For centuries, development has come at the expense of nature.
What if nature and people could thrive in the same place, forever? What if communities could become resilient to climate change and protect their livelihoods and food security without destroying nature’s life-support systems?
Conservation International aims to create self-sustaining, scalable conservation models that can be adapted from one country to another by focusing on large ecological systems that we call landscapes and seascapes. From the Galápagos Islands to the rangelands of South Africa, this integrated “Sustainable Landscapes and Seascapes” approach is offering lessons for how humanity can protect nature while weathering — and even abating — climate breakdown and wildlife extinction.
In 2015, 193 countries signed onto the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to end poverty, fight inequality, prevent environmental degradation, improve public health and tackle climate change by 2030.
One essential element underlies nearly all of these goals: nature. In fact, most of the goals cannot be met if we don’t have healthy, functioning ecosystems. And we are failing in our protection of nature: Businesses, governments and communities are not yet working together in the right ways and in the right places to sufficiently protect nature so that it can help deliver sustainable development for all.
Recognizing that conservation works best when it takes into account the many uses and functions of an area of land or sea — and the people who rely on it — Conservation International has selected 16 places on the planet to deploy our Sustainable Landscapes and Seascapes approach.
Where humanity needs to be by 2030
We must adopt a model of sustainable nature-based and climate-resilient development that supports the Sustainable Development Goals in some of the world’s most ecologically important places by 2030.
Here's what we are doing
Conservation International supports nature-based development approaches in the world’s most important places for nature by:
- Working with partners in a number of landscapes and seascapes to demonstrate that when nature is conserved and restored, human well-being improves.
- Developing innovative ways to combine government, corporate, donor and investor funding to help places transition to nature-based development.
- Creating and demonstrating viable production models for commodities that link public demand, sustainable production, protection of essential resources and local benefits.
By 2025, Conservation International aims to:
Transition at least three large-scale landscapes or seascapes to a nature-based development model that improves human well-being, enhances nature and can sustain long-term progress without depending on external intervention.
Deploy more than US$ 30 million in innovative financing to build nature-based development models across our portfolio of landscapes and seascapes.
Build at least five models that provide blueprints for companies to implement sustainable production; for governments to build financial and regulatory systems that incentivize nature-based development; and that prove to people, companies and governments the essential roles nature plays in helping them meet their goals.
On the ground
Conservation International is hard at work around the world
The Bird’s Head region in West Papua, Indonesia, is the world’s epicenter of marine biodiversity, boasting phenomenally high concentrations of marine species. But a little over a decade ago, this underwater paradise was decimated by unregulated commercial fishing, poaching and damaging practices such as dynamite fishing.
The Bird’s Head Seascape Initiative was launched in 2004 and is among the world’s most ambitious community-based conservation programs. Together with over 30 partners, Conservation International created a network of 12 marine protected areas (MPAs) covering more than 3.6 million hectares (8.89 million acres). These MPAs employ local people to survey and protect coasts, reefs and fish, supporting communities to protect and sustainably manage their resources and their livelihoods. Since the initiative’s inception, fish populations have rebounded; sharks, whales and rays have returned; poaching by outside fishers is down 90 percent; coral is recovering; and ecotourism has flourished.
Spanning nearly 2 million square kilometers (770,000 square miles), the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape (ETPS) covers the waters, coasts and islands off the shores of Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador. Known as the “Serengeti of the seas” because of its large concentration of iconic marine species — including sharks, turtles, whales and seabirds — these coastal and marine ecosystems underpin food, employment and climate security for local communities.
But the area is at risk — threatened by overfishing, illegal fishing methods and poorly planned urban and agricultural expansion. Since 2004, Conservation International has worked with national governments and many partners to restore and protect the ETPS. Today, there are more than 20 MPAs covering 8 million hectares, demonstrating the recovery of mangrove ecosystems and fisheries and showing the powerful impact of regional cooperation to protect nature.
The capital city of Colombia draws its water from the largest intact high Andean grasslands ecosystem in the world. But the area, known as the Páramos Conservation Corridor, is at risk from intensive cattle grazing and cultivation, a rapid increase in urban growth rates and climate change. This threatens the ecosystem’s capacity to deliver fresh water to Bogotá and its surrounding municipalities — including some 8 million people.
In 2006, Conservation International, in partnership with the Colombian government, started the country’s first climate change adaptation project. Currently, we are implementing climate change adaptation projects around Bogotá to protect its residents’ water supply. Over the past decade, much of the sensitive high grasslands have come under protective management. Loss of the critical forests connecting these spongelike areas to urban populations has practically ceased, and local communities have benefited from thriving community agriculture.
Conservation International is working with communal farmers in high-biodiversity rural areas of South Africa to help degraded rangelands recover and become more resilient to climate change, while improving cattle health and providing access to new markets for farmers. The Herding 4 Health program, an ambitious partnership between Conservation International and the Peace Parks Foundation, aims to expand this work to cover more than 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of rangeland under improved management across at least five countries over the next five years.
Herding 4 Health uses a community-driven approach to address challenges faced by farmers living within and next to protected areas. In southern Africa, the integrated program will incorporate lessons learned from the South Africa Rangeland Program, while also focusing on human-wildlife conflict and novel approaches to animal disease control, as well as market access in partnership with the local organization Meat Naturally.
Related conservation news from the field
2020 in review: For world’s oceans, a year of distress, discovery
Nature saw its ups and downs in 2020, and Conservation News was there for it all. This month, we are revisiting some of the most interesting and significant stories and issues we covered in the past year.
To read headlines about the ocean is to be subjected to a litany of bad news, with research showing that large swaths of the ocean are becoming increasingly hot, lifeless and acidic as climate change accelerates. Avoiding the worst climate impacts, scientists say, means protecting the ocean — and the people who depend on it — on a massive scale.
From groundbreaking research into mysterious deep-water coral reefs, to helping fishers to (sustainably) weather a pandemic, Conservation International was at the leading edge of marine science and policy in 2020. Here are some of our most-read stories of the year.
Combing through historical data and more than half a million records of corals worldwide, researchers identified more than 116 coral reefs flourishing throughout the high seas — the waters that lie beyond maritime borders. Conservation News spoke to the study’s lead author about why this discovery offers a ray of hope for the world’s dying reefs.
Read more here.
- FURTHER READING: Newly discovered coral species face uncertainty in Pacific’s depths
A new study found that the pandemic is crippling small-scale fisheries — the coastal and non-industrial fishing enterprises that make up more than 90 percent of the global fishing industry. Conservation International’s Elena Finkbeiner, a co-author on the study, outlined the road to recovery.
Read more here.
Conservation International’s diving safety officer, Edgardo Ochoa, visits some of the planet’s most spectacular reefs. He never knows quite what corals or fish he’ll encounter. But there is one thing he has come to expect on every dive: plastic. To prevent an even more plastic-filled future for our oceans, he offers five tips to help you save our seas.
Read more here.
In January, a group of researchers found that walking sharks are collectively the “youngest” — as in, the most recently evolved — sharks to ever walk (or swim) the planet. We spoke to Mark Erdmann, a Conservation International shark expert and co-author on the study, about how his team uncovered the evolutionary origin of this unique shark species — and why they could help us adapt to climate change.
Read more here.
Grim reports and unsettling headlines paint a bleak future for Earth’s coral reefs, which are projected to be wiped out by the end of the century due to climate change and pollution. But a recent study found that this future can be prevented — and outlined the relatively small steps humanity can take to ensure coral reefs’ long-term protection and productivity.
Read more here.
- FURTHER READING: A ‘first aid kit’ for the world’s coral reefs?
Related peer-reviewed science