VOICES Ideas and Insight From Explorers
The islands that make up the Lau Group have largely been unexplored. Local Fijian scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Vatuvara Foundation surveyed 35 sites on outer fringing reefs, reef flats, and lagoonal systems in the course of an 8-day expedition looking at five islands in the Northern Lau Group. While last year’s Category 5 Cyclone Winston left behind damaged areas with large boulders and upturned corals, we documented extensive areas of reef that had very little to no damage, where there was a lot of intact structural complexity to reef systems surrounding the islands.
Vatuvara supports healthy populations of several globally threatened species, including the humphead, or Maori, wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus); giant clams (Tridacna species); and a large, prehistoric-looking land crab that rules this island. Coconut, or “robber,” crabs (Birgus latro) can be found roaming the forest floor searching for dropped coconuts, which they crack open with their powerful pincers to feed upon.
“Underwater Wildlife New York,” an outdoor exhibit at Brooklyn Bridge Park by acclaimed underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen, showcases the region’s most fascinating marine species and highlights efforts by scientists at the WCS’s New York Aquarium to study and raise awareness of the conservation needs of local marine wildlife and their habitats.
For 30 days in April and May, 2017, a team of researchers surveyed the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and its surrounding environs for Central American black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra). The Cockscomb monkeys are descended from animals that were first brought into the sanctuary 25 years ago in an effort to reintroduce howler monkeys to the area.
Periodic disturbances to coral reefs increase coral diversity by creating new space for new species to colonize. Shortly after a disturbance it is usually the “weedy” species like branching Pocillopora and Acropora species that come back first. Weedy species on reefs simply refers to fast growing corals that are quick to colonize a reef after a disturbance.
Lagoons have always fascinated me. The size, shape, and length of a lagoon – and the number of channels that connect inner lagoonal waters with the open ocean – influence the types of coral communities that form within. Because of the amount of sand in the lagoon that sits between the two islands of Kaibu and Yacata in northern Lau Group, I had fairly minimal expectations about what I might see. But nature has a way of surprising us, even the more seasoned coral ecologists!
Colourful corals cover steep and gentle sloping reefs. Vibrant giant clams sit embedded along the reef flats. Curious reef sharks cruise along the edge of the reef while juvenile parrotfish weave through branching coral colonies. Turtles make swift escapes and a school of barracuda hover over the deep. All with a visibility of 40+ metres. This is only a hint of what the science team has experienced in three days of surveying the coral reefs around the two islands of Kaibu and Yacata.
On 8 May, 2017, a team of made up of fish and coral experts set off to the untouched waters and lush limestone islands of the Northern Lau Group. Vatuvara Private Islands, along with Vatuvara Foundation have partnered with WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) to conduct marine baseline surveys to assess the health of diverse coral reefs, 12 months after Category 5 Cyclone Winston passed through Fiji caused widescale damage.
WCS designed its Climate Adaptation Fund to test and verify solutions to protect the ecological integrity of natural systems. After five years of investing in adaptation projects across the country, our new 14 Solutions report categorizes some of the most common climate challenges impacting diverse landscapes and pairs them with the solutions our grant partners have deployed across the United States.
These slideshow images, taken by Paul Hilton for WCS in 2016, illustrate the multitude of challenges faced in conserving the Sumatran elephant. These include the conversion of forest habitat to oil palm plantations, degradation of forest habitat by illegal logging, conflicts with farmers through crop-raiding, and being illegally hunted for their ivory tusks.
As the government rolls out the closing of the market, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) is observing hopeful results as in the Save the Elephants report issued this week. We believe that the ban has played a significant role in de-valuing ivory. We also believe that the ban has increased motivation for enforcement agencies to enhance actions on illegal ivory trade.
In late December of 2016, Paraguay launched an initiative to balance the ecological needs of the jaguar—the world’s third largest big cat species—with those of ranchers who raise cattle in the same landscapes. Paraguay’s Secretary of Environment (SEAM) announced the completion of a 10-year national plan that contains the contributions of a unique mix of NGOs, researchers, and ranchers who seek to maintain jaguars as the symbol of wild across the productive landscapes and protected areas of Paraguay.
Our recent report on global cheetah decline provides alarming reading. Using the best available information, we estimate that there are only about 7,100 wild cheetah left in the world. The species is now restricted to less than 10% of its historical distribution, and survives in just 33 populations, most of which number fewer than 100 individuals
The WCS team in Wakhan decided to undertake an expedition to visit the last known location of snow leopard named ‘Shirin’ that had been fitted with a satellite GPS and radio collar in Tajikistan by our colleagues with Panthera. The search had to be organized in a great hurry as high passes leading to Afghanistan’s Little Pamir can be blocked by snow as early as mid-November, rendering the area inaccessible until spring.
As 196 signatory nations of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) meet this week in Cancun, Mexico, to discuss their progress towards averting the current biodiversity crisis, researchers from a range of universities and NGOs report in the international journal Conservation Letters that habitat destruction still far outstrips habitat protected across many parts of the planet.