By: Nejma Belarbi, based on an article published on Voices for Biodiversity
Wearing the mantra of Standing Rock Sioux, Water is Life, a young woman at the Oceti Sakowin camp looks out over an estimated ten thousand people gathered there. To the Sioux, fighting for water and land is not an intellectual exercise— it is a fight for the health of the people.
My Life for the Land, written by Nanai photographer and writer Kiliii Yuyan, illuminates the importance of viewing conservation through the Indigenous lens. The scientific community has begun to recognize Indigenous knowledge as pivotal to conservation efforts. One commonly overlooked reality is the direct connection between the wellbeing of a ecosystem and the basic human rights of Indigenous people. Cultural survival, food and medicinal needs in Indigenous communities all require the existence of a healthy ecosystem, so Indigenous peoples have a strong vested interest in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. For some of these communities, however, attempts at protecting the environment can be a life-threatening endeavor. Yuyan’s article sheds light on the important correlations between ecosystem health and the health of humanity — now and for future generations.
Kiliii Yuyan’s insights and photographs are truly inspiring. He weaves connections among different Indigenous groups and explains the barriers they face as they strive to both conserve and continue stewardship of ecosystems.
His article depicts the struggles faced by Indigenous people on the front lines of conservation, from the Brazilian rainforest to North Dakota’s Standing Rock to the Alaskan Arctic. He begins with the tragic loss of Indigenous leaders who were involved in — and often spearheaded — conservation efforts to protect their lands and ecosystems from corporate exploitation, a sad reality we are continuously witnessing.
Yuyan connects Indigenous-led conservation with biodiversity by exemplifying ecosystem management and subsistence practices that have often proven to be beneficial to the well-being of many species. He highlights the clear connection between community-led ecosystem management and positive impacts on species such as bowhead whales in the waters of Alaska.
“…under Iñupiaq management, the whale population had risen to almost 17,000 whales, which is believed to be even more than before the arrival of European whalers in the 1800s! Today the Beaufort Sea Bowhead population continues to grow at 3.7 percent annually, and serves as a prime example of how a modern Indigenous people can self-manage sensitive wildlife, even while hunting for subsistence.”
Flora Aiken gives a silent blessing to the first bowhead whale of the spring season. The Iñupiaq have a rich spiritual life which centers around the gift of the whale to the community. Foster Simmonds offers a prayer, saying, “Hide something for me. Look at the food, the whales. Look at the sea, the whalers. A blessing for them. Take that and hide it in your heart.” The whale here is tied up after being towed to the ice’s edge and is awaiting the village to come and help haul it onto the ice.
Yuyan explains that conservation efforts based on colonial concepts have sometimes caused great harm to Indigenous groups, who have had to fight back for their right to manage their homes and ecosystems. One such example is the Alaskan Eskimo Whaling Commission, initiated in response to the 1977 moratorium on whaling. At the time, commercial whaling and Indigenous subsistence whaling were put in the same category, most likely due to the lack of understanding of the role these communities played as ecosystem stewards. Yuyan writes that:
“The Iñupiaq have been hunting whales here for at least 2,000 years. Yet the fact that they have the rights to whale today is remarkable — they nearly lost this way of life when the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on whaling in 1977… The Iñupiaq refused to give up and started their own Alaskan Eskimo Whaling Commission, fighting for the right to hunt whales and to manage their own bowhead whale population.”
The importance of Indigenous peoples’ lifeways in conservation is well illustrated throughout, with many examples of ongoing efforts to preserve ecosystems, which in turn protects countless species. His maps clearly show that Indigenous lands in Brazil, are least deforested regions.
Yuyan breaks down the myth that Indigenous land management and modern tools are mutually exclusive. He explains that:
Indigenous land management practices have evolved over thousands of years — and continue to evolve. Today the Ka’apor use game cameras and GPS to monitor wildlife activity and illegal logging. The Iñupiaq share information about whale observations and ice conditions over an extensive network of VHF radios. These modern additions are a natural adaptation for Indigenous people who live in a changing world with changing demands.
A truly salient point, which leads us to address our own biases regarding technology and subsistence living. Yuyan illustrates the shift in perspective by different cultures dealing with a changing world, with many now standing up to protect land and water. He speaks of his own experience at Standing Rock and witnessing the changing values of non-Indigenous people who gathered to support the interruption of the Dakota Access Pipeline:
“I witnessed thousands of people — from all races and cultures — gathering in support of the Lakota people and their land rights. I saw outsiders running into new values in a camp structured around Indigenous priorities.”
The photographs found throughout the article are rich and rare — true testimony to the power of imagery. With salient writing, a passion for the natural world and a desire to create greater opportunities for Indigenous knowledge to be recognized, Yuyan shows us an alternative vision of humanity’s greatest treasures — community, culture and the earth.
For a fish that evokes comforting simplicity—whether in a classic lunchbox sandwich or on a pristine sashimi platter—tuna exists in a complex and often troubling reality.
It’s one of the species we eat the most: tuna is the third-largest seafood commodity in the world. It’s fished in international waters and most species are migratory, which together make fisheries management a challenge. Several major species are overfished or maxed out (though Skipjack and Albacore stocks are healthy). And the most common fishing methods can create unacceptable by-catch levels. At the same time, tuna is important culturally, nutritionally, and economically to communities around the world—especially small island nations.
Add all this up, and the result is that we have to get to sustainability but there are no easy fixes. That makes the tuna sector ripe for innovation.
Frozen Tuna ready to ship
In search of consensus
Tuna fishing is managed by a tangle of international regulatory bodies, in a process often marked by tilted power dynamics and the jockeying for advantage that comes with a product that fetches $6.2 billion at the dock and $28.5 billion at the cash register.
Five regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) oversee tuna stocks within international legal frameworks. Statutes demand decision-making by consensus among up to 40 parties with divergent interests, so scientifically set limits sometimes can’t survive the highly politicized negotiations. In 2017, an estimated 22 percent of tuna came from unhealthy stocks. And illegal and unregulated fishing may account for more than half the total catch volume, adding to the problem.
Groups of Pacific Island states have been working around this complex management system by banding to together to create sub-management groups that improve sustainability along with the islands’ bargaining power. Still, illegal practices like ship-to-ship transfers that get around dockside compliance measures remain common. Change is happening, but regulatory management fixes are unlikely to work without business and technology innovations alongside them.
The tuna innovation opportunity
Better technology that brings transparency to the oceans may lead to a quicker fix. Monitoring and detection tools that can catch illegal and unregulated fishing; data capture, analysis, and visibility tools that allow boats to provide real traceability information; waste reduction processes; and gear that cuts down on by-catch are all needed.
Don’t be fooled by “dolphin friendly” labels—they don’t mean “zero by-catch.” Unintentional capture of marine life is still a serious byproduct of the two main methods for catching tuna. Long-line fishing has a by-catch rate of 28 percent globally and particularly affects vulnerable seabirds, turtles, and sharks. Purse seining, which nets an entire school of fish at once, uses floating devices (FADs) to attract tuna. But FADs attract other species too, and while many are edible or necessary for balanced ocean ecosystems, they often end up as marine trash.
Even a quick survey brings up a range of ideas for solving these problems. Just a few examples: Researchers propose coordinating data on by-catch species’ locations by using geospatial information from boats’ automatic identification signals, so fishers can place FADs away from hot spots. Open data platforms that allow tracking and visualization of vessel movements, like Global Fishing Watch, can help identify illegal fishing activity. Fishing gear modifications—often developed by fishers themselves—can help select out non-target species, as can changing where and how bait and gear are placed. Improved tuna canning methods, coupled with traceability systems and sustainability criteria, can allow commodity tuna factories to move into higher-end markets, improve profitability, and increase benefits to surrounding communities.
Bringing home the value
Capturing more value for the communities where tuna are caught is a necessary fix. Doing so would strengthen the hand of regional fisheries managers and empower island states to better guard their largest natural resource: 66 percent of tuna is caught in the Pacific, Pacific Island countries get up to 40 percent of their GDP from fishing licenses alone, and tuna is a major food source. But more than 90 percent of the fisheries’ value leaves the region with foreign fleets that take their catch away. Investment in local processing facilities and value-added product creation is key to ending that dynamic, along with giving higher-value, sustainable products access to global markets.
Tuna is an iconic species, and ubiquitous in stores and restaurants, which leads many to imagine it will always be here. That’s true only if we act to make it so. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait to untangle the management knot—there are plenty of investable ideas that could increase the value of tuna fisheries without increasing the catch, and reduce the impact on ocean health. (This Fish 2.0 investor briefing on tuna digests the details.)
I encourage ventures working on these ideas to apply to the Global Tuna track in the Fish 2.0 competition, where they can bring their ideas to the world, refine their business models, and meet investors and partners who can help them give the tuna business new life.
The Chenchu tribe think of the tiger as their brother. They understand their forest and its wildlife better than anybody else and have shaped, nurtured and protected this environment for millennia. Yet their lives are being destroyed by government efforts to conserve this animal. Survival International researcher Fiore Longo spent time with them in Amrabad and Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserves, in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh States, India.
“Our ancestors taught us only one thing: Love and respect the forest and it will take care of you. Here we don’t need money to eat and to live. This forest is our breath and our life.”
The Chenchu can recognize five different types of bees that produce five different types of honey. “We leave the larvae so it will recycle again; by looking at the way a bee flies we can know where the honey is”.
Outsiders think that tigers and humans are a threat to one another, but the Chenchu, who live with the animals day to day, have a different perspective; “We love them as we love our children. If a tiger or a leopard kills our cattle, we don’t feel disappointed or angry, instead we feel as if our brothers have visited our homes and they have eaten what they wanted”.
Evidence proves indigenous peoples manage their environment and its wildlife better than anyone else. Yet like other tribes in India’s tiger reserves, such as the Baiga and Mising, the Chenchu are being threatened with illegal eviction from their ancestral homelands: “We will shed every single drop of our blood to protect our rights and our forest. This forest is our home. The flora and fauna of this forest are part of our family. Without us the forest won’t survive, and without the forest we won’t survive.”
Under Indian law, to conduct a relocation of indigenous peoples from their forests, evidence must be provided to demonstrate that the community is irreversibly harming the flora and fauna, and that coexistence with wild animals is impossible. Then, if the community gives its consent, they should be offered one of the two options of the resettlement package that the authorities are obliged by law to provide: either receive cash (Rs 10 lakh per family, around 14,500 US dollars), or move to a resettlement village. This is not what is happening in reality.
This woman is from Pecheru village, which was evicted in the ’80s. Of the 750 families that used to live in the village, the Chenchu told us that only 160 families survived after the eviction took place. Many starved to death. “The thought of that frightens us – we don’t want to see it. We won’t get the safety we have here anywhere else. Most of us would die of depression, unable to cope with a new life, and the rest of us would die slow, horrible deaths.”
“Among ourselves we have pure love and strong relationships. But outside it is not the same. Everything is related to money. If you don’t have money there is no food and no water. No money means no house and no clothes. It’s a shameless world out there, where nothing is pure. From the air we breathe to the relationships we establish, everything is impure there. We won’t get the safety we have here in the forest anywhere else.”
The Chenchu have released a letter demanding to be allowed to stay in their home: “Since our ancestors’ time, we have been born in this forest and we have died and will die in this very forest. This forest is our breath and our life. This forest is our right and no one can take this right from us and break our bond. If anyone tries to do this, we shall fight against it till our last breath. We will shed every single drop of our blood to protect our rights and our forest.”
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By Grace Klinger, Science Communications Fellow at Shedd Aquarium
Worldwide, the seafood industry represents $362 billion in first sale value for the global economy and accounts for roughly 59.6 million jobs. Given its economic value, it is important to keep a close eye on the way the seafood industry is managed to ensure it is viable long-term. National Seafood Month, celebrated in the month of October, raises awareness about why it’s important to support sustainable and responsible fisheries (fishing industries) and how consumers can help by choosing to eat sustainable seafood.
Sustainable seafood is seafood that is harvested in ways that allow people to enjoy seafood for years to come without leaving the fish populations unrecoverable. It allows the fishing industry to flourish while keeping the aquatic habitats, which support the fishing industry, healthy. Without sustainable fishing practices, we put the delicate balance of the food webs in the world’s oceans and lakes at risk.
Global decreases in marine fish populations have a negative impact on the fishing industry. There is an estimated 31 percent of marine species that are overfished, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, suggesting that more sustainable management of fisheries is needed across the globe.
One example of unsustainable fishing practices that Shedd Aquarium’s marine research team studies involves catching fish during spawning, or mating, and as fish migrate to spawning sites. Harvest during these critical windows removes large numbers of fish before they can reproduce and puts the next generation at risk. The short-term gains of fishing during these times produce massive catches and financial benefits for fishers. However, long term effects include fewer fish and jobs in subsequent years for the fishing industry and – ecologically – an increase in marine animals approaching the Endangered Species List.
For example, Caribbean snapper species are important reef fishes and a valuable seafood source. Five known snapper species have at least 20 spawning aggregation sites surrounding Cuba where many thousands of fish gather to mate. Long migration routes between far-flung spawning sites create challenges to prevent snapper overfishing. One conservation management strategy involves setting up marine protected areas near the aggregation sites and along migration routes, where no fishing is allowed, although illegal fishing and large management areas make this difficult to enforce.
Our Shedd research team partnered with researchers at the Florida Institute of Technology, University of Miami and the Institute of Marine Sciences in Havana, Cuba to try to address snapper conservation. The researchers collected data to help guide management of vulnerable snapper during their migrations and spawning times by tracking spawning events and modeling the dispersal of larvae, or baby fish, after spawning.
Why track snapper larvae too?
To ensure a “stock,” or species, is fished sustainably, it is important to know where the next generation is coming from. Understanding how fish populations are connected lets us pinpoint which areas need protection based on larvae export, or dispersal, which helps replenish populations. We can also learn if the aggregation site is “self-recruited,” meaning that the larvae are not from distant areas, but rather that they come from the local stock.
Tracking spawning events is relatively predictable because they follow the cycles of the moon. Larvae dispersal, however, is much more difficult to monitor or model. This is because of the underwater current, hurricane movements and even underwater terrain that can force larvae to stay in the same area or be transported long distances.
What Shedd’s research team found, published this year inFisheries Oceanography, is that Cuban snapper larvae dispersal can widely vary depending on different sites around the island. While some sites exhibit high self-recruitment, other sites show far dispersal routes to other countries near Cuba, which help replenish those nations’ snapper populations. This means that there can be a high larvae export at many spawning sites, all the while larvae are being “imported” from other aggregation sites.
These high export/import sites suggest the need for aggregation protection. However, current local protection varies. To fulfill the inadequacies of the marine protected areas on the spawning and pre-spawning aggregation sites, the study suggested implementing seasonal no-fishing bans for these spawning marine fishes to ensure this fishery operates sustainably.
The Caribbean snapper is an example of how science can help ensure that seafood is sustainable by identifying problems and proposing solutions before a fish population disappears. Indeed, many fishery stocks have been rebuilt in recent years due, in part, to sustainable management practices and increased awareness of the problem of overfishing. That is why celebrations like National Seafood Month are so important – being part of the solution means being an informed consumer.
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app helps you stay up-to-date on fish stocks and “best choice” seafood options. Additionally, you can support sustainable fisheries by simply choosing seafood off the beaten path. Diversify your diet and try different types of seafood to decrease demand on shrimp, tuna and salmon, which make up more than 50 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S.
For more information about how you can be an educated seafood consumer, visit www.sheddaquarium.org/seafood.
By Jennifer Molnar,Managing Director and Lead Scientist of The Nature Conservancy’s Center for Sustainability Science
Recently, I watched my 5-year-old nephew and 2-year-old twin nieces dig into my mom’s garden in New Jersey—looking for worms and pill bugs and other crawling treasures in the early spring dirt.
It brought back early memories of doing the same with my sister—digging into the dirt, trampling through creeks, climbing trees. Exploring nature, and finding cool things.
My interest in science started in moments like that.
It was fun to find new things. And then I became curious and started asking questions. Why does that animal live there? Why is it that color? What does it eat?
Science is about understanding the world and how it works, and I was beginning by exploring my neighborhood.
The more I’ve explored, the more I’ve learned how integral science is in our lives. By knowing how plants grow, we can raise crops that feed us. Biology and chemistry allow us to learn about diseases and how we can fight them.
Science also shows us how interdependent our world is and how much we depend on nature.
For example, water doesn’t just come into our homes through a pipe. It starts by falling from the sky, then it flows over land before joining with a river or lake and ultimately traveling through that pipe. What that water flows over makes a big difference in how clean it is. Flowing over the pavement of city streets and parking lots, it picks up contaminants like gasoline, motor oil, and trash. Flowing through a forest, the ground can act like a sponge, absorbing and filtering the water.
We can take advantage of nature’s role in protecting our water supply. Companies can not only look for efficiencies within their factories, but invest in conservation upstream to avoid the need to filter water. And cities can bring elements of nature into their urban spaces—using rain gardens and bioswales to allow rain water to flow more slowly and filter through the ground to enter waterways cleaner.
There are many other ways that nature supports our lives and our economy. Trees filter our air. Healthy soils are needed to grow healthy food. Fish from rivers and oceans feed us. And of course there are the intrinsic values of nature and benefits we get from just spending time in it—relieving stress and having fun.
Science allows us to make better decisions—including how we can better support nature so it keeps supporting us.
Science is also critical to addressing one of the biggest challenges we face today—climate change. We have seen evidence of changes that are already happening, with models indicating more will come if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Sea levels are rising. Animals are changing migration patterns and farmers are shifting crop timing due to earlier springs. Weather events are becoming more extreme and less predictable.
Data on these changes allow our communities and companies to better understand the risks and develop solutions to adapt.
Unfortunately, despite the critical role science plays in our lives, its value today often gets questioned. And now in the United States, federal budgets and programs for science and conservation are threatened.
It is more important than ever for us to speak up for science, including the science of nature and its value.
As scientists, this includes communicating the importance of our work not only to peers, but also to broader audiences. To raise awareness of the role science plays in our lives, so it won’t be taken for granted.
All of us can speak up to support science through our votes and calls to government representatives. We can deliver the message that having science data and using it to inform our decisions—in policy, by companies, in our daily lives—is critical.
And I also hope that many more kids will see the wonder and awe of science like I did. Exploring their part of the world and asking questions, and then being inspired to keep asking questions through careers in science. They will be our next generation of explorers and problem solvers—helping us to better understand our world and what we can do so people and nature can thrive together.