Activists make a splash on Capitol Hill advocating for international conservation funding

Activists make a splash on Capitol Hill advocating for international conservation funding

A group of Marylanders wended through a narrow underground passage painted in peach and punctuated by a series of doorways leading to halls and rooms unknown. The path led them to a stone spiral staircase and when they reached the top, a door swung open to a far grander space: The United States Capitol.

Here they would meet with Representative Steny Hoyer—a Maryland Congressman—to share their thoughts on the most pressing environmental threats facing our planet and thank him for his support of international conservation funding.

Activists from around the country assembled on Capitol Hill for WWF’s Lobby Day 2018 to persuade lawmakers to maintain the amount of funding the United States government provides for international conservation programs. Altogether they made their voices heard through more than 100 meetings with representatives, senators, and congressional staff.

“Being in those meetings speaking with staff, speaking with representatives, and understanding how our government works was such an amazing experience,” said Christopher Pham, a WWF Panda Ambassador from Maryland. “It gave me a peek behind the curtain to realize that these are people, too, and whether it’s a representative or the staff or other activists, people care. And knowing that I’m not alone—that we’re not alone—in this fight is something I’ll take away.”

Meeting with representatives in person is one of the best ways to affect change. It lets them know their constituents care and are paying attention, making them more likely vote to continue US supports for these vital efforts.

A history of support
The US government has long been a leader in international conservation and encouraged other countries to cooperate on efforts to conserve wildlife, habitats, and natural resources, particularly in the developing world. The foreign assistance budget is less than 1% of the federal budget, and conservation funding is even smaller—less than 1% of that. The programs funded through the international conservation federal budget help countries manage their natural resources sustainably, crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking, and combat the illegal trade of timber and fish. This assistance overseas helps prevent future conflicts, strengthen our relationships abroad, and create a brighter economic and natural future for both other nations and ourselves.

Activists rising
Throughout the day, activists expressed their passion for conservation through a personal lens. An entomologist tied insect populations to the health of forests; a seventh-grader described a class field trip to the Chesapeake Bay that helped spark his interest in the natural world; a woman from Hawaii explained how what happens in the ocean in one place impacts life thousands of miles away.

Together, their voices made a striking impression in the halls of Congress.

“Yesterday, we opened doors for conservation,” said Sara Thomas, director of activism and outreach for WWF. “As I walked the halls of Congress, participating in several meetings alongside our supporters, I watched as Panda Ambassadors transformed into seasoned activists, telling their story and hosting important conversations with congressional staff across party lines. I witnessed a sea change of hope as relationships between activists and congressional leaders were established and common bonds formed over the need to protect our planet for a better future.”

For the Maryland group making their way to legislators through elegant walkways and hidden shortcuts, the power of Lobby Day 2018 was clear. Both the sheer number of activists who joined them in their cause and the positive response from their representatives proved that using your voice matters.     

“Putting face time in and showing up is a big deal,” said Amanda Jorgensen, a Panda Ambassador from Maryland. “We’re letting our representatives and senators know that we are here. We are going to show up and do our part. We care.”

Want to get more involved in WWF's conservation work? Become a Panda Ambassador.

Published March 15, 2018 at 05:00AM

Climate change could imperil half of plant and animal species in the world’s most naturally rich areas

Climate change could imperil half of plant and animal species in the world’s most naturally rich areas

Up to half of plant and animal species in the world’s most naturally rich areas—including the Amazon and the Galápagos—could face extinction by the turn of the century due to climate change if carbon emissions continue to rise unchecked.

A new study examines various climate change scenarios—from 4.5°C rise in global mean temperatures if we don’t cut emissions to a 2°C rise if we meet the upper limit for temperature set in the Paris Agreement—and their impact on nearly 80,000 plant and animal species in 35 of the world’s most diverse and naturally wildlife-rich areas. Researchers selected each area for its uniqueness and the variety of plants and animals found there.

The findings point to an urgent need for action on climate change:

  • We’ll see almost 50% species loss in areas studied if global temperatures rise by 4.5°C
  • We’ll see less than 25% species loss in areas studied if we limit global temperature rise to 2°C

“Hotter days, longer periods of drought, and more intense storms are becoming the new normal, and species around the world are already feeling the effects,” said Nikhil Advani, lead specialist for climate, communities, and wildlife at WWF. “While we work to ratchet down emissions, it’s critical we also improve our understanding of species response to climate change and develop strategies to help them adapt.”

If wildlife can move freely to new locations, then the risk of extinction in these areas decreases from around 25% to 20%—but only in a scenario in which we keep global mean temperature rise to 2°C. And if species cannot move or evolve, they may not be able to survive.


Impacts of Climate Change on Wildlife

What Can We Do?

The best way to protect against loss of wildlife and plant life is to keep global temperature rise as low as possible. The Paris Agreement pledges to reduce the expected level of global warming from 4.5°C to around 3°C, which reduces the impacts. But we see even greater improvements at 2°C. And if we can limit that even more, to a 1.5°C rise, we could protect even more life.

Although the US government has signaled its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, America’s cities, states, businesses, and others are working with world leaders to turn the promise of that agreement into concrete action through the We Are Still In movement.

In the immediate, WWF is working to better understand how a changing climate impacts wildlife and developing and implementing adaptation solutions. We are assessing various species to determine traits that can make them resilient or vulnerable to changes in climate; crowdsourcing data on climate impacts; and funding projects which have potential to reduce the vulnerability of species to changes in climate through our Wildlife Adaptation Innovation Fund.

WWF hopes to use lessons learned from this research and testing to provide useful guidance that moves conservation beyond business-as-usual approaches and scale up promising efforts to help wildlife endure under conditions of rapid change.

The faster and more effectively we act, the better chance we have of saving invaluable species around the world in the face of climate change.

Read the study, completed by the University of East Anglia, the James Cook University, and WWF.


Published March 13, 2018 at 05:00AM

Across Mozambique and Tanzania, women show us how to improve communities and protect our planet

Across Mozambique and Tanzania, women show us how to improve communities and protect our planet

As WWF works with communities around the world to preserve habitats, wildlife, and natural resources, we know that it is critical to engage both women and men for the best results—environmentally, socially, and economically.

In sub-Saharan Africa, women make up at least half of subsistence, smallholder farmers, yet have far less access to farming inputs, from seeds and fertilizer to finance and markets. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), if men and women in rural areas around the world had equal access to agricultural resources, they could increase yields on their farms by 20%-30% and lift 100 million-150 million people out of hunger.

Working with communities in Mozambique and Tanzania, the CARE-WWF Alliance empowers women to improve their livelihoods and sustainably manage the natural resources on which they depend. In this partnership, we have witnessed firsthand how important women are to organizing communities, conserving natural resources, creating economic opportunities, and setting up the next generation for success. Here are a few who have inspired us over the years:

The Leader

At first blush, Alima Chereira is similar to many Mozambican woman—wife and mother of six who spends her days tending to the family farm, collecting wood for cooking, fetching water and managing a busy household. But Chereira pushes beyond these responsibilities. Besieged by drought brought on by climate change and other pressures on her community’s natural resources, Chereira decided to be the change she wanted to see in the world. With help from a local extension agent, Chereira formed an agricultural association exclusively with other women. Together, they learned conservation agriculture techniques through an Alliance Farmer Field School. The women were so impressed with the techniques that they established more associations to share these climate-resilient farming practices with others. Said one of the women in her community, “Alima has been more than we could have hoped for in a leader. She is patient and encouraging, but also convincing—and she believes in us as we believe in her.”

The Wealth Builder

In a growing number of villages across Mozambique and Tanzania, hundreds of women and men are working with the Alliance and local partners to establish Village Savings and Loan Associations. By harnessing the ancient practice of group savings and pooling their wealth for small loans, poor men and women are ensuring they have savings or can take loans to cover unexpected expenses or invest in their future. But before the Alliance reached her island near the Primeiras e Segundas archipelago, Fatima Apacur had already helped her community form a savings association. When the Alliance arrived to support establishment of savings and loan associations, Apacur and her husband trekked to the session to learn more about finance so they could improve their community’s prospects for the future even further. Today, women and men in the Alliance and other village savings and loan associations in and around the Koti Islands have used their new savings practices and improved access to finance to put their children through school, cover unexpected expenses like health care and disaster recovery, and invest in new businesses that continue to provide income for them and their families.

The Voice

A farmer and mother of six, Angela exemplifies the power of dialogue. In her community of Saua Saua and elsewhere, tradition dictated that men deserved the respect of a full meal, even if it meant that women and children would go hungry. There, the Alliance led a series of workshops to explore with men and women the impact that malnutrition can have on their families’ and communities’ well-being. As Angela told us in 2016, “One of the greatest changes occurred after a dialogue we took part in about food access. It helped us realize that every family member has the right to food and that children, pregnant women and women of childbearing age have special nutritional requirements that should be prioritized.”

The Sustainers

Magreth Chilala, Brighita Kambona, and Zainabu Noel farm sesame seeds in southern Tanzania’s Nachingwea district. Their traditional methods of farming entailed scattering seeds and planting the sesame close together, which yielded skinny plants with fewer seeds. Rather than planting on the same land, they cut down trees and burned them every year to create new farms to keep production going. But after becoming among the first members of the Alliance’s Farmer Field and Business Schools, they learned climate-smart agricultural techniques—such as spacing the plants more deliberately—could dramatically improve their yields. As Kambona told us, “climate-smart agriculture has allowed us to increase our productivity, the plants are healthier, and have many branches.” And they help their local environment, as well, by maintaining forests instead of clearing them for new farms.

The Protector

Like many fisheries around the world, coastal Mozambique’s stocks have been depleted by poor governance, overfishing, as well as climate changes. To help the stocks rebound, the Alliance helped establish three community-managed fish sanctuaries. Since then, in communities with no-fishing zones, fish biodiversity in the sanctuaries tripled, boasting 50% more species compared with unprotected areas. Due to spillover effects, more than 70% of fishing families reported increased catches. This effort has been successful because of people like Piedade Lucas. As one of eight monitors for the no-fishing zone near her community in Angoche, Mozambique, Lucas’ contribution to protecting this small area is critical to the nutrition and income security, as well as long-term sustainability of her subsistence fishing community.

Published March 07, 2018 at 06:00AM

Love lobster tails? Thank The Bahamas’ Mia Isaacs

Love lobster tails? Thank The Bahamas’ Mia Isaacs

We humans aren’t the only animals that think lobster are a tasty treat. Dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles do, too. These spiny crustaceans are a critical link in the food chain that keep our oceans healthy.

And that’s why the work of Mia Isaacs is so important. As president of the Bahamas Marine Exporters Association and managing director of Heritage Seafood, a leading lobster processor, Isaacs is working with her fellow exporters, fishermen, the Bahamian government, and international NGOs like WWF and The Nature Conservancy to ensure lobsters are fished sustainably. The goal is for the fishery to reach the Marine Stewardship Council standard, the world’s most robust and credible certification program for sustainably managed fisheries. Everyone wants to ensure lobster can be enjoyed not just by our children and grandchildren, but by future generations of marine wildlife as well.

Isaacs is also special because she’s showing women that they can be leaders. Many women work on the floors of lobster processing plants, cleaning, sorting, and packaging lobster tails for export to mostly US supermarkets and restaurants. But like business in general, men occupy most executive positions in the lobster industry. As the head of her company, Isaacs hasn’t just created a leadership role for herself, but she’s also put women in every other leadership position within her company. It wasn’t intentional, she says; she just found the best people for the job.

Isaacs is an inspiring force for change, driving social, economic, and environmental sustainability in one of the Caribbean’s crown jewels. She’s demonstrating that not only can we protect the planet and promote gender inclusivity at the same time, but that we must.

Published March 07, 2018 at 06:00AM

One Arctic town's very busy polar bear patrol

One Arctic town's very busy polar bear patrol

Living with polar bears

Dine steps outside the incineration plant early in the morning to smoke a cigarette. Flicking on his lighter, he finds himself looking into the eyes of a polar bear standing by his ATV four meters away. The bear moves straight towards him. Dine races for the corner of the building, and fortunately, the bear chooses to move in another direction.

Mikkel, who works at the weather station, goes to launch a weather balloon at 22:00. As he walks towards the building, he hears the ice crunch behind him. He turns around and sees a polar bear three meters away. He runs inside, and the polar bear takes off down the slope at the dump and swims towards Storesten.

The hard work of the polar bear patrol

Throughout the Arctic, conflicts between polar bears and humans have risen as summer sea ice shrinks due to climate change. In some areas, bears are now forced to stay on land for longer periods than before. In their search for food, they are often attracted to nearby villages.

In Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland, the problem is particularly severe as a deluge of bears created life-threatening situations for both bears and the villagers.

In 2007, nine polar bear conflicts were registered in all of Greenland. By 2017, there were 21 conflicts between August and December in Ittoqqortoormiit alone. In almost all of the 21 cases, the local polar bear patrol was called to ensure that the bears were scared away from the community and kept under observation.

WWF provided support for the community to establish a polar bear patrol in 2015 to protect the town's 450 residents from dangerous encounters on their way to school or work, and to reduce the number of bears killed in self-defense. During peak polar bear season in autumn, the patrol is particularly active just before school opens each morning.

“The community members tell us that the patrol gives them greater peace of mind, and we prevent a lot of polar bears from being shot in self-defense”, says Bo Øksnebjerg, Secretary-General of WWF-Denmark. “So on the one hand, we’re glad that the polar bear patrol is working so well. On the other hand, we regret that the patrol is so busy. Everything indicates that the problem of hungry polar bears in communities will continue to grow as the sea ice shrinks.”

WWF supports similar polar bear patrol projects in Alaska and Russia. These community projects aim to prevent unintended and potentially fatal encounters between polar bears and people, keeping both towns and bears safe. Deterrence tools such as noisemakers as well as better lighting near public places, bear-proof food storage containers, and warning plans for when bears enter communities are further effective means of protection.

The village of Wales, Alaska—the westernmost town in mainland North America— started a polar bear patrol in 2016. Now, they are embarking on an expedition to six other villages in the region to tell their story, listen to the concerns of other villages, and see if a polar bear conflict avoidance/deterrence program might be a good fit for them. WWF has committed to helping two additional Alaskan villages initiate polar bear patrol programs in 2019. 

Published February 26, 2018 at 06:00AM

3 things you should know about January’s record-low Arctic sea ice

3 things you should know about January’s record-low Arctic sea ice

January brought record-low sea ice cover to the Arctic, according to new data released by the US government. That’s bad news for the ocean, wildlife, and local communities that rely on both for survival.

1. The science is solid

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) uses satellites to measure how much ice is covering the planet and found it nearly 10% below average this January in the Arctic, an area larger than the states of California, Oregon and Washington combined.

There is consensus among experts that the Arctic climate is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, which inevitably leads to more weather anomalies. In fact, this winter, parts of the Arctic have experienced temperatures upwards of 45°F above average.

Carbon emissions are driving this change and researchers warn that even if world leaders meet their climate commitments, “warming and substantial ice loss are projected for the next 20 to 30 years, along with other major physical, biological, and societal changes.”

2. Record-low sea ice has real world impacts

There’s a reason nature needs sea ice and record low coverage presents a real problem for wildlife and people. Polar bears, for example, rely on sea ice as a platform to hunt for food, rest, and breed. A warming climate is the biggest threat to their survival.

In the 2017 Arctic Report Card, which tracks the region’s environment relative to historic records, the US government warned that, “The unprecedented rate and global reach of Arctic change disproportionally affect the people of northern communities, further pressing the need to prepare for and adapt to the new Arctic.”

Billions of people around the world could feel the effects of accelerated warming in the Arctic—sea level rise, droughts, severe storms—thanks to what’s called a feedback loop. As the Arctic warms, melting snow, ice, and permafrost release even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which further fuels warming. And less ice means less of the sun’s energy is reflected back into space, which means more of that warmth gets absorbed by Earth. 


3. The March maximum will be crucial

The January record low is an important data point, but the trends worth watching come from gauging the annual minimum and maximum over time. This year’s data on the Arctic sea ice maximum will be reviewed in March. Last year the analysis revealed that Arctic sea ice set its lowest spring extent since satellite record keeping began in 1979. The Arctic’s maximum sea ice cover has been declining at a rate of about 3% every decade.

WWF has been sharing details of retreating sea ice season, after season, after season. It’s a story that needs repeating as pressure grows to rethink oil and gas drilling in areas historically out of reach for industry.

Want to help? Take action to keep oil and gas leasing out of the waters of America’s Arctic.

Published February 22, 2018 at 06:00AM

Remarkable video shows how minke whale feeds

Remarkable video shows how minke whale feeds

For the first time ever, scientists in Antarctica attached a camera to a minke whale and captured incredible evidence of how it feeds. The camera – one of three “whale cams” funded by WWF-Australia – is part of efforts by scientists to better protect whale feeding areas in Antarctica.

The camera was secured to the whale’s body using non-invasive suction cups that are designed to fall off after 24-48 hours. In an incredible stroke of luck, the camera slid down the side of the whale but stayed attached. The resulting footage—which would not have been possible with the original camera placement—shows how the whale’s throat expands as it moves through the water and feeds.

Minke whales grow to about 29 feet and are the second smallest baleen whale. They filter primarily krill or small fish out of the water using specialized feeding plates, known as baleen, in a method known as lunge feeding.

 “What was remarkable was the frequency of the lunges and how quickly they could process water and feed again, repeating the task about every 10 seconds on a feeding dive,” said Dr. Ari Friedlaender, an associate professor from the University of California Santa Cruz and lead scientist on the research. “He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding.”


Sea ice is an important part of a minke’s habitat, a place where they feed and hide from killer whales. The minke’s ability to maneuver through sea ice, due to its relatively small size, and its skill in feeding quickly has helped the whale survive in the Antarctic. But because of climate change, sea ice in the Antarctic Peninsula is shrinking.

There is also concern that critical feeding areas for baleen whales – and other krill predators such as penguins, seals and seabirds – overlap with the krill fishery industry.

“WWF is working with Dr. Friedlaender and his team to put his vital new information about whales before decision makers,” said Chris Johnson, senior manager of WWF’s Antarctic Program, who joined Dr. Friedlaender on the trip as part of the research team.

WWF-Australia has provided funding for three ‘whale cams’ to help scientists better understand critical feeding areas in the Southern Ocean and the impact of shrinking ice caused by warming sea temperatures. WWF is advocating for more marine protected areas in Antarctica to protect its remarkable biodiversity. 

Dr. Ari Friedlaender’s work is supported by OneOcean Expeditions and is in collaboration with scientists from Stanford University and the California Ocean Alliance. It is conducted under permits granted from the National Marine Fisheries Service and Antarctic Conservation Act, including institutional animal care and use protocols.

The research is being conducted in collaboration with scientists at the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart and under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission’s Southern Ocean Research Partnership (IWC-SORP). The aim of the Partnership is to implement and promote non-lethal whale research techniques to maximize conservation outcomes for Southern Ocean whales.

Published February 20, 2018 at 06:00AM


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