Of Monterey and men: How a Great American author ushered in age of ecology

Editor’s note: For three nights beginning August 31st, Conservation International’s Dr. M. Sanjayan will be co-hosting “Big Blue Live,” a live television event documenting the natural splendor of California’s Monterey Bay. Tune in at 8 p.m. EST/PST on PBS to see what he discovers  — and in the meantime, learn why this unique place is an important piece in humanity’s understanding of the natural world.

sea otter, California

Sea otters off the coast of California. Each September, coastal upwelling of nutrient-rich waters and migration patterns of species like whales, dolphins, sardines and seabirds result in an explosion of life in Monterey Bay; starting on August 31st, Dr. M. Sanjayan will be co-hosting “Big Blue Live,” a three-night live television event chronicling this phenomenon. (© Adam White)

Gaze into a tide pool and you’ll see all of life’s complexity, shrunken down to size. From the soft anemones waving sticky tentacles, to spiny sea urchins, to hard-shelled mussels, with crabs and gobies wedged in between, every square inch is occupied by something — pushing, scrambling and fighting for access to sunlight, or nutrients, or a mate.

In Monterey, California, tide pools might seem to pale in comparison with the town’s famous sea otters, kelp forests and breaching whales, but for one unlikely duo (an amateur biologist and a future Nobel Prize-winning American novelist) in the 1930s, these pools inspired a new way of looking at the natural world — one that shapes our modern understanding of ecology. Continue reading

3 ways Brazil’s environmental decisions affect the world

Christ the Redeemer statue lit with green lights for Brazil launch of Nature Is Speaking

To celebrate the Brazil launch of CI’s Nature Is Speaking campaign, Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue was lit with green lights on August 13th. (© Caique Cunha)

What happens in Brazil doesn’t stay in Brazil. Whether you live in South America’s largest country or half a world away, what happens there impacts your life, from the coffee you drink to the hardwood floors in your home to the air you breathe. Continue reading

Dead or alive: The value of an elephant

At the turn of the 20th century, some 10 million wild elephants roamed Africa. That only around 400,000 remain — another one is killed about every 15 minutes — tells you all you need to know about the dire situation these iconic creatures face. African elephants could be all but wiped out within our lifetime, thanks to poachers who supply surging global demand for illicit ivory that in turn helps fund organized crime and terrorist networks.

Whether humanity can turn the tide against elephant poaching remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: These animals are worth more alive than dead. A recent study estimated the tourism value of an elephant at US$ 1.6 million throughout its lifetime. On World Elephant Day, here’s a look at how elephants are a crucial element not just of ecosystems but of economies.

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Bruno Vander Velde is Conservation International’s editorial director. Sign up for email updates here. Donate to CI here.

The death of Cecil: A turning point for wildlife?

Portrait, male lion at sunrise

A lion (not Cecil) in Botswana. The killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe has elevated issues surrounding wildlife to new heights. Through United for Wildlife, CI is partnering with other organizations to help combat the illegal poaching and trafficking of species. (© Rod Mast)

The response to the killing of Cecil the lion has surprised even the most ardent wildlife advocate. From the White House to the Zimbabwean government, from ordinary citizens to celebrities as diverse as Jimmy Kimmel and Newt Gingrich, virtually every media outlet in the world has covered the story. It has been the top trending topic on social media for several days running.

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Hatch and release: Can turtle tourism save a species in Cambodia?

Cantor's giant softshell turtle, Mekong Turtle Conservation Center, Cambodia (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

A young Cantor’s giant softshell turtle at the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center in Cambodia. Since CI’s nest protection program began in 2007, the number of turtle hatchlings documented has increased tenfold. (© Kristin Harrison & Jeremy Ginsberg)

Few things are more wondrous for nature travelers than to witness newly hatched sea turtles scramble to the sea.

For hardcore turtle tourists, though, there’s a new experience that is just as exhilarating — and just a bit farther from the beaten path: releasing an endangered freshwater turtle into one of Southeast Asia’s most important rivers. Continue reading

Making the Links: July 2015

lion, Chobe National Park, Botswana

Lion in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. (© Levi S. Norton)

This is my latest post in “Making the Links,” a monthly blog series that connects the dots between nature and people in the news. (To learn more about the goal of the series, read the first post.)

The nature in humans (stories secretly about nature)

Time to stare at a live feed of this underwater garden

This article shares a live video feed of an experimental underwater greenhouse off the coast of Italy called Nemo’s Garden. Consistent water temperature and humidity enable crops inside to grow much faster than on land. Currently focused on lettuce, beans and strawberries, the creators will soon expand to new crops like mushrooms.

The link: If successful, innovations like this could reshape how (and how much) we grow. As sea levels continue to rise and shifting weather patterns attributed to climate change make farming on land less predictable, it could also be a creative way of adapting to our new environment.

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6 species ‘friendships’ that keep our planet healthy

The diademed sifaka (Propithecus diadema) found only in the rainforest of Madagascar, enjoys sun bathing and can leap 30 feet in one bound. Lemurs are vital to spreading seeds through the forest and are thus natural planters key to ecosystem health. CI has, with partners, successfully reintroduced these lemurs back into rainforest regions from which they had previously disappeared.

Lemurs eat tree fruits and disperse seeds through their feces, making them vital to the health of Madagascar’s rainforests. (© Conservation International/photo by Cristina Mittermeier)

Sometimes friendships take root in the last place you’d expect. To celebrate the U.N.’s International Day of Friendship, here’s a list of “friendships” in nature that help species survive — and keep ecosystems running smoothly.

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To help feed China, just add trees

Tibetan woman, Li County, Sichuan province, China

A Tibetan woman in Li County in southwestern China’s Sichuan province. The ancestors of many residents of the village of Ganpu migrated here from Tibet centuries ago; this heritage makes the town a popular tourist draw for nearby city-dwellers. (© Conservation International/photo by Min Fan)

Editor’s note: China contains one-fifth of the world’s people — and just 8% of its arable land. Much of this land is already degraded, leading the country to look to farming in places like Southeast Asia and Africa — places with food scarcities of their own.

Bolstering crop yields by improving the health of ecosystems in the Chinese countryside could reduce the need to import food from other countries — while improving livelihoods for many of China’s rural citizens. CI China Program Assistant Wansu Xu explains. Continue reading

5 things you didn’t know about wildlife trafficking

tiger in India

Male tiger in India. The world has lost more than 90% of wild tigers in just over a century. (© Conservation International/photo by Frank Hawkins)

Wildlife trafficking ruins lives and threatens security and economies around the world.

The illicit trade in wildlife products is predicated on the deaths of defenseless iconic animal species, many of which face extinction as a result of this rapidly growing enterprise — and its effects are felt far and wide.

The scale of the problem has exploded in recent years, and policymakers are working to turn the tide before it’s too late. A bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would help clamp down on this illegal trade — and protect U.S. security in the process.

Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about wildlife trafficking. Continue reading

Wildlife trafficking: A threat to your security

elephants, Kenya

Elephants in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

Wildlife trafficking is a US$ 8–10 billion illegal enterprise that threatens iconic species, including elephants and rhinos, as well as U.S. and global security. Wildlife trafficking is directly connected to criminal networks, and many experts have found a connection with terrorist organizations.

The crisis has now reached a crescendo. One recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 100,000 African elephants were killed for ivory between 2010 and 2012. Continue reading