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
A history of discovery in the Bird’s Head Seascape
Editor’s note: This article is more than five years old. For more up-to-date conservation news, visit our homepage.
Collaboration between the world’s leading scientists is crucial in order to combine valuable data and convince decision-makers to take action and protect our planet. Last week, a team made up from staff from Conservation International, the New England Aquarium (NEAq), National Geographic, the Waitt Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute set out to discover and explore seamounts — largely-unstudied ecosystems — in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago. Here is the most recent update from the water from Mark Erdmann — Conservation International-Indonesia’s senior marine advisor — brought to you directly from the NEAq blog.
As you’ve now read for the past week on this expedition blog, our team is currently operating in the mega-diverse Raja Ampat Archipelago of West Papua, Indonesia. But where exactly, you might ask, is this fabled land, and why are we here? As the person responsible for Conservation International’s extensive conservation program in Raja Ampat and the broader Bird’s Head Seascape in which it sits, I’ve been asked by Greg Stone and Alan Dynner to write a short entry to put the expedition in its (bio)geographic context.
Raja Ampat means “the four kings” in Indonesian, in reference to the four large islands of Misool, Salawati, Batanta and Waigeo, which are situated just off the northwest tip of the island of New Guinea. Stretching over a 50,000 square kilometer (19,300 square mile) area dotted with an additional 607 smaller satellite islands, the Raja Ampat Archipelago has a rich history of early European natural history exploration. Three major French expedition ships (the L’Uranie, La Coquille, and L’Astrolabe) visited the region between 1818 and 1826; amongst the now well-known and widespread reef fish species they discovered and described are the blacktip reef shark, the bluefin and bigeye trevallies, the semicircular angelfish, and the sergeant major damselfish.
In the mid 1800’s, natural history luminaries including Alfred Russel Wallace and the Dutch ichthyologist Pieter Bleeker focused their attentions on this region, and the early 1900’s saw a third intense phase of research focused on this area when the Dutchmen Weber and de Beaufort published extensively on the coral reef fishes of the region.
And then things went quiet in Raja Ampat. Until the late 1990’s, when renowned Australian ichthyologist Gerry Allen visited the area under the invitation of the indefatigable Max Ammer, another Dutchman who had pioneered diving in the area and set up a small diving eco-resort in Raja Ampat. Gerry actually came to survey freshwater rainbow fishes in the area, but Max relentlessly pestered him to do some diving and give his professional opinion on the coral reefs that had attracted Max to settle in this area.
It only took Gerry five minutes of diving on these reefs and he knew Raja Ampat was globally unique; he immediately convinced his colleagues at Conservation International to fund a formal rapid assessment (RAP) of the coral reef biodiversity of the area (completed in 2001), and the rest, as they say, is history. The RAP team recorded the highest marine biodiversity ever, with single dives revealing up to 274 species of reef fish and over 250 species of reef-building corals — that’s more than 4 times the number of coral species found in the entire Caribbean Sea. Subsequent surveys funded by both Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) only bolstered the numbers: current tallies include 553 species of reef building coral and 1418 species of coral reef fish (we’ve actually picked up 5 new fish records in the last 4 days of diving). Many of the species in these lists are in fact new to science and considered endemic, or unique to the area — in the past 3 weeks we’ve collected 3 definite new coral reef fish species, and one of the fishes (a coral goby) collected on this expedition may well also prove to be new once we get the specimens back to land and are able to investigate them thoroughly.
The spectacular diversity of this area, combined with its low human population density (there are only about 39,000 people living in Raja Ampat) and generally healthy marine ecosystems, led Conservation International, TNC and several local partner organizations including the Papua Sea Turtle Foundation and the State University of Papua to invest in a large scale marine conservation program in the region beginning in 2004. Over the past seven years, this program has expanded to envelope the entire “Bird’s Head Seascape” region of West Papua, bringing in additional partners such as WWF-Indonesia and extending its reach into Cendrawasih Bay in the east and the Kaimana region to the south and now covering 183,000 square kilometers of the most biodiverse seas on Earth.
Today, this program works closely with both the West Papuan provincial government and the Indonesian national government to help manage a network of 10 marine protected areas (MPAs) that in total cover nearly 3.6 million hectares (almost 9 million acres) of the Bird’s Head Seascape. Raja Ampat sits as the “crown jewel” of the seascape, with seven of the MPAs located in Raja Ampat. So far, we’ve visited four of these marine parks during the current expedition.
Over the coming week, the team will continue to focus on the multiple objectives that comprise this trip, ranging from exploring uncharted seamounts to documenting reef health and biodiversity. Given what I know of Raja Ampat, I’m sure there’s still a host of surprises awaiting us!
Read other blogs from the boat on the NEAq Global Explorers blog.
Related peer-reviewed science