USAID’s Biodiversity and Conservation Efforts


USAID, the US State Department’s foreign aid program, offers a number of initiatives focused on conservation and limiting climate change. They list goals to promote biodiversity in all areas, not just in wealthy countries. Poor countries deal with issues like poaching and destruction of wilderness for fuel which may not be as prominent in wealthier countries. The site goes in depth into statistics of the importance of conservation and biodiversity. They offer suggestions and examples of the implementation of their efforts in foreign countries. For example, their efforts helped secure indigenous peoples land in the Amazon, limit restaurants serving shark fins, and create sustainable forests through promoting sustainable cutting and selling of wood products in Cambodia. There are a number of cool, interesting, and in depth links on the USAID site under the Environment and Global Change tab. lists the strategic plan of the organization to conquor biodiversity loss. It is interesting to see such a globally influential organization at work. These are goals that are being implemented globally. These policies have the change to affect very diverse lands. Some further topics on the website include sustainable urbanization, property rights, and sustainable tourism. All of these relate to conservation and the protection of the biosphere. With efforts like these, the biosphere will be more heavily protected against threats.

Tracking Animal Migrations

Movebank is an online database that provides an international space for the collection of animal tracking data. Thousands of researchers input data they have collected on animal movement. They fit animals with trackers and plot the point on a map to look at their spatial relation. This database uses GIS technology to track the movement of animals, on a local level as well as across continents. This information helps scientists learn more about climate change, habitat loss, and other environmental issues we have discussed in this class. The way animals migrate can  This is similar to the research of the interviewing professors who used GIS technology to track the impacts of climate change on our environment. National Geographic featured this database on their website to talk about key species which are endangered. Scientists can use this information to track a species’ ability to recover from the endangered list. This database is super helpful and lets

NOAA Interactive Natural Hazards Map

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has an interactive map called the Natural Hazards Viewer. This map contains data on both recent and historic significant natural disasters. The dataset includes tsunami events, tsunami observations, significant earthquakes, significant volcanic eruptions, volcanoes, Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) Deployments, plate boundaries, tsunami times, and selected significant tsunami events. When browsing the user can select which type of hazard they would like to see information on, and then the user can select different data points detailing these events.  There is a wide range of information available between points, some simply contain the date, location, and type of event, while others contain information on the fatalities, social and economic impacts, and information on the individual witnesses, and the events leading up to the natural disaster.

NOAA’s Natural Hazards Viewer compiles a large quantity of information natural disasters onto an easy to navigate and interactive interface. They get their data from the National Geophysical Data Center, which records data on earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, in order to support research, planning, and mitigation efforts.  I thought this was a really interesting use of GIS in order to create a map that not only compiles all the spatial data, but contains all the social and economic data as well. I would definitely recommend everyone play around with this website at some point, it is a really fascinating, freely available resource!

NOAA Marine Protected Areas Network

Have you ever wanted to learn more about marine protected areas (MPAs) in the United States? Look no further than the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) website completely devoted to MPAs.

The about section defines MPA as “a broad term for a park or other protected area that includes some marine or Great Lakes area” and gives information on the classification system used for MPAs that describes MPAs in functional terms using five characteristics common to most MPAs: 1) conservation focus; 2) level of protection; 3) permanence of protection; 4) constancy of protection; and 5) ecological scale of protection. MPAs are important for conservation of oceanic ecosystems and can be found all around the country and world. The website contains numerous informational sections and content for viewers of all ages and levels of knowledge on MPAs. One feature is an interactive MPA Date Viewer that allows visitors to click on any of the 1600 MPAs in US waters  on a map that have been compiled in a database by NOAA’s Marine Protected Areas Center on a map and view information on them.

Example of MPA Data Viewer in use

NOAA also provides an extensive management section, which contains a section on Ocean Use Data with pdf documents on regional ocean use data, which are slightly dated, ranging from 2015 to 2010.  For example, the most recent is the Pacific Regional Ocean Uses Atlas, which was designed to document a full range of human activities and sectors in the ocean to support offshore renewable energy planning in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Pacific region. Along with the pdf document GIS data is also provided. One part of this page I found interesting was their participatory ocean use mapping process, used to gather ocean use data by engaging local and regional ocean experts through interactive mapping. This allows NOAA to more effectively collect data on MPAs while engaging a wide range of people that use these MPAs on a daily basis. Along with this, the website contains numerous informational pdfs on a wide variety of topics and studies involving MPAs. For further reading and an example, the informational pdf “Marine Protected Areas Building Resilience To Climate Change Impacts” can be found here.

Another great section of their website is the Experiencing MPAs section, which is meant for all visitors. The page greets visitors by saying “The best way to understand and enjoy our nation’s diverse MPAs is to visit. But for now, you can dive in from wherever you are to our MPA viewer, multimedia page, blog and more.” The page provides links to the subsections MPA Viewer, Multimedia, Marine Protected Areas Blog, and What Can You Do. The multimedia section contains numerous phots and videos of MPAs as well as podcasts produced by the National Ocean Service. My favorite part of this is Earth Is Blue, a blog where NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries posts a photo each day and a video each week highlighting the wonder and beauty of marine sanctuaries and MPAs and the work they do to protect them.

I have only just barely scratched the surface of all this website has to offer. Be sure to give it a look!




Mapping the Last Mountain Range on Earth

Ice Stories: Dispatches from Polar Scientists provides a fascinating look into the research and expeditions of scientists in both the Arctic and Antarctic environments. The website consists of dispatches from all kinds of scientists: glaciologists, geologists, cosmologists, and even penguin biologists. The site includes profiles of over 25 scientists that detail their perspectives on various projects being conducted. While the site is somewhat dated (the last entry appears to be from 2010), it is nevertheless an amazing window into the actual research that occurs at the poles and all the fields of study to which the research contributes. A visitor can browse through entries by tag, month and year, or even look at pages for specific projects and big ideas such as ice, climate change, and astronomy in Antarctica. There are also links to webcams in Greenland and the South Pole that show each base and the weather conditions at the station.

One of the entries that caught my attention was the mapping of Antarctica’s Gamburtsev Mountains, which lie hidden underneath the ice in the middle of the continent. The scientists involved in this mission in such an unforgiving environment hoped to find clues to the formation of Antarctica itself and consequently the climate experienced on Earth today. Survey aircraft used RADAR and lasers to see through the thick ice sheet and get a glimpse of the range beneath. Other scientists used seismographic equipment to track the effects of earthquakes around the globe, ultimately hoping to discover the source of the mountains – could it be the collision of tectonic plates, or hot plumes coming from the ocean? Find out on Ice Stories.

Bird Migration 2017

I found a website that has looked at the bird migration in each region of the United States and is tracking their movements. For each region, they have multiple charts with specific birds to see which ones have been moving more in the past week, and which ones have been moving less in the past week. It would be cool to go on this website for a whole year and see what birds migrate at different times, and how consistent this timing is over the years. There is also an animation that basically shows bird migration over the past few months.

Within this website, there is an interesting link that further expand upon bird migration. This link defines each region (i.e., what states are in each region), and then talks about when they would expect bird migration. It talks about when you would expect the species to arrive first, then when the number of birds arriving would begin to increase rapidly, when the number would peak, when they would start to leave, and when the final bird would leave. This website is relatively new (created in 2015), so I’m not entirely sure how accurate these predictions would be, but nonetheless it is still interesting.



UNESCO Biosphere Reserves

A view of the Chihuahuan Desert, situated in parts of western Texas and Mexico. Three biosphere reserves are located in this desert.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), famously known for their World Heritage Sites, also has an extensive biosphere reserves program, established under the umbrella of their Ecological Sciences for Sustainable Development department. These biosphere reserves are internationally recognized conservation zones found all over the world, incorporating marine, coastal, and terrestrial ecosystems. In addition to functioning as conservation zones that preserve biodiversity, these biosphere reserves also serve as areas for scientific study, particularly in the fields of sustainability, ecology, and human development. To ensure that these biosphere reserves are properly functioning and effectively managed, UNESCO conducts a periodic review process every ten years to ensure that each reserve measures up to the international standards.

Biosphere reserve in Cuba.

This website provides an overview of biosphere reserves and their mission and lists each of the 669 biosphere reserves around the world, first by region and then by country. Here is the list for Europe and North America, and here is the list specifically for the United States. UNESCO’s biosphere reserves website relates to our class discussion of the biosphere and the importance of biodiversity in maintaining healthy ecosystems. As climate change intensifies, we see a greater need for the creation and maintenance of conservation zones like UNESCO’s biosphere reserves. However, this website also reveals that this needed maintenance is in fact not occurring. Unfortunately, in 2017, twenty biosphere reserves were withdrawn from the global list, seventeen of which were in the United States alone, and all of which were withdrawn because of their poor performance in UNESCO’s periodic review. This raises important questions about our national and global priorities for the future of such important biosphere reserves. Will we make preserving biodiversity through biosphere reserves and other forms of conservation a priority? Or will we continue to let vital ecosystems in our biosphere flounder and disappear?

Gorillas and Vegetation in Africa’s Oldest National Park

Analyzing the Distribution of Vegetation Zones and Mountain Gorillas in Virunga National Park

Mountain Gorilla

How are abiotic factors, vegetation zones, human activity, and distribution of mountain gorillas linked?

On National Geographic’s Website (, there is an interactive activity in which scientists and geographers analyze Virunga National Park along the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of the Congo along the Mitumbar Mountains. It is the oldest national park in Africa. The geography of this park ranges from grasslands and wetlands, to lava plains and natural glaciers, and is home to various species ( 

The national park was designated in order to protect these mountain gorillas. They are omnivores but usually have plant-based diets. “Poaching, encroaching human populations, and violent conflicts in the area continue to affect mountain gorilla populations” ( ). Illegal timber cutting is also becoming a big issue in the area. This is mappable from the site.

This Website shows the change in vegetation and gorilla populations in the National Park as a result of human activity. This relates to physical geography because it connects the lithosphere and biosphere between the national park territory and anthropocentric effects.

With a rise in populations it is more imperative now that people are made aware of the changes this ecosystem is experiencing due to selfish and illegal activity on supposedly-protected lands.



National Geographic Encyclopedic Entries

The National Geographic encyclopedic entries page is a really useful tool for our Physical geography class since it provides various entries on class related concepts like hot spots, El Nino, earth’s crusts, continental drift, etc. It’s really easy to use, you can either enter the topic you are interested in looking for or just scroll down the pages looking for it. Each entry provides a set of images, definitions, animations, videos, background information, related material and even useful sources that connect to other articles about the subject.  There’s even a complete vocabulary tap that expands on explaining each key term’s definition and use. This would be a really useful tool to study for our final exam since you can search in a more interactive way concepts that you feel you need to look up more information about.

The Restoration of Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest

There’s a section on the National Park Service’s website that discusses the restoration of Sequoia National Park’s “Giant Forest,” which contains one of the largest groves of the “[a]we-inspiring” sequoia trees that are found only on moist areas along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This site gives a brief overview of “giants'” decision to commence the Giant Forest restoration project and of the goals of the project, then gives, at the end of the page, links to pages with before-and-after photos, descriptions of visitors’ experiences, information regarding the impact of human development on the area, and information regarding the natural ecosystem of the Great Forest and the successful restoration of the area’s soil and vegetation. I thought the before-and-after photos were particularly interesting because they illustrated just how much has changed since the commencement of the project in the late 1990s. The site said that since the project began, 231 acres of land have been restored and 282 buildings have been demolished (and the few visitor facilities that remain have been converted into buildings that can only be accessed/used during the daytime), but a picture is worth a thousand words. The before-and-after pictures illustrate just how much natural beauty human encroachment/development/influence robbed the forest of.

While the Giant Forest was saved from the devastating effects of logging when it was designated part of Sequoia National Park, the effects of human encroachment were still seen in the changed drainage patterns, the clearing of trees, and the depletion of topsoil organic matter. The Giant Forest was in desperate need of restoration, and thankfully, the restoration project started in the late 1990s was a resounding success in that it both achieved its original goal — to restore the natural landscape — and it demonstrated just how large an impact a group of dedicated conservationists can have.