Conservation Tools: Africa’s Tech Boom Could Aid Farmers, Sustain Ecosystems

This is the latest blog in Human Nature’s “Conservation Tools” series, which spotlights how cutting-edge technology is helping scientists explore and protect the natural world. 

GPS device, Tanzania

GPS unit at the Vital Signs training in Tanzania. (© Benjamin Drummond)

We’ve all heard of Silicon Valley, but on the other side of the globe a new tech hotbed is gaining traction: Nairobi’s “Silicon Savannah.” In the past decade, Africa has experienced its own impressive burst of technology growth, and people around the world have taken notice.

As the executive director of Vital Signs, a monitoring system that collects agro-ecological and social data and develops tools for decision-making around sustainability in Africa, I’ve watched this development with growing interest. And now our project is honored to be partnering with Ushahidi, a global nonprofit technology company founded and rooted in Kenya. Continue reading

‘WildLeaks’ Encrypted Website Protects Wildlife Crime Whistle-blowers

gibbon rescued from illegal wildlife trade, Cambodia

Gibbon at a rescue center in Cambodia. The center houses many gibbons confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade that for various reasons cannot be released back into the wild. (© Conservation International/photo by Emilie Verdon)

Imagine for a moment that you’re a security guard at a busy, international seaport. You’ve noticed that throughout the last few months, a well-dressed businessman has been visiting the shipping container storage area at the port, associating with people he doesn’t normally interact with.

They meet at odd times, often outside of business hours. His visitors’ vehicles are always covered in dust or mud. Every time they meet, the businessman’s associates transfer several large bundles from their trucks into the container, which is nearly full.

Didn’t you see on the news that the port has been pinpointed as a hub for trafficking ivory? You know something isn’t right, but what can you do? Who do you tell? You need your job, and the businessman is very influential. Continue reading

Are Wildlife Declines Fueling Slavery and Armed Conflict?

girl chops fish, Indonesia.

A girl chops fish in Indonesia. A recent study suggests that declines in wildlife and fish populations contribute to social unrest, child labor and even slavery. (© ILO/Ferry Latief 2012)

Wildlife is in trouble. From vanishing gorillas and rhinos due to hunting in Africa, to losses of orangutans as their rainforest habitats are cleared in Southeast Asia, to declining sharks and tuna around the world due to overfishing, we hear often how wild animal populations are threatened by human activity.

A 2010 study reported that out of more than a dozen important indicators of global species status and the threats they face, most are worsening  — and none are improving. Yet these species are essential. Wildlife and fisheries are the primary means of putting protein on the table for more than a billion people. They are the key to livelihoods for many of the world’s poorest people, and the direct source of more than US$ 400 billion in trade annually.

Given their importance, it’s clear that decline of these populations will impact people. What’s surprising is that these impacts seem to be more far-reaching than previously thought.

In a recent study in the journal Science, University of California, Berkeley researcher Justin Brashares and colleagues suggest that declines in wildlife and fish populations contribute to social unrest, child labor and even slavery. Their analysis finds not just one case but a range of ways in which wildlife declines exacerbate existing social and political tensions and contribute to conflicts. Continue reading

Newly Discovered Whale Shark Population Brings Tourism Potential to Indonesian Communities

Read previous posts in correlation with Shark Week 2014.

whale shark under fishing platform, Indonesia

Whale shark under bagan (fishing platform) in Indonesia. (© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock)

In late 2011, CI’s Mark Erdmann blogged about an exciting expedition tagging whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay off the northern coast of West Papua, Indonesia. The trip was conducted in collaboration with WWF-Indonesia, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and the Cenderawasih National Park Authority. Data received from the tags exposed the migratory behavior of these mysterious creatures along Indonesia’s coasts.

In Kaimana, on West Papua’s southern coast, the recent discovery of another whale shark population has triggered similar research, providing us with vital information backing the development of critical regulations to protect these species and support a burgeoning whale shark tourism industry that is both sustainable and benefits local communities. Continue reading

Global Policy Needed to Keep Sharks in Our Oceans

It’s Shark Week again, which means it’s time for more shark-themed blogs! Check out Greg’s appearance in “Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss,” airing tonight at 9 p.m. EST on the Discovery Channel.

lemon shark in mangrove

A young lemon shark hunts in a mangrove forest. It’s been estimated that people kill around 100 million sharks each year. (© Matthew D Potenski 2011/Marine Photobank)

Sharks swim in every ocean. They are important not only for the complex ocean ecosystem, but for people everywhere who, believe it or not, benefit in some way from them.

The past decade has seen tremendous leaps forward in shark conservation around the world, but we still kill 100 million sharks a year. We have to do better. We need to adopt a global shark policy. Continue reading

Conservation Tools: Radar System Could be Instrumental in Protecting Sharks

This is the latest post in our “Conservation Tools” blog series, which spotlights how cutting-edge technology is helping scientists explore and protect the natural world. It’s also the first of our shark-related posts in tandem with the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week 2014.

hammerhead sharks

The waters of Cocos Island hold one of the highest numbers of marine predators in all the oceans — including record numbers of hammerhead sharks. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

The only sounds are those of seabirds, the wind and the Pacific Ocean striking the ship. On the horizon is the island for which they have been searching the past few days. Its 1795, and explorer George Vancouver describes what he sees upon his arrival to Cocos Island:

“[sharks] assembled in the bay in very large shoals, constantly attending on our boats in all their motions […]” (excerpted from Callum Roberts’ 2007 book “The Unnatural History of the Sea”)

Explorers like Vancouver began visiting Cocos in the 1520s. Soon pirates came too, using the island as a temporary secret storage site for stolen goods.

Centuries later, the human presence around this remarkable island has evolved, but retains a common thread.

The “pirates” of this century do not come to hide treasure. They come to steal fish. But with the help of new technology, modern-day explorers — scientists like me — are teaming up with the Costa Rican government and local partners to stop them. Continue reading

3 Reasons Timorese Women Aren’t More Involved in Conservation Efforts

This blog is the third post in Human Nature’s new “Gender + Conservation” blog series; read previous posts.

women in Timor-Leste

Robela Mendes, a local leader In Com, Timor-Leste. Among other projects, she is working to start a community garden at this site to improve food security for the families of these and other women. (© World Wildlife Fund, Inc. / Tory Read)

Sitting at a seaside guesthouse in Com, a small community in Timor-Leste, I watched the moon rise over the ocean. Tiny lights began to flicker along the shoreline as women waded in the shallow waters of the reef flat, collecting crabs, octopus and sea urchins and using baskets woven from palm leaves to catch small fish.

Women in Timor-Leste interact with nature on a daily basis, but as the owner of the guesthouse, Robela Mendes, explained to me, women have a different relationship with natural resources than men. “It is important to get women involved in conservation, because they use natural resources too.”

It was the end of my research project, and I was about to return to Dili armed with stories and inspiration from the women of Nino Konis Santana National Park (NKSNP). Continue reading

Once a Marine Protected Area Is Created, What Happens Next?

You might not think travelling throughout the South Pacific sounds like hard work. Don’t tell that to Kevin Iro.

(© Conservation International/photo by Toby de Jong)

Kevin Iro, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna and CI President Russ Mittermeier walking on a Cook Islands beach in 2012. (© Conservation International/photo by Toby de Jong)

Over the past two years the former rugby star has been island hopping through the palm-tree studded, turquoise coasts of the Cook Islands, but not as a tourist. Iro has been visiting remote villages — some many hours by boat from the capital of Rarotonga — collecting information from community members that will shape the world’s second-largest marine protected area.

Continue reading

Local Efforts, Global Change: Sustainable Agriculture in South Africa

A flower field in Succulent Karoo. (© John Martin)

A flower field in Succulent Karoo. (© John Martin)

Stretching from Namibia down the west coast of South Africa, the Succulent Karoo is a vast, semi-arid desert with sweeping vistas, mountain ranges, ancient rock formations, wild coastlines and clouds of stars arching overhead at night.

This is big sky country. At the time of my visit in May, it was difficult to imagine how this dry, rocky landscape transforms after the winter rainfall, when many of its 6,300 plant species blossom in a colorful explosion of wildflowers.

In the heart of this area is Namaqualand, where people depend on the landscape for their livelihoods. They graze their goats and sheep in areas historically grazed by herds of wildlife like antelope. The landscape is accustomed to grazing, and people have shaped their way of life around it.

Continue reading

Conservation Tools: Satellites Sound Fire Alarm in Tropical Forests

This is the latest post in Human Nature’s “Conservation Tools” blog series, which spotlights how cutting-edge technology is helping scientists explore and protect the natural world.

A burning forest in Madagascar. (© Haroldo Castro)

A burning forest in Madagascar. (© Haroldo Castro)

At the new national park in Madagascar’s remote Baly Bay, villagers convene for an unusual festival.

At this annual event hosted by Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the villagers wait for the announcement of the winners of a yearlong competition. For this contest, villages are scored on the number of fires that broke out within their assigned zones and how effective their communities were at responding and controlling fire spread.

How do the villagers know when and where to respond to a fire in a 1,000 square-kilometer (almost 400 square-mile) area in and around the national park? They’re using intelligence from NASA satellites, via technology created by CI.

Continue reading