- Date: 21 July 2015
- Author: Emily McKenzie
The glamour of my first field work remains personally unsurpassed. Snorkelling in turquoise waters among shimmering oyster beds in the Cook Islands, I had a creeping suspicion this was uncommon territory for economists. I was working with pearl farmers who insert a small ball into each oyster. To protect itself, the oyster coats the ball with layer upon layer of iridescent nacre, creating a beautiful black pearl.
The setting in Manihiki Lagoon was idyllic. But the oyster farmers were in trouble. Profits had fallen after severe disease outbreaks, caused by poor water quality due to overstocking oysters. My job was to assess the costs and benefits of better lagoon management, demonstrating to pearl farmers how good management of their ‘natural capital’ was in everyone’s interests.
- Date: 19 November 2014
- Author: Katie Arkema and Amy Rosenthal
What do looking both ways to cross the street, buying insurance, and marine conservation have in common? Answer: They are all strategies for reducing risks. And we do such things because they help to achieve better results — crossing safely, avoiding bankruptcy, and preserving the coastal habitats that manatees, turtles, and people all depend on.
Working with researchers and planners from WWF, Stanford University, and the Belizean government, we developed a new method to assess risk to coastal and marine habitats. Our habitat risk assessment (HRA) model produces maps that show where damage to ecosystems like coral reefs and mangroves is most likely to occur now and under any number of future scenarios.
- 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.
- 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.
- Date: 15 September 2014
- Author: Jon Hoekstra
Technology is transforming conservation by giving people super-powers to help save nature.
Thanks to advanced technology for satellite-based remote sensing, we can see more, from farther away, and in greater detail. WWF and our partners are using such technology to monitor some of the world’s most biodiverse and threatened forests from Sumatra and Borneo to the Congo and the Amazon. GPS tracking technology enables us to go on virtual ride alongs with far-ranging and elusive wildlife like elephants and jaguars, thereby gaining valuable insights into their daily and seasonal movements. And the combination of low-cost remote-control planes and surveillance technology is enhancing security for rhinos and other wildlife, and aiding law enforcement in the fight against wildlife crime.
I had the honor to be a guest on the Diane Rehm show to talk about how these and many other exciting innovations are transforming conservation. I was joined by Rebecca Moore from Google Earth Outreach, and Andrea Crosta, founder of WildLeaks. You can listen to our conversation here.
You might also be interested to read my essay on Networking Nature in Foreign Affairs magazine.
And stay tuned for an upcoming presentation I will be giving on this topic at SXSW Eco in early October.
Meanwhile, you can learn about some of WWF’s most innovative applications of technology to conservation around the world:
- Date: 27 May 2014
- Author: Jon Hoekstra
Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be an explorer? To discover a natural wonder? Being a conservation biologist, I always hope I might experience that in some small way. But in our rapidly developing world, where wilderness continues to shrink, it can feel like there is nothing big left to discover. Yet my colleague Robin Naidoo and his collaborators in Namibia (WWF, Ministry of Environment and Tourism) and Botswana (Elephants Without Borders) have done just that. They have discovered the longest known land mammal migration in Africa — a 300+ mile seasonal trek by Burchell’s zebra (their newly published full study appears in Oryx).
Adding to the surprise, this journey is not happening in the Serengeti that is so famous for massive wildlife migrations. It is happening in southern Africa, where up to several thousand zebra migrate back and forth between the Chobe River floodplains in Namibia and Nxai Pan National Park in Botswana.
- Date: 21 March 2014
- Author: Jon Hoekstra
I recently was asked by Foreign Affairs Magazine to contribute an essay exploring the nexus of conservation and technology. I jumped at the opportunity, honored by the invitation and eager to call attention to – and ponder the possibilities of – some of the most cutting edge innovations and ideas in the name of saving nature and our place in it.
Perhaps for the first time, conservation is beginning to operate at the pace and on the scale necessary to keep up with, and even get ahead of, our toughest environmental challenges. Technological innovation – from elephants equipped with cell phones to quantifying the value of nature – is giving us new hope for averting the planet’s environmental collapse and reversing its accelerating rates of habitat loss, species extinction, and climate change.
You can read my essay in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs here. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts (and ideas) in the comments section.
- Date: 14 January 2014
- Author: Roopa Krithivasan
We know a lot of great conservation science happens out in the field. WWF is involved in efforts ranging from tracking the movements of key species to collaborating with communities to improve human lives and the environment. But there’s a side to science at WWF that we don’t always hear about—the important work that happens when scientists are back in DC, sitting at their desks. The research we do in the office can help provide invaluable conservation insights.
A few years ago, WWF started one such “desk-based” study to better understand what happens to national parks, nature reserves, and other protected areas after they are established. Protected areas are regions designated or managed for conservation purposes and conventional wisdom suggests that once one is created, it will continue into perpetuity.
But by poring over thousands of documents, reports, and maps, and speaking with experts from around the world, our team found this is not always the case. Our detailed analysis identified a poorly understood but widespread phenomenon that was affecting protected areas globally: Protected Area Downgrading, Downsizing, and Degazettement (PADDD). That is, protected areas sometimes go through a legal process that makes them weaker (downgrading), smaller (downsizing), or eliminates them completely (degazettement).
Our new research looks at when and why PADDD happens in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean—regions that are particularly important to our conservation work. We identified 543 instances of PADDD across 57 countries, affecting around 500,000 km2 – roughly the size of Spain.
So why does PADDD happen? And what does it mean for conservation?
- Date: 20 November 2013
- Author: Jon Hoekstra
My last day in the polar bear capital of Churchill, Manitoba got off to a difficult start. But I soon discovered some optimism and hope for how contact between polar bears and people might be managed in a way that is safer for everyone.
After lunch, I was able to see a polar bear get released from "polar bear jail." About a week before I arrived in Churchill, a polar bear went on a burglary spree, breaking into a local resident's cabin and stealing half of a moose. Wildlife officers tracked the burglar bear down and put him in what’s commonly known as polar bear jail, along with about 10 other problem bears. These bears are isolated in a specially designed holding facility for a few days, sometimes even up to a few weeks. The idea is to give the problematic bears an unpleasant but harmless experience that will make them want to stay away from people. On this day, an inmate bear was going to be released back into the wild. It was a quick and exciting operation.
Here is a short homemade video of the relocation taken with Google Glass
Inside the facility, the bear was given a drug to immobilize it. Outside, the bear was then placed into a heavy duty net spread on the ground. As a helicopter hovered above the bear, wildlife officers hooked the net to a tether from the helicopter. The helicopter lifted the bear, but officers quickly realized the bear’s head was dangling out of the net. So the helicopter set the bear back down for an immediate adjustment and then off they went again. The bear would be flown 30-40 miles out of town and released, hopefully convinced that Churchill was not a place to visit again.
Jailing and releasing bears in this way is serious and expensive business. Each release can cost about $2000 for the helicopter, pilots, etc. But it's proving to be a valuable way for the people of Churchill to live with the bears that so many tourists are eager to see. In fact, the release I witnessed was paid for by Natural Habitat Adventures, the company with which I had traveled to Churchill.
As arctic sea ice diminishes in the face of climate change, bears will have to spend more time on land. That will increase the likelihood that bears and people encounter each other. And that will make effective strategies for managing human-bear interactions an essential part of polar bear conservation.
- Date: 19 November 2013
- Author: Jon Hoekstra
I recently traveled to Churchill, Manitoba—known as the polar bear capital of the world. It's a great place to observe polar bears in late autumn because the normally solitary predators gather along the shore, waiting for Hudson Bay to freeze over so that they can head out on the ice to hunt seals.
Much of the conversation with fellow travelers was about climate change, and how it is threatening many polar bear populations, including the one around Churchill. Arctic sea ice is diminishing as temperatures rise and polar bears are spending more and more time on land.
On our last morning in town, we got a first-hand lesson in another threat facing polar bears—increasing contact with people.
Around 5am, a young woman was attacked by a polar bear while walking to work. A local resident heard the woman’s screams and ran outside to help. Consequently, the bear turned on him. In response to the attacks, two bears were killed—the male responsible for the attacks and a female who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, the female also had a cub that was not visible when she was shot. The cub was taken into captivity and is being placed into the International Polar Bear Conservation Center facility, in Winnipeg.
This was a tragic and dangerous incident. Thankfully, the two people are recovering well from the injuries, and local residents along with the Polar Bear Alert Program (run for many years now by the Govt. of Manitoba) were able to respond quickly.
Even though polar bears regularly wander through town during this time of year, this was not a normal incident in Churchill, One other attack occurred a month prior but that was the first since 2008. Residents and tourists alike were shaken up. They were concerned about the two people who were injured, upset about the bears that were killed, and questioning what could have been done to prevent it.
I found some optimism after breakfast when I had a chance to meet a dogsledder from a nearby community. With the bear attack fresh in mind, I wondered if bears were a threat to his dogs. He hadn't personally lost any dogs to polar bears, but he described several times when bears knocked down his dog yard fence. A polar bear even slept next to one of the doghouses.
The dogsledder then remarked on how much he and other dog mushers appreciated WWF's assistance to acquire buffalo fencing that bears couldn't knock down and food storage containers that bears couldn't break into. I hadn't yet told him that I worked for WWF, so it felt like a genuine endorsement for WWF's conservation work in the region.
Fencing, bear-proof containers, local polar bear patrols and warning plans for when bears enter town are all part of efforts, from WWF and local governments and residents, to reduce conflict between polar bears and people. As the bears come in contact with communities more frequently, these efforts will have to increase and more solutions found.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about a moment from my trip that gave me great hope for the future of polar bears in the region and an innovative solution to the problem of human-polar bear conflict.