These women protect the trees that protect Ecuador

Crab seller Teresa Mendoza (right) is a member of the 6 de Julio Association, which grants her access to the community’s mangrove concession in coastal Ecuador.

Crab seller Teresa Mendoza (right) is a member of the 6 de Julio Association, which grants her access to the community’s mangrove concession in coastal Ecuador. She and the five other female members make up less than four percent of the group’s membership. (© Diana Troya)

Editor’s note: At the U.N. climate change negotiations underway in Marrakech, Morocco, determining how to protect and restore coastal ecosystems for storm surge protection and carbon storage is a high priority for vulnerable countries. But as this story explains, when it comes to communities residing near these ecosystems, these benefits are just the beginning. 

One hectare of them can store up to seven times as much carbon as a hectare of tropical forest. Standing strong on the muddy shores of the Gulf of Guayaquil, they can reduce the force of waves pounding the shore by 98 percent. Their trees provide habitat for many rare and threatened species, as well as more plentiful, lucrative ones like the red crab, an important source of sustenance and income for coastal communities.

These are Ecuador’s mangrove forests, which cover about 157,000 hectares (388,000 acres) in the floodplain where the South American country’s coast meets the Pacific Ocean. Despite all the benefits mangroves provide to coastal communities, Ecuadorian mangroves have experienced huge losses in recent decades as many acres were converted to shrimp ponds. To reverse this trend, Ecuador started a mangrove concession program that grants communities exclusive rights to use nearby mangrove areas for fishing, tourism or other livelihood needs. The program has enabled thousands of traditional mangrove users to continue their way of life. Continue reading

New tool could map out how countries adapt to a changing world

Maasai boy with livestock in Kenya. (© Conservation International/photo by Gina Buchanan)

Maasai boy with livestock in Kenya. (© Conservation International/photo by Gina Buchanan)

In many areas, climate change is expected to make floods, droughts and resource-driven conflicts worse in the coming decades — and the places that will be hardest-hit by climate change are often the least equipped to manage its impacts.

Adaptation to these impacts is one of the topics of discussion at the U.N. climate talks underway in Morocco. Now, a new open-source tool could help communities and countries adapt to the stressors and shocks that climate change is likely to exacerbate.

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Why the Marrakech climate talks matter

icebergs, Iceland

Icebergs in Iceland. Among other serious impacts, climate change is accelerating the melting of ice caps in polar regions, which is contributing to sea-level rise across the oceans. (© Art Wolfe/

Editor’s note: In Marrakech, Morocco, delegations of international leaders, organizations and advisers participating in COP22 — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 22nd Conference of the Parties — are spending two weeks working out the “how” following three recent climate milestones: the Paris Agreement entered into force years ahead of schedule; a historic plan was agreed upon to offset emissions from international air travel; and a global deal was reached to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a type of greenhouse gas.  

Given the momentous outcomes of last year’s Paris climate talks, many are wondering what will be achieved in Marrakech. To understand its role, we sat down with Maggie Comstock, Conservation International’s (CI) director of climate policy.

Question: Given the Paris Agreement entering into force today and other recent climate action milestones, what’s at stake at the Marrakech climate talks?

Answer: The Paris Agreement was truly a historic moment, and it was remarkable how it garnered nearly global support. Now that we have established global targets for both mitigation — including limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (striving for 1.5 degrees Celsius) — and adaptation — including increasing nature-based adaptation solutions — we need to discuss the details for how we’re going to accomplish these goals. Details include: establishing support systems and guidance to help countries implement their national commitments; developing a roadmap to increase financing; discussing the ways that countries can cooperate and help each other meet their emission reductions; and providing multiple forms of capacity-building to accelerate implementation.

That is precisely the goal for Marrakech and over the next couple of years, and it’s what needs to be worked out for the Paris Agreement to be implemented to its full potential. Taking into account other recent announcements when you consider emissions not covered under the Paris Agreement, such as from the international aviation sector for example these are all critical components of the global community’s efforts to tackle climate change. It’s essential that this is happening now, because the effects of climate change are already visible in many places around the world.

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What on Earth is ‘blue carbon’?

snorkeler explores seagrass bed, Honduras

A snorkeler explores a seagrass bed in Honduras. (© Joanne-Weston)

Editor’s note: From “climate adaptation” to “ecosystem services,” environmental jargon is everywhere these days. Conservation International’s Human Nature blog looks to make sense of it in an occasional explainer series we’re calling “What on Earth?”

In this installment, we break down “blue carbon,” a term you may not have heard of but which has immense importance for curbing climate change.

What is ‘blue carbon’? 

Blue carbon” is the carbon that is stored naturally by marine and coastal ecosystems, hence the name. Three types of coastal ecosystems — mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes — store half the “blue” carbon buried beneath the ocean floor.

What’s so important about blue carbon?

It’s important because the release of carbon into the atmosphere is a major driver of climate change, and because blue carbon ecosystems hold a LOT of carbon — a given area of mangrove forest, for example, can store up to 10 times as much carbon as the same area of land-based forest.

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New bond aims to unlock private investment to protect forests

rainforest in YUS Conservation Area, Papua New Guinea

Rainforest in Papua New Guinea’s YUS Conservation Area. (© Trond Larsen)

For years, a groundbreaking initiative to protect forests struggled to attract capital.

For years, private investors have been urging policymakers to help them invest in protecting forests.

A new, first-of-its-kind investment mechanism could bridge the gap by unlocking private financing to stimulate investor demand for reducing deforestation.

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In palm oil, Liberia sees economic boom — but forests may lose

Liberian boy carrying bucket of oil palm fruit

Liberian boy carrying bucket of oil palm fruit. Expansion of palm oil production in Liberia could bring jobs and economic growth to the country, but without proper management this growth could come at the expense of Liberia’s remarkably intact forests. (© Conservation International/photo by Rob McNeil)

Editor’s note: Surrounded by heavily deforested neighboring countries, Liberia resembles a green island in satellite images — yet this forest’s future is by no means guaranteed.

Liberia views palm oil development as a huge opportunity for economic growth and international trade. But embracing the booming industry is not without its costs. Without proper oversight, the country’s vast forests could be cut down and replaced by oil palm plantations, destroying critical natural resources and the benefits they provide for the communities who depend on them.

Once mired in decades of civil war, in recent years a more peaceful Liberia has emerged as a conservation leader focused on sustainable economic growth. To understand both the opportunities and the challenges that increased palm oil production poses for Liberia and its prized forests, Human Nature sat down with Liam Walsh, technical director for Conservation International (CI)’s Liberia office.

Question: Liberia’s forest resources are immense. Can you give us some background on them?

Answer: Liberia’s forests provide a wide range of significant benefits to the Liberian people and the international community, such as habitat for globally important biodiversity, a range of ecological services, ecotourism potential, timber and non-timber forest products and significant revenue for the country from commercial forestry development. To put it in perspective: Only one-tenth of West Africa’s original Upper Guinean rainforest remains, and 40 percent of that is in Liberia. Kept intact, this extensive forest has the incredible opportunity to help mitigate climate change.

CI started engaging with Liberia in 1999; the actual office here was set up in 2003. Initially, the focus was on helping Liberia create a network of protected areas across the country. The focus gradually shifted over time to include more work with communities living in or near forests that lie outside of the protected network.

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Lessons in conservation: When saving nature means fixing a school

(© Conservation International/photo by Marco Quesada)

Marco Quesada (left) with students and community members at one of the schools on Costa Rica’s Chira Island that was recently renovated to make it more accessible for disabled students. (© Conservation International/photo by Marco Quesada)

Editor’s note: After working for years with fishers and mollusk-gatherers on the coasts of Chira Island, Conservation International (CI) Costa Rica’s Marco Quesada wasn’t surprised to find himself working on a local school improvement project — even if it wasn’t traditional “conservation” work such as protecting mangroves or fishing grounds.

In a small community, everything is connected. By finding out what is critically important to people — and working together to fix those issues — essential collaboration to protect nature becomes easier.

January brings the dry season to Costa Rica. That means clear skies, sunny days and warm temperatures, especially along the coast. It also means vacation for schoolchildren all over the country. However, for a group of fishers in two coastal communities on Chira Island, last January meant showing up every morning at school. They were not there for their kids’ school activities, but to complete a surprising task:  building wheelchair ramps and new bathrooms in two local schools in order to improve access for children with disabilities.

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What we’re reading: Malagasy mangroves, dying ‘scrotum frogs’

Grauer's gorilla, Democratic Republic of Congo

Grauer’s gorilla in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (© Conservation International/photo by John Martin)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this occasional series, Human Nature shares three recent stories of interest in our world. 

1.     10,000 ‘scrotum frogs’ die mysteriously in Lake Titicaca

The story: Ten thousand critically endangered Titicaca water frogs also known by their more colorful moniker, “scrotum frogs” have been found dead in South America, National Geographic reported. The frog gets its nickname from its baggy skin, which helps it absorb more oxygen from the water and may have evolved from living at such high altitudes. Scientists are unsure of the cause behind the mysterious die-off, but they’re pointing their fingers at humans: specifically, sewage and illegal heavy metal pollution. Another possible culprit is the chytrid fungus, which has killed millions of amphibians around the world and may be responsible for what some are calling an impending “frog mass extinction.

What’s next: According to National Geographic explorer and frog researcher Jonathan Kolby, “[E]ven in frogs that seem to do relatively well against chytrid, once you start adding additional stresses like pollution and habitat loss that can knock the system out of equilibrium.” By adding stressors to frog populations already weakened by disease, humans are wiping out species whose well-being can give us insight on the health of the ecosystems that we rely on for services like fresh water, food and medicine.

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To improve crop yields, just add trees

Village chief, shopkeeper and farmer Lela Kabeakan sorts turmeric grown on her farm using agroforestry practices

Village chief, shopkeeper and farmer Lela Kabeakan sorts turmeric grown on her farm using agroforestry practices that intersperse forest trees with planted crops. This technique keeps the soil healthy and reduces the need to cut down trees to cultivate new farmland. (© Conservation International/photo by Syaiful Purba)

Editor’s note: To meet global food demand by 2050, production will have to increase by 60 percent, the FAO reports — yet agriculture is already a major source of deforestation. To meet humanity’s food needs, we must use land more sustainably and productively. One solution with potential is agroforestry, a practice that integrates trees and shrubs into traditional agricultural systems to create benefits for nature, people and the economy.

In Indonesia’s North Sumatra province — a region that has experienced massive deforestation in recent decades — one woman recently introduced agroforestry to her village of Surung Mersada. Conservation International (CI) Indonesia’s Syaiful Purba tells her story.

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How ‘protected’ are Amazon’s protected areas?

Sunrise in the Amazon Basin in Bolivia

Sunrise in the Amazon Basin in Bolivia. Recent research on the downgrading, downsizing and degazettement of the world’s protected areas has revealed that their protection is less secure than one might think. (© Jonathan Hood/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: Brazil houses nearly two-thirds of the Amazon rainforest and one-third of all the tropical forest left on the planet — forest that represents 30 percent of the solution to climate change. To protect these crucial ecosystems, the country is home to 12 percent of the world’s protected areas, but new research on a phenomenon known as PADDD suggests that they are not as secure as we might think.

Conservation International’s Senior Director of Social Science Mike Mascia — the world’s foremost expert on this issue explains.

Question: First and foremost, what is PADDD “protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazettement” and what causes PADDD events?

Answer: PADDD events are legal changes to protected area laws and regulations that relax the rules governing use of resources, shrink park boundaries or eliminate the protected area entirely. These conditions are different from whether a site is well-managed or not; it’s only about the laws and the legal standing of these sites.

There are more than a dozen causes of PADDD events, which can be loosely organized into three categories. The largest cause is industrial-scale resource extraction and development: forestry, oil and gas, mining, industrial agriculture and infrastructure, etc. The second category is related to local land pressures and land claims: Indigenous claims to regain land that had been taken away for the establishment of a protected area in the first place, rural settlements, subsistence use, etc. The last category, and the smallest one, relates to conservation planning: In some cases, people decided that the way that the protected area system was set up was not functional or strategic and that some other configuration made more sense. Continue reading