From the Field

The Best of Cool Green Science 2016: From the Field Edition

Richard Hamilton and Nautilus pompilius in Kavieng. Photo © Dave Abbot
Richard Hamilton and Nautilus pompilius in Kavieng. Photo © Dave Abbot

“In the field.” It’s where a lot of science gets done — from remote jungles to windswept deserts to the downtown business district. Even GIS mapping and spatial planning require hours of muddy boots and sweat to ground-truth their data.

The Nature Conservancy’s 600 scientists work across the world to advance conservation and make smarter decisions about where and how we protect nature. And the Cool Green Science staff is right there with them, bringing readers along for the ride as our scientists — and other conservation scientists around the world — map forests with lasers, use facial-recognition technology for sustainable fisheries, and restore sagebrush with a pasta maker.

Read on for the best stories straight from the field in 2016.

  1. Moonrise in the Arnavon Islands. Photo © Bridget Besaw
    Moonrise in the Arnavon Islands. Photo © Bridget Besaw

    When a satellite-tagged turtle goes missing, Conservancy scientists and staff race to find out if poachers have snuck into the Arnavons protected area and killed yet another turtle for the illegal hawksbill shell trade. Meanwhile, the Conservancy is using a combination of policy and science to better understand the extent of the illegal shell trade in the Solomon Islands and get further protection for the Arnavons rookery.

  2. Field biologist Evan Padgett examining one of the sycamores scientists sampled within the Sacramento River restoration. © Greg Golet
    Field biologist Evan Padgett examining one of the sycamores scientists sampled within the Sacramento River restoration. © Greg Golet

    Restoring western sycamores can be tricky, especially when your native sycamore seedlings grow into a decidedly different species. After some sophisticated genetic analysis, a horticultural history lesson, and a couple of slingshots, Conservancy scientists finally get to the root of the problem.

  3. Ngamaru Bidu monitors a fire line set in preparation for hunting parnajarrpa (sand monitor lizard) near Parnngurr Community. Photo © Douglas Bird, 2015.
    Ngamaru Bidu monitors a fire line set in preparation for hunting parnajarrpa (sand monitor lizard) near Parnngurr Community. Photo © Douglas Bird, 2015.

    Australia’s Western desert is some of the most remote country in the world, but for the Martu people it’s home. Hunting and fire — wartilpa and waru — are inextricably linked for the Martu people, who burn the desert spinifex grass as they hunt for sand goanna. Now, anthropological research shows that Martu burning actually increases biodiversity and benefits the desert ecosystem.

  4. The nautilus trap, ready for deployment.  Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Justine E. Hausheer)
    The nautilus trap, ready for deployment. Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Justine E. Hausheer)

    When Conservancy scientist Rick Hamilton spots a rare Allonautilus shell in a Solomon Island’s bar, the search is on to see if this rare species — found alive only off of Papua New Guinea — also swims in the waters off of the Solomon Islands. Follow along as Conservancy scientists fish for the nautilus using a hand-built trap.

  5. The author doing very official reporterly things in Australia’s Western Desert while the scientist does his very best Steve Irwin impression. Photo © Chris O’Bryan
    The author doing very official reporterly things in Australia’s Western Desert while the scientist does his very best Steve Irwin impression. Photo © Chris O’Bryan

    Conservancy science writer Justine E. Hausheer travels the world to bring science-in-action straight to readers like you. Here, she shares her tips and tricks for other reporters venturing deep into the field, who need to bring back great stories while surviving salmonella, broken bones, weird infections, camel bites, and sea-turtle slaps.

  6. Midnight Snappers, Fusiliers, and Triggers school in deep water, photographed in the waters off Kofiau. Photo © Jeff Yonover
    Midnight Snappers, Fusiliers, and Triggers school in deep water, photographed in the waters off Kofiau. Photo © Jeff Yonover

    Facial recognition technology isn’t just for people. The Conservancy is partnering with Refind Technologies to apply facial recognition software and artificial intelligence to learn to recognize fish species in photographs. Under a grant from Google, they’ll trial the new software in Indonesia’s snapper and grouper fisheries to help promote and enforce sustainable fishing.

  7. Pacific giant clam © Nancy Sefton
    Pacific giant clam © Nancy Sefton

    What do giant clams and solar energy have in common? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Giant clams evolved amazing algae farms within their iridescent tissues that convert sunlight into food, and so very efficiently in a small amount of space. Now, NatureNet Science Fellow Sanaz Vahidinia is using those structures to help scale up production of clean biofuels from algae.

  8. A log yard fills a large field near the village of Long Gi, East Kalimantan. Photo credit: © Mark Godfrey / TNC
    A log yard fills a large field near the village of Long Gi, East Kalimantan. Photo credit: © Mark Godfrey / TNC

    What can light beams tell us about the state of tropical forests? New research from Nature Conservancy scientists demonstrates that lidar — a way of remotely mapping forests with lasers — is an effective and accurate tool to measure the effects of reduced-impact logging in Indonesia, but it’s still not as cost effective as traditional ground-based monitoring.

  9. Sagebrush at Beezley Hills Preserve. Photo © Hannah Letinich
    Sagebrush at Beezley Hills Preserve. Photo © Hannah Letinich

    That’s right, soil pasta. When scientists needed to restore threatened sagebrush steppe with new seedlings, they used a pasta maker to coat the tiny seeds seeds with a special, protective soil to help them germinate.

  10. Dixie Dringham holds up cheatgrass on the left and native grass on the right. Photo © Hannah Letinich
    Dixie Dringham holds up cheatgrass on the left and native grass on the right. Photo © Hannah Letinich

    Invasive cheatgrass infests 50 million acres of sagebrush steppe habitat, threatening wildlife and rancher’s livelihoods. Conservancy supported scientists might have an ingenious solution: soil bactera that acts as a biocontrol, stunting cheatgrass growth without having a negative impact on native plants, wildlife, or crops.

Justine E. Hausheer

Justine E. Hausheer is a science writer for The Nature Conservancy, covering the innovative fieldwork and research conducted by Conservancy’s scientists around the world. She has a degree from Princeton University and a master's in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting from New York University. Justine has battled swarms of mosquitos, steep trails, and the wilds of the Papua New Guinea rainforest — all for a good story. When not writing about conservation science, she enjoys having far-flung adventures, long hikes, and waking up at dawn to bird. More from Justine

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