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World Wildlife Fund Science Driven

filtered by category: Valuing Nature

  • Date: 13 October 2014
  • Author: Amy Rosenthal and Gregory Verutes

Natural capital is everywhere. It’s the fresh air we breathe, the clean water we drink, the beautiful coral reefs we visit that protect coastal communities from storms and support fisheries around the world.

Some of these benefits that our lands, waters and biodiversity provide are not fully appreciated, often because they don’t have a price tag like products in a store. Yet without them our well-being, even our survival, would be threatened.

Through the Natural Capital Project—where WWF is a founding partner—we seek to improve the state of human wellbeing by motivating greater and more cost-effective investments in natural capital. Valuing nature helps ensure that the benefits people enjoy today will be available to support their health and livelihoods well into the future.

game board

Best Coast Belize game board by Amy Rosenthal and Gregory Verutes

With this approach, the people of Belize were able to map, measure and value the benefits of coastal tourism, lobster fisheries, and natural defense from coastal storms and inundation. By explicitly taking into account nature’s values and tradeoffs among options—e.g., assessing how dredging for a new shipping lane could reduce revenues from commercial fishing due to the removal of nursery habitat for spiny lobsters—Belizeans have created a coastal management plan that maximizes economic opportunities while minimizing environmental impacts (based on this interactive map).

Using a natural capital approach can improve outcomes for people and nature. Yet in many critical decisions around the world, we still fail to consider the value of nature. How can we change this and get people to consider these vital lessons? That’s a challenge we confront in our daily work.

In 2010, we were asked to introduce natural capital to a group of conservation leaders in the MesoAmerican Reef region. Instead of making the typical PowerPoint presentation, we decided to test a new approach. We designed a game.

Our game, Best Coast Belize, teaches players about nature’s values and our capacity to affect those values through the choices we make. In a 60-minute timed competition, players develop the Belizean coast, deciding where to fish, where to build, and what to conserve. Over two rounds, participants compete to win the most points and a prize for their team. Players quickly see the consequences of their team’s decisions, stimulating changes in behavior. Because ultimately that’s the real endgame—an educational tool that will spur decision makers to consider tradeoffs in their decisions and policies, leading to better environmental outcomes that benefit people.


Game players in the MesoAmerican Reef

In the MesoAmerican Reef, Best Coast Belize generated an excitement among players that was contagious. The conservation leaders struck up a friendly competition among teams, shouting and laughing about game decisions and scores. Several subsequently took up a natural capital approach in their work. Building on that success, we honed and refined our game over the next three years, testing it with over 1500 players in 20 countries. Players have included WWF partners in conservation, business leaders, local and national policy makers, students, researchers, and scientists.

Now we’re working on a series of these games, collectively called Tradeoff!, which show how understanding the value of nature can improve common natural resource decisions, like spatial planning and land management. Last week, we published lessons learned about using gamification to teach about tradeoffs and natural capital.

It’s important to recognize and act on tradeoffs when we make decisions – not just in Belize, but all around the world. Every day, people make difficult decisions about development and conservation, and we can make these decisions better. Tradeoff! helps people recognize these values by introducing them to the fundamental concepts. Another tool developed by the Natural Capital Project, InVEST, then helps people to act by clearly showing how decisions affect nature’s values and the tradeoffs among options. By using tools like InVEST in an integrated decision-making process, which embraces stakeholder participation, we can make choices that lead to better outcomes for people and nature.

  • Date: 30 September 2014
  • Author: Jon Hoekstra

Today, World Wildlife Fund released the 2014 Living Planet Report. The report is always a must read update on the state of the planet, but this edition is especially important for anyone who cares about biodiversity. The headline finding is that vertebrate populations around the world have declined by an average of 52% between 1970 and 2010.

The situation is even worse if we look at the tropics, with an 83% species decline in Latin America. These are sobering statistics for me, and I’m sure for you as well.

If you dig deeper into the Living Planet Report, you will discover that animal declines are not uniform around the world. Freshwater species have been especially hard hit, down 76% in my lifetime, compared to “just” 39% for terrestrial and marine species. Animal populations in Latin America are down a shocking 83%. Elsewhere in the species-rich tropics, populations are down 56% percent compared to 36% in temperate zones. The world’s network of protected areas is helping limit the losses as animal populations in parks and wildlife refuges are only down 18%. While the magnitude of declines may vary, the trend lines all point in the same troubling direction — down.

Why are we seeing these alarming trends? Simply put, they are a consequence of the growing demands of the human population. More people are consuming more natural resources. And insodoing, they are clearing forests, plowing grasslands, polluting waters, and emptying the oceans.

This is not just a problem for wildlife. It’s a problem for you and me, too. As I wrote about in a previous LiveScience post, humans are consuming natural resources faster than nature can replenish them. Every year, we use 1.5 planet’s worth of natural resources. Overshoot day marks the day when we have used up our annual supply of renewable resources and start spending down the Earth’s natural capital. This year that day was August 20, and it comes earlier every year.

Instead of living sustainably within our ecological means, we are borrowing from our future to pay for our present. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 60% of ecosystem services — things like water supplies, fish stocks, fertile soils, and storm protection — are already in decline because of human impacts on the natural environment. Sometimes you need to dip into your savings to make ends meet, but you go back to saving again as soon as you can. Well people have been dipping into the planet’s natural capital account since 1975, and every year we take more than we took the year before.

So what are we to do? When my colleagues and I reflect on our conservation work, we see hope in WWF’s past accomplishments to protect the world’s most important places like the Amazon and iconic species. When we take a clear-eyed look at the trends described in the LPR, we also know we will have to accomplish much more in the future. I am most excited about three things that WWF is doing to start to reverse the current trends in animal populations.

First, we are looking at our conservation strategies with fresh eyes to ask how they might be scaled up to achieve larger conservation impact. The secret lies in developing strategies that can be implemented by others, effectively multiplying the impact that WWF could have by itself. To do that, we are using science to develop forecasts of how much conservation impact we think a project may have in order to identify the most promising strategies. And we are using impact evaluations — common in the health sector but cutting edge in conservation — to rigorously measure the impacts of strategies so that we better understand the conditions under which they can be successfully replicated.

An example of a multiplicative strategy with great potential impact is community-based conservation. WWF has been working in close collaboration with a number of communities in Namibia to develop their own conservation programs. The results have been a resurgence of rhinos, lions and other wildlife, and economic development opportunity for local people. Variations of this strategy are now being developed with communities all around the world, from Nepal, to the Arctic, and even with Native American communities in the Northern Great Plains of the US.

Finally, WWF is working with the private sector and with governments to help them incorporate natural capital considerations into their business and development decisions. WWF and The Coca-Cola Company have already collaborated to significantly reduce the amount of water used to produce beverages and other products. WWF scientists are now working with Coke to use natural capital accounting to source agricultural commodities that are sustainably produced and will contribute positively to watershed health. In Belize, WWF scientists have helped government officials and stakeholder groups to develop a science-based coastal zone management plan that balances economic development with protection of vital natural capital such as coral reefs, sea grass beds and mangrove forests that attract tourists, sustain fisheries, and protect coastal towns and infrastructure

These strategies give me hope in the face of the LPR trends because they show  the promise of what might be accomplished when conservation harnesses the creative potential of innovation and the multiplicative power of collaboration.

  • Date: 20 August 2013
  • Author: Jon Hoekstra

August 20, 2013 marks Earth Overshoot Day—the estimated date when we've used up the Earth's annual supply of renewable natural resources and carbon absorbing capacity. After that, we're using more than the planet can sustain. It's a  one-day reminder of a year-round problem—we are living too large on a finite planet.

You probably have a general sense of why. Our human population continues to grow. We are consuming more and more resources. And we still have only one planet. To appreciate just how large we are living in relation to our finite planet, let's look more closely at some numbers.

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  • Date: 13 August 2013
  • Author: Jon Hoekstra

Deforestation in Borneo

Conservation is in the midst of a fundamental shift that I call "The Pivot." Conservation is pivoting from being backward-looking to forward-looking. This reorientation promises to expand what conservation can achieve by setting the stage for Conservation 3.0.

Despite frequent reference to the interests of future generations, conservation has mostly been a backward-looking endeavor. Hearkening back to "good old days" before extensive human impact on nature, conservation resisted change. It used verbs like "protect," "preserve," and "restore." It benchmarked success in terms of similarity to historical baselines. In short, conservation sought to make the future look as much as possible like the past.

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  • Date: 18 June 2013
  • Author: Jon Hoekstra

The Arctic is an extraordinary and iconic place where wildlife is still abundant and ecosystems are still intact. Caribou herds migrate across vast tundra. Millions of seabirds nest on remote rocky islands. Walrus, narwhal and other marine mammals swim the seas. And polar bears hunt seals on the ice.

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  • Date: 16 May 2013
  • Author: Jon Hoekstra

I love science. Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by the natural world. Science has been a way for me to learn about nature, and to do my part to conserve it.

Here are some more reasons that I am Science-Driven:

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