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.


The facts

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.




Planetary goals

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

© Conservation International/photo by John Martin
Bird’s Head Seascape

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.

© Cristina Mittermeier
Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape

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.

© Andres Rueda
Bogotá, Colombia

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.

© Trond Larsen
South Africa

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

Coral-saving crabs, biodegradable plastic surge, iceberg collision: 3 stories you may have missed

Dec 18, 2020, 12:58 PM by Adam Sedgley
In case you missed it: A voracious crustacean helps restore seaweed-choked coral, a surge in biodegradable plastic threatens to further pollute oceans and rivers, and a massive ice melt endangers one of the world’s richest ecosystems.

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. More crabs!: Scientists discover a way to help dying coral reefs

A voracious crustacean helps restore seaweed-choked coral, research shows.

The story: A new study in the Florida Keys found that boosting the number of native Caribbean king crabs on coral reefs could save them from being smothered by seaweed. The crabs have an impressive appetite for algae and, over the course of a year, munched more than half the seaweed covering the test reefs, reported Ailsa Chang and Ari Shapiro for NPR. Warmer seas create abundant seaweed that can block sunlight from coral reefs and produce harmful chemicals that shut down their reproduction. The reefs with more crabs saw four times as many juvenile corals and the return of fish populations. Within its native range, the large herbivorous crab could become an important ally in coral reef restoration, scientists say.

The big picture: Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life. Yet around 20 percent of the world’s coral is already gone, and most of the rest is threatened by climate change, overfishing and pollution. While saving coral reefs will require broad efforts, the Caribbean king crab provides a ray of hope. “The results really were transformative,” Mark Butler, one of the study’s authors, told NPR. “I can honestly say in the 40 or so years that I've been working in coastal, tropical marine environments that this is really one of the most astounding results that we have got.”

Read more here.

2. China biodegradable plastics 'failing to solve pollution crisis'

A surge in biodegradable plastic could further pollute oceans and rivers.

The story: A demand for biodegradable plastic in China could outpace the country’s ability to process and degrade it, Joel Gunter wrote for the BBC. Earlier this year, China — the world’s largest producer of plastic — banned some types of non-degradable single-use plastic. In the wake of this legislation, 36 companies have planned or built new biodegradable plastic projects, adding production capacity of more than 4.4 million metric tons, a sevenfold increase since 2019, according to a new report. However, most biodegradable plastic requires high heat in industrial treatment to decompose, and China may not have enough facilities to process it.

The big picture: Nearly 8 million metric tons of plastic and waste are dumped into the ocean every year, along with massive amounts of pollution from other sources such as oil and gas. Based on current trends, plastic is expected to triple within the next 20 years, adding up to 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of plastic waste along every meter of the world’s coastlines. While recycling is crucial, reducing plastic is the most effective way to prevent new plastic from entering the ocean, Edgardo Ochoa, Conservation International’s marine and diving safety officer, wrote earlier this year.

Read more here.

3. Scientists plan mission to biggest iceberg as it drifts towards island

A massive melt could impact species in one of the world’s richest ecosystems.

The story: The world’s largest iceberg — known as A-68A — is drifting perilously close to the island of South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean, where it could wreak havoc on sensitive wildlife and marine species, Ian Sample reported for The Guardian. A team of researchers led by the British Antarctic Survey will embark on an expedition next month to study the impact of the iceberg, which is larger than Luxembourg. If it gets stuck on the continental shelf and releases billions of metric tons of freshwater into the ocean, it could destroy feeding grounds for large colonies of penguins, seals and whales. A-68A could also scrape across the sea floor, harming mollusks, crustaceans, sponges and other marine life in its path.

The big picture: “The iceberg is going to cause devastation to the sea floor by scouring the seabed communities of sponges, brittle stars, worms and sea-urchins, so decreasing biodiversity,” said Geraint Tarling, an ecologist at the British Antarctic Survey. “These communities help store large amounts of carbon in their body tissue and surrounding sediment. Destruction by the iceberg will release this stored carbon back into the water and, potentially, the atmosphere, which would be a further negative impact.”

Read more here.

Vanessa Bauza is Conservation International's Editorial Director. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: An iceberg near Antartica (© Richard Sidey/GALAXIID)

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