When you watch The Nature Conservancy’s conservation highlights video and read the 2010 Annual Report, you should be very impressed. The imagery is beautiful. The accomplishments are tangible. The statistics are remarkable. All hallmarks of The Nature Conservancy’s work around the world.

But why does it matter? What does it mean? Where does it point to for the future?

As one of the Conservancy’s senior scientists, I’ve had the privilege to see and learn about our global conservation efforts first hand, including making friends with that baby rhino at 0:14 in the video. And as lead author of The Atlas of Global Conservation, I’ve studied the global trends that are changing the planet. Here are my takes on what the Conservancy’s 2010 accomplishments really mean.

The video voice-over and the Annual Report tell you what we did. I was genuinely impressed by the scope and scale of the Conservancy’s accomplishments in 2010. Literally millions of acres protected across North America, South America, East Asia, Australia, the Pacific Islands and Africa.

But watch the video with the sound off and see how you react to what you see.

When I did that, my imagination filled in the sounds of nature—a gibbon calling in the Borneo rainforest, the roar of a waterfall, the stillness of a frozen lake. I was reminded of why I got involved in conservation—to see and experience the spectacle of nature, and to do my part to save it from destruction.

I also saw more than just wildlife and wild places. I saw clean water and healthy food (did you see the size of that lobster!?) that we all depend on. And I saw people like Maasai herders in Kenya and indigenous clans in Australia for whom conservation is something profoundly deeper than just a feel-good activity—it is a celebration and reinforcement of their cultural and spiritual ties to the lands and waters where they have lived for thousands of years.

To me, these connections between people and place are the heart and soul of conservation. They are also how the real importance of the Conservancy’s work starts to show.

Sure, the Conservancy saved many great places by protecting natural habitats. But we also helped safeguard clean water supplies for thirsty people by protecting Independence Lake in California and establishing municipal water funds to protect watersheds in Latin America. We helped to feed a hungry world by protecting vital marine habitats in Peru that produce 15 percent of the world’s fish catch. We helped secure a more sustainable supply of wood and other natural resources by reaching agreements with timber companies, environmental groups and indigenous peoples to better manage Canada’s vast boreal forests.

This is where I see the Conservancy’s biggest accomplishments of 2010, and its most important promise for the future of conservation. The Conservancy is no longer just in the business of spending bucks to conserve acres and calling it good. It is investing in nature for the benefit of people.

Habitat protection remains as a foundation. But we are applying science, forming new partnerships, and developing innovative strategies to help overcome the world’s biggest environmental challenges—like making sure that nature will be able to provide clean water and healthy food for the 9 billion people projected to live in the world’s cities and villages by 2050.

Each of the accomplishments featured in the video and Annual Report demonstrate an innovative and important step forward on this long, uphill climb. And there are more promising projects happening all around the Conservancy. You’ve only been given a teaser. The Atlas of Global Conservation is one place to start learning more.

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.

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