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19 January 2024

Conservationists Need to Embrace Innovation to Adapt to Climate Impacts on Species, Ecosystems and People

Conservation organizations and natural resource agencies need to embrace new and more innovative approaches to protect species and ecosystems in the face of a rapidly unfolding climate crisis. This is a finding in the newly released guide titled “Innovation in Climate Adaptation: Harnessing the Power of Innovation for Effective Biodiversity and Ecosystem Adaptation.

Produced by The National Wildlife Federation in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey Climate Adaptation Science Center Network and the IUCN Species Survival Commission Climate Change Specialist Group, the guide was written by an international team of 16 experts, including SANParks’ Specialist Scientist, Dr Wendy Foden.  It draws on lessons and examples of innovation from other sectors, including business and technology.

SANParks is engaged in a number of collaborative projects that are intended to be responsive to the unfolding climate crisis by offering protection to species and ecosystems. For example, specially engineered artificial nest boxes at Boulders Penguin Colony at Table Mountain National Park keep penguins cool during heatwaves and protect eggs and chicks from predatory gulls.  This innovative project is a collaboration between SANParks, SANCCOB and the Dallas Zoo, with funding from WWF- US

Another initiative is by University of Cape Town scientists, Professor Susie Cunningham and Sean Morar who constructed an experimental shade structure over a water hole in Tankwa Karoo National Park.  During heatwaves, when ground temperatures exceed 60oC, the shader creates an opportunity for small birds to land and drink. This project is a collaboration between SANParks and UCT’s FitzPatrick Institute, with funding from WWF- US.

To meet the growing challenges a rapidly warming world poses to both wildlife and people, institutions will need to centre climate adaptation in their policies and practices and adopt more innovative and transformational conservation and adaptation approaches.  The guide determines that biodiversity, ecosystem services, and entire societies are increasingly threatened by climate extremes, novel environmental and ecological realizations, catastrophic events, and complex and poorly understood interactions. Although existing conservation practices, developed and refined over decades, centuries, and even millennia, remain necessary for addressing climate-change impacts, these are now insufficient to meet rapidly emerging novel challenges.

Many conventional approaches will become obsolete or require modification as climate change continues. As a result, successfully adapting to climate change will require rapid development and application of innovative practices, approaches, and policies.