Mark Tercek, President, CEO of The Nature Conservancy
Climate change is already taking a toll on Latin America:
With 60 major Latin American cities situated along coasts, the region’s urban centers are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. And millions of people who depend on rivers fed by Andean glaciers face the possibility that their primary water source may disappear within the next 15 to 25 years.
The Nature Conservancy is researching, analyzing and modeling the impacts that climate change will have across Latin America, in places like the Gulf of California, Brazil ’s lush Atlantic Forest, Ecuador’s dry forests, Mexico’s storm-plagued Yucatán Peninsula, and Guatemala’s Atitlán watershed, where restored forests and healthy watersheds can help protect local populations from landslides caused by heavy hurricane rains. This research and modeling will allow the Conservancy—as well as national-level governments and other organizations—to design and put in place conservation projects that can best help people and nature adapt to the effects of global warming.
Some of the Conservancy’s projects in Latin America are already helping communities and plants and animals prepare for, and adjust to, climate changes.
The Mesoamerican Reef is the world’s second-longest barrier reef, home to some 500 species of fish and 60 species of coral as well as whale sharks, sea turtles, sharks, manatees and dolphins. The system includes vast lagoons, mangroves, seagrasses, flooded savannas and sand dunes. It also provides nursery grounds for fisheries that provide food and income such as grouper, snapper, conch and lobster for artisanal fishermen and their families from Mexico to Honduras, as well as a tourism attraction for more than 8 million visitors a year.
Unfortunately, as climate change causes ocean waters to warm, sea levels to rise, and seawater to increase in acidity, the Mesoamerican Reef loses its ability to shelter, feed, and protect fish and marine mammal populations. It loses its strength to withstand tropical storms and buffer coastal communities from flooding and storm surge. And it will no longer support the vast schools of fish upon which local fishermen depend, nor the multi-million dollar tourism industry that brings so much income to local communities.
To help this indispensible reef withstand the effects of climate change so that people and marine species can continue to depend upon its bounty, the Conservancy is:
In South America, the Andes are home to more than 20 percent of the world’s biodiversity, and these mountains also harbor watersheds that supply drinking water, irrigation water, and electricity (through hydropower) to tens of millions of people. The ability of diminishing water supplies to support growing human populations in the Andes—and everywhere in the world humans live—has been a concern for a long time. But climate change threatens to alter seasons, rainfall patterns and snow- and glacier-melt in the Andes, disrupting the constant flow of water nature and people rely upon throughout the region.
To keep Andean watersheds healthy and full of clean water in the face of climate change, the Conservancy has established several water funds throughout Ecuador and Colombia, protecting watersheds that supply major population centers like Bogotá and Quito. Financed by major water users with a vested interest in maintaining the quantity and quality of water upon which they depend, these water funds support the protection and restoration of key Andean watersheds.
Through water funds, the Conservancy is helping nature and people adapt to the changes global warming will bring to the Andes by: