and many parents couldn’t afford the fees to send their students anyway.

In this village, members from a local fishermen’s association joined the conversation, so I asked about the fishing. It was bad this year, they said, because there was no rain. Why was that? Because the fish depend on the freshwater inputs to reproduce and to feed.

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