Camera Traps, Reef Restoration & Satellite Imagery: Meet the 2015 Science Impact Project Class

Valdivia Coastal Reserve, Valdivia, Chile: Portrait of TNC’s Layla Osman Photo © Ian Shive

Conservation needs innovative science, but it also needs articulate scientists who can convey the full impact of their work to a wide variety of audiences.

The Nature Conservancy’s Science Impact Project is answering that demand, drawing together Conservancy scientists from around the world to develop and implement a “big idea” for conservation, simultaneously cultivating superior leadership and communications skills through a series of targeted trainings and mentoring.

The 2015 class of SIP participants includes scientists from Africa, Oceania, and North and South America tackling conservation problems as diverse as artisanal fisheries management, sustainable agriculture, and tropical deforestation. Read previews of their projects below, and stay tuned for in-depth coverage on Cool Green Science in the coming months.

  • Elizabeth Kalies (Director of Science, North Carolina)

    Measuring success in wildlife biodiversity conservation.

    Conservationists often measure their success in terms of acres protected, but recent science suggests that protected lands are not adequately conserving biodiversity. So how can we determine if protected areas are helping wildlife?

    Camera traps are a quick and cost-effective way to gather large amount wildlife monitoring data. The Conservancy’s North Carolina chapter is already using them to detect feral pigs, identify Venus flytrap poachers, and evaluate the effects of prescribed burning.

    But current camera trap methods often fail to capture important information for many species, like population size or reproductive output. Kalies will establish a Conservancy-wide camera-trapping program, using this technology to assess if our land conservation efforts are having beneficial effects on local species.

  • Robyn James (Conservation Program Manager, Melanesia)

    A gender inclusive approach to conservation: Using lessons learned from Melanesia to inform gender inclusive project, program and policy development.

    We know that integrating women into conservation programs increases the benefits of conservation to local people and increases the likelihood of their success. But what is the current role of women in conservation, and how inclusive are the Conservancy’s conservation programs?

    James will examine the current role of women in the Conservancy’s Melanesia programs — specifically Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands — and the perceived impacts of their involvement. She will then identify ways to improve gender inclusivity and use those lessons to guide gender-inclusive projects throughout the entire organization.

    Kia village children in Isabel Province, Solomon Islands. Photo © Bridget Besaw
    Kia village children in Isabel Province, Solomon Islands. Photo © Bridget Besaw
  • Anne Trainor (Spatial Scientist, Africa)

    Best case scenario: Customizing strategic planning and visualization.

    Scenario planning allows conservationists to make better-informed decisions by portraying possible future states of the world, narrowing the gap between scientific knowledge and on-the-ground action. Often, conservation organizations spend millions creating complex and expensive geospatial planning models, even though remote communities are more likely to use traditional methods, like maps.

    Do the benefits of complex visualization tools outweigh the time and expense needed to produce them? And do they effectively facilitate conservation decision making? To help answer that question, Trainor will work with the Conservancy’s Development by Design team, which is collaborating with the Zambian government to create a land-use plan to safeguard biodiversity and pursue development. She will explore exactly which scenario presentation best fits varying stakeholder audiences and offers the best return-on-investment for conservation planning.

  • Chris Gillies (Marine Manager, Australia)

    From degradation to restoration: How to build a marine revolution in five easy steps.

    After 150 years of urban development, agriculture, and intensive fishing, many of Australia’s southern bays and estuaries are massively degraded. Their waters are polluted, and they no longer support productive fisheries or sustain high levels of biodiversity. The Conservancy’s Great Southern Seascapes program aims to scale-up the quantity and size of marine habitat restoration across southern Australia with a focus on shellfish reefs, saltmarshes and mangroves.

    Gillies will synthesize the Conservancy’s 20 years of marine conservation experience over 200 restoration projects to develop a set of guiding principles / key activities for scale-up of marine restoration work into new countries where restoration is undervalued or underdeveloped. He will then apply those lessons to the Great Southern Seascapes program and other marine restoration projects in the Asia Pacific region.

  • David Albert (Director of Conservation Science, Alaska)

    Mitigation in linked social-ecological systems: A case study of regional planning to mitigate impacts of oil and gas development on Inupiat subsistence activities in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

    Spanning 23-million acres of rugged terrain, Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A) contains critical habitat for a wide range of rare Arctic and migratory species, including caribou. It’s also home to Inupiat communities who have maintained a rich subsistence culture in the area for millennia. But beneath the NPR-A are vast petroleum reserves that the U.S. government is seeking to develop.

    Indigenous communities like the Inupiat often lack the institutional capacity and adequate information about development scenarios and potential impacts to support informed decisions about their land. Albert will build relationships with Inupiat leaders and support their ability to understand and influence resource-planning processes for the NPR-A. He will also develop a case study to evaluate the application of landscape-scale mitigation planning to offset impacts to subsistence activities and associated cultural and community values.

    Photo credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC
    Photo credit: © Erika Nortemann/TNC
  • Jon Fisher (Conservation Scientist, Center for Sustainability Science)

    Using remote sensing to measure and improve sustainable agriculture.

    Sustainable agriculture is falling short of achieving environmental outcomes, including improved water quality, resilience, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity. A key problem is lack of data, which prevents scientists from assessing the impact of sustainable agriculture on the environment.

    New satellite and UAV (drone) technology could help scientists obtain and analyze imagery that can help to fill this data gap. Fisher will explore new uses for satellite and UAV technology, including using UAVs to measure turbidity in streams or using satellite imagery to detect specific types of crops. His research will help conservationists figure out which methods and analyses provide the best data with limited time and monetary investment.

  • Carlos Pedraza (GIS/Data Specialist Northern Andes & South Central America)

    Developing robust and replicable methods for wetland, forest and carbon monitoring systems in Colombia based on the Advanced Land Observing Satellites.

    Colombia’s Magdalena River Basin originates in the Andes Mountains and flows through almost every Andean ecosystem — from cloud forests to coastal lagoons — making it highly biodiverse. It’s also the main source of food and drinking water for the region and provides 86 percent of the Colombian GDP, 70 percent of the country’s hydropower, 95 percent of its thermoelectric energy, and 75 percent of its agriculture production.

    The Conservancy’s Great Rivers partnership is investigating how Colombia could develop the basin to meet hydropower and environmental goals at the same time. Pedraza will use remote sensing techniques and ground-truthing to figure out how conservationists can better monitor conservation projects at both local and regional scales, including deforestation, forest carbon storage, and floodplain dynamics.

  • Musnanda Satar (Natural Resources Planning Manager, Indonesia)

    Developing a web-based knowledge sharing platform for spatial data in East Kalimantan Province and Berau District, Indonesia.

    Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province contains some of the last remaining large, untouched orangutans habitat in the country.But these forests are experiencing rapid deforestation, fueled by industrial timber, mining, and oil palm plantations. Much of the Conservancy’s land-use planning work relies on detailed spatial data about the quality and extent of the region’s rainforest, but vast amounts of data are increasingly difficult to manage.

    Satar will develop a web-based knowledge sharing platform for spatial data in East Kalimantan, which will support better-decision making in pursuit of sustainable development goals, forest management, orangutan conservation planning, and collaborations with local communities.

    Tropical forest in the Kalimantan region of Borneo, Indonesia. Photo © Bridget Besaw
    Tropical forest in the Kalimantan region of Borneo, Indonesia. Photo © Bridget Besaw
  • Layla Osman (Humbolt Marine Specialist, Southern Andes)

    Using science and market access to foster reforms in Chile’s artisanal fishing sector.

    Artisanal fisheries contribute about half of global fish catches and about two-thirds of the fish directly consumed by humans while providing critical economic support to coastal communities. Following the collapse of the loco (Concholepas concholepas) fishery in 1995, Chile introduced Territorial User Rights Fisheries (TURFs), which are an area-based form of fisheries management that grants groups of fishers secure, exclusive access to fish in specified areas.

    Chile’s use of TURFs is the largest most complex experiment in fisheries management in the world, and the method is gaining attention as a way of sustaining artisanal fisheries around the world. Osman will incorporate the latest conservation science into the TURF fisheries model, allowing the Conservancy to evaluate how to best use TURFs to support sustainable artisanal fisheries in Chile.

  • Mary Fales (Saginaw Bay Watershed Project Director, Michigan)

    Creating a comprehensive social evaluation of innovative methods to engage and influence agricultural landowners in the Saginaw Bay Watershed.

    Michigan’s Saginaw Bay Watershed is the largest watershed in the state and a critical component of the Great Lakes ecosystem and local agricultural production. But excess nutrients and sediments, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, and nuisance algal blooms are harming water quality health.

    Saginaw Bay RCPP project aims to improve the health of the bay by providing direct financial and technical assistance to landowners for the purpose of targeting conservation practices to the areas that need them most.

    The success of this project will depend collaboration and buy-in from audiences as diverse as the agricultural industry, other conservation groups, and private landowners. To effectively communicate to these audiences, Fales will use a combination of surveys, focus groups, and analysis to make recommendations on how complex conservation projects can best communicate to different stakeholders.

Justine E. Hausheer

Justine E. Hausheer is an award-winning science writer for The Nature Conservancy, covering the innovative research conducted by the Conservancy’s scientists in the Asia Pacific region. She has a degree from Princeton University and a master's in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting from New York University. Justine's favorite stories take her into pristine forests, desolate deserts, or far-flung islands to report on field research as it's happening. When not writing, you can find her traipsing after birds, attempting to fish, and exploring the wild places around her home in Brisbane, Australia. More from Justine

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  1. Hi, I am a biology graduate from East Carolina University. I am returning to pursue a masters this fall and would like to be as informed about my field as I can be. Thanks for all you do!