A Polar Bear Plunge – New Mexico Style – at the ABQ BioPark

Twin polar bear brothers Kiska and Koluk demonstrate a real polar bear plunge at the ABQ BioPark.

At this evening’s volunteer dinner at the ABQ BIoPark, twin polar bear brothers Kiska and Koluk entertained us during their feeding time with a real polar bear plunge.

The brothers are 25 years old and enjoy fetching the 10-lbs of trout that the keeper throws to them each day. Kiska and Koluk have a beautiful habitat complete with 20-foot water slide, waterfalls, a 14-foot deep pool, an air-conditioned cave, and water that is kept cold with large chillers.

Polar Bear Exhibit at the ABQ BioPark

Adventures in Kenya: Visiting the Hot Zone of Kitum Cave

Article Published in Perceptive Travel Online Magazine, December 2019

Story and photos by Mark Aspelin

Near the Kenya-Uganda border lies the infamous Kitum Cave, home to bats, elephants, and perhaps a devastating virus.

“Gene felt a prickling sensation on his scalp. The paths of Charles Monet and Peter Cardinal had crossed at only one place on earth, and that was inside Kitum Cave. What had they done in the cave? What had they found in there? What had they touched? What had they breathed? What lived in Kitum Cave?” – Excerpt from the book The Hot Zone; The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston

While I working as a conservation biologist in the western highlands of Kenya in the late ’90s, one of the local members of the community suggested that I visit Kitum Cave, an interesting place where animals such as elephants “mine” salt from the walls of the cave by using their tusks to break off pieces of the cave and eat it. I’d never heard of the place, and it sounded pretty cool, so I said, “Sounds great—let’s go!”

The next day, three of us drove towards the border of Uganda and entered Mount Elgon National Park, home of Kitum cave. One member of our group was a community leader responsible for managing a variety of crane and wetland conservation efforts in the community around Saiwa Swamp National Park.

We pick up our assigned armed guards to escort us to the cave.
We pick up our assigned armed guards to escort us to the cave.

The second was a local priest I had never met before. He had two PhDs, one in religion and one in ancient languages such as Sumerian and Aramaic. He also led efforts to bring clothes and other donated goods directly from Europe so that he could distribute them to people in need. This approach helped avoid the middleman, which often came in the form of corrupt government officials who required bribes or outright stole the donated items to sell. It was not uncommon to see donated good being sold on the streets for a profit rather than distributed to the intended communities in need.

The third member of the group was me, the clueless guy that didn’t know what he was doing.

Upon entering Mount Elgon National Park, we were informed that we were not allowed to travel alone in the Park because of concerns about our safety due to wildlife. Instead, we were assigned not one, but two armed guards to pile into our small vehicle and escort us to the cave.

After a short, cramped drive, we parked at the Kitum Cave trailhead and were ready to begin our hike.

It was a relatively short walk with some nice scenery…and an occasional pile of elephant dung to add to the ambiance.

Hiking along the trail to Kitum Cave in Mt. Elgon National Park, Kenya
Hiking along the trail to Kitum Cave in Mt. Elgon National Park, Kenya

And as we rounded a corner, we finally spotted Kitum Cave.

Our first glimpse of the entrance to Kitum Cave
Our first glimpse of the entrance to Kitum Cave

First Tour Stop, a Deadly Virus Zone

Little did I know at the time that Kitum Cave was infamous for reasons that would have prevented me from ever considering this trip. I learned later that it was believed to be a possible source of the Marburg Virus, a virus similar to Ebola. I consider that to be an important little nugget of information to have prior to considering a day trip to explore a cave!

Apparently, two people had been killed by Marburg virus and the one thing that they both had in common was a visit to Kitum Cave. In 1980, a 56-year old Frenchman named Charles Monet explored the cave. Seven days later, the virus took its gruesome toll on him as the poor man bled out of all his orifices and died soon after entering a hospital in Nairobi.

Seven years later, a young Danish boy (named Peter Cardinal in Richard Preston’s book, The Hot Zone) contracted Marburg after visiting Kitum Cave. He was eventually taken to Nairobi Hospital (the same hospital as Charles Monet) where the child died.

After the two deaths, a joint U.S. and Kenyan research investigation was formed in attempt to find Marburg Virus in Kitum Cave. The cave was closed to the public while researchers donned the highest level of protective gear as they scoured the cave walls, sampled bat and elephant poop, and captured a variety of bats, birds, and insects. According to locals that I later spoke with, they also kept cages with monkeys in the back of the cave to see if they would contract the virus. Despite these efforts, the team was not successful in locating the virus. So, a few years before my visit, the cave was opened back up to the public.Instead of wearing a Biosafety Level 4 protective body suit and respirator, I entered the cave looking like this:

Mark's "personal protective equipment" for the Kitum Cave exploration.
Mark’s “personal protective equipment” for the Kitum Cave exploration.

Hey, at least I had a flashlight.

The cave is about 700 feet deep into the side of Mount Elgon, and we proceeded to go deep enough into the cave, deep enough to require the use of our flashlights.

After about 30 minutes of exploring the cave, we climbed back in the car and ascended the road to an overlook on Mount Elgon where we could enjoy a nice view of Uganda.

The Hot Zone Connection

After our enjoyable day trip, I was dropped back off at my tent at Sirikwa Safaris. That is where things got a bit more interesting. The owner of Sirikwa Safaris, Jane Barnley, asked how the trip was and told me about a relatively new book published two years prior that I might be interested in since it mentions Kitum Cave. “Sounds interesting, what book is that?”

Inside the entrance of Kitum Cave
Inside the entrance of Kitum Cave

That’s when Jane pulled a copy of The Hot Zone from her bookshelf, handed it to me, and proceeded to give me a quick overview of the key points—featuring gruesome deaths and the belief that Kitum cave was a possible source of the Ebola or Marburg virus.

“What?!” I was stunned. She then went on to explain that Peter Cardinal (the boy from the book) had started feeling sick on the very couch that we were standing next to before he was evacuated by helicopter.

I was a bit surprised to hear this news, putting it mildly, and was thinking to myself, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this before the trip?” I retired to my tent and used a headlamp to stay up most of the night while I devoured the pages of the book.

Then things started to get even more interesting.

The Illness Begins

A few days later, I started feeling ill. Something was off. I was experiencing weird symptoms that included muscle spasms in my chest, near my heart, so that it looked like my skin was bubbling, but it was not in synch with my heartbeat. I was getting concerned, and my recent reading of The Hot Zone didn’t put my mind at ease.

I decided to visit a local doctor who was originally from India but trained in England. He ran the most efficient urgent care clinic I have ever been to in my life. The staff included one person at the front desk and him. That’s it. I walked in and explained my symptoms to the woman at the front desk while she jotted down some notes on a small piece of paper. The doctor entered the room, she handed him the slip of paper, and we stepped back into another room. The doctor asked more questions, drew some of my blood, put it on a slide, and looked at it under a microscope that he had in the back of the room.

He spun his chair around and told me that everything looked okay from the perspective of the normal cast of characters such as malaria and cholera. It was probably just a virus that I picked up from the local food or water. I paid cash at the front desk and that was it. A process that would have taken months in the U.S. for the doctor visit, lab work, lab results, claims submission, claims adjudication, and final payment had all been completed in about thirty minutes and cost me about $20.

View of Uganda from Mt. Elgon National Park
View of Uganda from Mt. Elgon National Park

Over the following week, my symptoms worsened though, and I ended up going to Nairobi National Hospital, the same place where Charles Monet and Peter Cardinal had been taken (and died). After more tests, the doctor couldn’t figure out the cause, but he gave me a prescription that would help clear my body of any parasites to see if that would help. It didn’t.

I eventually caught a flight to see a tropical medicine specialist in Cape Town, South Africa. By that time, the window for Marburg destruction had passed, so thankfully I could at least cross that option off the list. The doctor narrowed it down to a family of viruses that can cause muscle spasms of the intercostal muscles, among other symptoms. He said it wasn’t worth spending more time and money to attempt to figure out which type of virus I had because there was nothing that could be done about it regardless.

In the end, I decided to return to the U.S. and recuperate at my parents’ house in Colorado Springs. After about six months of clean living, while I worked temp jobs to pay the bills, I finally felt back to normal again.

Thankfully, I’m happy to report that I only have one thing in common with Charles Monet and Peter Cardinal: each of us visited Kitum Cave.

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth A Reality: Mitigating Pollution and Climate Change

OCTOBER 15, 2018 BY MARK ASPELIN

Part 4 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at www.half-earthproject.org/news-notes

———————————————————–October 4, 2018

HOW BUSINESSES CAN HELP MAKE HALF-EARTH A REALITY: MITIGATING POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE

by Mark AspelinPart 4 of a 5-part series

This week, we’ll focus on the role that companies play to address pollution, the third biggest threat to biodiversity. This post will also cover the special form of pollution known as climate change.

“Pollution” refers to the introduction of contaminants, such as chemicals, light, noise, or heat, into the natural environment where they may cause negative changes. For example, herbicides and pesticides cause harm to nontarget species, such as insect pollinators, and pose a risk to human health. The discharge of detergents, fertilizers, and sewage into aquatic systems can cause an excess of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which disrupt ecosystems by causing the overgrowth and decay of plants, algae, and phytoplankton. The result is a severe decline in water quality and the creation of an aquatic environment that promotes the survival of simple algae and plankton over more complicated plants.

Then we have the example of acid rain. The burning of fossil fuels generates air pollutants that can either remain in the air as particle pollutants or fall to the ground in the form of acid rain. The sulfuric- and nitric-acid components of acid rain can lead to the acidification of lakes, streams, and forest soils. Species of fish, amphibians, clams, snails, insects, and plants can have a difficult time surviving in acidic conditions. Fish eggs can’t hatch if the pH of water is too low, and fish species, such as salmon, may abandon their spawning areas. When fewer fish spawn and fewer eggs hatch, it creates fewer food options for predators. Acid rain also harms plants and trees by slowing their growth, damaging their leaves, and making the soil more toxic to plants. The key point is that pollution, in all its forms, can cause serious, widespread harm to wildlife and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

Then we have the special form of pollution known as climate change, caused by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the environment. The biggest human-caused sources of these “greenhouse gases”—particularly carbon dioxide—are a result of burning fossil fuels and cutting down carbon-absorbing forests.

Increases in temperature can have a massive impact on wildlife. Some habitats may disappear due to rising sea levels, which are caused by the melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets. Temperature changes have an impact on flowering and fruiting times for plants. They also have a significant impact on the habitat ranges that are occupied by animals. Biologists on the ground are witnessing significant shifts in habitat ranges and species composition in different parts of the world. Some species are showing up in areas where they haven’t been seen previously while other species are starting to disappear from areas where they were once abundant. I recently went to a presentation that showed slide after slide of striking shifts in locations where New Mexico birds have been spotted in the state over the past few decades. For species that can survive in a wide variety of habitat patches, climate change may not pose a major threat. However, species that are isolated in just a few habitat patches or are restricted to mountaintops may not be able to rapidly shift their distribution to survive.

What Can Corporations Do?

Fortunately, pollution is one biodiversity threat that corporations of all shapes and sizes are willing to address, at least to some degree. This is largely due to the thousands of pages of environmental regulations with which corporations must comply to ensure that processes and controls are in place for air emissions, wastewater and stormwater discharge, and hazardous-material transport and storage. However, regulatory pressure isn’t the only reason why corporations pay close attention to pollution. Many of the actions that corporations take to prevent pollution also produce significant cost savings. In addition, the approach that corporations need to take to address pollution include processes and ways of thinking that are familiar to them. When you talk about “minimizing waste” and “improving process efficiency,” you’re speaking the language of business. Waste minimization and process efficiency are topics that already get a lot of attention in corporations through a variety of initiatives, such as Lean, Six Sigma, and quality-management systems.

Companies typically adopt one or more of the following five strategies to address the threats of pollution and climate change: pollution prevention, carbon offsets, environmental design, green building, and green infrastructure. Let’s look at each of these strategies in more detail.

Strategy #1: Pollution Prevention. Most corporations have a pollution-prevention program or project in place, often using the well-known “reduce, reuse, and recycle” concept. Many of these pollution-prevention efforts are driven by regulations, following specific guidance from various regulatory agencies. Other pollution-prevention initiatives aim to go beyond compliance, driven by a company’s desire to identify cost-saving opportunities that also reduce pollution. Pollution-prevention activities that yield the greatest value for business and the environment will vary, depending on the company, industry, and location, but they typically include a combination of training programs, energy audits, “green IT” practices, transportation and fleet efficiency efforts, and initiatives to reduce food and beverage waste and unnecessary packaging. For example, Walmart created a tool for apparel buyers and sourcing teams to help them optimize the size of corrugated cardboard shipping cartons. As a result, Walmart was able to reduce the number of boxes shipped by 8.1 million in one year, saving 6.3 million pounds of corrugate, 7,800 metric tons of greenhouse gases, and US$ 15.3 million in operational costs.

Strategy #2: Carbon Offsets. Carbon offsets (also known as “greenhouse-gas offsets”) are a popular tool that corporations use to address climate change, where the company reduces emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in one area to compensate for emissions that are made elsewhere. This benefits companies by enabling them to meet regulatory requirements at a significantly lower cost compared with the effort and resources required to directly reduce emissions from operations. As for the benefits of carbon offsets to wildlife and biodiversity, the jury is still out.

Strategy #3: Environmental Design. A third powerful corporate strategy for addressing pollution and climate change is to design products, processes, or services in a way that reduces impacts to human health and the environment. This approach is often called Design for the Environment (DfE), and the concept has been around since the early 1990s. Companies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Philips use DfE to identify chemical alternatives that are better for the environment without sacrificing product quality or performance. These companies also look for ways to make it safer and easier to reuse or dispose of products at the end of a product’s useful life. For example, HP’s DfE program identified an opportunity to use recycled plastic instead of virgin plastic for most of its ink cartridges. This enabled HP to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 43 million pounds from 2013 to 2015, which is equivalent to taking 4,125 cars off the road for one year.

Strategy #4: Green Building. Green building is a well-known, cost-effective, environmental-management strategy that businesses have adopted with enormous success. Its popularity continues to grow thanks to numerous examples of green buildings that have yielded significant reductions in environmental impacts while providing a substantial return on investment. For example, in 2006, Adobe estimated a net-present-value rate of return of nearly 20:1 for the initial investment in its headquarters towers. The U.S. Green Building Council estimates that commercial building owners and managers will invest US$ 960 billion globally between 2015 and 2023 on greening their existing buildings. The primary areas of focus are expected to include the installation of more energy-efficient windows, lighting, plumbing fixtures, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Strategy #5: Green Infrastructure. Green infrastructure is similar to green building, but it can take some different forms than a building or roof. The term “green infrastructure” is defined differently by various organizations, but it generally refers to natural systems that are managed to address urban challenges, such as stormwater management, climate adaptation, clean water, and healthy soils. For example, Union Carbide Corporation, a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company, constructed a 110-acre wetland in Texas to serve the function of a wastewater-treatment facility. The wetland was 100% compliant from day zero with all discharge requirements. In addition, the constructed wetland has low energy, maintenance, and resource requirements with no need for pumps, additives, an oxygen system, or added water, and there are no biosolids to handle or dispose. Compared with a wastewater treatment plant, the wetland supports greater biodiversity of plants, animals, and micro-organisms. From a cost perspective, the US$ 1.4 million initial investment and operational capital pales in comparison to the US$ 40 million price tag for a gray infrastructure alternative. It’s a good example of a win-win, profitable-conservation project.

I hope this post gives you a better understanding of how companies can mitigate pollution and climate changes in ways that also benefit biodiversity and wildlife, and can help us get to Half-Earth. In next week’s post, we’ll turn our attention to the final biodiversity threat that we’ll be covering in this series: overharvesting.

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth A Reality: Reducing The Threat of Overharvesting

OCTOBER 29, 2018 BY MARK ASPELIN

Part 5 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at www.half-earthproject.org/news-notes

———————————————————–October 11, 2018

HOW BUSINESSES CAN HELP MAKE HALF-EARTH A REALITY: REDUCING THE THREAT OF OVERHARVESTING

by Mark AspelinPart 5 of a 5-part series

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Reducing the Threat of Overharvesting

October 11, 2018, by Mark Aspelin

Part 5 of a 5-part series

So far in this blog series, we’ve been looked at the role of corporations in addressing three major threats to biodiversity: habitat destruction, invasive species, and pollution. In this fifth and final post, we’ll explore another big biodiversity threat: overharvesting.

“Overharvesting” is a broad term that refers to the harvesting of a renewable resource at a rate that is unsustainable. The term can apply to plants, fish stocks, forests, grazing pastures, and game animals. The motivation behind hunting, fishing, and plant collection may be for food, economic reasons, cultural reasons, or sport. Regardless of the reason, overharvesting implies that changes need to be made to current harvesting practices or else animal and plant populations may not recover. The result can be species extinction at the population or species level, and major ecosystem disturbances due to imbalances in predator–prey relationships.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen many examples of overharvesting over the years—everything from passenger pigeons, tigers, rhinos, and certain species of fish. Let’s look at passenger pigeons as an example.

When famous naturalist and artist John James Audubon was on a trip to St. Louis, Missouri, he noticed a sky that was darkened by a large flock of passenger pigeons flying overhead. He described the flock as having no beginning and no end, and the flock continued as a steady stream for three days. As the story goes, Audubon started to count the number of pigeons that he could see in the sky, but he soon gave up. There were too many to count. Today, it’s quite easy to count how many passenger pigeons are in the sky: zero. They are extinct.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, passenger pigeons were one of the most abundant bird species in the world, with an estimated population of three to five billion birds. That’s twice the number of people on Earth at the time. In only 100 years, passenger pigeons were wiped out of existence, primarily through hunting.

The last verified record of a wild passenger pigeon was in March 1900, when a boy in Pike County, Ohio, shot the bird because it was eating corn at his farm. That left just a few remaining passenger pigeons in a single captive flock at the Cincinnati Zoo. Breeding attempts failed, and the flock dwindled until there was only one left: Martha. A US$ 1,000 reward was offered to anyone who could find a mate for Martha, but none was found. On September 1, 1914, Martha—the last known passenger pigeon—died at the Cincinnati Zoo at the age of 29. Martha’s body is periodically on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and a memorial statue of Martha can be found at the Cincinnati Zoo aviary.

Even if you consider pigeons to be flying rats, the story of the passenger pigeon’s demise still represents a failure of epic proportions when it comes to fulfilling our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment.

In the 1800s, the idea that a species could be hunted to extinction was a foreign concept to most people. Now that we’re in the 2000s, I would like to be able to say that we’ve learned our lesson; unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. Overharvesting is alive and well. For example, unsustainable fishing practices, such as bottom trawling and blast fishing, are still practiced today, and we’ve seen significant declines in several commercial fish populations, such as Atlantic halibut, to the point where their survival is threatened. Tigers and rhinos have been overhunted, primarily for traditional medicines derived from various parts of these magnificent animals. While it’s illegal to hunt and kill tigers and rhinos, the economic incentive from Asian medicinal markets is so great that the hunting of these endangered animals continues.

Thankfully, we may be rounding the corner for some charismatic animal species, such as the tiger. For the first time in more than a century, the world population of tigers is on the rise. The number of tigers has increased from 3,200 to 3,890 from 2010 to 2016. However, there’s still much work to be done to keep this trend heading in the right direction.

Let’s not forget about plants. Roughly 75% of the top 150 prescription drugs in the United States are based on natural sources, and over 25% of prescribed medicines in developed countries are derived from wild plants. We’ve also seen a multibillion-dollar boom in the herbal market, fueled largely by a desire to find “natural approaches” to medicine. In addition, up to 80% of people in developing countries are totally dependent on herbal drugs for their primary healthcare. When you add all of this up, it’s no surprise that medicinal plants are facing significant overharvesting pressures. Roughly 15,000 species of the 50,000 to 80,000 flowering plant species used for medicinal purposes worldwide are threatened with extinction from overharvesting and habitat destruction.

What Can Corporations Do?

The best way that most companies large and small can help prevent overharvesting is to “green” their supply chain. “Greening the supply chain” adds an environmental lens to traditional supply-chain management practices. Greening the supply chain is also an effective strategy for combating other biodiversity threats, such as habitat destruction and pollution.

Activities to green the supply chain may include a variety of environment-focused actions that guide a company’s interactions with its various suppliers, including:

  • Setting environmental standards that all suppliers must meet.
  • Creating performance goals, metrics, and supplier scorecards that are used to monitor and evaluate supplier performance over time.
  • Establishing a supplier-audit program to verify that suppliers have successfully implemented processes that are effective in reducing environmental impacts.
  • Improving business processes to reduce environmental impacts.
  • Identifying alternative materials that have a smaller environmental footprint.
  • Partnering with government agencies, industry groups, and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to look for new ways to improve environmental performance.

Greening the supply chain is definitely a profitable-conservation strategy—just ask Dell Computer. Dell holds supplier-innovation summits to generate new ideas for improvements across all areas of the supply chain. For example, one supplier-innovation summit generated the idea that it can remove toxic paints from some of its computers and replace it with a much safer film covering.

Another Dell supplier came up with the idea to mix in straw grass with wood-based pulp for some of Dell’s corrugate boxes. Straw grass is a more quickly renewable resource compared to trees. In addition, straw grass is burned as a farming waste product in parts of China. Rather than burn the straw grass, it could be utilized in the corrugate boxes. Because of this suggestion, Dell now uses a mix of 30% straw grass pulp in some of its boxes. Dell’s innovation program has reduced supply-chain costs by roughly US$ 100 million annually for the past two years.

Dell is not alone. In 2013, Walmart announced that it saved US$ 150 million from supply-chain sustainability efforts in that year alone. General Motors established a reusable-container program with its suppliers and was able to reduce disposal costs by US$ 12 million while reducing environmental impacts. Texas Instruments saves about US$ 8 million per year through supply-chain management practices, such as reducing source materials and reducing and reusing packaging.

As you can see from the examples above, greening your supply chain can add real value to your business by cutting costs, driving innovation for new products and processes, improving customer and consumer perception of your company, and helping you meet or exceed environmental regulations and performance targets.

Greening the supply chain isn’t the only strategy that corporations pursue when it comes to preventing overharvesting. Some companies are leveraging their technology to help prevent hunting of endangered wildlife. Let’s look at Cisco Systems as an example.

Cisco Systems has partnered with Dimension Data on a Connected Conservation initiative to track rhino poachers at a game reserve in South Africa. Cisco and Dimension Data are using seismic sensors, drone cameras, thermal imaging, biometric scanning, and networking technology to track the movements of all humans who enter the reserve grounds. Park rangers use these new tools in combination with traditional sniffer dogs and trained soldiers on the ground to catch and deter poachers while minimizing disturbances to the endangered rhinos. The results have been impressive so far. The Connected Conservation initiative has been successful in reducing rhino poaching at the South African reserve by 96%.

In the future, this approach may be leveraged to protect other endangered species throughout the world. The main obstacle that prevents the spread of this technological approach is the US$ 1.5 million-per-year cost of the system. More and more companies are leveraging their products and technologies to develop solutions that directly help in the fight against overharvesting.

Parting Words

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog series highlighting four of the major threats to biodiversity, and the role that businesses play in helping us get to Half-Earth.

Before I sign off, I want to provide you with one last reminder of the upcoming Half-Earth Day event that will be held on October 22, 2018 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This year’s event includes a “Learning from Local Stewards” panel discussion highlighting key learnings from in-country indigenous and local community leaders, as well as a panel called “Half-Earth: How to Save the Natural World” that will be moderated by The New York Timescolumnist Thomas L. Friedman and feature E.O. Wilson and legendary recording artist Paul Simon. To learn more about Half-Earth Day, visit http://www.half-earthproject.org/half-earth-day. It’s going to be a great event.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog series, and I look forward to meeting you at Half-Earth Day!

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth A Reality: Combating Invasive Species

OCTOBER 1, 2018 BY MARK ASPELIN

Part 3 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at www.half-earthproject.org/news-notes

———————————————————–September 27, 2018

HOW BUSINESSES CAN HELP MAKE HALF-EARTH A REALITY: COMBATING INVASIVE SPECIES

by Mark AspelinPart 3 of a 5-part series

You may be surprised to learn that invasive species rank second only to habitat destruction when it comes to the biggest threats to biodiversity.  In the United States alone, there are an estimated 1,000 invasive species. Some of these species, such as kudzu (pictured above), were brought in the U.S. deliberately, while other species, like the zebra mussel, arrived by accident. Regardless of how they arrive, invasive species can do a lot of ecological and economic damage. The overall economic cost of invasive species in the U.S. is estimated to be around US$ 120 billion per year.

One of the more infamous examples is the zebra mussel, which frequently appears on lists of the worst invasive species. Back in 1988, the zebra mussel hitched a ride in the ballast water of a transatlantic freighter, arriving in Lake St. Clair—a freshwater lake located between Ontario and Michigan. The mussel quickly spread to other watersheds, such as the Great Lakes and the Hudson River, by riding the currents and hitching a ride on anchors, the bottom of boats, and other human-mediated modes of transport. Zebra mussels like to attach to stable objects. Stable objects can take the form of clams and other mussel species, which they can kill by reducing their ability to move, feed, and breed. This is how the zebra mussel wiped out certain species of clams in Lake St. Clair as well as other freshwater mussel species in Ireland. It’s estimated that at least 30 species of freshwater mussel are threatened with extinction because of the zebra mussel. Other stable objects to which zebra mussels like to attach include water-treatment-facility pipes and electricity-generation infrastructure. The mussels grow in thick densities, which can block pipes and clog water intakes. As a result, corporations in these industries spend a great deal of time and money monitoring and removing mussels from their infrastructure, and companies in the shipping industry must manage their ballast water to ensure that invasive species aren’t along for the ride.

When it comes to invasive species, there are three basic strategies that corporations can adopt to manage the issue: prevention processes, early detection and rapid response, and restoration of native habitat.

The best—and most cost-effective—way to manage invasive species is to prevent them from entering in the first place. Of course, that’s easier said than done. To accomplish this, a company will need to implement a systematic process that monitors for high-risk invaders at critical control points such as wooden packing material, horticultural plants, and ship ballast water, as we saw in the zebra mussel example above.

While prevention is our first line of defense, no matter how many regulations or how much money we throw at preventing invasive species, some will continue to arrive. When they do arrive, we’ll want to have a second strategy in place to address this threat: early detection and rapid response (EDRR). The earlier we detect an invasive species, the better chance we have at eradicating before it before it multiplies and spreads, which translates into substantial costs and resources. Companies can participate in an EDRR system using their own staff, or by partnering with local universities, Native Plant Society organizations, and other trained experts to help with a baseline inventory and ongoing monitoring.

For the “rapid response” piece of EDRR, our goal is to eradicate—or at least slow down—the invasive species after we spot it. In some cases, scientists will recommend that a newly introduced species be tolerated and monitored, as the cost of eradication may be too great, and some invasions will recede on their own. In other cases, it’s time to act by using a variety of mechanical, chemical, or biological control techniques. Each of these control techniques has a variety of pros and cons that go beyond the scope of this short post.

The third strategy that corporations can take to combat the issue of invasive species is to restore habitat by removing invasive species and replacing them with native species. This may take the form of landscaping with native plants, planting meadows and gardens that are attractive to pollinators, and building wetlands or artificial ponds that provide water sources for local wildlife.  For example, in Pacheco, Argentina, Volkswagen created an artificial lake near its facility to collect rainwater and provide a habitat for indigenous flora and fauna. This effort provides a natural landscape for the industrial center, and 62 species of birds have been counted at the lake.

For many companies, the value proposition for these three strategies to combat invasive species will come in the form of ecosystem services and more intangible benefits in the forms of employee satisfaction and fostering goodwill with customers, regulators, and the local community. For other companies, the proactive implementation of programs to prevent, detect, and respond to invasive species can yield more tangible cost savings. Let’s take another look at the zebra mussel’s impact on water-treatment and electricity-generating facilities.

In the United Kingdom, Thames Water spends £1 million a year on clearing zebra mussels from its raw water pipes and water-treatment facilities and applying heavy doses of chlorine to deter the mussels, while Anglian Water spends £500,000 a year tackling the problem. In the United States, zebra mussels are estimated to have cost municipalities and power companies over US$ 1.5 billion over the past 25 years. Another study came up with a cost estimate of US$ 267 million for all water-treatment and electricity-generating facilities from 1989 through 2004. These are big numbers. Any prevention, early detection, and rapid-response actions that corporations in those industries successfully implement can yield a significant return on investment.

Coming attractions: In next week’s post, we’ll turn our attention to the biodiversity threats of pollution and climate change. In the meantime, don’t forget to make plans to attend the October 22, 2018 Half-Earth Day event in New York City – it’s going to be a great event!  To learn more about Half-Earth Day, visit http://www.half-earthproject.org/half-earth-day.

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Alleviating Habitat Destruction

SEPTEMBER 17, 2018 BY MARK ASPELIN

Part 2 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at www.half-earthproject.org/news-notes

———————————————————–September 12, 2018

HOW BUSINESSES CAN HELP MAKE HALF-EARTH A REALITY: ALLEVIATING HABITAT DESTRUCTION

by Mark AspelinPart 2 of a 5-part series

Habitat destruction is the #1 issue that impacts wildlife and biodiversity today.  The term “habitat destruction” can refer to the complete destruction of a habitat or, more commonly, habitat fragmentation, where a large, continuous area of a habitat is divided into two or more fragments. The primary culprit behind habitat destruction is a change in land use. The most common forms include clearing land for agricultural use, extractive industries like logging or mining, and expanding urban or residential development.

There are five common strategies that corporations use to combat habitat destruction, four of which we will cover here: avoidance; minimization; rehabilitation and restoration; and biodiversity offsets and voluntary compensatory actions. The fifth major strategy—supply chain management—we’ll cover later in this 5-part series.

The first—and best—strategy that companies can adopt to address habitat destruction and biodiversity loss is a simple one: avoid any development or operations in areas identified as important habitat for species that are classified as endangered, threatened or vulnerable to extinction; or areas that have been identified as critical for the conservation of biodiversity because of existing species richness.

On land that is not categorized as an avoidance zone, corporations shift their attention towards minimization strategies that reduce the duration, intensity and extent of their impacts for biodiversity and wildlife. Minimization strategies can take a wide variety of forms, including site selection strategies, operational policies and procedures, wildlife corridors and green roofs. For example, to transport material and facilities needed for a project located near the fragile Tibetan plateau of the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve, workers from the State Grid Corporation of China used an “Electricity Caravan” of horses rather than build roads or bridges in this ecologically sensitive area. In another example, companies such as Facebook, Macy’s, and Ford have installed green roofs, which not only save money, but also provide habitat for a variety of insects and birds.

In situa­tions where avoidance and minimization are not practical or feasible, companies may turn to a third strategy: rehabilitation and restoration. With this strategy, a company attempts to rehabilitate degraded ecosystems or restore cleared ecosys­tems in areas that have previously been cleared, developed or neglected. In another example from China, The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) pursued an ecological restoration effort as part of its Western Pipeline project. As soon as the new pipes were laid down and buried, CNPC planted vegetation to restore the original landscape and followed up with annual monitoring and remediation measures.

If avoidance, minimization and restoration strategies aren’t viable options, then companies may pursue a fourth strategy: biodiversity offsets and voluntary compensatory actions. A well-known example of a voluntary compensatory action is Walmart’s Acres for America Program, which has a goal to conserve one acre of wildlife habitat for every acre of land developed by Walmart stores.

So where does the Half-Earth Project fit in? The Half-Earth Project is creating a global map of fine resolution species distribution that will provide companies, such as Walmart, a unique tool for decision-making in support of biodiversity. The Half-Earth Map can be used to see where various species groups have rich or rare populations, so that companies can avoid development in these special places. The Half-Earth Map can also be used to identify the places that offer the best opportunity to offset biodiversity impacts through conservation management of land that is particularly rich in biodiversity. This tool can guide and ensure that conservation investments are happening in the optimal places for biodiversity while also showcasing the biodiversity value that these kinds of investments can bring to these places.

That wraps up our whirlwind tour of how corporations can address the biodiversity threat of habitat destruction, and how the Half-Earth Project can help corporations make sound decisions that are good for business and good for biodiversity.

In next week’s post, we’ll turn our attention to the #2 threat to biodiversity: invasive species. See you then!

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Introduction

In this five-part blog series, we’ll explore how corporations can address four of the five major threats to biodiversity, often referred to as HIPPO: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, and overharvesting.

SEPTEMBER 3, 2018 BY MARK ASPELIN

Part 1 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at www.half-earthproject.org/news-notes

———————————————————–September 12, 2018

HOW BUSINESSES CAN HELP MAKE HALF-EARTH A REALITY: INTRODUCTION

by Mark Aspelin, Part 1 of a 5-part series

When it comes to protecting half of the Earth to conserve biodiversity, we all have a role to play, and corporations are no exception.  In fact, businesses of all shapes and sizes will play a critical role in making Half-Earth a reality.

In this five-part blog series, we’ll explore how corporations can address four of the five major threats to biodiversity, often referred to as HIPPO: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, and overharvesting. Climate change is part of “H” as it plays a major role in altering and destroying habitats.   I’ll be providing you with some real-world examples of how companies are tackling these issues today.  We’ll also look at how businesses can work with the Half-Earth Project to manage these threats to biodiversity. While the goal of Half-Earth is to protect half the land and sea in order to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity, this does not mean that large tracts of land will be fenced off and protected from human trespass.  As anyone with on-the-ground conservation experience can attest to, conservation measures can’t be separated from human activities and interests.  To be successful, strategies to protect biodiversity must be integrated with strategies that consider economic and social concerns.

The Half-Earth Project is busy working on a variety of initiatives to drive research, provide leadership, and engage people to participate broadly in the goal to conserve half of our planet.  One important initiative that launched in March 2018 and was featured in a NY Times Op-Ed by E.O Wilson, “Mapping Earth’s Species to Identify Conservation Priorities” (https://www.half-earthproject.org/blog-posts/2018/3/5/mapping-earths-species-to-identify-conservation-priorities), is the creation of a cutting-edge biodiversity map that will support data-driven conservation.  As the map takes shape in the coming years, we’ll no doubt discover that a significant chunk of the land that we would like to protect is either privately held or greatly influenced by the operations and purchasing decisions of corporations.  The achievement of Half-Earth will, therefore, include broad stakeholder participation.

My hope is that this blog series will provide you with a glimpse of how we can bridge the gap between the efforts of corporations and biologists to protect our planet’s wildlife, biodiversity, and natural resources.  Fortunately, conservation versus profit is not a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. There are many win-win scenarios, which are good for business (e.g., reduced costs, reduced risk, and increased profits) and good for biodiversity (e.g., healthy species, populations, and ecosystems).

Next week, I’ll be focusing on the biggest threat to biodiversity, habitat destruction, and I’ll share some strategies and examples of how companies can address this issue.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll make plans to attend the October 22, 2018 Half-Earth Day event that will be held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  This year’s event includes a “Learning from Local Stewards” panel discussion highlighting key learnings from in-country indigenous and local community leaders, as well as a panel called “Half-Earth: How to Save the Natural World” that will be moderated by NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and feature E.O. Wilson and legendary recording artist Paul Simon.  To learn more about Half-Earth Day, visit http://www.half-earthproject.org/half-earth-day.  I hope to see you there!