3 ways protecting nature can help resolve conflict

A man looks out over the East Nimba Nature Reserve in Liberia.

A man looks out over the East Nimba Nature Reserve in Liberia, an area rich in both forests and large deposits of iron ore and gold. CI and local partners worked with the communities to help implement conservation agreements that addressed conflicts over resources. (© Conservation International/photo by Bailey Evans)

From the murders of environmentalists to wars that threaten iconic wildlife, the links between human conflicts and natural resources are clear — and as populations grow and unsustainable development is exacerbated by climate change impacts, tension over ever-scarcer resources will only escalate.

But there’s good news: A growing body of evidence is showing that protecting nature can help promote peace — and, in some cases, resolve active conflict. Here are three examples.

1. Peace parks

The peace park concept was popularized by the Peace Parks Foundation, which was co-founded by Nelson Mandela. Also called transboundary protected areas or transfrontier conservation areas, peace parks are areas spanning two or more national borders that have been formally designated to conserve biodiversity, maintain animal migration patterns and protect natural resources required for a growing human population.

Peace parks can imply a cooperative and peaceful relationship between nations. The first peace park, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, was established in 1932 by Canada and the United States in celebration of the peace and goodwill shared between the two countries.

In some cases, a peace park may also help calm tensions between nations. The Cordillera del Condor Peace Park between Peru and Ecuador signified the first time that a peace park was written into a treaty between nations as a means of stopping active violence.

For decades, the mountainous region between Peru and Ecuador had been contested and was subject to periodic encroachment and active conflict between the countries. In the early 1990s, Conservation International (CI) worked with the two governments and local scientists to carry out a scientific assessment that confirmed the region’s biological importance, including the role it plays in maintaining the hydrological cycle that links the Andes mountain range to the Amazon.

This independent analysis of the shared natural resources ultimately led to the signing of a peace treaty between the two countries, whereby each committed to ending hostilities and finding ways to collaborate. The agreement set a precedent for a binational vision of conserving biodiversity through cooperation.


Around the globe, people are standing up to protect the nature they rely on. Get the latest news from the front lines.


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Nature’s summer reading list: 5 staff picks

Si'u Point Trail, Ta'u Island, National Park of American Samoa

A beach scene in American Samoa perfect for enjoying one of the books recommended by CI staff. (© U.S. Department of the Interior/Flickr Creative Commons)

As the summer kicks off here in the Northern Hemisphere, millions of people will flock to beaches, mountains and lakes in search of a brief respite from everyday life. Whether you’ve got a vacation coming up or are just daydreaming about one, get closer to nature with these book recommendations from Conservation International (CI) staff.

1. “The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene,” by Richard Dawkins

1. “The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene,” by Richard Dawkins

“The trouble with evolution is that everyone thinks they understand it.” Richard Dawkins’ writings changed my life. This book is a rollicking good read — never boring, always stimulating and sometimes surprising. Its arguments are pervasive and persuasive — how natural selection actually works at the level of individual genes — and, above all, why this is the most magical show on Earth. You’ll understand all of life and its wonders just a little bit more after reading this book.”

– Keith Lawrence, senior director of CI’s seascapes program

The Urban Bestiary, Encountering the Everyday Wild

2. “The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild,” by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

“An aspiring “urban naturalist” myself, I’m looking forward to reading Haupt’s humorous but ecologically insightful observations of the nature she encounters on a daily basis near her Seattle home. After moving to D.C. from Maine two years ago, I still struggle at times to appreciate the smaller pockets of “everyday wild” that call this urban center home — so I’m eager to learn more about Haupt’s perspective on uncovering wilderness just outside your window.”

– Cassandra Kane, communications manager of CI’s ecosystem finance division

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Before and after: In four short years, new forest takes root

Schoolchildren planting trees with CI on the edges of the Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, Indonesia

Schoolchildren planting trees with CI on the edges of the Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, Indonesia. (© Jessica Scranton)

As a freelance photographer, I’ve shot everything from Tibetan wheat farmers to reproductive health clinics in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’ve become skilled at capturing a “day in the life” of many of my subjects, but it’s rare that I get the chance to go back and discover what happened to them after I caught them on film.

In 2012, I spent two days on my first Conservation International (CI) assignment, photographing the Green Wall project in the Gunung Gede-Pangrango National Park, about two hours’ drive from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. When I returned four years later for another assignment, I was struck by what had changed — and what had stayed the same.

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In cyclone-plagued country, forests help farmers recover

A woman carrying a bucket, Madagascar

New research derived from interviews with 200 smallholder farmers in eastern Madagascar underscores the role that forests can play in helping impoverished communities prepare for and recover from cyclones. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

When Cyclone Giovanna hurled violent winds and 35.5 centimeters (14 inches) of rainfall onto Madagascar over three days in February 2012, it left a path of destruction in its wake, destroying more than 44,000 houses, damaging upwards of 12,500 hectares (30,888 acres) of farmland and affecting a quarter of a million people.

Madagascar not only has one of the highest rates of cyclones in Africa, it is one of the most cyclone-prone tropical countries in the world — and even when the storms aren’t deadly, they’re disastrous. A paper published this month in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction examines for the first time the strategies used by vulnerable Malagasy smallholder farmers to cope with the impacts of cyclones — and the importance of forests in helping those farmers recover.

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Amid lifelong search for lions, 20 cherished minutes

lion in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

Lion in Tanzania’s Mikumi National Park. Across Africa, lions have experienced population declines in recent years; researchers predict their numbers could drop by 50% over the next two decades. (© Conservation International/photo by John Martin)

In over 15 years of traveling with Conservation International’s (CI) visual storytelling team, I have been fortunate to visit many of our planet’s most magnificent wilderness areas. During field expeditions to film and photograph nature and its interaction with people, I have also encountered a great variety of animals and plants, from lemurs in Madagascar to humpback whales off the Brazilian coast to giant succulent plants in South Africa. But until recently I had yet to have a wild encounter with my all-time favorite animal: the lion.

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When protecting nature isn’t enough

aerial view of Polopiña island, Iloilo, Philippines

Aerial drone footage reveals just how close many fishers in the Philippines live to the coast. (© Conservation International/photo by Tim Noviello)

During a recent visit to a coastal village on the Philippine island of Iloilo, Conservation International marine scientist Emily Pidgeon asked residents how high the storm surge had been during Typhoon Haiyan, the massive storm that devastated the country in November 2013. Their answer: higher than the coconut tree she was standing under.

“Storms like Haiyan are coming again; it’s a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if,’” said Pidgeon. “And honestly, there is no number of mangroves that can protect that village from that level of storm surge. Protecting nature is often the cheapest, easiest answer, but it’s only one part of the overall solution — and figuring out how to adequately adapt to climate change requires every tool in the box.”

Pidgeon is part of a global team working to combine these tools to help Philippine communities adapt to stormier seas. In this special report, she explains the tough choices inherent in this process.

Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature. 

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What the Hawaiian language revival means for conservation

girl on Makaha beach, Hawai'i

A Hawaiian girl dips her toes in the Pacific on Makaha beach, Hawai’i. After decades of cultural suppression, a slow revival of the Hawaiian language, culture, and spirituality is taking place. A huge part of that spirituality is their connection to the sea. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

In Hawai‘i, we have a proverb that says “He aliʻi ka ʻāina, he kauwā ke kanaka”: “The land is a chief, and man is its servant.” In our worldview, there is no separation between nature and people; just as the land takes care of us, we need to take care of the land.

This concept may seem simple, but years of cultural repression following the United States’ takeover of Hawai‘i jeopardized this connection — and we’re only now beginning to restore it. Much of this recovery is due to the resurgence of the Hawaiian language.

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5 ways indigenous knowledge can solve global problems

Surinamese indigenous people wearing traditional dress

Indigenous Surinamese people in traditional dress. Indigenous communities in the country recently declared the Southern Suriname Conservation Corridor with the government’s support and recognition. The area protects 7.2 million hectares (17.8 million acres) of tropical forest vital for carbon sequestration and water filtration. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Too often, the voices of the world’s 370 million indigenous people are left out of global conversations on critical issues, such as climate change. This isn’t just bad news for indigenous groups; the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples could help address environmental problems that plague the entire planet.

As Conservation International’s (CI) Johnson Cerda framed it: “The knowledge of Indigenous peoples continues to provide key information to protect the resources of the Mother Earth, and to create opportunities for climate change adaptation and mitigation actions across diverse ecosystems.” Cerda is an indigenous Kichwa from the Ecuadorian Amazon who leads CI’s work with the Dedicated Grant Mechanism for Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, a global initiative of which CI is the executing agency

As the 15th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues kicks off in New York, here are five things we can learn from traditional knowledge passed down through time.

1. Restoring Hawai‘i’s native fish ponds

Right now, 63% of Hawai‘i’s seafood is imported — a surprising stat for an island chain in the middle of the Pacific. But those waters are far from pristine; pollution runoff, overfishing and coral reef degradation all mean that many seafood specials are flown in from thousands of miles away.

To address this, some native Hawaiians have turned to Hanai i’a, the practice of raising fish in loko i’a, the fish ponds built on the coasts by their ancestors. These fish ponds once provided millions of pounds of seafood to local communities, simultaneously restocking surrounding reefs with fish when pond managers release stock into the wild. Given their location in coastal zones, resurrecting a single fish pond requires completing a complex permitting procedure — so Conservation International (CI) is helping streamline the process.

By rekindling time-tested hunting, fishing, farming and gathering traditions, communities in Hawai‘i and worldwide can become more self-sufficient — and often reduce their environmental footprints while doing so.

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7 species with moms weirder than yours

Greater blue-ringed octopus with eggs

This greater blue-ringed octopus, featured here with her eggs, may end up eating her own tentacle while protecting them. (© Rickard Zerpe/Flickr Creative Commons)

Maybe you had a very protective mother. Or a strict mother. (Or a neurotic one.)

You’d have nothing on the animal world, where mothers in the wild are known to nurse their young for several years, or sacrifice their own limbs to protect them — or drink their babies’ blood. (It’s true.)

This Mother’s Day, we’re taking a look at a few of the more unusual mothering habits in the animal kingdom.

1. Giving an arm and a leg (or a tentacle) for your children.

Ever the overachiever, the female octopus can lay up to hundreds of thousands of eggs in one go. Over the eggs’ development period — anywhere from 40 days to 53 months in the case of one record-breaking species, Graneledone boreopacifica — these maternal cephalopods gently blow water currents over the eggs to provide them with oxygen and keep them clean. Unwilling to leave her brood to hunt for food, the mother octopus often resorts to eating one or two of her own tentacles for sustenance while waiting for them to hatch.

2. And you thought triplets were a handful.

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Stopping overfishing? There’s an app for that

fisherman, sunset, Thailand

Fisherman at sunset in Thailand. (© Polsin Junpangpen)

Smartphone apps have revolutionized how we bank, how we take the bus, even how we date.

Add “how we fish” to the list.

As overfishing continues to push global fish populations to the brink of collapse, app developers are seeking to apply a similar efficiency to one of the world’s most urgent problems.

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