Biosphere Expeditions is still here, albeit with all hatches battened down in an effort to survive the storm. Here’s an update to an interview with our founder and executive director, Dr. Matthias Hammer, about the situation at the moment.
Q: Our last interview was on 18 August 2020. What has changed since then? What’s the new situation and thinking?
A: When we last spoke, there were hopes for a vaccine by the end of 2020. Now most expert think mid-2021 is more realistic and even this will not be a “silver bullet” that will bring a swift end to the pandemic and a return to normal. We should expect masks and social distancing to be in place for 2-3 years.
Of course this presents a huge challenge to what we do. We are not expecting there to be many expeditions with citizen scientists in 2021. In fact, we recently postponed our Arabia and Kenya expeditions, planned for January and February 2021, for a year to 2022. I expect many other expeditions to follow suit. If conditions are favourable, we may be able to run the odd expedition in Europe later in 2021, but our honest assessment is that not much else will be possible in 2021. It may even not be possible to run any expeditions at all in 2021.
Q: What does that mean for the survival of Biosphere Expeditions?
A: To be honest, it will be very tough. We can probably weather the storm until the end of 2021. Getting there will be hard and we have to be very careful and plan well, which we are doing, of course, but beyond that it will become very difficult indeed to survive without expeditions running.
Q: What can people do to help?
A: First and foremost support our coronavirus appeal. The focus of the appeal is on our local partners and enabling them to continue with their critical conservation work despite the crisis. They too face a tough struggle and the more we can support them, the better for them and their conservation initiatives around the world. The appeal will finish on 30 November and we’re going for a final push over the next few weeks. We’re 80% there (from 124 donors) and hope to raise the last 20% (just under €10,000) too as we reach the home straight. Please give generously! Thereafter we will run a Biosphere Expeditions survival appeal to help us come out the other end.
Interview 18 August 2020
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?
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.