Biosphere Expeditions is still here, albeit with all hatches battened down in an effort to survive the storm. Here’s a short interview with our founder and executive director, Dr. Matthias Hammer, about the situation at the moment.
Q: Will Biosphere Expeditions survive this pandemic?
A: The honest answer is that I do not know for certain, but probably. We’ve made contingency plans A, B, C, D etc. But even the best plans are pointless if we run out of money. The contributions that our citizen scientists make constitute the lion’s share of our income. Of course this has collapsed to almost zero since March and it does not look like it will be coming back anytime soon. Even if there was to be a genuine vaccine by the end of 2020, then I doubt many people will have the inclination or funds to travel in 2021. Of course there are some grant and other support schemes that we have applied for, and a portion of our coronavirus appeal was for our running costs, but if the pandemic continues into and over 2021, as we now expect it to do, with no or very few expeditions happening in 2021, then survival will start to become a tough struggle indeed. But we are optimists by default, backed by good planning, and we are also fighters. Watch this space for updates as 2020 continues and turns into 2021.
Q: What is the outlook for expeditions in 2021?
A: Early on during the pandemic we suspended all citizen science elements of our 2020 expeditions and concentrated on continuing our conservation work with local partners and staff, and supporting our local partners in this time of crisis through our coronavirus appeal.
Realistically, we think expeditions are unlikely in 2021, especially those outside Europe. As I have said, even if there was to be a genuine vaccine by the end of 2020, then this would only be the beginning of the end and I doubt many people will have the inclination or funds to travel far and wide in 2021. This means our expeditions in Africa, the Americas and Asia are bound to suffer, and we are doing all we can to support our local partners through this. At the moment, however, all 2021 expedition are online and we will assess how things go as time progresses. If there are enough people to run an expedition and if we decide we can reasonably do so, then we will run expeditions as planned – for conservation, for our local partners, for our citizen scientists and because we strongly believe that conservation work must continue despite, and perhaps even because of this crisis.
Q: How’s the coronavirus appeal going?
A: I was amazed by the generosity of people and would like to say thank you again to all donors here. Today we stand at 113 donors, 52% raised and four projects fully funded. There was a very generous initial surge of support, but things have slowed down now, which is not surprising as almost everyone will be negatively affected by this pandemic by now. We continue to promote the appeal and to fundraise and hope we can find the funding for all our local conservation partners, because it is desperately needed. If anyone reading this can help, please do so.
Q: What can people do to help?
A: The three most helpful things are to join an expedition (European ones are probably the best bet), give to our appeal, or join our Friends.
Q: If someone wants to sign up for a 2021 expedition now, how does that work under pandemic conditions?
A: Good question. Basically things will be handled very flexibly so that nobody misses or loses out. How exactly it all works is described here.