VOICES Ideas and Insight From Explorers
Today is World Ranger Day. Rangers around the world work tirelessly to protect some of the world’s natural and cultural treasures for the benefit of all. Today we honor them and the contributions they make every day to protect our natural heritage for generations to come. Nowhere is it harder and more dangerous to defend nature than in Central America, which has the highest per capita murder rate of environmental defenders in the world, according to Global Witness.
Reflecting on my last year in Indonesia, and on the diversity of experiences and interactions I have had, illustrates multiple sources of conflict around shark and ray conservation and management. Going forward, we need to accept that designing practical solutions will necessitate some hard choices and trade-offs. I believe that conservationists would benefit from putting aside our pre-existing values and assumptions about the “right” approach and taking time to understand other people’s values and priorities.
Despite being irreplaceable and increasingly threatened, wilderness areas remain under-valued, under-protected, and have been almost completely ignored in international environmental policy. Immediate pro-active action is required to save them. The question is where such action could come from. In a paper just published in Conservation Biology, we argue that the World Heritage Convention has the ability to protect wilderness areas by improving coverage within Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS). This is something very much in the World Heritage Convention’s best interests if it is to meet its core objective to identify and conserve the world’s most valuable sites.
Central America’s border forests are home to numerous indigenous and ladino communities whose livelihoods depend upon natural resources. Such communities are increasingly caught in the crossfire of cross-border trafficking of drugs, weapons, timber, wildlife, and human migration.
Whales, which live in and migrate between marine habitats (some with considerable levels of maritime transport and other industrial activities), are particularly at risk from noise. These underwater blasts can disrupt behaviors and prevent these marine mammals from finding food and communicating with one another.
The islands that make up the Lau Group have largely been unexplored. Local Fijian scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Vatuvara Foundation surveyed 35 sites on outer fringing reefs, reef flats, and lagoonal systems in the course of an 8-day expedition looking at five islands in the Northern Lau Group. While last year’s Category 5 Cyclone Winston left behind damaged areas with large boulders and upturned corals, we documented extensive areas of reef that had very little to no damage, where there was a lot of intact structural complexity to reef systems surrounding the islands.
Vatuvara supports healthy populations of several globally threatened species, including the humphead, or Maori, wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus); giant clams (Tridacna species); and a large, prehistoric-looking land crab that rules this island. Coconut, or “robber,” crabs (Birgus latro) can be found roaming the forest floor searching for dropped coconuts, which they crack open with their powerful pincers to feed upon.
“Underwater Wildlife New York,” an outdoor exhibit at Brooklyn Bridge Park by acclaimed underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen, showcases the region’s most fascinating marine species and highlights efforts by scientists at the WCS’s New York Aquarium to study and raise awareness of the conservation needs of local marine wildlife and their habitats.
For 30 days in April and May, 2017, a team of researchers surveyed the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and its surrounding environs for Central American black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra). The Cockscomb monkeys are descended from animals that were first brought into the sanctuary 25 years ago in an effort to reintroduce howler monkeys to the area.
Periodic disturbances to coral reefs increase coral diversity by creating new space for new species to colonize. Shortly after a disturbance it is usually the “weedy” species like branching Pocillopora and Acropora species that come back first. Weedy species on reefs simply refers to fast growing corals that are quick to colonize a reef after a disturbance.
Lagoons have always fascinated me. The size, shape, and length of a lagoon – and the number of channels that connect inner lagoonal waters with the open ocean – influence the types of coral communities that form within. Because of the amount of sand in the lagoon that sits between the two islands of Kaibu and Yacata in northern Lau Group, I had fairly minimal expectations about what I might see. But nature has a way of surprising us, even the more seasoned coral ecologists!
Colourful corals cover steep and gentle sloping reefs. Vibrant giant clams sit embedded along the reef flats. Curious reef sharks cruise along the edge of the reef while juvenile parrotfish weave through branching coral colonies. Turtles make swift escapes and a school of barracuda hover over the deep. All with a visibility of 40+ metres. This is only a hint of what the science team has experienced in three days of surveying the coral reefs around the two islands of Kaibu and Yacata.
On 8 May, 2017, a team of made up of fish and coral experts set off to the untouched waters and lush limestone islands of the Northern Lau Group. Vatuvara Private Islands, along with Vatuvara Foundation have partnered with WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) to conduct marine baseline surveys to assess the health of diverse coral reefs, 12 months after Category 5 Cyclone Winston passed through Fiji caused widescale damage.
WCS designed its Climate Adaptation Fund to test and verify solutions to protect the ecological integrity of natural systems. After five years of investing in adaptation projects across the country, our new 14 Solutions report categorizes some of the most common climate challenges impacting diverse landscapes and pairs them with the solutions our grant partners have deployed across the United States.
These slideshow images, taken by Paul Hilton for WCS in 2016, illustrate the multitude of challenges faced in conserving the Sumatran elephant. These include the conversion of forest habitat to oil palm plantations, degradation of forest habitat by illegal logging, conflicts with farmers through crop-raiding, and being illegally hunted for their ivory tusks.