With eye to hungry planet, new tech watches soil health

A zebra in Doma, Tanzania, pictured above. (© Conservation International/T.O.Schnader)

Climate change. Deforestation. Unsustainable development.

Each is taking a toll on the health of a limited resource: land.

Meanwhile, an estimated 10 billion people will walk the Earth by 2050 — how will humanity grow enough food on land that is increasingly tapped out?

To understand how to feed the world, we first need to understand the land — how healthy it is, what threats it faces, how people are using it. In partnership with NASA and Lund University in Sweden, Conservation International (CI) is combining satellite images and data to prevent land degradation.

The result? Trends.Earth, a free, open source online tool available to everyone from scientists to governments to help countries evaluate the status of their soil and to make the best decisions for their land — and for the people that depend on it.

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Animal love: 5 weird ways species get it on

A turtle couple in Turtle Islands Heritage Protected Area in the Philippines, pictured above. (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)

It’s Valentine’s Day, when thoughts turn to romance — a complicated matter for us humans, but even more so for some of our animal friends. For Valentine’s Day, Human Nature updated our list of the more colorful mating habits of the animal kingdom.

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

Plastic found near a coral reef in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of the Philippines, pictured above. If left unchecked, plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish by 2050. (© Keith A. Ellenbogen)

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

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Deforested areas in the Amazon vulnerable to loss of legal protections, study finds

Slash and burn deforestation in Rondonia, Brazil in 2012, pictured above. (© NASA Earth Observatory)

Protected areas in Brazil that are deforested are more likely to subsequently lose legal protections, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Legal protections for these areas that were bargained away in the name of economic development could have long-term deleterious effects, including promoting further losses for protected areas elsewhere, researchers said.

After studying recent waves of legal changes to protected areas in the western state of Rondônia, one of the most deforested sections of the Amazon basin, the researchers came to an alarming conclusion: Once a protected area is deforested for the first time, it’s significantly more likely to have its legal protections reduced or removed in the future. This process, known as PADDD (protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazettement), has implications for the health of ecosystems within those areas.

Human Nature recently sat down with two of the study’s authors, Conservation International scientists Rodrigo Medeiros and Mike Mascia. Here, they explain the dynamics that led to the widespread loss of Rondônia’s protected areas over the last decade — and what their findings could mean for the Amazon’s future.

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What does 2018 have in store for nature? Experts weigh in

A school of fish around a coral reef at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, pictured above. (© James Watt/NOAA/Flickr Creative Commons)

More than a month into 2018, nature has already been in the news: Hong Kong voted to ban the sale of ivory, the Trump administration opened former areas of national monuments to mining claims, and the Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt asked whether climate change  is “necessarily a bad thing.”

Looking ahead, here are some of the questions on the minds of experts at Conservation International.

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Women scientists describe challenges of careers in conservation

Women collect water from a tributary of the Volta River in Ghana, picture above. Women are disproportionately affected by climate change issues such as droughts. (© Benjamin Drummond)

Women scientists are uniquely positioned to understand the environmental challenges — such as drought, floods, extreme weather events and reduced food and water security — that other women face.

Women are coming up with solutions to climate issues, but they also face unique hurdles.

The Survey of Academic Field Experiences (2014) reported that approximately two-thirds of women scientists stated that they had personally experienced sexual harassment — defined here as inappropriate or sexual remarks, comments about physical beauty, cognitive sex differences or other such jokes, Carinya Sharples reported for Mongabay.

Harassment aside, it’s still a difficult path to tread for women conservation scientists.

In honor of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Feb. 11, women scientists at Conservation International spoke about their experiences with gender in the world of conservation. CI’s women scientists have been able to make meaningful connections with women in the field because of their shared love for nature, but they also see women being excluded from local decision-making venues when they often have the most to share about the environment they live in.

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Yes, Scott Pruitt — climate change IS a bad thing

Woman hiking in the rainforest in Thailand, pictured above. (© Fred Froese)

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt — the man in charge of the environmental health of the United States — on Wednesday questioned whether climate change is “necessarily a bad thing,” Dino Grandoni, Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney reported for the Washington Post.

As the saying goes, there are no stupid questions. So, Human Nature is here to answer Pruitt’s question with three irrefutable facts about climate change.

Here’s what you should know about climate change.

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Meet a scientist: An optimist in the face of climate change

Shyla Raghav, Conservation International’s climate change lead, pictured above. (© Nicholas Karlin)

Editor’s note: A recent survey found that 81 percent of Americans could not name a living scientist. No, not a single one. At Conservation International, we have lots of scientists you should know. Here’s one.

Shyla Raghav is climate change lead at Conservation International, where she works to apply science to drive action that can address climate change. She’s particularly working to take nature’s climate solutions to scale. We spoke with her about her work — and how she stays optimistic.

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Ivory investigator killed in Kenya

Two elephants in Kenya, pictured above. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

One of the world’s top investigators into the illegal ivory trade was killed Sunday.

Esmond Bradley Martin, 75, former UN special envoy for rhino conservation, was found dead in his home in Nairobi with a stab wound to his neck, Alastair Leithead reported for the BBC.

Martin spent his career photographing and documenting the illegal sales of ivory and rhino horn throughout China and Southeast Asia. His work — much of it undercover — helped to shed light on market demand for illegally traded ivory.

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