The Galápagos Islands’ Least Famous Residents: Its People

Galapagos sea lion at fish market, Santa Cruz, Galapagos

A Galápagos sea lion waits for scraps at the fish market in Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galápagos Islands. (© Conservation International/photo by Molly Bergen)

When I traveled to the Galápagos Islands in November, I had a slightly different mission than most visitors. Sure, I was psyched to see the islands’ famed giant tortoises, birds and marine life up close, but I was also curious to learn about the 30,000 human residents of the Galápagos. Although they often go unmentioned in tales of this unique place, these people are important characters in its history, for better and worse.

In CI’s small office in Puerto Ayora, the largest of the four towns on the islands, CI Galápagos Program Director Reyna Oleas explained that in many ways, the Galápagos Islands are a microcosm of the world at large — grappling with many of the same environmental issues faced elsewhere, but also acting as a laboratory for potential solutions.

After spending 10 days on and around the islands, I saw exactly what she meant. While the Galápagos Islands face plenty of challenges, there’s no denying that without the natural treasures the islands hold, the local economy would cease to exist. Continue reading

Without Forest Policy Reform, Indonesia Won’t Reach Emissions Reduction Goal

park rangers check camera trap in North Sumatra's Batang Gadis National Park, Indonesia

Park rangers check a camera trap they have set up in North Sumatra’s Batang Gadis National Park to monitor wildlife. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of CO₂ through deforestation; much of this clearing is done illegally. (© Conservation International/photo by Tory Read)

When Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo took office last October, hopes were high within the environmental community that he would take crucial actions to curb deforestation in his tropical country. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest emitters of CO₂ through deforestation; much of this clearing is done illegally.

So far, there are some positive signs. President Widodo has already voiced his intention to crack down on illegal forest clearing. He’s also spoken up for the value of peatlands, which store large amounts of carbon and can be used for sustainable agriculture by local communities.

This week, a study led by the Center for Global Development (together with colleagues from CI, World Resources Institute, Duke University, the University of Maryland and the Woods Hole Research Center) shared important data on one of the forest policies of President Widodo’s predecessor — insight that we hope the new president will keep in mind going forward. Continue reading

Our Conservation Resolution: Think Big

As the New Year begins, I have a resolution for the conservation community: It’s time to think big.

girl at Citadelle, near Cap-Haitien, Haiti

A girl takes in mountain views at the Citadelle, near Cap-Haitien, Haiti. (© Pierre Carret)

Historically, when nations thought about the conservation of ecosystems, it often turned into an intense debate about which areas of exceptional scenery and charismatic wildlife should be put into protected areas and which should be developed, mined, dammed, farmed. After much compromise and negotiations the U.N. system adopted global protected area targets of roughly 17 % of terrestrial and 10% of ocean areas by 2020.

Unfortunately, in an age of rapid population growth, consumption and urbanization, conserving these isolated areas will not ensure that earth’s ecological life-support system will survive. Creating pockets of protected land and sea is a step in the right direction, but if that’s all we do, these protected areas will become islands in a sea of cities, farms, wastelands and toxic dumps. Continue reading

Urban Jungle: Singapore Leads the Way on Green Space

This is the sixth post in our “Urban Jungle” series, which explores the inextricable connections between nature and thriving cities.

giant artificial trees, Singapore

Singapore’s “supertrees” that act as vertical gardens and use solar panels to generate electricity for the city. (© CI/photo by David Emmett)

The rainforest was quiet except for the sound of moisture dripping from trees, and calls of frogs and insects. My torchlight illuminated a snake sleeping in a tree, coiled around a mass of orchids. The clear stream was teeming with beautiful fish, shrimp, crabs and even a large, rare softshell turtle. Overhead, a tree was festooned with feeding bats; the air was heady with the musky scent of overripe fruit.

As I walked up the hill, a civet stepped onto the muddy trail. It looked up, eyes reflecting brightly in the torchlight, then climbed a tree and disappeared. The forest floor was dotted with glowing fungi, the air alive with fireflies. It was a magical place.

Moving lights shone through the forest. I knew what that meant, so I stepped aside as cyclists rode past, greeting me cheerfully. I walked up the path, stepped out onto a small road and climbed into my car.

Driving down the road, the forest crowded closely on both sides and the canopy loomed overhead. After five minutes I reached a main road, stopped at a line of shops, collected the pizza I’d ordered 10 minutes earlier while walking in the rainforest and drove home. Continue reading

4 Trends That Give Me Hope for Our Planet in 2015

From the headlines, it looked like 2014 was a bad year, and much of the bad news concerned the planet itself. Both greenhouse gas concentrations and — according to preliminary numbers — global temperatures reached record highs. Former environment leader Australia seems to have reversed course. Illegal wildlife trade has killed record numbers of elephants, rhinos and other species while jeopardizing human security.

As any good doctor or engineer will tell you, we do have to talk about problems as the first step to finding solutions. Still, most of the news we hear seems to dwell on the bad. So was there any good news in 2014?

It turns out the year did bring some good news for the planet. The impacts of these individual achievements have been enormous. Still more important are the trends they represent.

Brazil Reduces Amazon Deforestation

rainforest, Pará, Brazil

Rainforest in Pará, Brazil. (© Conservation International/photo by Haroldo Castro)

In Brazil, scientists announced near record-low forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon, down as much as 80% from peak levels. The Amazon is an enormous reservoir of biodiversity and the largest rainforest on the planet. Recent reductions in deforestation there have prevented the emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and may help reduce recent regional trends of decreasing rainfall.

The broader trend: The improvements in protection of species and ecosystems in Brazil have resulted from multiple factors — policies, parks, monitoring, enforcement. Though much remains to be done to maintain this progress and halt loss of Amazon forests, we’re starting to see tangible benefits when multiple sectors combine forces to sustain nature. Continue reading

Blog Editor’s Picks: 7 CI Posts You Shouldn’t Miss in 2014

Yesterday, I shared your favorite blogs published on Human Nature in 2014. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite posts of the year.

herder and horse, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Herder on horseback in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. (© Conservation International/photo by Tessa Mildenhall)

These blogs may not have garnered quite as many views as yesterday’s list, but taken together, today’s stories provide showcase the range of geographies, voices and projects that define Conservation International. Enjoy!

1.     South Africa’s ‘Ecorangers’ Preserve Grasslands, Reduce Livestock Loss

Overgrazing has taken a toll on South Africa’s Eastern Cape. Gerbrand Nel explains how local “ecorangers” — think a traditional shepherd meshed with a GPS-toting field biologist — are bringing life back to these vital pastures. Continue reading

Your 10 Favorite CI Blog Posts of 2014

In many ways, it’s been a rough year for good news. 2014 saw the rise of ISIS, a resurgence of Ebola and increasing tensions between police and protestors across the globe, among other occurrences that seem to show the world at its worst.

children swimming, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Children swimming in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago. (© Shawn Heinrichs)

Yet in times like this, it’s even more important to remember the positive stories, the ones that give us hope that things can and will get better. As I took a look back at Human Nature’s most-read blogs of the past year, most of these posts are strong conveyors of that message, reminding us that protecting nature is the key to our prosperity both now and in the future.

In case you missed them or want to revisit a favorite story, here are CI’s 10 most popular blog posts of 2014. Continue reading

Sewage Treatment Project Secures Cleaner Water for 5 Chinese Villages

After undergoing booming expansions over the last three decades, urban China has recently been enjoying the fruits of its labour. But this prosperity has come at a price: the environmental deterioration that haunts many Chinese city-dwellers.

river, southwest China

River in the mountains of southwest China. (© Conservation International/photo by Chuang Xu)

Besides the now infamous haze and smog, water pollution has also emerged as an especially serious problem. Numerous measures and investments have been taken in cities to reduce pollutants, such as construction of more wastewater treatment plants and similar facilities in recent years. However, many rural areas that face the same problems are often largely overlooked, particularly around wastewater issues. Continue reading

To Protect Rhinos, There’s No Room for Gray Area

In mid-November, South African authorities confirmed that the number of rhinos poached in the country so far in 2014 (1,020) has exceeded the number killed in 2013 (1,004).


Human demand for rhino horn is threatening to drive the world’s remaining rhino populations to extinction. (© Rod Mast)

Later that month, the conservation world mourned the passing of Dr. Ian Player, a global conservation icon and important rhino advocate.

Then this week, we learned that a northern white rhino died of old age at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, leaving the total population of this subspecies at just five individuals left on the planet.

These tragic milestones are stark reminders of the unprecedented challenges faced by the world’s five remaining rhino species. Given all that’s at stake, I believe that a total ban on the sale of rhino horn for the foreseeable future is the best plan of action — not just for the rhinos’ survival, but also for the people whose livelihoods depend on them. Continue reading

What Happened in Lima: Are We on Track for a Global Climate Change Agreement by 2015?

I had high hopes for the United Nations climate change talks in Lima, which concluded yesterday after two weeks of negotiations.

brush fire, Australia

Brush fire in Australia. Prolonged drought (one of the many climate change impacts being felt across the globe) makes landscapes more susceptible to wildfires. (© Art Wolfe/

Over the last few months, we saw dozens of commitments made at the U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, a gathering of hundreds of thousands of people in New York to demand action on climate change; a landmark agreement between the world’s two biggest emitters, the United States and China; and billions of dollars pledged to the Green Climate Fund. In addition, the New York Declaration on Forests brought together hundreds of organizations including companies, governments and civil society representatives, united behind the goal of halving deforestation by 2020.

Never before had so many diverse actors come together in solidarity to express willingness to take concrete action on addressing both the causes and impacts of climate change — and with 2014 reported to be the warmest year on record, the stakes have never been higher.

Those of us working on climate policy had hoped that this unprecedented momentum would finally translate into a coordinated effort at the global level.  Which is why the failure of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 20th Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC COP 20) to address several important issues was such a disappointment. Continue reading