Russ Mittermeier awarded Harvard Graduate School’s highest honor

Russ Mittermeier in Madagascar

Russ Mittermeier in Madagascar. (© Cristina Mittermeier)

Editor’s note: Russell Mittermeier, Conservation International’s executive vice chair, has been honored as one of Harvard University’s Centennial Medalists for 2017. One of only four recipients to be awarded the title this year — the highest honor bestowed by the Graduate School — Mittermeier is being celebrated with fellow alumni who have “made contributions to society that emerged from their graduate studies at Harvard.” Mittermeier graduated from Harvard with a Ph.D. in anthropology in 1977.

Over his 30 years at Conservation International, Mittermeier has made an indelible mark on the organization’s work around the globe. Here’s a look at some of the species he’s discovered and places he’s helped to protect along the way.


1. Researchers discover two tiny new primate species in a far-flung forest

Russ Mittermeier helped discover two new species of tarsier — a tiny, nocturnal primate found only in parts of Southeast Asia, and rumored to have been the inspiration for Yoda from the “Star Wars” films.

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Climate’s new leaders: 6 reasons for hope

The Eiffel tour during U.N. climate negotiations in 2015. (© Yann Caradec/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: With U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, the United States government has effectively removed itself from a crucial platform for global climate policy, with anticipated negative impacts for America’s economy and standing in the world. But all is not lost, Conservation International (CI) climate expert Shyla Raghav explains. In this post, she highlights a new group of leaders determined to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement — with or without the participation of the U.S. government.

After much anticipation, President Trump has announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, an unprecedented step with well-reported consequences for American jobs, competitiveness and national security. But while experts continue to untangle the impact of the president’s decision, already a new set of leaders are emerging with renewed commitment to lead the world forward on climate action.

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Special Report: A sea change for seafood?

Migrant workers work at a shrimp factory in Samut Sakhon on the outskirts of Bangkok March 22, 2007. Human rights groups say thousands of children and illegal Myanmar migrants are working in Thailand's $2 billion-a-year shrimp export industry, often in co

Migrant workers at a shrimp factory in Samut Sakhon on the outskirts of Bangkok. Human rights groups say thousands of children and illegal Myanmar migrants are working in Thailand’s $2 billion-a-year shrimp export industry, often in conditions little short of modern-day slavery. Industry officials deny the allegations. (© Chaiwat Subprasom/REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo)

In 2015, investigative reports shocked the world with revelations of slave labor in the global seafood industry. Non-profit, business and government actors working to make seafood sustainable realized there was a gaping hole in their efforts: ensuring social responsibility for the workers.

A new Conservation International special report, “A sea change for seafood?,” details a novel approach that could end human rights violations in the sector.

As non-profits and businesses struggled with how to address the problem, Conservation International’s Jack Kittinger stepped in, leading an effort that could transform the industry. The framework his team devised will be launched at the upcoming U.N. Ocean Conference.

This special four-part series sheds a troubling light on the seafood industry’s problems and details how the framework came together, through the stories of those who made it happen.

Read the special report here.

The most valued anti-poaching equipment? It may surprise you

© Charlie Shoemaker

An anti-poaching unit patrols in Kenya’s Chyulu Hills. (© Charlie Shoemaker)

In recent years, the battle against wildlife poaching in Africa has taken a high-tech turn. Night-vision goggles, body armor and unmanned aerial vehicles have all become part of the modern ranger armament. But for rangers on the ground, their actual requests are often more quotidian — starting with a good pair of socks.

“It is not always the fancy kit that rangers need,” said Keith Roberts, executive director for wildlife trafficking at Conservation International (CI). “It is rather the basics that can make all the difference.”

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Pope’s message to Trump: Protect our planet

Pope Francis

At their meeting today, Pope Francis presented President Trump with a copy of his 2015 encyclical on the environment, “On Care For Our Common Home.” (© European Union 2014 – European Parliament)

Editor’s note: Today, Pope Francis met with U.S. President Donald Trump to discuss peacemaking and climate change. Among the gifts the leader of the Catholic faith gave President Trump was a copy of his Laudato Si’the 2015 encyclical on the environment that points to human activity as the main cause of climate change, warns of the “ever more severe droughts, floods, fires and extreme weather events” that lay in store and reminds developed nations of their duty to take action.   

Calling out climate change deniers, skeptics and those that fail to act, the pope implored everyone, regardless of faith, to “take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption to combat this warming.

Conservation International’s stance on climate change hasn’t wavered in the two years since the pope published his encyclical. In 2015, CI’s CEO, Peter Seligmann, wrote about his hope that the pope’s message marked a watershed moment in environmentalism.

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In a country where coffee is king, sustainability is brewing

Rows of shade-grown coffee.

Rows of shade-grown coffee. (© S&D Coffee and Tea/Lucia Hernandez)

Editor’s note: Since the mid-1800s, coffee has been central to Nicaragua’s culture and economy. As of 2015, the crop represented 16 percent of the country’s total exports and generated employment for more than 330,000 people — about six percent of the Central American country’s population. As global demand for the beverage grows and climate change threatens to cut suitable growing area in half, Conservation International (CI) is working with partners in the coffee industry to find innovative ways to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product.

CI’s sustainable coffee markets director, Raina Lang, traveled to Nicaragua with staff from McDonald’s, a CI partner to learn more about the local challenges facing farmers and the efforts of McDonald’s coffee roasters — the experts that source the company’s coffee from farmers — to address them.

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The 4 stories you’ve got to read this Endangered Species Day

Red panda

Red pandas, such as this one feeding on leaves at the Panda Breeding and Research Center in Chengdu, China, are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. (© Piotr Naskrecki)

Editor’s note: Of the 41,415 species on the International Union for Concerned Scientists’ Red List — the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species — 16,306 of them are classified as endangered species threatened with extinction. What’s wiping them out? Wildlife trafficking, habitat loss, a changing climate — primarily, humans

But getting listed as an endangered species isn’t a lost cause. Species recovery is possible — and a critical piece of achieving it is conservation work, including protecting areas for habitat. In honor of Endangered Species Day, here are four stories that look at the role of conservation — and of Conservation International — in saving species across the globe. 

  • Scroll down to the end for a photo gallery featuring endangered species.

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Demystifying the seafood label: Where your seafood actually comes from

A fisher in the Solomon Islands.

A fisher in the Solomon Islands. (© Filip Milovac/ Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: In the lead up to the U.N. Ocean Conference June 5-9, we’re launching an occasional series called Sea the Future, offering expert insight into the latest oceans news. Today’s topic? The mystery behind seafood labels. 

The seafood you buy comes from either a fishing business or an aquaculture (fish farming) operation. What you buy has implications for the health of the ocean, the livelihood of the fisher or aquaculture farmer whose catch you did or didn’t buy, the profits of the commercial business or aquaculture operation — even the number of fish we have left in the sea.

If that feels overwhelming — all you wanted was some shrimp, right? — you’re not alone. Human Nature sat down with Jack Kittinger, Conservation International’s (CI) senior director of fisheries and aquaculture, to break it all down.

Question: How has aquaculture changed over the years? What is aquaculture’s relationship to wild-catch seafood?

Answer: I think most people don’t realize a what an important role aquaculture plays. When I was a kid, aquaculture was about 10 percent of the global seafood supply; it’s now supplying more than half the global seafood supply. That’s a dramatic jump. It has been the fastest growing food production sector on the planet for the past couple of decades. With half of the global seafood coming from aquaculture, we obviously have to increase the sustainability of how we are farming seafood. It has a huge impact in some places, but it can also provide a monumental benefit in terms of the livelihoods it supports and the food and benefits it provides to global economies.

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Scan and serve: New tool traces seafood from ocean to plate

QR code

Restaurant patrons in Brazil can scan a QR code to learn about the source of their seafood as part of CI Brazil’s Pesca+Sustentável program. (© Conservation International/photo by Priscila Steffen)

Editor’s note: The global seafood chain can be as murky as the ocean’s depths — in fact, one in five pieces of seafood is falsely labeled. In Brazil, Conservation International (CI) is pioneering a smartphone-friendly tool that traces seafood from ocean to plate, giving consumers the power to make sustainable choices with a few finger swipes.

Human Nature sat down with Guilherme Dutra, marine program director for CI Brazil, to discuss the pioneering seafood traceability program, Pesca+Sustentável (in English, Fisheries+Sustainable). Winner of the 2014 Google Brazil Social Impact Challenge, this initiative brings innovative technology directly to fishing communities in Brazil to reshape the seafood chain from the water to the consumer’s plate.

Question: How does Pesca+Sustentável work?

Answer: Pesca+Sustentável is a traceability system based on QR codes. The QR code is printed on a piece of paper that accompanies a restaurant menu. Customers open the QR app on their smartphone and scan the code, which brings them to the program website to find out more about where their seafood came from. This way, the conscious consumer can easily choose healthy and sustainable seafood that comes from local fishing communities, benefiting the whole seafood chain.

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In Galápagos, lobster fishers make unlikely — but effective — conservationists

Spiny lobsters

Spiny lobsters at market in Galápagos. (© Molly Bergen)

In Galápagos, lobster fishers make unlikely — but effective — conservationists

For tourists visiting Puerto Ayora, the cobblestoned town where most human residents of the Galápagos Islands live, lunch at the tiny open-air fish market on the harbor is a unique treat. As sea lions and pelicans beg for fish scraps at the feet of the fishmongers chopping and bagging the day’s catch, diners point at the seafood they want, and someone tosses it on the grill.

Many choose a local specialty: red or green spiny lobster, whose live specimens wait on the pavement (often under the watchful eye of a fisher’s child) until they are sold. Few realize how close these species recently came to being wiped out from the Galápagos — a disappearance that could have caused a chain reaction across the islands’ spectacular yet fragile ecosystems.

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