Save ‘Life Below Water’

This year, there are two important international events to galvanise efforts to address the deepening crises of biodiversity loss and climatic change.

The Convention of Biological Diversity in China in May will seek to secure commitments to halt biodiversity-loss, whilst the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November, will aim to further the Paris Agreement goals and reduce carbon emissions.

These will both require cross-government commitment but, it will be their resulting actions that will be assessed for years to come, as to whether enough was done to avert these crises and reach a ‘new stable state’.

Sir David Attenborough gave an impassioned speech to the UN Security Council this week. He urged the assembly of nations for their immediate collaborative action to avert the global “collapse of everything that gives us security”, to work together to lessen climate change, and “to value nature… beyond money”. He recounted the rising global temperatures, current atmospheric CO2 concentrations “that have not been equalled, for millions of years”, the despoiling of oceans, and the catastrophic decline of biodiversity as the contributing factors. Above all, he recognised the need for every one of us to do what we can to lessen the resulting disasters ahead.

We, of course, expect our governments to step-up, listen to Sir David and other experts, and take the immediate, necessary action but, what can we do as businesses, and as individuals?

I know many of us are currently focused on our own survival during this current COVID-19 crisis, but it is also an ideal time for the travel and tourism business to review its pre-pandemic activity: identify negative impact, and seek to better manage, or ideally minimise it. I believe that actions must now be more than just ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’, in fact we should adopt a multifaceted approach that seeks to address the key drivers of climate change: carbon emissions, over-exploitation of natural resources, and biodiversity loss.

Animal protection may not be the priority for most travel businesses, but recognising its impact on climatic change, perhaps it should be…

I co-founded ANIMONDIAL to help the travel and tourism sector work through the complexities of animal and nature protection in tourism and identify which actions can be taken to minimise negative impact and restore the health of the natural environment. It is certainly vital to ensure your product offerings are aligned to your animal protection commitment but why not also think about how you can restore biodiversity in the destinations you visit. ANIMONDIAL’s Build Back Better for Animals initiative is offering webinars, trainings and services to inform, inspire and empower travel and tourism professionals. Providing all that you need to assess impact, and review and improve current practices.

For example, consider what you can do to better protect our oceans and seas.

These cover 70% of Earth’s surface and within them live tiny plant-like organisms, known as phytoplankton. Just like plants and trees they contain chlorophyll that capture sunlight and use photosynthesis to convert it to energy, producing oxygen as a by-product. Phytoplankton are as equally important as rainforests and woodlands and produce over 50% of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 x more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere (World Economic Forum, 2019). They also support all life within seas and oceans, including approximately 16% of all animal protein consumed globally and the livelihoods of 40 million people (OECD, 2016).

Damage to these fragile environments, through pollution (plastic, chemical, fertilisers, etc), overfishing and trawling, damping of waste, etc., kills the phytoplankton, realising stored carbon, and removes that life support. Not only does this exacerbate global warming, but also threatens to change our climate and weather patterns. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “more than 90% of the warming that has occurred on Earth over the past 50 years has happened within the ocean”.

The point I wish to make is that whilst it is important to focus on carbon emission reduction, such as converting to green energies and cutting out single-use plastics, it is equally, if not more important to protect and regenerate the life on Earth that already exists. From ‘Life Under the Water’ (SDG14) to ‘Life on Land’ (SDG15). A mature tree holds over 100 times more carbon, and life support, that a newly planted sampling; placing more importance to preserving primary forests than planting more trees.

By adopting measures to better protect animals (biodiversity) and nature (life support), we have a chance to lessen the crises that Sir David had said are inevitable if ‘we’ continue on ‘our’ current path.

Each month I aim to focus on different natural environments and mention projects that are doing great work to better protect that environment. Offering travel businesses the opportunity to learn about their work, I hope travel businesses will support their activities and fulfil their SDG obligations. This month, acknowledging the start of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development – a framework to support the sustainable management of the oceans – I have focused on actions to save ‘Life Below Water’ SDG14 – “to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. The following are all members of ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network:

Save the Aegean

Save the Aegean is an initiative of the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation that aims to form an alliance between environmentalists, scientists, businesses, and consumers to reduce the environmental footprint on this popular sea.

Save the Aegean aims to contribute to the protection and preservation of the Aegean Sea’s rare biodiversity, through filling in knowledge gaps via research and awareness raising through effective conservation actions and eco-tourism.

Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary (AMLS)

The Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary aims to become the world’s first sanctuary for dolphins, displaced from zoo attractions, and provide rescue and rehabilitation of sick, injured or ‘at-risk’ marine animals. Serving as a model of a multi-disciplinary teaching facility, AMLS will focus on providing solutions-based initiatives to better protect marine mammals and turtles through a ‘unified’ Mediterranean Marine Mammal Rescue Network.

Barbados Environmental Conservation Trust (BECT)

The Barbados Environmental Conservation Trust (BECT) has been set up to enable and support local communities and environmental activities aimed at the preservation and restoration of Barbados’ natural assets including the conservation of its marine life. Supported projects include the protection of marine life, particular turtles, and the regeneration of its coral reefs. Efforts seek to restore the country’s marine biodiversity, protect its beaches from erosion, and boost the attractiveness of the habitats for ecotourism.

CCell

A UK-based organisation, CCell was founded to solve the one of the of most devastating effects of climate change: The degradation of the world’s coral reefs and coastal erosion. CCell provides a cost-effective, long-term and sustainable solution by utilising energy from renewable sources to generate rock at a rate grown 2-3 times faster than in nature.

Corals grown in hatcheries are planted onto the rock creating a reef benefitting the environment and providing comprehensive coastal protection. Their pilot project in Mexico is underway and in collaboration with the local community and international artists, they now wish to develop an underwater attraction to appeal to the eco-tourism market and extend the protected marine zone. The project aims to improve knowledge and encourage cross-community support creating a site of marine restoration, environmental education and cultural appreciation.

Please get in touch if you would like to be introduced to one of these exciting projects that are protecting Life Below Water.

» More about ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network 

» Sir David Attenborough’s speech to the United Nations Security Council (February 2021)

Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL

Build Back Better for Animals – Defining your commitment

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Year 2020 has been a truly devastating year for the travel and tourism sector, and some may say that it is a completely inappropriate time to encourage business to become more responsible and to better protect animals.

However, this pandemic has demonstrated the outcome of overexploitation of natural resources for economic gain, and the deadly consequences of ignoring expert warnings. Whereby the exploitation of nature, its wildlife, and its limited resources, results in biodiversity loss, climate change, and greater potential of viral emergence. During tourism sector resurgence, there is perhaps no greater need to review and reduce our negative impact to ensure our future resilience.

This is also the view of Prue Stone, Head of Sustainability at the UK-based adventure tour specialist, Explore. As with most travel businesses, 2020 has been incredibly challenging but, despite restricted working hours, company management has fully supported her decision to work with ANIMONDIAL, and others, to create Explore’s animal protection commitment.

In the hope that Prue’s experiences can inspire and guide other travel businesses to create their own business’ commitment to better protect animals – I have asked Prue to share her thoughts:

“Developing Explore’s animal protection commitment was both a necessity and a luxury. The need for change is very real, and the time for change is now. However, in such a challenging time, and noting that it takes time to create a suitable policy, and possibly money involved, it is also a luxury. A balance needs to be found.”

ANIMONDIAL advocates the importance for each business to create their own animal protection policy within their wider sustainability commitment. Ever since I started work with the Federation of Tour Operators in 2004, creating animal protection guidance for travel businesses (that formed the groundwork for ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines), I have advised businesses to create their own unique commitment as the first important step. Defining their next steps.

“I think the process of creating a policy from scratch, or even reviewing an existing one, can become a point of reflection, or internal audit. We all assume we are “doing the right thing”, but when was the last time we actively checked? By writing down clear guidelines, providing explanations and examples, and communicating them clearly through the business and supply chain, you are ensuring transparency and greater understanding. Ultimately it will allow us to move towards a better future for animals and wildlife and encourage others to do the same.”

Knowing where to start, and what to include in your policy is a challenge. Particularly with so many issues, external pressures, and the multitude of animal species and activities available – whilst also seeking to protect local livelihoods – How do you start drafting such a policy?

“I started by reading other companies’ policies, in a variety of industries, thinking about how each of these made me feel. I wanted to create something that felt authentic to Explore, which encapsulates how we operate and what we believe in. But there are so many issues to consider, and no one policy will ever be perfect. I take comfort from this. I didn’t need to create a policy that could be scribed in stone, I needed to create one that was right for us now, and acknowledge that it will change over time. And indeed, the changes that we need to make also take time.”

Unfortunately, it is never the case of one approach fits all, and your animal protection commitment should reflect your companies’ brand values and operations, but are there key principles to include that you would recommend to other travel businesses?

“The most important components of any policy are commitment and support, more so than the finer detail. Commitment from the person or team writing the policy, those that make the operational changes as a result, those communicating the policy and those ultimately adhering to the guidelines on the ground. There also has to be support from the top level of management, to allow for the time this process can take and how it will filter through the business’ operations.”

Tour operators are regularly under pressure by well-intentioned activists to remove certain practices with animals or modify operations. How do you manage these pressures around your commercial obligations, or have you just removed the ‘unacceptable’ activities all together?

“It is important to identify any areas of concern or activities which are known to harm animals and to act quickly in the first instance. However I don’t believe removing all activity is the answer to sustainable industry-wide change and a knee-jerk response may also cause greater detriment. Change comes from working together, learning from one another; across cultures, countries, industries. At Explore we know, we alone will not have the impact that is needed to protect all animals, but if we reach out to our peers, our suppliers and our customers and together we all move in the right direction – then we can start to see the changes that are so desperately needed.”

Consulting experts can help improve understanding and navigate the complexities of the topic, as well as help to predict the likely outcomes if certain activities are removed from product offerings. Explore acquired the support of NGOs Four Paws and the Born Free Foundation, as well as the expertise of ANIMONDIAL. How did that work out for you, and would you advise other businesses to work with experts when creating their animal protection commitment?

“The breadth of advice, the different perspectives, and the challenge this all presented was as important as the resulting policy. One size doesn’t fit all, and each partner added something unique. Four Paws, for example, highlighted the need to weave the community element into our policy, whilst ANIMONDIAL offers a board spectrum of knowledge and are specialists within the travel industry. It was the combination of ideals of “perfect” animal protection with the reality of human nature, our own ethos at Explore, and what we want for our holidays and customers resulted that ultimately defined our commitment.”

» Find out more about Explore’s Animal Protection Commitment

ANIMONDIAL also provides additional guidance to help travel businesses mitigate risk, minimise negative impact on nature and biodiversity, reduce the potential for disease transference, procure appropriate animal-based product and Build Back Better for Animals.

The ANIMONDIAL team wishes our blog readers a Merry Christmas and a New Year full of hope and resurgence.

Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIALPrue Stone, Head of Sustainability, Explore

How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected animals

Photo: Mahouts Elephant Foundation

Photo: Mahouts Elephant Foundation

World news during the COVID-19 lockdown has been full of reports documenting what appears to be a revitalised nature. As human activity – industry, transport, and tourism – has stopped during global lockdown, levels of air, water and noise pollution have dramatically dropped, and nature has taken advantage. So much so, there have been encouraging reports of rewilding of urban areas. Where wildlife, from coyotes, spotted at the Golden Gate Bridge, to deer, wild horses and boar seen gazing in downtown Washington DC, Izmir and Barcelona, to dolphins observed swimming in Istanbul’s Bosphoros and the canals of Venice, have seemingly taken advantage of the lack of humans.

In my last blog, I considered humanity’s negative impact on nature and how our activities are causing heightened loss of biodiversity, which in turn, threatens our own existence. Now that human activity is reduced, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, it presents a unique opportunity to see if, and how nature will take back control, but further how humanity can better manage its negative impact on nature.

For instance, the lack of tourists visiting national parks may well have stemmed the tide of negative impact caused by ‘overtourism’, but the lack of tourism revenue has resulted in park staff losing their employment, ending anti-poaching patrols and wildlife monitoring, and local people, their livelihoods. However, this has caused other pressures, with conservation NGOs raising the alarm that threatened wildlife are suffering from heightened illegal logging and wildlife poaching.

ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network partner, the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation recognises both the positive and negative consequences of the pandemic:

“Whilst COVID-19 has greatly impacted our research and conservation work due to travel restrictions, this unique situation has provided a unique opportunity to monitor marine ecosystems, which for the first-time face reduced human impact and minimal underwater noise pollution. It has also given Archipelagos more time to devote to the continued development of the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary. Once complete this will provide refuge for dolphins, seals, and sea turtles threatened by the immense impact of human activity on our seas and our planet overall.”

Elsewhere, wildlife reliant on humans for food, have ventured into urban areas in search of food. The deer from Japan’s Nara Park and primates in Lopburi Thailand, who are usually fed by tourists, have invaded city streets during the lockdown to find food. Their dependency on ‘free’, and likely calory-rich foods, from people has altered their natural feeding behaviour.

Whereas animals kept in a captive environment, who are also dependent on people for food, but lack the freedom to search for it themselves, are completely dependent on their carers. However, their presence, and the quality of care they provide is often dependent on revenues raised through ticket sales, government subsidised and donations, which have all but stopped the last three months.

This sense of purpose and responsibility for animal protection is evidenced by one of ANIMONDIAL’s partners, Ape Action Africa, a sanctuary for rescued primates in West Africa:

“Our initial challenge was to do everything possible to protect our rescued primates from the risk of COVID-19. Enhanced health and safety protocols were put in place, and our team began living permanently on-site; education and community programmes were suspended, and our doors were closed to the public. Though these steps have so far been effective in keeping our endangered gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys safe, their future is by no means secure. Our income has dropped dramatically, and we are facing the biggest funding crisis in our history. We have cut our costs as far as possible, but we have to provide care for our 280 rescued primates, and our financial reserves are rapidly diminishing. We would ask anyone who is in a position to support our work to please donate and help us keep caring through these incredibly challenging times.”

Equally, the lack of tourism revenue has been tough on animal-based attractions. Reports from Thailand reveal that most of the 300+ elephant tourism venues have closed. The lack of income and restrictions on business operation has meant that many of the elephants have had to leave the venues and return home. This includes the elephant “centrals” like Ban Taklang Elephant village in East Thailand. Here the elephants’ sustenance and shelter has become the responsibility of their original owners who, before the pandemic, had survived off the rent of their elephants to the tourist camps. Now with no income, their future, that of their families and their elephants are becoming increasingly desperate.

If these hardships continue, only the most resourceful will survive. As demonstrated by ANIMONDIAL partner, the Mahouts Elephant Foundation, which runs ethical elephant-based experiences in northern Thailand:

“Overnight there was a complete stop in guest bookings that included international school groups, our own annual study abroad field course and some ground-breaking exciting research. All income came to an abrupt halt which is a huge challenge for any organisation. Whilst we have re-scheduled some bookings for later in the year, it will take some time for things to return to pre-pandemic normality. We are a highly skilled team on the ground and I am so incredibly proud of our team for re acting with professionalism and a passion for the work we do, everyone without exception has pulled together and due to some emergency funding we are keeping our whole team intact. We are continuing with planned infrastructure work, offering those in the community intensive English lessons and teaching mindfulness to key members of the team. We are excited to re-launch our guest programme as soon as travel is open again.”

Whilst it is fair to say that wildlife in the wild has had some respite from destructive human interference, it is perhaps premature to state that nature as made a comeback. However, these 100 days have given us a chance to take stock and change the way we think about change. Ultimately, whether this pandemic is good or bad for the environment depends not on the virus, but on humanity. As lockdowns are eased across the world, we have a choice of returning to unsustainable ‘business as usual’, or to take responsibility for our actions, protect nature, and work towards a better future.

ANIMONDIAL seeks a better world, where tourism is kind to animals. During COVID-19 pandemic, it is offering non-profit organisations access to FREE support and guidance through its ANIMAL PROTECTION NETWORK. Whilst tour operators have the chance to include responsible alternative animal activities in their holiday offerings. If you are interested in finding out more, drop us a message.

Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL