Protect Threatened Species in the Tropical Andes

by Rare

President of Palau receives Rare's Inspiring Conservation Award

Healthy Oceans and Seas: by the President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau
September 19, 2014

It is a truly a great honor to be the first recipient of Rare’s Inspiring Conservation Award. I accept this award on behalf of all of those who have worked so hard in Palau and in our Region to preserve our ocean and terrestrial environment. And thank you to the Rare Fellows from the Philippines, their mayors and their communities. You inspire me with the incredible work you are doing to preserve marine resources in the Philippines. I hope you will now bear with me as I bring you my story from our far Pacific corner of the world.

My friends, Palau, I will divulge a little secret to you tonight. One of the primary criteria for a good husband in my country is to be a good fisherman. Obviously, my family will have to buy their own fish tonight while I am here with you in New York.  

But Ladies and Gentlemen, I am here because I am a fisherman. Unlike my father and my grandfather, and generations of fathers before them, in just my one generation on this planet, I have seen first-hand the impacts of pollution, Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, acidification from climate change, coastal runoff and other stressors that have resulted in the dwindling stocks our critical fishery resources. 

And I fear, I truly fear, for the future of our islands, the future of our culture, but most especially the future of our children and the next generation. There was a time, as a fishermen, I saw great stocks of fish, both inside and outside our reefs. On any given day, I could choose which fish to take. Now that is not the case. The fish stocks are smaller, both in terms of schools and number of fish and our current course is definitely not sustainable if we don’t do something about it.

As many of you may be aware, Palau is home to some of the world’s most scenic islands, lakes, and reefs in the world which provide the habitat for some of the world’s greatest biodiversity, including 1,300 species of fish and 700 species of coral.

My friends, my people have long understood that we must be the stewards of this rich endowment, and that Palau’s past, present, and future are tied to the health of our natural environment, ­particularly our oceans.

My forefathers did not know the modern science of their environment, but they knew how to live in harmony with their surroundings. They understood that the people’s health and prosperity rises and falls with the Ocean tides. When resources became scarce, they would declare a “Bul” - what we might today refer to as a moratorium. Reefs would be deemed off limits during spawning and feeding periods so that the ecosystem could replenish itself. Certain areas, like Ngirukuwid, were given permanent protection because of their important biodiversity. The goal was not conservation for its own sake, but to restore the balance between people and nature. The best science now confirms that our ancient approach to managing the oceans was sound.

This traditional ethos of the Bul is now enshrined in Palauan law: Article 6 of Palau’s Constitution requires Palau’s government to “take positive action” to conserve “a beautiful, healthful and resourceful natural environment.”

With this cultural and political mandate, Palau has:

  • Led the Micronesian Challenge to conserve at least 30% of near-shore marine resources and 20% of the terrestrial resources;
  • Implemented some of the world’s most stringent regulations outlawing bottom trawling; and
  • Created the world’s first shark sanctuary.

These initiatives have helped sustain the vitality of Palau’s waters. But I return again and again to a question my forebears never conceived of: how much will Palau’s efforts matter if the world is not on the same page?

The international community has allowed fish stocks to plummet. Once thought to be limitless, more than 80 percent of global fish stocks are now fully or overexploited. Reckless and destructive fishing practices, overfishing, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing have robbed us of our resources. These activities must be stopped.

Given the enormity of these threats, the need for simultaneous international, national, regional and local action is obvious.

My friends, investments in sustainable ecotourism, local fisheries, marine management, data collection, and monitoring, control, and surveillance of our waters can make a generational, transformative impact. We require only the right tools and the right partnerships to protect our environment, grow our economies, and enrich our people’s lives.

And until the international community can agree on a holistic framework and implement programs to reverse the devastation to our oceans and seas, I will work to close Palau’s waters to commercial fishing. That is why, at last year’s UN General Assembly, I declared Palau’s intent to establish our 200-mile exclusive economic zone as a marine sanctuary. And within months, we will work with our legislature to put into place the necessary laws to begin the implementation of this sanctuary.

You might wonder how closing our waters to lucrative commercial fishing will help Palau’s economy grow. The answer is simple: Palau’s economic potential lies in tourism, not tuna. Tourism, in fact, already provides more than half of our GDP, and it depends upon our pristine marine environment.

Make no mistake, this is not an effort to lock up Palau’s waters and throw away the key. Like a Bul, ending commercial fishing will give nature a chance to heal from what the scientists are telling us is the damage caused by the intensive fishing pressures. It will also release the vast potential of our waters to provide more food for our people, more fish for the region, and to grow Palau’s economy.   

These objectives — environmental health, food security, and economic growth — are the very essence of Sustainable Development. And partnerships with organizations like Rare are critical to our achieving these objectives

Ladies and Gentlemen, that is why I am so grateful that Paul Butler came to Palau over 25 years ago and introduced my country to Rare’s Pride campaigns. Today, Rare has run more than two dozen campaigns in Micronesia, five of which were in Palau.

The work Rare and its partners are doing in Palau and throughout the Pacific helps create the community support necessary to make the marine sanctuary declaration truly an ecological and social success. By helping Palauans realize our goal of conserving marine resources, Rare’s unique approach will help Palau become a beacon of hope for other island nations facing similar predicaments.

For it is only by taking control of our territory and our sovereignty that we can ensure that generations more of Palauans can preserve their heritage and enjoy the natural bounty provided to us.

My friends, you are here because you care about this Earth and the plight of others. You understand that we are all connected by the same oceans. What Palau needs now, what the Pacific region needs now, what the world needs now are real partnerships that will help make Palau’s modern Bul an effective and enforceable reality that can serve as a model, as one small step that can stem the tide of marine degradation.

Please, let your interest and our partnerships ensure that my children will grow up to be good fishermen someday. Together we can make it work.

Thank you.

Tommy Remengesau

Reciprocal Water Agreements for Watershed Protection

Visiting the farm of Don Filomon Delgado Toro, the Secretario de Medio Ambiente de la Ronda Central de Nueva Cajamarcas, in the buffer zone surrounding the main protected area of the Alto Mayo. This farm was typical of most in the region, cutting forest to grow mostly corn and coffee. Conservation efforts in the region will focus on helping them convert to more sustainable practices, including reforestation for shade grown coffee. (Photograph by Jason Houston)

Visiting the farm of Don Filomon Delgado Toro, the Secretario de Medio Ambiente de la Ronda Central de Nueva Cajamarcas, in the buffer zone surrounding the main protected area of the Alto Mayo. This farm was typical of most in the region, cutting forest to grow mostly corn and coffee. Conservation efforts in the region will focus on helping them convert to more sustainable practices, including reforestation for shade grown coffee. (Photograph by Jason Houston)

By Keith Alger, Senior Vice President, Latin America, Rare

What starts uphill runs downhill, and in countries with mountainous terrain like the high Andes this can mean pollutants from upstream running into drinking water supplies in the valley.

Take Colombia—one of the most biodiverse countries in the world; number one in orchid species with over 4,000 and almost half its terrain in the Amazon rainforest. It appears to be a natural paradise.

Yet Colombia, like many other species-diverse countries, loses 2,000 square kilometers of natural forests each year. Healthy upland ecosystems—including páramos (spongy grasslands) and cloud forests—help regulate and clean fresh water. When the habitats are stressed or destroyed water quality and quantity is impacted. In some places, farmers and cattle ranchers cut down trees to create grazing pastures and let cattle roam into rivers, creating freshwater shortages or polluting water for downstream consumption.

Without a way to value the preservation of these ecosystem services, individual landowners make decisions based on more immediate, personal benefits that lead to deforestation or overgrazing.

These problems may stem from human activity, but people also wield the solutions.  How then do you bring the interests of upstream and downstream together so that upstream farmers can make a living and downstream communities get the water they need?

At the diversion dam that diverts water from the Rio yuraycayu to Nueva Cajamarca. (Photograph by Jason Houston)

At the diversion dam that diverts water from the Rio yuraycayu to Nueva Cajamarca. (Photograph by Jason Houston)

Enter Rare, an international conservation organization with a penchant for community-led conservation campaigns and an eye toward finding solutions around behavior change to benefit both people and nature. One such solution lies in the idea of reciprocity.

Rare and its partners have taken this idea of reciprocity and created an innovative program promoting reciprocal water agreements through Pride campaigns (Rare’s signature program that uses marketing techniques to generate local pride in natural resources). The agreements involve funding from downstream users that incentivizes farmers to set aside part of their land for conservation. These incentives are rarely monetary. For example, upstream farmers might receive barbed wire and other materials to keep cattle out of rivers and other ecologically-sensitive areas. Or the upstream farmers might receive support to grow sustainable crops and training to improve cattle management in exchange for conserving critical habitat.

In Colombia, Rare is working with a regional water authority to ensure the water supply in the Cauca Valley is clean, steady, and available. With the Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Cauca Valley (CVC), Rare plans to ensure the conservation of water regulating ecosystems in seven sub-water basins using Rare’s strategy of Pride campaigns to promote and accelerate the adoption of reciprocal water agreements.

Offering incentives for conservation is only half the battle. Rare’s Pride campaigns engage community members—from school children to politicians to cattle ranchers—to take pride in their stewardship of natural resources based on values of reciprocity. Rare Fellows (employees of the local organization with which Rare partners who receive Rare’s training) employ Pride campaigns with targeted media such as billboards, radio spots and puppet shows to help reinforce messages that change behaviors. Once the local communities take ownership and responsibility of their resources, they essentially protect their own future interests.

The Rio Yurarcayu runs through this valley and down to the north side of Nueva Cajamarca. The valley is full of agricultural development including cattle ranching and farming of papaya, banana, corn, and coffee.

The Rio Yurarcayu runs through this valley and down to the north side of Nueva Cajamarca. The valley is full of agricultural development including cattle ranching and farming of papaya, banana, corn, and coffee. It is also the main source of water for Nueva Cajamarca. (Photograph by Jason Houston)

These win-win water projects combining Pride campaigns and reciprocal water agreements for watershed protection have worked throughout Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru, and potentially could be applied on a more global scale.

In Peru, the Yuracyacu subwatershed plays a crucial role in supplying fresh water to major cities in northeastern Peru, and for harboring many plant and animal species found nowhere else, such as the yellow-tailed woolly monkey.  To build interest and support for the campaign, the population of Nueva Cajamarca chose the monkey as its Pride campaign mascot, and named it Chorito. There is even a campaign song, about the river Rio Yuracyacu.

Within the next few years, the campaign aims to encourage voluntary contribution to a local fund, which will be managed by the municipality. This fund will help the residents who live in the upper part of the sub-basin to improve agricultural practices and implement other conservation activities, which will help maintain the water source for everyone.

The Giving Library recently interviewed Rare CEO and President Brett Jenks to showcase Rare’s work in an overview and ten additional questions that add context to Rare’s history, successes and challenges. In this interview, Jenks articulates Rare’s mission to inspire change so people and nature thrive through a compelling story from the Philippines.

Some of the most biodiverse and stunning coral reefs are found in the Philippines. Currently, overfishing not only threatens the natural beauty of the sea, but is devastating the primary source of animal protein for Filipinos. An environmental disaster is quickly turning into a humanitarian crisis. Rare identified a simple solution in one community in the Philippines. By protecting reefs while reducing fishing pressure the community of Apo Island actually saw fisheries rebound. Rare now trains dozens of local leaders, Rare Fellows, to repeat that basic solution so that success in one community eventually becomes the new norm nationwide. That’s essentially what Rare does: find a compelling solution to a conservation problem and repeat it.

Rare trains Fellows to run Rare’s signature Pride campaigns and equips them with the ability to inspire communities to adopt sustainable behaviors through marketing techniques. In the Andes, Fellows ensure sustainable supplies of water to remote communities through community support for better land management. In the Philippines and Indonesia, Fellows empower communities to manage sustainable fisheries that feed hundreds of millions of people. In China, Fellows facilitate community agreements with the government that support wetlands conservation that benefits people and nature.

Conservation is critical to human wellbeing. Humans depend on natural resources in ways that most people do not fully understand. Many Rare Fellows are fighting an uphill battle to protect species and habitats in ways that benefit local communities.

Rare's Theory of Change

“Ten years ago, we decided Rare would lead the way in measuring results,” says Brett Jenks, Rare’s CEO. “What we didn’t know is that it takes about that long to get it right.”

Paul Butler’s first Pride campaign with Rare, 25 years ago, included pre and post surveys to assess changes in knowledge and attitude. “When Paul was doing that, that was not the norm,” says Peter Vaughn, a research consultant who helps nonprofits design plans to assess impact. “Rare’s long track record of trying to assess impact is impressive.” Over the years, Rare’s methods have evolved along with the organization’s strategy.

When Rare first ran Pride campaigns, they were individual projects that operated with a common hypothesis — a theory of change — but each reported information differently. That makes it difficult to compare data across sites and roll them up to take a broader look at organizational impact. When Amielle DeWan, Rare’s director for conservation research and monitoring, joined Rare over two years ago, she found an impressive data set and a daunting task. “The data were everywhere and nowhere at the same time,” says DeWan. “The exciting challenge is to change the way we consistently measure information and use it to improve the way we do business.”

Rare Conservation Fellows design and implement surveys in their communities and collect most of the data. However, they are neither trained statisticians nor scientists with doctorates, so there is a certain amount of imperfection expected. DeWan and her team spend an increasing amount of their time training fellows in data collection and analysis best practices. For each building block on the theory of change, fellows set objectives and strategies to measure impact and bring about lasting change. This allows them to both measure results and reflect on the hypothesis to then make iterative changes throughout their project. This is known as adaptive management. “Adaptive management is really hard even for organizations like Rare that are on the cutting edge,” says Nick Salafsky, co-director of Foundations of Success, a nonprofit dedicated to improving conservation impact assessment. “Rare has been a leader in taking existing standards into its work.”

DeWan and her team have developed a template to standardize the information collected within each building block of the theory of change. This will facilitate a more scientific and rigorous analysis. Alan Hesse, program manager for Rare, helped pilot the new template with the Rare Conservation Fellows he mentors. “Formulas were changed, improved or eliminated,” says Hesse. “Things were made simpler. Other regional teams at Rare joined the review process. The resulting tool is a shining example of team work.”

The infrastructure Amielle and her team are building makes it possible to ask and answer some interesting and difficult questions. “Right now we have data to show we are making social change,” says DeWan. “Scientists are envious of the data set we have and the fact that we actually use it. Five years from now, I want to connect changes in behavior to conservation results. That would be truly revolutionary.”


Photo by Jason Houston
Photo by Jason Houston

Finding the Right Blend: Coffee farmer looks to make his coffee more sustainable

Written by Jason Houston, photojournalist

On the last day of my visit to Nueva Cajamarca, Peru, I hiked for three and a half hours, uphill, in the mud and humidity, carrying all my camera gear, into the Alto Mayo forests to visit the small farming community of Escondida. There are no roads to get there, only the well-worn but narrow foot trail studded with horse and donkey prints.

I met with Don Filomon Delgado, a coffee farmer and local environmental secretary for the region. Don Filomon’s farm was the first I reached hiking up the valley. Cut from the forests on the hillside above the river, he farms about 60 hectares of mostly coffee. He has been on this land for over two decades and his farm is a perfect candidate for receiving environmental improvement funds established through Rare Conservation Fellow Rina Gamarra’s campaign. He is sympathetic to using more sustainable practices and understands the larger concerns around the health of the watershed. Yet, as is the reality in most of these cases, he simply does not have the resources to do much more — certainly not to do things like reforesting his land and converting from sun-grown to shade-grown coffee.

Most coffee in the region is sun-grown in open fields clear-cut from the surrounding forests.

Sun-grown coffee is also more susceptible to disease and infection. Many of Don Filomon’s plants were suffering from a beetle blight causing light spots on the leaves.

Farmers like Don Filomon Delgado work hard to survive off the land — and their survival relies on a healthy, productive environment. Don Filomon knows this, and with a little help from the water funds collected in Nueva Cajamarca down stream, will be able to implement a number of more sustainable practices.


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Location: Arlington, VA - USA
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Project Leader:
Boriana Ditcheva
Arlington, VA United States

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