Conservation News spoke with Conservation International’s Colleen Sorto about how when it comes to water and human health, where your water comes from can be just as important as how you use it.
We can’t conserve the nature we rely on unless we can accurately value and monitor our “natural capital” — the species and ecosystems that provide the things we most need for our lives and livelihoods.
Conservation International is a leader in developing cutting-edge research and tools that enable us to identify, value and protect this natural capital, from the forests that regulate our climate, the rivers that provide fresh water, or the soil that enables us to grow our food.
How can people thrive without undermining earth’s life support systems? Science is fundamental to finding solutions to that question. At Conservation International, our work is rooted strongly in science that supports the development of more sustainable societies. We use research as part of a cohesive strategy with nature at its core, constantly observing, monitoring and analyzing data to inform the conservation decisions that offer the greatest social, economic and environmental benefits.
Science is stronger when you collaborate. Conservation International is teaming with Arizona State University (ASU) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — two of the world’s top innovation and research universities — to make agriculture sustainable and to fight climate change.
We identify and map the places that are essential to protecting the nature that we rely on. Ultimately, the data our scientists are collecting and analyzing helps us answer the important question: Where is the nature that people need for food, water, livelihoods and climate resilience?
Conservation International is mapping the most important natural capital in select places around the world so that governments, development banks, conservation organizations and other actors can meet conservation targets and ensure sustainable development for their people. Teams from Conservation International work with existing data on sources and amounts of fresh water, plant and animal biodiversity, non-timber forest products, and carbon storage to map their location, characteristics and their relationship to one another.
Climate change threatens to upend Africa’s food security and livelihoods. With the Resilience Atlas, policy makers in East Africa and the Sahel have a powerful new online tool for understanding the extent and severity of climate-related stressors on economies and ecosystems, and how countries can build resilience to these impacts.
Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) sends teams of experts on short expeditions into critically important field sites around the world to evaluate the state of a region’s biodiversity, the health of its ecosystems and the multiple benefits that nature provides to people. Knowledge about these key ecosystems is our strongest tool to ensure a sustainable future for the planet and for humanity, and data gleaned from each RAP visit helps CI assess ecosystem vulnerability to climate change; monitor the environmental health of threatened and endangered species; and create effective protected areas.
READ MORE: Cataloging the biological treasures of the "Lost City of the Monkey God" in Honduras
The Freshwater Health Index assesses the specific benefits people receive from freshwater ecosystems, using a large and
diverse set of information on ecological, biophysical and socio‐economic characteristics, such as the water quality or the species present in an ecosystem. The data is delivered to the managers, planners, businesses and policymakers who can identify
where and how we might be failing in maintaining our freshwater ecosystems in order to reverse degradation and service loss.
READ MORE: Threats to protected areas jeopardize global freshwater supplies
READ MORE: 3 steps to save the world’s water supply
We come up with innovative ways to document and quantify the benefits we derive from a from a healthy planet — then use that data to make the case to governments, businesses and others that it’s in their own best interest to protect the planet that provides for us.
Natural capital is the stock of renewable and non-renewable natural resources — the planet’s plants, animals, air, water, soils and minerals — that combine to provide the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the wildlife
that maintain healthy ecosystems, and the forests that absorb carbon from the atmosphere and regulate climate. Conservation International is helping governments and businesses quantify humanity’s reliance and impact on natural capital. By establishing nature’s value, we can make nature’s contribution to livelihoods and economies visible, inform more sustainable choices and ensure nature is managed well
for future generations.
READ MORE: Measuring what matters: Acknowledging nature’s role in the global economy
READ MORE: Natural Capital Coalition
We are actively engaged in every aspect of protecting our critical natural resources. Conservation International scientists use the latest research techniques to ensure the protected and managed areas that safeguard our fish stocks, fresh water, forests and more are effectively designed, implemented, funded and managed.
New research proves that protected areas — whether terrestrial or marine protected areas — are successful in safeguarding ecosystems and wildlife. CI researchers use the latest tools to observe and analyze the benefits that protected areas
provide, such as fresh water for nearly two out of three people on Earth. Using these tools, economically valuable and ecologically significant
places — such as Brazil’s Amapá Biodiversity Corridor, the largest continuous area of protected tropical forest in the world — are now under protection.
READ MORE: Protected areas DO save wildlife: Just ask these 5 species
READ MORE: Across the world’s seas, more refuges for predators
Since 2005, Conservation International’s Conservation Stewards Program (CSP) and partners have worked with communities and individuals around the world who agree to protect their natural resources, as well as the benefits they provide, in exchange for a tangible stream of incentives from investors. This approach helps to conserve natural resources while improving the quality of life for local communities. To date, 2,200 agreements have been signed with individuals and communities, benefiting 78,000 people and leading to the protection of 2.7 million hectares (6.7 million acres) of forests, mangroves and grasslands.
By absorbing carbon, forests play a critical role in regulating climate change. In an initiative called REDD+ — “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation” — countries and landholders that protect and restore their tropical forests are rewarded financially by developed countries, which benefit from the services those
forests supply. Conservation International’s REDD+ projects have protected more than 3,700 square kilometers (1,400 square miles) of tropical forests.
READ MORE: Illegal logger turned forest champion — with help from hummingbirds
READ MORE: A big winner in the Paris Agreement: Forests
Aimed at curbing deforestation while promoting economic growth, the Sustainable Landscapes Partnership (SLP) averts the need for farmers to cut down trees by determining and then providing training on the best way to sustainably improve agricultural yields. Piloted in Indonesia and expanded to Peru, SLP offers communities more sustainable job opportunities,
as well as benefits such as energy-efficient cookstoves.
READ MORE: Q&A on the business of conservation: Coffee, greenwashing, storytelling
Conservation International uses science to address the pressures on the ocean and their negative impacts on species, ecosystems and people. Through a “whole ocean” approach, we address issues in the context of the entire system through the establishment of marine protected areas, Seascapes and the Pacific Oceanscape — an innovative framework for conserving an area of ocean the size of the moon.
We monitor everything from land use in tropical places to the health of coral reefs to better understand our planet and the ways we are changing it. Conservation International’s monitoring efforts collect vital information on our projects around the world, ultimately serving as an early-warning system for our conservation work.
Wildlife Insights is the first tool of its kind, using artificial intelligence and the power of big data to provide scientists an unequaled view into the habits and habitats of wildlife, data that is critical for crafting smart conservation policies. Used by researchers in forests and natural areas around the world, motion-detector cameras — known as camera traps — snap thousands of photos a day of animals rarely seen by human eyes.
Firecast — a pioneering long-term forest and fire monitoring system in Amazonia — uses satellite observations to track ecosystem disturbances such as fires, fire risk conditions
and deforestation, and delivers this time-sensitive information through email alerts, maps and reports. Near real-time monitoring from Firecast provides scientists and conservationists with valuable information about the status of ecosystems, which
informs conservation efforts and helps measure the success of these projects.
READ MORE: As Indonesia’s dry season looms, a new tool can predict daily forest fire risk
Conservation International assisted in the development of a web-based, open-sourced monitoring system called Vital Signs that helps farmers in Africa be productive without depleting the natural world they depend on. Vital Signs provides diagnostic tools and near real-time data on factors such as precipitation and soil health to help farmers and governments adapt their practices to the changing climate.
In 2012, Conservation International and our partners launched the Ocean Health Index, the world’s first comprehensive, global assessment of the ocean and the benefits it provides to people. With information from more than 100 scientific databases, the Index is a treasure trove of information on marine health. And it’s not just data for data’s sake. Governments, communities and anyone else can use the Index to inform policy decisions and protect one of our most valuable resources — the sea.
News from our blog
The COVID-19 pandemic is jeopardizing areas set aside to conserve nature, according to a study published yesterday.
Conservation International's CEO explains the link between infectious diseases and the destruction of nature.
Here’s a roundup of recent science published by Conservation International experts.