Indonesian coffee farmers grapple with climate of uncertainty

(© Conservation International/photo by Syaiful Purba)

Glora Padang, a young Sumatran farmer, is drying coffee beans that a local trader will come and collect. The unpredictability of coffee prices is leading many farmers to turn to citrus production in hopes of earning more income, but the crop’s dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides has taken a toll on the environment. (© Conservation International/photo by Syaiful Purba)

Editor’s Note: One of the many things that climate change threatens to disrupt is coffee production. In a far-flung corner of Indonesia, this could spell disaster for farmers’ incomes — and for tropical forests. This is the story of one of those farmers.

Glora Padang, a young farmer in the Indonesian province of North Sumatra, learned how to grow coffee from his parents, who five years ago gave him 2 hectares (5 acres) of land in Siempat Rube subdistrict to settle down on.

Like most farmers in the region, Padang grows other crops alongside his coffee, including rice, corn and other vegetables. One recent morning, a trader arrived at Padang’s house to buy some newly harvested crops. Padang sold 13 liters of coffee beans and 4 kilograms of chili peppers that morning, earning Rp. 352,000 (about US$ 32). This moderate income helps him support his wife and infant son — but a stable price for his crops is by no means guaranteed. Continue reading

From Zika outbreak to ’Snowzilla,’ climate change lurks behind the headlines

mosquito on blade of grass

As climate change makes some regions hotter and wetter, it may exacerbate the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika virus. (© Ramon Portellano/Flickr Creative Commons)

A mosquito-borne virus explodes in Latin America. A study delivers bad news for countries that rely on hydroelectric power. “Snowzilla” paralyzes the East Coast of the U.S. with historic snowfall.

Seemingly unrelated, these three recent events have taken place under the shadow of climate change.

Although scientists are averse to linking any single event to climate change, a growing body of evidence is showing that a changing climate could make events like these more common — and more destructive — in the near future.

Here’s a quick peek behind the headlines. Continue reading

In Indonesia marine park, survey finds troubled waters

clownfish and sea anemone, Natuna Islands, Indonesia

Clownfish in sea anemone spotted on a recent marine survey of Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. (© Conservation International/photo by Ronald Mambrasar)

The creation of a marine protected area (MPA) is often lauded as a happy ending.

But in fact, it is only the beginning.

Case in point: in 2007, the Indonesian government declared an MPA in the Natuna Islands, a remote archipelago more than 1,000 kilometers north of the capital, Jakarta. Although it spans 1,430 square kilometers (552 square miles), so far this MPA has no established management — there is no staff to patrol the park, no designation of which areas can be used for which activities, or allocated budgets to ensure the waters are actually being protected. In fact, an in-depth marine assessment had never been conducted around the Natuna Islands — until now. Continue reading

For forests to combat climate change, 3 things we must do

© Trond Larsen

Illegal deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia. The cutting and burning of tropical rainforest releases massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. (© Trond Larsen)

A version of this post was originally published on Mongabay

All but the most cynical would agree that the long-awaited global climate change agreement reached at last month’s U.N. climate talks in Paris was an important step forward.

As countries spend the next five years refining their goals and creating specific plans of action before the agreement goes into effect in 2020, I hope they’ll adequately consider a climate change solution that the world has historically undervalued and oversimplified: forest protection. Continue reading

Q & A: El Niño’s grip foreshadows uncertain future for a country on climate’s edge

plant growing in dry cracked soil

El Niño is causing droughts in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere, affecting the food supply of rural communities, according to Conservation International Papua New Guinea Country Director David Mitchell. (© Robert Harding Picture Library Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)

While the world was tackling climate change, it was the weather playing havoc.

El Niño, a naturally occurring climate phenomenon characterized by abnormally warm waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean, has upended weather patterns from California to Cambodia, with researchers suggesting that the 2015-16 episode will go down as one of the strongest ever recorded.

Some countries have paid a heavy toll. By the time the world’s attention turned to the Paris climate talks in November 2015, Papua New Guinea was in the grip of severe drought that ravaged agriculture across the country. The El Niño-induced drought affected everything from school operations to women’s labor to public health, according to a review published earlier this month by the Development Policy Centre in Australian National University.

While links between El Niño and climate change have only recently become clearer, what Papua New Guinea has seen in the past year is a harbinger of what is to come for the country in a changing climate, according to David Mitchell, country director of Conservation International (CI) Papua New Guinea. Worse, he says, is that climate change is already adversely affecting marine ecosystems, eroding a critical food “safety net” for drought-affected people in the country’s coastal regions.

In the following Q&A, Mitchell takes stock of the situation.

Continue reading

In camera-trap snaps, scientists tackle big data challenge

researcher sets up camera trap, Peru

TEAM researcher Patricia Alvarez sets a camera trap in Peru. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, we shared results from a new study indicating that protected areas have saved wildlife from decline in many tropical forests. To get their findings, researchers sorted through 2.5 million camera-trap photos taken in 15 protected areas in rainforests around the world. How did they pull off such a feat? Jorge Ahumada, executive director of the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network, which produced the study, explains.

Question: What exactly can camera-trap photos tell you about how tropical species are faring?  

Answer: We start with the raw data: a time-stamped image of an animal that has been identified by a scientist. We have around 500,000 raw images a year coming into our database from TEAM camera traps.

There can be a lot of problems with camera-trap data if you just take it at face value. You can’t just count the number of pictures of a particular species and use that to accurately estimate the population of that species in the forest. Because sometimes an animal will walk in front of the camera 100 times, and then you will have 100 pictures of that one animal. The other problem is when you don’t see something in a camera trap, that doesn’t mean that the species isn’t there; it could mean that it just didn’t walk in front of the camera trap. This is a very important distinction that few people make.

Continue reading

Study clears the waters on a dirty threat to Hawai‘i’s reefs

Many Hawaii'n fisherman are dependent on the health of Hawaii's coral reefs, as healthy reefs attract more fish. (© Troy K Shinn/

Many Hawaiian fisherman are dependent on Hawai’i’s coral reefs as vital habitats for marine life. The declining health of these fragile reef ecosystems is damaging the ability of marine species to support the livelihoods of local fishermen. (© Troy K Shinn/

Of all the threats facing Hawai’i’s coasts and coral reefs — including overfishing and “hot blobs” — one of the trickiest to stop, it turns out, is mud.

Sediment pollution from land has severe consequences for fragile coral reef ecosystems, and Hawai‘i is no exception: Soil erosion from development and agriculture creates excess sediment that chronically muddies reefs across the state, making it difficult for corals and fish to thrive.

But what are the most effective means to prevent sediments from reaching the reefs? And once sediments reach the reefs, how quickly are they flushed out by wind and tide?  Continue reading

Protected areas DO save wildlife: Just ask these 5 species

Yasuní Camera trapping photos. This short ear dog is a rare species and very difficult to observe in the wild.

As public awareness about the plight of the world’s tropical forests has risen in recent decades, rainforests have become a frequent symbol of destruction and loss.

But there’s good news: New data collected by more than 1,000 camera traps across the tropics — and published today in the journal PLOS Biology — paints a more nuanced picture for the future of wildlife in these forests.

Continue reading

Commentary: Road project puts Malaysian primates at risk

tarsier, Borneo

A Bornean tarsier. (© Russell A. Mittermeier)

A version of this post was originally published on Mongabay.

I have spent the better part of the past 45 years promoting conservation of primates and their tropical forest habitats, and have had the opportunity to visit and experience firsthand some of the most important sites for primates on the planet.

More recently, I have also begun to promote primate ecotourism (including primate-watching and primate life-listing — see Twitter @PrimateWatcher), based on a birdwatching model, in an effort to stimulate global interest in these animals, encourage much greater visitation and in so doing provide benefits to the local communities living around such sites to make them partners in our conservation efforts.

Back in November, I had the opportunity to visit what I consider to be one of the most interesting and exciting regions for primates in Asia, and indeed in the world: the Kinabatangan River in the eastern part of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.

Continue reading

Elephants with a trust fund? Endowment to protect future of a ‘magical’ forest

When I first visited southwest Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains back in 2003, we drove all day on dirt roads and crossed rivers on precarious ferries made of several boats lashed together. The forest overhung the road; wild animals scurried for cover as we drove past.

More than a decade later, much has changed. The road is wide tarmac, a major connector to Thailand. The rivers have bridges. Much of the forest is degraded, and wildlife is scarce. Forest loss in this landscape is as high as 30% in some areas. Vast swaths of forest have been cleared illegally.

But within the boundaries of the Central Cardamom Protected Forest (CCPF), it’s a different story.

Continue reading