To conserve the ocean, tech helps — but it’s only a start

Illegal fishing vessel caught inside of the Kawe Marine Protected Area, Raja Ampat, with manta ray carcasses drying on the deck (© Conservation International/photo by Abraham Goram)

The past few years have seen a tidal wave of technology that is revolutionizing ocean conservation. Through satellite imagery and machine learning, new platforms are enabling closer monitoring of fisheries and protected areas.

But technology itself is not a panacea for stopping illegal fishing, nor tracking sustainability within the fiendishly complex seafood industry, according to one expert.

We talked with Jack Kittinger, senior director at Conservation International’s Center for Oceans and an expert on global fisheries, about the intersection of oceans and high tech.

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Sticker shock: This country’s taste for ‘bushmeat’ comes at a terrible price

A turquoise elephant sculpture

An elephant sculpture made of snares as part of The Capture Project (© Conservation International/photo by Virginia Simpson)

Cambodia is a major source of illegal wildlife products, such as leopard skins and pangolin scales, to other countries.

But one of the greatest threats to the Southeast Asian country’s wildlife is home-grown: Cambodians’ taste for wild animal meat, also known as “bushmeat.”

Now, an in-your-face campaign aims to shock Cambodians into changing their diets — before it’s too late.

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In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world

A mangrove forest in northern Brazil. © Conservation International/photo by Luana Luna

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In this feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about. 

1. Carbon-sucking technology needed by 2030s, scientists warn

Scientists last week said that large-scale projects to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will be needed within two decades to hold the line against climate change, Laurie Goering (@lauriegoering) reported for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Read more here.

The story: With efforts to cut global warming emissions having (so far) fallen short of targets needed to keep average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, scientists gathered at a meeting at Chatham House called for technological solutions to capture and store carbon from the air. “It’s an unavoidable truth: We will need (negative emissions) by the mid-2030s to have a chance at the (1.5-degree) goal,” one expert said.

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For Caribbean island nations, nature is first line of climate defense

Palm trees and a beach

Palm trees frame a beach in the Dominican Republic (© Conservation International/photo by Michele Zador)

Editor’s note: The 2017 hurricane season in the Caribbean underscored how vulnerable islands are to the stronger storms that climate change is likely to create — yet many developing island nations lack the resources to mount an effective defense against extreme weather impacts.

Enter the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) — a joint initiative that includes Conservation International — which provides grants to civil society organizations in island countries to protect their greatest asset in the fight against climate change: nature. In this interview, CEPF Executive Director Olivier Langrand explains.

Q: Why is it important for small island developing countries to protect nature?

A: On these islands, properly managing natural resources and natural ecosystems has an immediate and direct influence on human well-being. This includes using nature-based solutions to prevent and reduce the impacts of severe weather. For instance, in Haiti, CEPF funded a project where people are restoring mangrove forests to create a buffer for future storms, including setting up a nursery to grow an initial 10,000 mangrove trees.

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Why are freshwater species in trouble? Bad p.r., for one


Hippo yawning in Botswana. (© Rod Mast)

Freshwater species have a publicity problem: Unlike iconic tigers or sharks, no one is paying attention to the the Baikal seals and hippos of the world.

That’s a mistake.

Freshwater megafauna — large animals, in other words — are disappearing at a faster rate than species that live on land or in our oceans, yet their their loss receives less attention and attracts less funding for prevention. The bigger issue? Declining biodiversity in the rivers, streams and lakes these freshwater species call home spells trouble not just for animals, but for everyone who relies on fresh, clean water.

I co-authored a new paper, published this week in the international journal BioScience, that aims to show people how we can protect important freshwater ecosystems by turning up the “wow” factor and shining the spotlight on large, charismatic freshwater species including turtles, river dolphins and sturgeons.

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Want to protect oceans? Start with these 5 things


Fish swimming in Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape, Cocos Island, Costa Rica. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

Oceans leaders gathered this week in Malta for the annual Our Ocean conference, where major commitments about the future of ocean conservation and sustainability were expected from heads of state, ministers, CEOs and others.

With representatives from Conservation International at the event, here’s a look at five key issues being discussed at the conference that have major implications for the health of the seas.

  1. A new way to conserve the ocean: Get business on board.

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One swamp we don’t want to drain

Mangrove Brazil

Mangrove forest in São João da Ponta, Brazil. (© Conservation International/photo by Maureen McCarty)

They are guardians of coasts, of crabs, of carbon.

Surviving “only on the slimmest of margins,” as Conservation International’s M. Sanjayan writes, mangrove forests are, arguably, the planet’s most important ecosystem.

They are also perhaps its most misunderstood. Few people outside the tropics have ever ventured into a mangrove forest; likely fewer realize just how important a mangrove forest is in buffering storms, feeding communities and stabilizing climate.

In this piece, Sanjayan takes you into the heart of a Brazilian mangrove forest — a still, steamy swampland of roots and mud where a small boat can only barely navigate — and into the heart of a community working to protect it.

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New climate funding pays to protect forests


A ring-tailed lemur and its baby perch on a tree branch high above the forest floor. (© Sjoerd van der Wal)

The fight against climate change just got a half-billion new reasons for hope.

On Monday, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) announced that it had dedicated US$ 500 million to help conserve forests and mangroves — a powerful recognition of nature’s role in solving climate change. Conservation International offered technical advice and analysis to the GCF ahead of the announcement. How will it work? Read on.

What is the Green Climate Fund?

The GCF is a US$ 10 billion fund established by the United Nations that helps developing countries scale up game-changing responses to climate change (think large renewable-energy installations and tropical forest conservation initiatives).

Why is this announcement a big deal?

It’s a big deal because it sends a powerful signal to developing countries that keeping forests standing can come with a powerful financial benefit.

How does protecting forests have a financial benefit?

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What happens to U.S. landscape when protected areas vanish?


Yosemite National Park, pictured, has undergone PADDD events throughout its history. (© Yang Song)

Editor’s note: Following an unprecedented four-month review period of 27 of America’s national monuments, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in September made two significant recommendations to U.S. President Trump: Change some boundaries and open the door to drilling and mining. New research shows, however, that boundary changes and other alterations to protected lands leave a lasting legacy on the land and it’s not always good. Ph.D. candidate and Conservation International (CI) grantee Rachel Golden Kroner explains to Human Nature how the histories of places like Yosemite National Park show us the implications of relaxing restrictions within America’s protected lands even 100 years later.

Question: Walk us through your research on Yosemite National Park.

Answer: Yosemite National Park has quite a dynamic past, as I’ve discovered through my research on PADDD (protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazettement) with Mike Mascia, CI’s senior director of social science. Yosemite was established as a land grant in 1864 and officially as a national park in 1890. Several years later, it started to experience legal changes that affected its status and size. In 1905 and 1906, it was reduced in size by nearly one-third, and soon after in 1913, the O’Shaunessy dam was built in Hetch Hetchy Valley.

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In case you missed it: 3 big stories from our world

Sharks in Ecuador

Hammerhead sharks, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador. (© Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

Editor’s note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a new feature, Human Nature shares three stories from the past week that you should know about. 

Brazil backtracks on plan to open up Amazon forest to mining

The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts (@jonathanwatts) reports on Brazil’s reversal of its decision to open up a massive area of forest to mining, as Human Nature shared last month.

The story: In August, Brazil announced that it would allow mining in an area in the northern heart of the Amazon rainforest — an area about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined and which is believed to be rich in gold, iron and other minerals. Days after the announcement to open the reserve, a Brazilian court blocked it; now, the government is taking it off the table.

The big picture: Brazil’s relationship with its forests is complicated. Its government is friendly to mining interests that want to trim protections for the Amazon, The Guardian notes — while on the other hand, the country recently announced a massive reforestation project, to much fanfare. Amid new findings showing that the world’s tropical forests now emit more climate-warning carbon dioxide than they absorb, the pressure on Brazil to conserve its forests has never been higher.

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