Cambodia’s ‘Giving Tree’ Makes Life Possible in Floating Villages

I have spent eight years working in the floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake, one of the world’s largest freshwater fisheries.

fisherman and raing trees in Cambodia

Fisherman pulling up net in Tonle Sap Lake. Raing trees, which provide numerous benefits for local people, can be seen in the background. (© Conservation International/photo by Bunra Seng)

Almost all of the families I know make their living in some way from the lake where they live, which provides two-thirds of Cambodia’s protein consumption. But I was recently surprised to learn that one of the species they’re the most dependent on is not a fish, but a tree. Continue reading

In Guyana’s Indigenous Villages, Gender, Livelihoods and Nature Intersect

This blog is the fourth post in Human Nature’s “Gender + Conservation” blog series.

Far from my creature comforts in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown, I found myself jostling around in a 4×4 SUV over the rough terrain of the Rupununi. Red dust billowed behind us as we moved across the savanna toward the village of Sand Creek, in the foothills of the Kanuku Mountains.

road in Rupununi, Guyana

Seasonally flooded savanna in Guyana’s Rupununi region. (© Pete Oxford/iLCP)

My colleagues from CI Guyana and I were on our way to learn about how the indigenous men, women and youth of this region interact with each other and their environment. Our assumption was simple: Greater equality and equity within communities will lead to more conservation success, spur economic development and improve livelihoods.

But how do we achieve this? How can we ensure that everyone can equally participate in — and benefit from — our projects? Continue reading

In Pacific Islands, Tomorrow’s Leaders Must Act Today

Boy jumps into water in the Cook Islands. (© Toby de Jong)

A boy jumps into the water in the Cook Islands. (© Conservation International/photo by Toby de Jong)

If someone told me a year ago I would soon be presenting at a United Nations conference dedicated to the issues faced by small island developing states, I’d truly believe that person was pulling my leg. Yet last week, I found myself doing exactly that.

Here on my home island of Samoa, around 3,000 people — including more than 20 government leaders, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and civil society representatives — are currently gathering for the third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

These islands, which occur across the globe, have been identified as special case studies for sustainable development. Although these islands are particularly vulnerable to threats like species extinction and sea level rise, how they deal with these challenges could serve as useful examples for the rest of the world. In fact, the U.N. has acknowledged their importance by christening 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States.

So, how did I get here? I was born and raised on this island; all that I love belongs to this land. My interest in conservation lies with the desire to see the environment and development work together to ensure sustainability. Continue reading

Aboard the Hokule‘a: Sailboats, Small Islands and the Stewardship of Nature

Both hulls of the Hokule‘a pointed with pride out to sea from Pago Pago Harbor. Leaving port, the sun was high above us, the waves broke with white peaks of foam, and the worn edges of the dark green island of American Samoa bade us farewell.

Hokule‘a vaka arrives in Apia, Samoa

Crew aboard the Hokule‘a upon arrival in Apia, Samoa. (© Conservation International/photo by Greg Stone)

The open ocean was ahead of us, and beyond that our destination: Apia, Samoa. It’s only the next island over, but in the Pacific the “next island over” can be about 100 miles [161 kilometers] away.

It is fitting that I traveled on board this ship, of a style and tradition that Pacific cultures used for centuries to convey themselves from island to island, to a meeting where the future and survival of island cultures around the world would take center stage. The sail brought us to Apia to attend the third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS). It is a gathering that only happens every 10 years, and it brings together the heavy hitters and decision-makers for ocean and island conservation. Continue reading

The Story of Indonesia’s Ciliwung River — Upstream and Down

World Water Week — the leading global event dedicated to freshwater issues — is currently underway in Stockholm, Sweden. Read our recent post about how cloud forests support energy security. 

Boys, six of them, dive off a bridge into the Ciliwung River in Jakarta’s Rawajati kelurahan (subdistrict).

The bridge was washed out in floods in 2007 and again in 2011. The city government built a new bridge above it, but the remnants of the washed out bridge continue to serve the kelurahan’s foot and motorcycle traffic. It also acts as the boys’ diving board, launching them into the murky, floating debris of the Ciliwung. The river’s name means “turbid waters” in Sundanese.

The boys tell me they’re not too concerned about water quality, but they have to be careful to avoid debris. Continue reading

Tanzania Announces Plan to Fight Climate Impacts on Agriculture

woman harvests eggplant, Tanzania

Woman harvests eggplant in Tanzania. The country’s new Agriculture Climate Resilience Plan seeks to increase the resilience of Tanzania’s millions of smallholder farmers to climate change impacts. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Mama Churi knows how valuable nature can be. A Tanzanian mother, wife and farmer who grows rice, raises fish and tends beehives, she is straightforward about the fact that while her husband’s job as a teacher provides some reliable income, her nature-dependent activities provide as much money to their family as he does — or more.

But Mama Churi is finding that unpredictable rain patterns are threatening her income and her way of life. Temperatures and rainfall patterns have become increasingly erratic in Tanzania, and for farmers who depend on a reliable rainy season to know when to plant, this has huge implications for their ability to feed their families and earn a steady living. Continue reading

How Cloud Forests Support Global Energy Security

The theme of this year’s World Water Week (kicking off this Sunday in Stockholm) is “energy and water,” an acknowledgement of the critical yet complex relationship between these two forces.  A version of this post was originally published on CGIAR’s Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog.

Cloud forest in Haiti. (© Robin Moore)

Cloud forest in Haiti. Tropical cloud forests act like a sponge, filtering water, regulating flow to rivers and reducing sedimentation — important services that can prolong the life of dams. (© Robin Moore)

Who would have thought that restoring cloud forests could help keep the lights on during periods of water scarcity and electricity rationing? This news may seem surprising — but as one of the scientists behind this research, I can tell you that it’s quite encouraging.

Electricity rationing has been a special concern lately for tropical countries like Brazil, which depend heavily on hydropower. This year, the risk of electricity shortages in the country tops 20%, well above the 5% the Brazilian government deems acceptable.

Why? To put it simply, there’s just not enough water. According to a recent article in The Economist, Brazil generates roughly 80% of its electricity from hydropower plants. Yet minimal rainfall coupled with high temperatures has meant that reservoirs in the southeast and west, which represent around 70% of Brazil’s total storage capacity, are currently only 40% full.

Other countries like Colombia have also been stricken by severe drought this year. Although there is no risk of electricity rationing, the public has been advised to save water as a precautionary measure. Some of the drought impacts have likely been exacerbated by poor environmental management — and if climate change continues to have the effect scientists predict, they won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

But here’s the good news: Cloud forests can help. Tropical cloud forests act like a sponge, filtering water, regulating flow to rivers and reducing sedimentation — important services that can prolong the life of dams. Continue reading

Restoring Hawaiian Fishponds Important Step toward Seafood Security

fisherman, Hawaii

Fisherman in Hawai’i. (© Troy K Shinn/

Over the last several decades, many Native Hawaiians have taken up the ancient practice of Hanai i’a, or raising fish in loko i’a (fishponds) that were built by our ancestors.

These ponds once supplied as many as 2 million pounds [907,000 kilograms] of fish per year for local people. These days, many loko i’a are in disrepair; if they are ever to be as productive as they once were, they are in desperate need of restoration.

Approximately 400 traditional fishponds exist in Hawai’i today. Not one has been fully restored for fish production. For years, the main barriers that slowed this progress were the strenuous effort and time it took for fishpond practitioners to obtain all the necessary permits — 17 in total — that would allow for the ponds’ complete restoration. Continue reading

Conservation Tools: Africa’s Tech Boom Could Aid Farmers, Sustain Ecosystems

This is the latest blog in Human Nature’s “Conservation Tools” series, which spotlights how cutting-edge technology is helping scientists explore and protect the natural world. 

GPS device, Tanzania

GPS unit at the Vital Signs training in Tanzania. (© Benjamin Drummond)

We’ve all heard of Silicon Valley, but on the other side of the globe a new tech hotbed is gaining traction: Nairobi’s “Silicon Savannah.” In the past decade, Africa has experienced its own impressive burst of technology growth, and people around the world have taken notice.

As the executive director of Vital Signs, a monitoring system that collects agro-ecological and social data and develops tools for decision-making around sustainability in Africa, I’ve watched this development with growing interest. And now our project is honored to be partnering with Ushahidi, a global nonprofit technology company founded and rooted in Kenya. Continue reading

‘WildLeaks’ Encrypted Website Protects Wildlife Crime Whistle-blowers

gibbon rescued from illegal wildlife trade, Cambodia

Gibbon at a rescue center in Cambodia. The center houses many gibbons confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade that for various reasons cannot be released back into the wild. (© Conservation International/photo by Emilie Verdon)

Imagine for a moment that you’re a security guard at a busy, international seaport. You’ve noticed that throughout the last few months, a well-dressed businessman has been visiting the shipping container storage area at the port, associating with people he doesn’t normally interact with.

They meet at odd times, often outside of business hours. His visitors’ vehicles are always covered in dust or mud. Every time they meet, the businessman’s associates transfer several large bundles from their trucks into the container, which is nearly full.

Didn’t you see on the news that the port has been pinpointed as a hub for trafficking ivory? You know something isn’t right, but what can you do? Who do you tell? You need your job, and the businessman is very influential. Continue reading