World Wildlife Day 2021: Learning from indigenous peoples and local communities to restore our relationship with nature

Baiga women collecting leaves. Credit - ephotocorp

Today, the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, the Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network, the Centres of Distinction on Indigenous and Local Knowledge, Forest Peoples Programme and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity are marking World Wildlife Day by publishing the digital version of Local Biodiversity Outlooks 2 (LBO-2) in English, Spanish and French. 

LBO-2 is a landmark piece of collaborative research and analysis that features contributions from over 50 indigenous and local authors and communities. The report highlights the critical roles played by indigenous peoples and local communities in maintaining and enhancing biological and cultural diversity and outlines indigenous and local perspectives on the transformational changes needed in order to realise the vision of a world living in harmony with nature.

“From connectedness to nature comes the drive to safeguard it. From valuing our natural and cultural heritage comes the drive to ensure it is passed on. These are the things we learn in school and at home, from our peers and elders.” 

Josefa Tauli, Global Youth Biodiversity Network

The theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day, Forests and livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet, foregrounds the importance of indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as the challenges they face as a result of insecure tenure, discrimination, climate change, declining biodiversity and the continued expansion of extractive industries. We know, for instance, that

  • At least 50% of the world’s land is collectively managed by indigenous peoples and local communities under customary tenure systems. Only 10% of these lands are legally secured.
  • The lands of indigenous peoples and local communities contain much of the world’s remaining biodiversity, and biodiversity managed by indigenous peoples and local communities is declining less rapidly than in other areas of the world.

As negotiations towards the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework continue, LBO-2 demonstrates that to protect biodiversity at any scale, indigenous peoples and local communities’ own territories and systems of governance must be recognised. 

“Today, as an elder of the Wapichan people, I call on our young leaders to diligently follow the ways of our ancestors in keeping our communities and our precious lands and resources healthy for the future of our people and the world. The earth is our mother so we need to take care of her. Let us make sure that our actions today and visions for tomorrow account for our people, our lands and our resources.  I call on governments to reflect and take into consideration policies and actions that negatively impact and destroy nature. One big step governments can take is give our people title to the land, territories, and resources.” 

Chief Kokoi, Wapichan elder (read the full statement on World Wildlife Day below)

In a series of six key transitions, LBO-2 explores the lessons drawn from the rich cases it contains to outline key changes that we need to see in our economic, financial and production systems, in governance, in land ownership and use, and in how we understand and use knowledge. The lessons drawn out here have much to offer policy makers as renewed commitments to climate change mitigation are being made and our global community confirms how the biodiversity crisis will be met.

Explore the digital report here.

Statement from Chief Kokoi, Wapichan elder, on World Wildlife Day 2021

“It is common knowledge that Indigenous Peoples’ lands and territories are the last sanctuaries where pristine forest and healthy fresh waters rich in flora and fauna can still be found. These fragile ecosystems and habitats play an important role in the culture of our Wapichan People. Our traditional lands and territories are under threat like none before through climate change and extractive industries. 

With the understanding of the challenges we face today, we have developed a management plan to help us to maintain this delicate balance of interdependency. The Wapichan people continue to fight for the security of our traditional land and the landscapes within which wildlife needs to thrive. 

This struggle faces many challenges: the lack of political will to resolve Indigenous Peoples’ land issues leaves large tracts of lands insecure and without legal protections. Policies promoting and supporting large scale agro projects and extractive industries on these lands significantly add to the destruction of key ecosystems and habits. They heighten the threat to survival of our people and the wildlife that supports our livelihoods.

Climate change has significantly altered our understanding about nature, our seasons have become confusing. And we see this confusion in the life of our forest, our plants, our fish, our birds and animals. Due to these unfavourable and unpredictable conditions, our wildlife and the environment which they depend on are now under extreme pressure to survive.  

Today, as an elder of the Wapichan people, I call on our young leaders to diligently follow the ways of our ancestors in keeping our communities and our precious lands and resources healthy for the future of our people and the world. The earth is our mother so we need to take care of her. Let us make sure that our actions today and visions for tomorrow account for our people, our lands and our resources.  I call on governments to reflect and take into consideration policies and actions that negatively impact and destroy nature. One big step governments can take is to give our people title to the land, territories, and resources.”

The Rooibos Benefit-Sharing Agreement: Breaking new ground with respect, honesty, fairness, and care, South Africa

Selling rooibos tea produced by the Khoi-San. Credit: Ivan Vaalbooi.

This is the abstract of a 2019 article by Schroeder et al. published in the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. [i]

“The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its 2010 Nagoya Protocol brought about a breakthrough in global policy making. They combined a concern for the environment with a commitment to resolving longstanding human injustices regarding access to, and use of biological resources. In particular, the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities was no longer going to be exploited without fair benefit sharing. Yet, for 25 years after the adoption of the CBD, there were no major benefit sharing agreements that led to significant funding streams for indigenous communities. This changed with the signing of the Rooibos Benefit Sharing Agreement in South Africa. As the authors report, the Rooibos Agreement is a superlative in two respects. It is the biggest benefit sharing agreement between industry and indigenous peoples to date. It is also the first industry-wide agreement to be formed in accordance with biodiversity legislation. This article is a co-production between traditional knowledge holders, the lawyer who represented their interests, the Co-Chair of the Nagoya Protocol negotiations, and an ethicist who analysed the major challenges of this historic agreement. With no precedent in the benefit sharing world, the agreement stands as a concrete example of the ‘art of the possible.’ Although the rooibos case is unique in a number of aspects, the experience offers many transferable insights, including: patience; incrementalism; honesty; trust; genuine dialogue; strong legal support; a shared recognition that a fair, win-win deal is possible; government leadership; and unity amongst indigenous peoples. Such ingredients of success can apply well beyond southern Africa.”

[i] Schroeder, D., Chennells, R., Louw, C., Snyders, L., and Hodges, T. (2019). ‘The Rooibos Benefit Sharing Agreement – Breaking new ground with respect, honesty, fairness, and care’. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 29(2), pp. 285–301.

El Balché: Sacred trees and bees of the Maya people, Mexico

Beehives in a Mayan community in Mexico. Credit: Alessandro Banchelli.

Federación Indígena Empresarial y Comunidades Locales de México, A.C. (CIELO) y Sociedad Cooperativa Lool Xaam SC de RL de CV

Beekeeping is an important source of foreign exchange in our country and a source of income for much of the Maya community of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Quintana Roo. However, it has decreased because of the low price paid to honey producers. In addition, populations of pollen- and nectar-producing trees have decreased in the area as a result of forest resource exploitation, so the quantity and quality of honey has also decreased. Therefore, it is necessary to monitor the hives constantly, and also to monitor and reforest the flora around beekeeping farms, to ensure a supply of pollen and nectar for the bees. There has been minimal support from government agencies for this and, therefore, the U Lool Xaam Cooperative Society and its members have organised themselves to carry out part of these tasks.

In Tihosuco and in the Quintana Roo region, one of the most affected species is the balché (Lonchocarpus longistylus). This tree has become scarce over the past 10 years or so. The balché is a tree of great importance for the Maya people. It is used in rites and ceremonies: a drink is made from its bark which is presented as an offering during the cha’ chaakc ceremony in which Chaak, the god of rain, is asked to show favour to the crops. The drink has medicinal properties: an infusion of its leaves is used to treat coughs and to disinfect wounds. Balché flowers are a source of nectar for the bees, and the tree is ideal for the conservation of the hives, avoiding excessive swarms and keeping them in good condition for the honey harvest; this strengthens beekeeping as an economic activity and therefore strengthens the social development of families dedicated to beekeeping. Balché also has broader environmental importance, helping to combat the effects of pollution by purifying the air and preventing soil erosion.

Discussions between men and women in the community have identified, revalued and confirmed the cultural and environmental importance of balché trees, which has motivated not only their care but also ongoing reforestation. The CIELO partners of the Lool Xaam venture have reforested areas in the immediate vicinity of their beehives with native plants of the region, including balché and other species that are sources of nectar. The locations chosen for reforestation have been used for agriculture, and the intention is to regenerate the vegetation by planting diverse tree species which collectively can produce various types of nectar.

The reforestation and conservation of planted areas in the community of Tihosuco will contribute to the reproduction of native plant species, which in turn will increase bee production and strengthen its presence within the agri-food sector. This has great benefits for beekeeping as a sustainable productive activity, as well as for the promotion and maintenance of floral diversity in the region.

Safeguarding lands and territories: court cases mounted by the Maya, Belize

A Maya Q’eqchi attorney addresses the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples Issues. Credit: Jamie Malcolm-Brown.

Maya Leaders’ Alliance[i]

In the Toledo District of Belize, which is part of the Mesoamerican Biodiversity Hotspot, the Maya are stewards of an estimated 200,000 hectares of tropical rainforest, savannah and wetland ecosystems. In each Maya village, land and resource use follows sustainable stewardship practices, with areas reserved for farming, medicinal use, spiritual use, hunting, and conservation to sustain a healthy watershed.

On 22 January 2001, the Government of Belize granted an exclusive concession to US Capital Energy Belize to conduct oil exploration within Maya territory in southern Belize. There was no consultation with the affected Maya communities. The concession covers 313,906 hectares, including all the traditional Maya lands in the Toledo District and land within the Sarstoon-Temash National Park, which encompasses land belonging to the Maya communities of Crique Sarco, Midway, Sunday Wood, Conejo, and the Garifuna indigenous community of Barranco. In 2014, US Capital Energy Belize installed a drill pad and rig within the national park to conduct exploratory drilling.

In addition, in 2011, despite a court injunction, the government issued logging permits on Maya lands to third parties without consultation or the consent of Maya people. Maya village leaders monitored vast quantities of timber illegally removed from their land for export to China; seven times more rosewood was logged that year in Toledo than permitted by the Forestry Department. Initially the government took no action to curb this illegal logging.

Two more cases have recently been filed by the Maya Leaders’ Alliance and other aggrieved leaders for incursions onto Maya lands without consultation or consent:

  • The government seized a large area of farmland in Jalacte Village for construction of a major highway and associated infrastructure. The highway runs directly through the village and disrupts community access to farmland.
  • An individual took up residence near a protected sacred site that was understood by the community to be off limits for building. They bulldozed a road and damaged an ancient Maya temple. They did not seek or receive permission, either from the government or from the local community.

The Maya have fought these cases in the Belize Supreme Court, the Caribbean Court of Justice, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In 2015, the Caribbean Court of Justice—the highest court of the Belize judicial system and the Caribbean—awarded “legal and constitutional effect to the umbilical relationship between the Maya people of southern Belize and the land and its resources that have long provided physical and spiritual sustenance to them and their forebears”. The decision of the court led to recognition of collective and individual property rights for the Maya people within the scope of Sections 3(d) and 17 of the Belize Constitution.

[i] For more information on this case, see: https://www.equatorinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/MLA-Belize.pdf

Heirloom recipes of the Cordillera, Philippines

Making imbuleh, an indigenous dish from the Cordillera. Credit: PIKP.

Partners for Indigenous Knowledge Philippines

Extract from a recipe book of indigenous peoples in the Cordillera region of the Philippines[i]:

“The ingredients in this book are diverse. They come from the land and the waters of the indigenous territories in the Cordillera. They include grains, roots, stems, shoots and fruits of plants; fish, crabs and snails from the waters; domestic animals and those that grow wild in the forests; and insects. They are fresh, natural, packaging-free, and simply delicious. The great variety of the ingredients point to the people’s deep familiarity with their land and territory, their skill in foraging, hunting and gathering, and their physical strength and perseverance in working the land. From careful observation and experience, the people learned when is the best time to plant the seeds and when to harvest. They know when and how to catch the fish; gather the snails, crabs, frogs and tadpoles from the waters; and collect the edible mushrooms. Children get involved in gathering the next meal. After school they would go to the river or to the rice paddies and catch and gather ingredients for their mothers to cook. This way, the knowledge is passed on and kept for another generation.”

[i] Cariño, J. (2019) (ed.) Heirloom Recipes of the Cordillera. Baguio: Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights and Partners for Indigenous Knowledge Philippines.

Indigenous eels in Canada

A traditional Mi’kmaw fisher from Pictou Landing, Mi’kmaq territory. Credit: Amy Moulton.

Alexandra McGregor and Wanli Ou, AFN Fisheries

Pimizi (the Anishinaabemowin word for ‘eel’) has long co-existed with the indigenous peoples of the Canadian eastern seaboard on Big Turtle Island. Otherwise known as the American eel (Anguilla rostrata), this serpentine creature has been vital to the health and wealth of indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Eels have not only been a significant source of food and medicine but are key to indigenous cultures, traditions and knowledge systems that demonstrate respect, co-existence, and responsible governance.

Given its reputation as a magical being with healing powers, it seemed fitting that the American eel played a restorative role in the long struggle for Aboriginal rights to fish in Canada. In August 1993, Donald Marshall Jr., a member of the Mi’kmaq Nation, was accused and charged with three offences set out in the federal fishery regulations: the selling of eels without a licence, fishing without a licence, and fishing during the closed season with illegal nets. In September 1999, Mr Marshall was acquitted on all charges and the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Treaty rights of the Mi’kmaq to fish for a “moderate livelihood”. This landmark ruling in Canada involving eels affirmed the Nation-to-Nation relationship between the Canadian state and Indigenous Nations on the Atlantic coast.

American eels spawn in only one place—the Sargasso Sea—and the elvers travel up the eastern seaboard of North America, populating the rivers and streams of the United States and Canada. Since the 1950s, populations of this catadromous species (one that migrates down rivers to the sea to spawn) have declined dramatically over vast areas of Canada due to multiple factors, including continuing habitat degradation, dams, pollution and commercial fisheries.

To the Anishinaabeg indigenous peoples, eels are an excellent indicator of habitat integrity and can signal the vulnerability of other species in the ecosystem. Therefore, the decline of eels is seen by some local First Nations communities as a sign of interference with the natural sacred order, a symbol of a looming potential broader environmental collapse and a symbol of society’s willingness to endorse policies that have led to their decline.

In 2012, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada categorised this iconic species as threatened. The recommendation by this independent body of scientific experts triggered a legal process to have the species listed for protection under Canada’s Species at Risk Act, a federal law developed as part of Canada’s commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Given the responsibility indigenous peoples have to their territory and all its inhabitants, as well as their legal stake in resource conservation and management decisions, many First Nations believe that efforts to recover the species should be driven by their knowledge systems. For First Nations, these recommendations mean that minimum levels for food sustainability should be maintained, gear restrictions should mirror traditional practices, and adaptive management and monitoring programs should be based on food sustainability requirements.

As the late Algonquin Elder William Commanda once said: “The plight of the eel must awaken us to the crucial need to transform our relationship with Mother Earth and All Our Relations, and awaken us to the pivotal role of Indigenous Peoples in this process”.

The Gwich’in and the porcupine caribou herd, North America

The Gwich’in have relied heavily on the strength and vitality of the Porcupine caribou herd for thousands of years for their food security. Credit: Minden Pictures.

Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation

The porcupine caribou herd (Rangifer tarandus granti) is an iconic group of animals in North America with a range that stretches from Alaska in the United States to the Northwest Territories in Canada. In the world’s longest mammal migration, the porcupine travels over 2,400 kilometres each year across the traditional territory of the Gwich’in nation. The porcupine and the Gwich’in now face complex persistent threats that include ineffective interjurisdictional management, impacts from industrial activity, and climate change.

The Gwich’in are a caribou people whose nation spans 15 communities across the migratory route of the porcupine in the high Arctic. They have relied heavily on the strength and vitality of the porcupine for thousands of years for their food security. They share an intimate connection with the lands and waters that make up the very substance of their spiritual and cultural identity and livelihoods. The health and productivity of the porcupine and the physical and cultural survival of the Gwich’in are one and the same.

Canada has combined the porcupine as a subpopulation of the barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) in its Species At Risk classification.[i] This artificially inflates population numbers for the declining barren-ground caribou herds and creates the perception that the porcupine occurs more widely, which has resulted in the approval of major industrial projects without an accurate or adequate impact assessment.

One example is the De Beers Gahcho Kue diamond mine, which is in barren-ground caribou calving grounds in the Northwest Territories. The calving grounds are located in “lizhik Gwats’ and Gwandaii Goodlit” (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins), in the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR, in Alaska). ANWR, one of the largest intact ecosystems in the world, was established in 1960 and expanded in 1980 to include a moratorium on oil and gas development with the intention of preserving the “fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity”[ii]. However, recent pressure from the United States oil and gas lobby has successfully opened the 1002 ANWR to accelerated oil and gas exploration through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 which allows lease sales, seismic testing, and drilling to take place. The Act required that lease sales be completed by the end of 2019, limiting the scope and rigour of the environmental impact assessment typically associated with major projects. Bipartisan legislation, the Arctic Cultural Coastal Plain Protection Act, has been passed in the United Stated House of Representatives by those who believe that the purpose of the wildlife refuge is antithetical to oil and gas development. This has been passed on to the Senate.[iii]

This development puts strains on achieving the objectives of Treaty E100687: Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America on the Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd—a bilateral international treaty in force since 17 July 1987. The treaty is administered by the International Porcupine Caribou Board, whose core responsibility is management of the herd. The board was established in 1985 following the negotiation of the Porcupine Caribou Management Agreement and includes representation from both government and indigenous nations/organisations.[iv] It has the authority to make recommendations to the federal and territorial ministers based on information gathered in any manner—including information based on traditional knowledge, innovations and practices—to inform recommendations on an equal footing to science. However, the board’s last report was released in 1998[v] and it has not convened a meeting since November 2016.

Recognising the significant historical, spiritual, and cultural impacts that any industrial activity will have on the porcupine and the Gwich’in people, the 634 First Nations Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations have demonstrated overwhelming and continuous support to the Gwich’in through passing of resolutions and calling on the governments of Canada and the United States to ensure that the critical habitat located in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be permanently protected through designation as a protected area.

[i] Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (2016) COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Caribou Rangifer tarandus Barren-ground population in Canada. Ottawa: COSEWIC.

[ii] Gelb, B.A. (2005) ANWR Development: Economic impacts. Report. Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.

[iii] Sedlak, S.R. (2019) ‘Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act (HR 1146, 116th Congress): SciPol Summary’. Duke University Science & Society Initiative. Available at: https://scipol.org/track/hr1146-amend-public-law-115-97-commonly-known-tax-cuts-and-jobs-act-repeal-arctic-national

[iv] Porcupine Caribou Management Board: https://www.pcmb.ca/about

[v] Government of Canada (2019) ‘Canada-United States agreement on porcupine caribou herd conservation’. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/corporate/international-affairs/partnerships-countries-regions/north-america/canada-united-states-porcupine-caribou-conservation.html

Bikin National Park: innovative co-management in the Russian Federation

Created in 2015, Bikin National Park is is the largest protected virgin forest in Eurasia’s pre-temperate zone. Credit: Dilbara Sharipova.

Polina Shulbaeva, Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North

Bikin National Park, an area of 1,160,469 hectares in the Far East of the Russian Federation, is the largest protected virgin forest in Eurasia’s pre-temperate zone. The park was created in 2015[i] with objectives not only to preserve and restore the habitats of wild animals and rare species (such as the Amur tiger), but also to protect the forest culture of the indigenous peoples of this territory—the Udege and the Nanai. As a result of collaboration among indigenous peoples, federal, regional and local authorities, and representatives of environmental and scientific organisations during the long process leading up to the creation of the national park, most of the proposals developed to guarantee the rights and interests of the territory’s indigenous peoples were included in the title documents of the park.[ii]

The uniqueness of Bikin lies in its co-management by the indigenous peoples living inside the park and research staff, based on a combination of traditional knowledge, practices and rituals, and new technologies. To this end, a permanent Indigenous Council has been established,[iii] which guarantees the participation of indigenous peoples in decisions on protecting nature and wild species, and coordinates programs and projects that may affect their traditional way of life. The council also develops guidance on norms and behaviour for local communities and monitors the preservation and use of traditional knowledge.[iv] The council’s chairman is the deputy director of the park.

The regulations developed to manage the park include clear delineation of zones; 70 per cent of the total area is zoned for the traditional management of nature for indigenous people living inside the park and no reduction of this area is possible. All local residents retain the right to visit the park freely, wherever they live, and indigenous hunters can carry out traditional economic activities free of charge in their historical hunting grounds and dispose of the products at their own discretion.

Of the 114 people who work in the park, 70 are indigenous.[v] Indigenous park employees carry out tasks related to protecting and controlling the territory and to community-based monitoring, which makes use of traditional knowledge, practices and rituals together with new technologies and information systems. Researchers and representatives of environmental organisations such as WWF are helping to educate indigenous people about modern environmental protection technologies (such as camera traps, modern navigation devices, and unmanned aerial vehicles or drones). The development of ecotourism and education is also encouraging co-management of the park.

On 2 July 2018, the World Heritage Committee declared the park a part of the Central Sikhote-Alin UNESCO World Heritage site, confirming the uniqueness of this region. Bikin National Park is the first protected area in Russia with a goal to protect the habitat and traditional way of life of indigenous peoples, as well as their involvement in the management of the park.

[i] Russian Federation (2015) ‘Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation November 3 2015 No. 1187, On the establishment of the Bikin National Park’. Moscow: Russian Federation.

[ii] Bikin National Park (n.d.) ‘About Bikin National Park’. Available at: http://parkbikin.com

[iii] BROC (2018) Problems of nature management of the Far East and Siberia. Bikin: From the operational forest to UNESCO World Heritage. Vladivostok: BROC. Available at: http://ngo-broc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Bikin-%D1%81%D0%BF%D0%B5%D1%86%D0%B2%D1%8B%D0%BF%D1%83%D1%81%D0%BA-%D0%AD%D0%B8%D0%91-2018.pdf

[iv] Russian Training Center for Indigenous Peoples (2016) Strategic Development Plan for the Bikin River Basin in collaboration with the national park. Moscow: Russian Training Center for Indigenous Peoples. Available at: http://www.csipn.ru/images/stories/documents/Bikin_strategy.compressed.pdf

[v] Bikin National Park (n.d.) Report on work done by the Federal State Budgetary Institution. Bikin National Park. Available at: http://parkbikin.com/netcat_files/17/119/h_897547bc047c83359a726bf81e55fb65

Monitoring seagrass in the Torres Strait, Australia

Rangers monitoring the health of seagrasses. Credit: TropWater.

Laura Pearson, Alex Carter, Michael Rasheed, Jane Mellors

“We are one society, sharing resources across the region. When you see the water change, you know the people responsible for that area change too.”

— Sereako Stephen, Traditional Owner, Ugar

Indigenous peoples of the Torres Strait practise traditional land and sea management in accordance with Ailan Kastom (island custom), Aboriginal lore/law, and native title rights and interests. Because of this continuing stewardship, the Torres Strait remains one of the richest and most intact ecological and cultural regions on Earth.

Torres Strait Island communities rely on coastal marine habitats for subsistence and have strong cultural and spiritual links to these environments. Some of Australia’s most extensive seagrass meadows grow in Torres Strait waters. These seagrasses—which are, unfortunately, affected by climate change—support the largest dugong population in the world and globally significant populations of green turtles, and provide valuable habitat and nurturing grounds for fish, prawns, bêche de mer (sea cucumber) and tropical rock lobster.

Seagrasses show measurable responses to environmental conditions, so are ideal indicators to monitor marine environmental health. In recent years, members of the Torres Strait Indigenous Ranger Program have been working with research providers to combine indigenous knowledge with western science to enhance the understanding of the Torres Strait environment.

The rangers and researchers produce a report card, which is an annual assessment of the condition of Torres Strait seagrasses. The report card incorporates the most up-to-date and best available data on the most important indicators of seagrass health—abundance, spatial extent, and species composition—into a series of grades and scores that enable comparisons among sites, meadows and island groups.

The partnership has resulted in a robust scientific assessment of seagrasses as well as local ownership and acceptance of the program. The program results have also become a key element of community-based dugong and turtle management plans.

Maya early-warning systems in Guatemala

Kaqchikel farmer tending to his crops. Credit: Latitude Stock.

Ramiro Batzín, Indigenous Peoples Maya Kaqchikel, Sotz’il

Indigenous peoples have traditional and ancestral knowledge that has helped them study the behaviour of climate, precipitation and possible droughts. This in turn helps them make decisions and take actions necessary for climate adaptation and mitigation to avoid the negative effects of floods, droughts and crop diseases, which could put food security at risk.

In Guatemala, signals can be read by indigenous elders; for example:

  • Exposed roots of corn during the winter months: Like all living beings, plants perceive vibrations from the universe and transmit them to other beings in different ways. In corn, if roots are borne higher than normal on the stem, they announce that in the following winter months there will be very strong winds (hurricanes and/or storms).
  • The nest of the chorcha: A yellow bird with black wings, the chorcha (Oriolus oriolus) creates its nest in the form of a bag. When it makes its nest longer than normal, it is a sign that the onset of winter will delay farmers in their planting systems.