Remote Research: Isolated Offices, But Conservation Continues

Throughout the world, closures and lockdowns aimed to stop the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted many people’s lives and work. As a global institution, the Missouri Botanical Garden does research around the world, making travel restrictions a major hindrance. The “stay at home” order means staff has lost access to the Garden’s herbarium and labs, too.

But of course, they’ve adapted. Some are using the time to catch up on data analysis. Others are completing manuscripts, which communicate the findings of their work, and floras, a descriptive list of plants in a particular region. And in more remote locations, like protected sites in Madagascar, conservation efforts go on.

“None of us are running out of stuff we can do,” says Jim Miller , Senior Vice President of Science and Conservation.  “Everybody’s got a laptop, we’re all able to work.”

Even being an island, the Garden’s staff in Madagascar knew they wouldn’t be spared from the effects of the pandemic, says Sylvie Andriambololonera, a Garden Researcher based in Madagascar.

On March 19, the last international flight left the island. The state ordered confinement in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, where the Garden’s office is located, and public transportation and gatherings were shut down. Trips abroad, or even within the country, were put on hold and workshops were postponed or cancelled. On one trip, three botanists planned to go into the field to collect botanical samples for national partner laboratories and experts based in Paris and Zurich.

“These missions have been planned as a race against time because the only chance to collect samples of fertile plants to be named accurately is in March…or the next month at the latest.”

Sylvie Andriambololonera

But in the end, they had to cancel. They worried locals might push them away, fearing visitors from the capital may be carrying the virus, or that further travel restrictions might leave the team trapped.

Regulations in Antananarivo meant very limited staff could go into the office, and had to follow many precautions when they did so to avoid spreading the virus. An emergency meeting was held to determine the best way to handle remote work, with teleworking, for those who work on or use databases, and other activities writing reports and analyzing data, that can be done at home somewhat easily. But it did require ensuring everyone had a mobile connection at home, and Andriambololonera had to copy necessary files onto an external hard drive to prepare for an extended confinement time.

“This is to say, here as elsewhere, everything is in slow motion,” she says.

One place work does continue as normal is at the Garden’s 13 conservation sites in Madagascar, according to Jim Miller, Senior Vice President of Science and Conservation. Madagascar’s relatively few cases of coronavirus have been reported in the capital. The confinement order pertains to the more densely populated urban areas. far from the sites located in sparsely-populated rural areas. 

“I don’t see that there’s any likelihood that will change,” Miller adds.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every facet of our lives, the Garden’s critical work conserving plant life goes on. These efforts would not be possible without your support. Consider helping us continue our mission in these uncertain times by becoming a member or making a donation.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

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