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Notes from the field: Sun-powered water, COVID and fishing, and more

© Conservation International/John Martin

Though news headlines about the state of the planet may seem bleak, they don’t always capture the whole story. Right now, around the world, the work of protecting nature and the climate is happening in the field — and achieving small triumphs that don’t make the news. 

Here are three recent conservation success stories you should know about. 

1. Sun-powered water quenches a parched community 

Five hours from the nearest city, a tiny mountaintop community in the Philippines has long lacked easy access to water. 

With help from Conservation International, they’re now turning to an unlikely solution: the sun.

In partnership with Conservation International, utility company Source Global recently visited the community of Binta’t Karis, on top of Mount Mantalingahan, the highest point in the province of Palawan, to install an array of hydropanels — technology that uses solar energy to absorb water vapor from the air and filter it into drinking water. 

These panels will provide more than 40,000 liters (10,566 gallons) of drinking water annually to the 100 students, teachers and families at the Binta’t Karis Elementary School. It will also preclude demand for 2 million plastic water bottles over the life of the panels. 

“In Palawan's highlands, access to basic water services for the Indigenous communities is poor, and water-borne diseases remain prevalent,” said Enrique Nuñez, who heads Conservation International’s work in the Philippines.  

“Providing clean, healthy fresh water that is easy to access will improve health and will allow those who previously dedicated time to collecting water, predominantly mothers and teenagers, to focus on other activities that benefit themselves and their families.”

2. Battered by the pandemic, small-scale fishers get a lifeline 

Demand for seafood has plummeted since COVID-19 lockdowns went into effect around the world — and small-scale fisheries are struggling to stay afloat, a recent study found. 

Despite lacking proper gear to protect against COVID-19, many small-scale fishers in communities on Santa Cruz island of the Galápagos, have been forced to continue working to feed their families and make up for ongoing financial losses. 

“Small-scale fisheries make up more than 90 percent of the global fishing industry,” explained Marco Quesada, the senior director of Conservation International’s oceans program in the Americas. “Unfortunately, many of these fishing communities are vulnerable to environmental and economic shifts, and often lack the health infrastructure to protect fishers against disease spread and infection.” 

To support them, Conservation International, the Blue Action Fund and the Helmsley Charitable Trust recently teamed up to provide food baskets and equipment kits filled with protective gear such as suits, masks, goggles and gloves to the small-scale fishing communities in Ecuador. These kits will help protect more than 60 fishers and their families, as well as 31 park rangers who work directly on the docks to monitor fishing activities. Similar efforts are being carried out in Costa Rica, Colombia and Panamá. 

“Without small-scale fishers, many people around the world would struggle to get access to their main source of protein,” Quesada said. “It is crucial to support these communities, because they are the backbone of the economies of coastal areas in Latin America.” 

3. An island nation pledges to protect its waters

For the people of Samoa, the cerulean waters that surround their Polynesian island provide nearly everything they need to live — from food to traditional medicine to livelihoods. 

Not only is the ocean crucial to their survival, it is also central to their identity.

To conserve these waters — and preserve their culture — the island nation’s government recently launched the Samoa Ocean Strategy, a plan to protect 30 percent of its 132,306-square-kilometer (51,000-mile) ocean jurisdiction. Developed in collaboration with Conservation International, the strategy also outlines steps underpinned by traditional knowledge and science to improve sustainable fishing practices, conserve coral reefs and support ecotourism. 

“The Samoa Ocean Strategy delivers a comprehensive pathway to sustainable management of Samoa’s ocean and marine resources,” said Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan. “For generations, Samoa has recognized the Pacific Ocean as the source of its social and economic wellbeing, recreation, fishing and as a deep spiritual connection with the rest of the world.”

To ensure that these waters will continue to be protected by future generations, the Samoan government, the Samoa Voyaging Society and Conservation International also developed an environmental educational program using the traditional Polynesian canoe as a floating classroom. By incorporating traditional knowledge into the islands’ national curriculum, this program aims to teach students about the importance of the ocean — and how to protect it. 

“This bold commitment values the role of oceans in the wellbeing of its people now and into the future,” Sanjayan added. “[It] is a beacon of hope for our oceans.”

The Government of Samoa is dedicating the Samoa Ocean Strategy to Sue Miller-Taei, the former executive director of Conservation International’s Pacific Islands program


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Samoa (© Conservation International/John Martin)

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