The Sole of Environmentalism

The oceans are perhaps the ultimate tragedy of the commons, and the fishing industry has defied effective regulation the world over. In part, that's because you can't stop the fish from, well, swimming, and even if you limit catches in one area, there's no guarantee for effective regulation in another. When a country grants licenses, foreign fishing companies often swoop in. Catch limitations can be difficult to enforce, especially in rural areas. Communities dependent on fishing are caught in a worsening cycle of being forced to go out further and fish for ever diminishing returns. So is there anything to do but abstain from eating fish altogether, or, perhaps, chow down on tuna with a side of fatalism?

One effort gaining ground is that of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). MPAs place regulation and limitations on areas, rather than catches, making enforcement somewhat easier. It prevents harmful fishing practices, like trawling, and it allows fish a space in which to safely reproduce. A successful MPA acts like a sort of incubator, protecting flora and fauna from harm, the growth of which then spills over into surrounding areas.

Organizations like Marine Conservation Institute, Greenpeace, and the Ocean Conservancy point out, however, that the success of an MPA is not only dependent on effective enforcement, but on the site chosen. It's all well and good to declare a 100 mile zone 'no-fishing,' but if it's a barren dead zone, protection won't do much.

Countries would see greater returns, they argue, if biologically diverse areas are chosen. Far from harming the fishing industry, this practice allows for regeneration of catch. According to the Nature study referenced in a recent New York Times article, reserves are more successful if they are large (at least 100 square kilometers, or almost 40 square miles) and enduring (established for at least 10 years). The most effective reserves generally enforce a total ban on fishing and other activities harmful to marine life, like mining and drilling. Features that encourage isolation - like sand barriers - also help. MPAs with all of these characteristics contained 840% more large fish than comparable areas open to fishing, the study found.

MPAs will not solve the problem of depleting diversity in our oceans; that's a larger and scalier problem complicated by issues of climate change and ocean acidification, but it's seen better results than pretty much anything else we've tried - and that's worth supporting.


Happy Valentine's!

Dear Readers,

We hope you are staying warm and out of the various polar vortexes, perhaps snuggling with a significant other, planning a fun night with friends, or simply enjoying TGIF.

Whatever you do on this Friday, we hope you consider signing Earthworks' "No Dirty Gold" pledge. This pledge calls on retailers and manufacturers of gold jewelry and electronics to ensure that their goods were not produced at the expense of local communities and environments. Because there's nothing less romantic than giving a gift that's hurt someone else. 

In happier news - this week, the Obama Administration announced that ALL commercial imports of African elephant ivory into the United States will be prohibited - without exception.  Nearly all commercial exports of elephant ivory and rhino horn will also be prohibited. The Fish and Wildlife Service will be the coordinating agency, and Overbrook-grantee the Environmental Investigation Agency will continue its critical role as watchdog and conservation advocate. Now that's worth celebrating.


Mongabay selects Winner for its Special Reporting Initiative

After unveiling its inaugural "Special Reporting Initiative" competition this past August, Mongabay and its expert team of panelists officially selected a winner this past month. Wendee Nicole, a journalist who has written for a wide range of publications, will examine how Elinor Ostrom Nobel Prize-winning work on polycentric governance and decentralization applies to efforts to conserve biodiversity.

The fellow will receive to $20,000 to fund the top proposal: $15,000 as a stipend and up to $5,000 for reporting and travel costs. They will have three months for travel and research and three months for writing, and are guaranteed publication in Mongabay as well as any other publication interested in running the story. intends the Special Reporting Initiative to be an ongoing focus of the organization, designed to raise the attention to and focus on innovations in biodiversity conservation. It asks applicants to consider and suggest the next "big idea" in tropical biodiversity conservation, what new models conservationists are employing and what social and economic effects they have, as well as their direct impact on biodiversity. In addition, it seeks to raise awareness about effective models emerging out of sectors outside traditional tropical biodiversity conservation, like healthcare, microfinance, poverty alleviation, and energy production.

You can read more about Wendee Nicole, her project, and the Initiative here

Clan of the Cave Peccaries

The below is an excerpt from a press release by Overbrook-supported Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which describes how cave paintings dating over 4,000 years ago were discovered while researching the life and habitat of the white-lipped peccary in Brazil. The discovery underscores the inextricable relationship between natural ecosystems and cultural heritage. And not to mention, is just really cool.

Assortment of Fauna

You can read the full release here.

"While tracking white-lipped peccaries and gathering environmental data in forests that link Brazil’s Pantanal and Cerrado biomes, a team of researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and a local partner NGO, Instituto Quinta do Sol, discovered ancient cave drawings made by hunter-gatherer societies thousands of years ago

The discovery was first made on Brazil’s Cerrado plateau in 2009, when Keuroghlian and her team were conducting surveys of white-lipped peccaries, herd-forming pig-like animals that travel long distances and are environmental indicators of healthy forests. While following signals from radio-collared white-lipped peccaries and the foraging trails of peccary herds, the team encountered a series of prominent sandstone formations with caves containing drawings of animals and geometric figures.

 Keuroghlian contacted Aguiar, a regional specialist in cave drawings who determined that the drawings were made between 4,000–10,000 years ago by hunter-gatherer societies that either occupied the caves, or used them specifically for their artistic activities. The style of some drawings, Aguiar noted, was consistent with what archeologists call the Planalto (central Brazilian plateau) tradition, while others, surprisingly, were more similar to Nordeste (northeastern Brazil) or Agreste (forest to arid-land transition in NE Brazil) style drawings. The drawings depict an assemblage of animals including armadillos, deer, large cats, birds, and reptiles, as well as human-like figures and geometric symbols. Oddly, the subject of the WCS surveys in the area—peccaries—are absent from the illustrations. Aguiar hopes to conduct cave floor excavations and geological dating at the sites in order to fully interpret the drawings."

Environment Grants Awarded at November Board Meeting

The Environment Program awarded 17 grants this grant cycle. Of this group, four are for Latin American Biodiversity Conservation, six for Sustainable Consumption & Production, and one for Overbrook's newest program portfolio: Movement Building. This does not include six pledge grants, three of which are for Latin American Biodiversity Conservation (Amazon Conservation Team, Amazon Watch, People and Plants International), and three for Sustainable Production and Consumption (As You Sow, Forest Ethics, and ioby). Our two new grantees are the Grupo Ecologico Sierra Reserve and the Movement Strategy Center. In total, the Environment Program awarded $410,000 in November to its grantees and $2,012,500 in 2013. The Foundation is extremely proud of the work of all its grantees, and congratulates them on their many and impressive successes!

Biodiversity Conservation in Latin America

The Overbrook Foundation awarded The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) a second grant of $20,000 for its work as a research and advocacy organization whose mission is “to promote tourism policies and practices globally so that local communities may thrive and steward their cultural resources and biodiversity." Its Sinaloa Sur Initiative, begun in 2012 and covering some 100 kilometers of largely undeveloped coastline in Northwestern Mexico on the eastern shore of the Gulf of California, is an ambitious sustainable tourism project, for which CREST is providing tourism expertise.

Relatedly, The Overbrook Foundation continues its support for Pronatura Noroeste, a non-profit active in the Cabo Pulma region of Mexico and instrumental in shutting down a mega-development planned for the region - which holds the only coral reef in the Sea of Cortez. Pronatura received a grant of $50,000 for its work on integrating sustainable tourism into the region.

Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda I.A.P (GESGIAP) is Overbrook's newest grantee in its Biodiversity Conservation portfolio, and we are very glad to start our mutually beneficial collaboration. Sierra Gorda is a grassroots organization, founded in 1989 by a group of local Mexican citizens in an impoverished but ecologically rich area of central Mexico. Its objective is to conserve the rich biodiversity of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve as well as build a sustainable economy based on environmental education, payments for environmental services, and the operation of a network of private nature reserves. It received a $25,000 grant on its payment for ecosystem services research, as well as its development of alternative ways to measure carbon capture.

Moving further south, into Ecuador, Nature and Culture International received a $45,000 grant for its work conserving and managing crucially important ecosystems in Southern Ecuador, including the dry Tumbesian forests, the Andean cloud forests and paramo, foothill Amazonian forests and the pacific foothill forests and wetlands in the El Oro province. The Conservation Fund will focus on the establishment and management of protected areas by municipal governments located in southern Ecuador, comprising land in four Provinces with an area of approximately 87,500 acres.

Sustainable Production & Consumption

The Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) received a $50,000 grant for general operating support. ACE was founded in 2008 to educate high school students about the science behind climate change and inspire them to take action. Not many organizations can say that their work has reached over 1.6 million five years into their formation. Nor could many claim that they’re actually changing peoples’ minds on climate change. However, ACE is doing both. It recognizes that it is critical not just to raise awareness of climate change and its effects among youth, but to actively engage them in the debate and encourage them to take leadership roles.

Tackling movement building and leadership development from the lens of business is the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), which received a $25,000 grant, also for general operating support. Since 2012 it has added 45,000 new businesses and 50,000 individuals, bringing its membership up to 165,000 and 300,000, respectively. Its top leaders have met with President Obama, testified at Congressional hearings, organized the first-ever Business Summit for a Sustainable Economy, and built a presence at state-level in 14 states, with a goal of creating a vision, framework and policies to support a vibrant, just and sustainable economy.

A world-wide coalition tackling one aspect of our currently un-sustainable economy is the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). It received a $40,000 grant for its work in the U.S. and Canada (major hubs of incineration emissions). Its two-part strategy focuses on both stopping unsustainable practices and advancing solutions. In keeping with GAIA’s broad purpose, the network’s core activities include: organizing regional and global meetings for collective strategizing; hosting active e-mail lists that provide a virtual space for member-to-member support; and facilitating skill-shares and global days of action. GAIA also mounts multifaceted, proactive efforts to promote recycling, reuse, and composting as key environmental, climate, and job creation strategies.

Groundswell received a $40,0000 to continue its work, both innovative in practice as well as in scope. Founded in 2009, it has developed a model for “civic consumption” that builds on the power of community infrastructure to help groups realize their power to achieve social outcomes through purchasing decisions. Its Community Power Project (CPP) helps mission-based organizations purchase clean electricity at a reduced price, and its Strong Homes Program helps homeowners and residents procure discounted home energy efficiency services as a group, reducing their energy usage and expenses. Through CPP, Groundswell has seen nearly $8 million funneled to clean electricity, 5,000 tons of carbon abated, and 120 non-profits seeing an average of 15-20% reduction in their energy bills. In 2014, Groundswell will expand its Community Power Program into Baltimore and Philadelphia.

The Overbrook Foundation awarded Health Care Without Harm - whose mission is to transform the health care sector, currently a major polluter, and to reduce harm to human health and the environment - $50,000 for its Healthier Hospitals Initiative. The Initiative has grown to 13 Sponsoring Systems, comprised of the largest, most influential heath care systems in the U.S., and with 850 hospitals participating, it is almost halfway to meeting its goal of enrolling 2,000 hospitals (35% of the entire healthcare sector). These hospitals represent more than $21 billion in purchasing power. The six specific Content Challenges of HHI are: Smarter Purchasing, Safer Chemicals, Leaner Energy, Healthier Foods, Less Waste and Leadership.

Movement Building

And last, but certainly not least, The Overbrook Foundation debuted its new program portfolio focusing on "movement building" by, appropriately, awarding $50,000 to the Movement Strategy Center (MSC). Intimately involved in the development of Overbrook's "Building Equity & Alignment Initiative" (of which more information may be found on Overbrook's main environment page), MSC is dedicated to transformative movement building. It partners with more than 300 grassroots organizations, alliances, networks and foundations that operate at local, regional and national levels. The organization places the experience and leadership of those most impacted at the center of its work, and the majority of its partners are organizations led by low-income, people of color, immigrant, youth and other marginalized populations.

October Environmental Updates

Dear Readers, The leaves are turning, the weather is getting...less humid, and:

- The Story of Stuff released its ninth film - the Story of Solutions. The film represents a full circle from the organization's first release in 2007, which identified the problems of our waste-happy lifestyle.

- Federal authorities from the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in coordination with US Fish and Wildlife and Department of Justice, executed search warrants on Thursday for the offices of Lumber Liquidators in connection with an investigation into possible violations of the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act is a century old law amended in 2008 to ban the trade of illegal timber and wood products, which Overbrook-grantee the Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) works to uphold.

- In 2001, Nature & Culture International (NCI) conducted its first ecosystem assessment, focusing on the endangered and highly biodiverse ecosystem, the Tumbesian dry forest of southwest Ecuador. The results of that assessment were the identification of 10 priority areas, 8of which were unprotected. Since then, NCI has, one by one, worked to acquire or protect these areas, and now in 2013 7 out of the 10 are protected. This conservation good news recently was taken a step further: the government of Ecuador decided in early 2013 to make the entire Tumbesian ecosystem a Biosphere reserve of about 1.2 million acres. NCI has been working intensively to help the government make this proposal to UNESCO, which was completed this month.

We are very proud of our grantees' accomplishments, and look forward to posting more!