Filming in Cambodia, Part 1: Behind the Scenes with CI’s Video Team

This is the first post in a three-part series documenting CI’s visual storytelling team’s recent trip to Cambodia. Read the next post in the series. 

filming, Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

CI’s visual storytelling team films in a floating house on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake. (© Conservation International/photo by Molly Bergen)

As a writer, it’s my job to use words to try to do justice to the visually stunning places where CI works, along with the remarkable stories of the people living there. So it’s tempting to be jealous of the team behind CI’s videos; they hold up a camera and the striking sights and sounds of Colombia, Madagascar or Kiribati are perfectly captured.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about filmmaking knows that’s not how it works. Even with non-fiction videos, film crews constantly deal with challenges, from bad weather to securing filming permits — not to mention the hours of editing that await them back in the studio.

When I accompanied CI’s visual storytelling team on trips to Mexico and Brazil in 2011, I was impressed by the hard work they put in behind the scenes. So when I recently got the opportunity to join the team on a visit to Cambodia, one of my goals was to document how they capture their footage. Continue reading

Finding Hope in a Degraded Mangrove

mangrove seedling, Chira Island, Costa Rica

Newly planted mangrove on Chira Island, Costa Rica. (© Conservation International/photo by Marco Quesada)

Last month, Marco Quesada blogged about a women’s collective that is improving livelihoods in Palito, a community on Costa Rica’s Chira Island. Fortunately, this female-led initiative is not an anomaly on Chira and is being adopted in other areas. Marco recently joined another group of women — this time in Montero — at a mangrove planting that culminated many months of work.

“This is the island of Chira, where women work and men cry.”

It was the third time the joke was told, and it still caused a good laugh among this group dominated by women from Chira Island, in Costa Rica’s Gulf of Nicoya. I was standing at the beginning of a “human chain” that was moving, one by one, more than 200 mangrove plants through a degraded mangrove forest.

With me were CI consultants Maguil, Annette and Alejandro, as well as Ana, our CI marine program manager. This was their fourth day of work that week — my first — and we had all been up since 4:30 a.m., trying to evade the sun and high temperatures.

At 8 a.m. it was already very humid and hot in the mangroves in the small community of Montero. But nothing seemed to dampen the spirits of the group — not mosquitoes, thirst, mud or the fact that each bag carrying dirt and a 12-inch mangrove plant weighed over 5 pounds [2.3 kilograms]. Nor the fact that once our chain of hands moved all the plants 100 feet [30 meters] or so, we would have to line up four more times to move the plants further into the more degraded areas of the forest. Continue reading

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

herder and horse, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Herder on horseback in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. (© Tessa Mildenhall)

In late 2012 I came across an ad for a job as a technical manager with Conservation South Africa (CSA), based in Matatiele in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. I had been working in Johannesburg, but it was my dream to return home to the region to eventually raise a family on the farm where my parents, brother and sister still live.

However, things didn’t look as I remembered them.

I was shocked to see that the black wattle (a kind of acacia tree that is invasive in this region) had taken over the farmlands where I grew up. These thirsty trees are shrinking wetlands that farmers depend on to water their livestock, exacerbating the freshwater scarcity that has plagued much of South Africa in recent years. Meanwhile, erosion from overgrazing has left some parts of the area inaccessible.

These impacts affect the more than 1 million people who live along the Umzimvubu River. It’s critical that we farm smarter than we have been, protecting the land while we still can.

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Measuring What Matters: Acknowledging Nature’s Role in the Global Economy

A version of this post was originally published on the World Bank’s Voices blog.

Waterfall, Madagascar

Waterfall in Madagascar. Although Madagascar is often cited as one of the world’s poorest countries, its unique species and ecosystems provide critical benefits for the country’s people. (Cristina Mittermeier)

“Accounting” may not be a word that gets many pulses racing. But what if I told you that a new kind of accounting — called natural capital accounting — could revolutionize the way the world’s nations assess and value their economies?

Currently, gross domestic product (GDP) is the most widely used indicator of a country’s economic status. But while this number places a value on all the goods and services produced by that economy, it doesn’t account for its “natural capital” — the ecosystems and the services they provide, from carbon sequestration to freshwater regulation to pollination. Continue reading

Remembering Rogeliano Solís, Indigenous Rights Advocate

Rogeliano “Rogge” Solís was a man of small stature with a big voice. Strong and clear in three languages — Spanish, Guna and English — Rogge’s voice commanded an audience on the topics that were his passions, including his Guna indigenous community, indigenous rights and conservation.


Rogge Solís advises CI and partners while visiting the Socio Bosque project in Ecuador in 2010. (© Conservation International)

Rogge spoke up for what he believed in in a powerful way, sharing his wisdom and knowledge with CI and so many others around the world. In February he passed away after a struggle with cancer, but not without leaving the conservation community with many inspiring lessons.

As delegates to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues have been gathering for their annual meeting in New York City this month, many are reflecting on how to implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I have found myself often thinking of Rogge, remembering how he spoke with purpose and conviction for the rights of his community and indigenous peoples everywhere.

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Mountain Bull, Legendary Kenyan Elephant, Found Dead

The full text of this post by CI Executive Vice President and Senior Scientist Dr. M. Sanjayan can be found on the CBS News website

elephant, South Africa

The ivory trade poses an enormous threat to the world’s elephants, including this one in South Africa. The death of Mountain Bull proves that even elephants with partially removed tusks are not protected from poaching. (© Megan Seman)

Mountain Bull, the magnificent six-ton elephant, featured prominently in our reporting on the poaching crisis in Africa for CBS Evening News and CBS Sunday Morning, has been discovered dead.

Perhaps he had been living on borrowed time, but the manner and place of his death is shocking and deeply disheartening to conservationists and Kenyans.

He was a troublesome elephant at least according to human standards — intelligent, wide ranging, and fence breaking with his massive, perfectly matched tusks. During the dry season he would often retreat to the protected and secluded cool forests of Mount Kenya, but in the wet season, he would strike out for undiscovered country far to the north. Fences were but a minor nuisance for him. He knocked them down with his tusks and neighboring crops became a tasty snack for his journeys.

In October of 2012, CBS News producer Jack Renaud and cameraman Wim de Vos travelled with me to Kenya to film a risky capture and partial de-tusking operation on Mountain Bull. Kenya Wildlife Service vets undertook a dynamic operation to dart him and while he rumbled in an anesthetic slumber they fired up a chain saw and sawed off the ends of his tusks while we, awed by his might, crowded in for a gentle touch.

For the full story, visit CBS News.

Urban Jungle: Jakarta’s Green Wall

This is the third post in Human Nature’s “Urban Jungle” series, which explores the inextricable connections between intact ecosystems and thriving cities.

Jakarta, Indonesia

Panoramic view of Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city. Jakarta’s more than 12 million residents depend on fresh water that flows from nearby forests. (© Warren Goldswain)

These days, Jakarta is defined by polluted waterways, smoky air and traffic congestion. Over the past few decades, the environment surrounding Southeast Asia’s largest city has been quickly deteriorating due to rapid population growth and the lack of proper urban planning.

After spending a few years as one of Jakarta’s more than 12 million residents, I moved to Bogor, a smaller city near the forested Gedepahala region. In fact, many city dwellers often spend weekends and holidays in Gedepahala, as it’s the closest area we can visit to get fresh air, enjoy the rivers’ cold, clean water and see wildlife.

But forests do much more than provide a weekend refuge for urbanites. They also store fresh water cities depend on — and keep it from descending on those cities all at once.

Continue reading

Reviving ‘Lost’ Stream of Lānaʻi Could Be Good News for Coral Reefs

The warm sun greeted us on a clear March day on the Hawaiian island of Lānaʻi. At the edge of a parking lot, we gazed at the cool blue of Hulapoeō Bay and waited to be welcomed onto the beach by our host for the day, Uncle Sol Kaho‘ohalahala.

Uncle Sol singing traditional songs, Lanai, Hawaii

Uncle Sol sings traditional songs during CI’s 2014 seascapes workshop in Hawaiʻi. (© Conservation International/photo by Edgardo Ochoa)

Kēhau Springer, from CI’s Hawaiʻi Fish Trust, performed an ʻoli, a traditional Hawaiian chant, to announce our intentions. Uncle Sol responded in a deeper, stronger yet softer voice. Though the words were foreign to my ears, the gestures he made while chanting his ʻoli were clear: You are welcome here.

Uncle Sol was born on Lānaʻi. He is what Hawaiians call a kupuna, or elder. He and other kūpuna keep alive the traditional history, stories and practices of Native Hawaiians. Standing under the cover of a kiawe tree, Uncle Sol told us the story of how the son of a great chief of Maui, Kaululāʻau, banished all the evil spirits from the island and made it habitable for his people.

He then sang us the songs that accompany this tale. One of the songs was given to him from another kupuna. It was about the only stream that flowed year-round on Lānaʻi, in the watershed of Maunalei. The song called for the stream to flow strongly down the island slopes once more.

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World’s Largest Company Asks Suppliers to Shrink Environmental Impact

Ten years ago, on a diving trip to Cocos Island with my friend Rob Walton, the chairman of Walmart, we began discussing how his company could impact global conservation efforts. Rob thought it would be important for me to speak with Lee Scott, Walmart’s then-CEO. A few weeks later we flew to Bentonville, Arkansas, and began a conversation that quickly morphed into a decision by Walmart to investigate how it could shift toward more sustainable practices.

strawberry harvest

Strawberry fields at harvest time. (© F. Schussler/PhotoLink)

Fast forward to last week in Bentonville, where Walmart held its first Sustainable Product Expo. In front of a full auditorium, I watched the CEOs of some of the worlds most powerful companies stand on stage and make commitments to green their supply chains — recognizing that what is good for humanity is also good for business.

Our Earth is currently out of balance. The combined impacts of climate shifts, ecosystem collapse and huge population growth require that we take a new approach to development — and as we have begun to see, development that does not take the health of nature into account will fail. It will fail to meet the daily needs of the more than 7 billion of us who depend on it, and it will eventually make business as we know it grind to a halt.

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Vote to Help CI-Brazil’s “+ Sustainable Fisheries” Project Win a Google Grant

(UPDATE: We won! CI-Brazil’s project was one of several selected as winners for the Google Social Impact Challenge. Thanks to all who voted!)

We’re proud to announce that a project proposal from CI-Brazil is among the top 10 finalists for the Google Social Impact Challenge | Brazil. The contest aims to help nonprofits that are using innovation and technology to promote social change and positively impact local communities. Chosen from a pool of almost 800 applications, four of the 10 finalists will receive 1 million reals (about US$ 400,000) each to pursue their project. One of the four will be chosen by popular vote.

Today on Human Nature, CI-Brazil Marine Program Director Guilherme Dutra explains CI’s proposed project, “+ Sustainable Fisheries,” which aims to use smartphone technology to track fish from net to table. (Vote for it here by this Wednesday, May 7th!)

fisherman freediving for fish, Brazil

Freediving for reef fish in Brazil’s Abrolhos region. (© Paul Nicklen)

Q:  Why are sustainable fisheries so important to local communities?

A: Coastal communities around the world are directly dependent on fisheries as their main food and income source. Making fish stocks sustainable is an issue of survival for them.

There are around 60,000 families of traditional fishermen living in Brazil’s 22 marine extractive reserves. Our project will begin working with those who are among the most dependent on local fisheries, eventually expanding to other communities nationally and internationally.

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