Gema Rodriguez, Climate Change Adaptation & Biodiversity Program Officer, WWF Spain
© Juan Carlos DEL OLMO / WWF-Spain
I have worked for WWF Spain for over 3 years. In that time I have seen the organization achieve numerous successes despite great challenges. However, we have quickly come to realize that our work is facing a new threat, one that requires us to rethink the way we approach conservation. We work mainly in the Mediterranean Region, an area greatly affected by climate change. While some of the impacts can already be seen in the places we work and on the programs we run,(especially those related with water scarcity) we know there is more coming.
In this context, we started working on climate change adaptation with the ultimate goal of mainstreaming it not only into our field projects, but also into our lobbying and advocacy activities. Starting to think in terms of climate change prompted a few questions: How must we strengthen or conservation and ecosystem management approaches to ensure we are successful in achieving our goals today and into a rapidly changing future? How can we prepare for increasing conflicts related to water scarcity? How can we know to what extent the species we protect will be affected by climate change?
Bruce Byers, Bruce Byers Consulting
Cruising through mangrove-lined channel opposite Angoche © Bruce Byers
After wading across the low tide mudflats at the Port of Angoche, and into knee-deep water to climb into the fiberglass boat, the big Yamaha outboard wouldn’t start. While we bobbed lazily in the hot sun and I fretted about how nothing in Africa ever goes as planned, the boat skipper removed the rusty sparkplugs and cleaned them in the bailing bucket with a little boat gas and an old toothbrush. Ten minutes later we were bouncing through the swell, heading seaward toward the mouth of the Angoche estuary, flying past the flocks of canoes and dhows sailing these waters. Nothing ever goes as planned, but everything works out in the end.
Cremildo Armando, the marine coordinator of the CARE-WWF Primeiras and Segundas Program, was our guide this afternoon, and we were going to Ilha dos Búzios, an island where Cyclone Jokwe, in March 2008, had destroyed a hundred houses in a small coastal village. We didn’t go ashore, but passed slowly up and down the mangroveless beach in front of the former village. This was Lesson #1 of the importance of maintaining the fringe of mangroves that surround and protect all of the shoreline here around Angoche, and the whole coast of Mozambique: “Ten-Thousand Mangroves Could Save A Village!”
Rhys Gerholdt, WWF-US
WWF marine biologist Marianne Fish attaches coral fragments at a nursery site. © Rhys Gerholdt
Coral reefs are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth, providing a home and nursery for 25% of the world’s marine life. For many coastal areas, healthy coral reefs provide an important barrier against destructive storms. In Belize, they are essential to the local economy, which depends on fishing and tourism.
However, roughly one-quarter of coral reefs worldwide are already considered damaged beyond repair, with another two-thirds facing serious threats from overfishing, careless tourism, agricultural runoff, sewage pollution and rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change.
The warmer waters can force algae that lives in coral to abandon their host, depriving coral of its food and its vibrant colors. The coral turns ghostly pale—what we call “coral bleaching”—and is left vulnerable to starvation.
If the current rate of warming continues, coral reefs may be pushed past their capacity to recover.
But there is hope. About 12 miles off the coast of southern Belize, scientists are experimenting with growing and planting coral that are naturally tolerant of warmer temperatures.
Eugenio Barrios & Sergio Salinas, WWF-Mexico
Bart Wickel, WWF-US
Climatic change and variability are presenting serious challenges to a country that already is experiencing serious strain on its water resources. © Edward Parker / WWF-Canon
Freshwater ecosystems occupy approximately 1% of the earth’s surface yet possess about 12% of all known animal species. By virtue of their position in the landscape they connect terrestrial and coastal marine biomes and provide and sustain ecosystem services vital to the health and persistence of human communities. These services include the supply of clean water for food production (including freshwater fisheries, aquaculture and agriculture), urban and industrial consumption, among others. Over the past century many freshwater ecosystems around the world have been heavily modified or lost due to the alteration of flow regimes (e.g. due to damming, canalization, diversion, over-abstraction). The synergistic impacts of land use change, changes in flows, chemical deterioration, and climate change have left many systems and their species very little room to adjust to change, while future projections indicate a steady increase in water demand for food and energy production and water supply to suit the needs of a growing world population.
Susan Evans, WWF Canada
© Peter Ewins / WWF-Canada
As a Canadian working in the field of climate change adaptation, it should come as no surprise that my first foray into applying my knowledge on the ground was in the Arctic, where change is happening faster than anywhere else on the planet!
In 2009, I found myself in a remote part of Sweden discussing options for arctic conservation with an elite group of researchers from around the world. After a few days, I was soon confronted with the radical new thinking we (conservationists, land-use managers, decisions makers) would need to embrace to be successful in conserving arctic ecosystems under conditions of rapid change.
It was clear that our current approach to conservation was falling short, as evidenced by the continued decline in ecosystem services and the increased number of species on IUCN’s red list. This prompted a group of us working on WWF’s Global Arctic Programme to ask 1) how can we maintain functioning ecosystems that provide for people and nature in the face of climate change, and 2) how must we strengthen our conservation and ecosystem management approaches to ensure we’re successful in achieving our goals today and into a rapidly changing future?
This set in motion the development of an ambitious new project called RACER, Rapid Assessment of Circum-Arctic Ecosystem Resilience. After 3 years of technical analyses and countless expert discussions on how to apply resilience thinking to conservation, a new tool for identifying and mapping places of conservation importance across the Arctic was produced.
Carolina Figueroa, Parques Nacionales de Colombia
Cocuy National Natural is located in the high Andes and conserves a few of the remaining glaciars in Colombia. © Carolina Figueroa
In Colombia, recent extreme weather events have led to damaging floods in the Andean and the Caribbean region. Thousands of people have lost their houses and livelihoods. Roads and bridges have been flooded, impeding transportation of food to the main cities. Both local and national economies are under pressure as food prices have spiked and additional health care provisions have become a necessity to battle the impacts of changing environmental conditions on public health.
Climate change and increasing climate variability are certainly a contributing factor to this destructive trend. However, as in many places around the world, our changing climate is not the sole perpetrator. There is an enormous problem related to the development of vulnerable territory in Colombia. We have built houses and roads where historically there is a high probability of flooding, and wetlands and humid ecosystems have been transformed and inhabited. As a result, these degraded ecosystems cannot absorb the disturbances and buffer our developments from damage caused by extreme weather events. Some local environmentalists say it is the swamps’ “revenge,” as we should respect the flow of water.
By Tom Gardali and Dr. Nathaniel Seavy, PRBO Conservation Science
Elegant Tern, one of five new species to be added California's Bird Species of Special Concern monograph © Regular Daddy (via Wikipedia)
As managers struggle to identify actions they can take to prepare for climate change, one approach that appears promising is to modify existing conservation tools by integrating traditional conservation concerns with concerns associated with climate change. To this end, we have worked with the California Department of Fish and Game to complete a climate vulnerability assessment of bird species of greatest concern.
Traditional conservation planning has relied heavily on lists of at-risk species to guide policy and prioritize conservation actions. In 2008, the California Department of Fish and Game updated its list of at-risk bird species in the California Bird Species of Special Concern monograph. This list identifies 39 species and 24 subspecies or distinct geographic populations for immediate conservation priority. While this list is a valuable tool for many pressing conservation issues, the threat of climate change was not considered when ranking conservation priority. Hence, to support statewide climate change conservation planning, we developed a framework for assessing climate change vulnerability of California’s at-risk birds and integrating it into the existing California Bird Species of Special Concern list.
By: Stacy Vynne, the Resource Innovation Group (TRIG)
United States U.S. © Dept. of Commerce/National Climactic Data Center/NOAA Satellite and Information Service
For the past four years, the organization that I work for, The Resource Innovation Group (TRIG), has been running a series of Climate Futures Forums in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The Forums are essentially based on the principles of Community Based Adaptation (CBA) and we have found them to be an effective means for bridging the gap between climate scientists and local decision-makers. In addition, the Forums demonstrate the value of bringing local experts into the community adaptation planning process: these “experts” are individuals that may not necessarily have academic training on climate change or adaptation, but who have observational and experiential expertise. They live, work and play in these communities and know them well. While the Forums have proven to be extremely instrumental for adaptation planning in the Pacific Northwest, I hope that by sharing the process and lessons learned here, other organizations may be interested in replication.
By Shaun Martin, WWF-US
© Michel Gunther / WWF-Canon
It can be challenging to find climate change adaptation resources that explain complex concepts to lay audiences in easy-to-understand language. Academic journal articles, project case studies, vulnerability assessments, and the like often speak to the experts rather than newcomers. Providing these types of documents to those new to the field is like asking them to watch a mystery movie one hour after it started – they might catch on eventually, but chances are they will leave the cinema confused and frustrated.
Thankfully there are a number of resources out there that are appropriate for those who are relatively new to adaptation. Here are a few that I have found particularly useful and always include in the bundle of pdf’s that I distribute to our workshop participants. All are available free of charge online.
By Dr. Nathaniel Seavy and Tom Gardali, PRBO Conservation Science
© WWF-Canon / Simon Rawles
PRBO Conservation Science is a non-profit organization with a mission to conserve birds, other wildlife, and ecosystems through innovative scientific research and outreach. PRBO’s highest priority is to develop and promote conservation practices that address the challenges of rapid environmental change. Since the early 1980’s, we have focused a large amount of our work on riparian areas of California because relative to other habitats, these areas are disproportionately important for migratory birds, but also disproportionately degraded.
After initially working to describe the bird use of existing riparian areas, we quickly began working with restoration practitioners to document the recolonization of restored riparian areas by migratory birds. Subsequently, we have helped develop and test new restoration strategies that can generate higher quality habitat in the shortest amount of time. As a result, our work has expanded to include collaborations with hydrologists, geomorphologists, landscape ecologists, and vegetation ecologists.
Climate change means that the field of restoration is no longer simply concerned with regenerating what has been lost, but also with preparing for what is to come. We are now frequently asked if restoration can remain relevant in a future with warmer temperatures, more frequent extreme events, and novel species assemblages. As a result, it has become impossible for us not to ask, “What will climate change mean for riparian restoration?” We addressed this question by assembling a team of partners who have been involved with restoration projects from several different perspectives (hydrology, vegetation science, and wildlife management) and organizations (The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, University of California Davis, Bureau of Land Management, River Partners, and Audubon California).