Primates face greater extinction threat than any other large mammal group

Common squirrel monkey

Primates such as this common squirrel monkey in Amazonia are severely threatened by the destruction of tropical forests. (© Nick Fox)

New research paints a dark picture for the future of non-human primates: 63 percent of the world’s primate species are currently threatened with extinction.

The paper, which was published in Science Advances and included Conservation International Executive Vice Chair Russ Mittermeier and Senior Research Scientist Anthony Rylands as coauthors, listed the destruction of tropical forests as the main threat to primates, 90 percent of which live in this biome.

But as Mittermeier and Rylands wrote in this op-ed on Mongabay, there is reason for hope. The world did not lose a single primate species or subspecies in the 20th century — and reversing trends in species numbers is possible.

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MIT, CI scientists ‘hack’ climate solutions


By integrating the power of nature and technology, researchers can maximize their chances of solving problems such as climate change. For example, technological advancements could bring more accurate measurement of the coastal protection benefits of mangroves. (© Jeff Yonover)

On the seventh floor of a conference center in Cambridge, Mass., last Friday, a group of scientists and engineers huddled around tables, tapping on their laptops and sketching on poster paper, barely looking up to take in the Boston skyline.

The term “hackathon” — an event in which a group of people collaborate on computer programming — usually evokes an image of college students coding into the early hours of the morning to prototype apps that make it easier to find a parking spot or coordinate a game of soccer. The Hackathon for Climate — the second one for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Environmental Solutions Initiative but the first to include Conservation International (CI) — had a different feel.

“The day is about informed speculation towards solutions,” said John Fernández, director of the Environmental Solutions Initiative, as he introduced the Hackathon. The topics to be discussed ranged from reducing the environmental impacts of mining to shrinking the carbon footprint of digital data storage.

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Aboard a Hawaiian sailboat, new insights into root of ocean’s problems

The Hōkūleʻa and her sister vessel Hikianalia

The Hōkūleʻa and her sister vessel Hikianalia arrive in Apia, Samoa on a 2014 voyage. (© US Embassy/Flickr Creative Commons)

A version of this post was originally published on the Hōkūleʻa Crew blog.

The smell of bacon and butter greeted me this morning as I emerged from the makeshift cabin that we are each extremely fortunate to call home when aboard Hōkūleʻa. Those on the 6-to-10 watch were at the sweep adeptly steering the Hōkūleʻa in a SSW direction, guided by Mark Ellis, one of the navigators on board.

He estimated that we had traveled approximately 125 miles overnight since leaving port in Balboa. I had been on the earlier 10-to-2 watch crew, lucky to steer during a clear, star-filled night with the north star at our stern and the half-moon on our port side to guide us through most of our shift. The morning crew had to steer with clouds, inconsistent wind and no land to guide their way. They were relying on a rising sun and setting moon, neither of which are the most accurate indicators as they move overhead. When I finished my watch, the sun was rising, the clouds kept changing and the wind kept shifting. Steering was much trickier than it had been the night before with a reliable northern star.

Aulani Wilhelm steering the Hokulea while seas are calm.

Aulani Wilhelm steering the Hōkūleʻa while seas are calm. (© Conservation International)

The deep blue-green waters of Panama continue to carry us toward Malpelo, a tiny volcanic island offshore of Colombia, which we hope to reach in two days. We are privileged to be sailing in a geography referred to as the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape (ETPS), an area covering 750,000 square miles across the marine domains of four countries: Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.

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Photo essay: 30 years of exploration, discovery and action

When Conservation International (CI) was founded 30 years ago this week, the conservation of nature was viewed by many countries, corporations and citizens around the world as an impediment to economic development.

In the decades since, from the realms of international policy to on-the-ground science, CI and partners have worked to move the needle toward a more accurate perception of nature: as the foundation of our economies and survival. In the words of Peter Seligmann, CI’s co-founder, chairman and CEO, “Our connection to our natural world is more than sentimental. Humanity depends on fresh water, reliable food and a stable climate. For that, we need intact forests, productive fisheries and healthy ecosystems.”

As we look ahead to the future, these photos document some of the places we’ve been.

Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Russ Mittermeier poses with a monkey for a Gap ad circa 1989. The primatologist served as Conservation International’s president from 1989 until 2014; he currently serves as the organization’s executive vice chair.
© Conservation International
Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Wildlife biologist David Emmett trains two CI Cambodia employees and a government ranger in GPS, compass and map use during a survey of the Central Cardamoms Mountains. Emmett is now senior vice president of CI's Asia-Pacific field division.
© Conservation International/photo by David Emmett
Iguazu Falls, Brazil

CI staff and supporters on a trip to Botswana in 2005. Among those pictured: Peter Seligmann, Jeff Gale, Jane Gale, Cedric Rhodes, Rod Mast and Mike Chase.
© Conservation International
Iguazu Falls, Brazil

CI co-founder, Chairman and CEO Peter Seligmann meets a snake at a 1994 CI board meeting in Bahia, Brazil.
© Conservation International/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier
Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Woman inspects coffee growing in Chiapas, Mexico in 2000. For more than 15 years, CI has been working with Starbucks to reduce the negative impacts of coffee production on the environment and improve the lives of those who grow it.
© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn
Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Entomologist Chris Marshall and assistants collect moths from the fur of a three-toed sloth on a 2006 Rapid Assessment Program expedition in Guyana’s Konashen Community-Owned Conservation Area.
© Piotr Naskrecki
Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Russ Mittermeier explores forests near Manaus, Brazil in the late 1980s. While president of CI, Mittermeier was the only active field biologist to head a major international conservation organization.
© Conservation International
Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Stan Malone, former director of CI Suriname, and Lisa Famolare, currently CI’s vice president of Amazonia, participate in a clean-up event in Georgetown, Guyana in 1995.
© Conservation International
Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Russ Mittermeier shares a poster about primates with Trio children in southern Suriname in 2001. CI works with indigenous communities like this one to protect forests and other ecosystems that are integral to their survival.
© Conservation International/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier
Iguazu Falls, Brazil

Peter Seligmann and renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle in the Cook Islands. CI is working with Pacific Island governments and partners to expand a network of protected areas that will protect the region's most crucial resources.
© Conservation International/photo by Greg Stone
© Jeff Yonover
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Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Conservation International. 

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Guyana aims to shift economy from gold to green

Alluvial gold mining in the rainforests of Guyana.

Alluvial gold mining in the rainforests of Guyana. This is a medium-scale operation; many Guyanese work in the artisanal, small-scale gold mining sector, which is built around removing minerals from topsoils. As the gold runs out, the supply accessible from the surface will be the first to disappear, leaving many people in search of new livelihoods. (© Pete Oxford/iLCP)

Editor’s note: Last week, Conservation International (CI) Guyana and partners launched a new initiative to improve mining practices and ease the transition to a greener economy in the South American country. In this interview, CI Guyana Vice President David Singh explains how a country dependent on revenues from nonrenewable resources can make this shift.

Question: What is the current state of Guyana’s economy, and how do nonrenewable resources fit in?

Answer: In the decades after Guyana declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, gold was a bastion of our economy; in fact, at times it was the direct source of revenues to pay civil servants. Even now, with the distress within the country’s sugar industry and the challenges facing the rice industry, gold has proven to be a reliable source of foreign exchange. It has kept the economy afloat, and it has provided a lot of employment for people. I would estimate 10 percent of the country’s workforce is directly involved in the gold mining supply chain — not just the mining itself but the services that make it possible (shopkeepers, truckers, etc.)

However, the country’s entire economy tends to focus on mining at the expense of other types of industry when the price of gold is high. For instance, the heavy equipment operators in the sugar industry left their jobs to go work in the gold mines, which of course impacted sugar production. With soaring gold prices, teachers and nurses left their jobs to work in the mining industry. Without any active intervention to diversify the economy, such a high-level connection with the gold price is leading us into a “resource curse” situation.

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New partnership combines best of nature and technology to fight climate change

On the edge of the fishing town of Concepcion, Philippines, a permeable seawall made of bamboo works together with mangroves in an attempt to reduce storm surge.

On the edge of the fishing town of Concepcion, Philippines, a permeable seawall made of bamboo works together with mangroves in an attempt to reduce storm surge. CI’s green-gray project — which will be aided by MIT research — is located nearby on the island of Iloilo. (© Conservation International/photo by Tim Noviello)

Nature and technology have long had a complicated relationship. The factories of the Industrial Revolution set in motion the escalation of resource exploitation, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that eventually led to the global climate change we face today. On the other hand, technological innovations such as hybrid cars and biodegradable packaging are making it possible for humanity to lessen its toll on the health of our planet.

Although nature and technology are often pitted as opposites — the past versus the future — in truth we don’t have to choose one or the other. In fact, to sustain life on this planet, both are crucial. That’s what makes Conservation International’s (CI) new collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) so exciting.

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Expedition to ‘island of sharks’ gathers hundreds of hours of new ocean data

Tiger shark investigates a net filled with bait on a recent scientific expedition to Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica.

A tiger shark investigates a net filled with bait on a recent scientific expedition to Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica. By documenting which species are attracted to it and how they interact with it, scientists are learning more about predator numbers and behavior around the island. (© Mario Espinoza/University of Costa Rica)

Editor’s note: Last December, a scientific team began the rocky 36-hour boat journey from Puntarenas, Costa Rica, to one of the world’s best dive sites: Cocos Island National Park.

In a project developed jointly with the University of Costa Rica, 18 scientists specializing in diverse fields of marine biology made the trip as part of an ongoing effort to evaluate the health of the underwater ecosystems surrounding the island, a World Heritage Site that Conservation International (CI) has supported for 12 years.

Over the next week and a half, the team would log 310 dives — the equivalent of one diver spending more than 10 straight days underwater. Here are some highlights from the busy expedition.

Research goals

Our main objective was to assess the status of pelagic fish stocks — the species that spend most of their time far from coasts and the seafloor. Monitoring the health of the reefs surrounding the island was also a priority. CI and the University of Costa Rica created a baseline years ago; since then scientists have been assessing changes that have occurred in this natural laboratory and exploring the influence of different factors, such as El Niño, illegal fishing, climate change or the implementation of better protection measures within the park’s waters.

But our scientists weren’t just comparing the past with the present. They were also implementing new research experiments never before conducted in Cocos Island’s waters.

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The countdown is on to protect nature, save economy of tiny forested country

A boy wades through a river in Suriname

A boy wades through a river in Suriname. As the under-funded government has reduced services such as electricity and healthcare to the country’s rural interior, residents have been forced to pursue destructive activities like gold mining in order to make a living. Alternative livelihoods can provide a more sustainable solution. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

On the wall in Conservation International’s (CI) office in Paramaribo, Suriname, we recently installed a 1,000-day countdown clock. The clock ticks down toward the year 2020 — a big benchmark for many global environmental agreements that will impact the future of millions of people worldwide. Every day, this clock reminds our entire team that when it comes to protecting Suriname’s valuable forests and rivers and building a sustainable economy in what is called the “greenest country on Earth,” time is running out.

2020 is a milestone year for the Paris Agreement, when implementation of countries’ climate change action plans is set to ramp up. The Aichi Targets — a set of 20 biodiversity-related goals set in 2010 — also have a targeted 2020 due date. And one of the Sustainable Development Goals states that countries should manage their forests sustainably by 2020. If Suriname intends to meet the promised contributions to all these efforts, we have to make these 1,000 days count.

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These 7 maps shed light on most crucial areas of Amazon rainforest

Iwokrama Reserve in northeast South America's Guiana Shield

Iwokrama Reserve in northeast South America’s Guiana Shield. The Guiana Shield is one of the Amazonia region’s most intact areas, providing water, carbon storage and other benefits for people near and far. (© Pete Oxford/iLCP)

Editor’s note: Between now and March, Human Nature is exploring the complexities of living in, using and protecting one of the planet’s most valuable types of ecosystems — tropical forests — in a series we’re calling “No forests, no future.” This is the first post in this series.

If you have never visited it, the world’s most famous forest may inspire visions of dense, pristine forest, thundering waterfalls — and very few humans.

In fact, the Amazonia region — which encompasses parts of nine countries in South America and includes both the Amazon rainforest and the water-rich Guiana Shield — is home to 30 million people, including 375 indigenous groups. It contains the largest tropical forest in the world, the richest biodiversity on the planet, almost one-third of the world’s tropical forest carbon and one-fifth of the planet’s fresh water that flows into the ocean.

People near and far rely on Amazonia’s ecosystems for everything from climate regulation to fisheries and food security. But despite these crucial services, ongoing deforestation and climate change impacts threaten to permanently alter this massive system — drying it up, decimating its biodiversity and slowing the flow of benefits to its people to a trickle.

If we want to prevent irreversible damage, we must first figure out what parts of Amazonia we can’t afford to lose.

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Wild ring-tailed lemur population has plummeted 95% since 2000

Endangered ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar.

Ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar. New research indicates that the number of wild ring-tailed lemurs has dropped significantly since the last known population estimate in 2000. (© Art Wolfe/

A species made famous by a series of hit animated films is now threatened with extinction after a dramatic drop in its wild population.

Two new independent studies estimate that there are only between 2,000 and 2,400 ring-tailed lemurs — perhaps the most charismatic of Madagascar’s animals, and a flagship species of the country — left in the wild. This is a 95% decrease from the year 2000, when the last known population estimate was published. It also means that now there are more ring-tailed lemurs in zoos around the world than remain in the wild.

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