Insect spraying: save the bees!

Published in Poisons Beware

A bee sting can cause a severe allergic reaction in a vulnerable person. Under current Croatian law, insects which cause allergic reactions must be subjected to an annual programme of suppression.

Bumble-bee with bottle-brush flower. Bumble-bee with bottle-brush flower. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

A bee sting can even be fatal. Is that a reason for bees to be suppressed, their breeding grounds and habitats destroyed? Current Croatian law appears to say yes.

The Croatian Law for Protecting the Population Against Transmissible Diseases was passed in September 19921. It presented a list of 62 diseases of special concern, and the various measures for dealing with them. It covered issues such as immunizations, quarantine, border controls, and special measures in case of epidemics. Preventive actions included compulsory disinfection, insect suppression and rodent elimination. A separate document entitled 'Directive governing the implementation of the compulsory disinfection, insect suppression and rodent elimination measures' was issued in March 20072. It stated: "insect suppression measures are various methods used, with the aim of reducing an insect population at least to a threshold level; they prevent growth and an increase in the insect numbers, or completely eliminate the targeted population of harmful insects..." (Article 2, Clause 9).

Pollinator at work. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The Law as related to insect suppression focussed purely on transmissible diseases (Article II, Clause 3). It was updated in 20073, 2008 (NN 113/08) and 2009 (NN 43/09), and amended in 2017 (NN 130/17) coming into force in January 2018.

By 2014, the list of diseases had expanded to 994. The Directive, which was updated in 2012, lists six types of insect as disease vectors: mosquitoes, sandflies, flies, fleas, lice and ticks. But it goes way beyond these with six more categories of 'harmful' insects to be suppressed: those which can 'transmit micro-organisms mechanically' such as cockroaches and ants; parasites such as lice; 'poisonous arthropods', including black widow spiders, wasps, hornets, horse-flies and centipedes; 'warehouse pests' such as moths, beetles and mites; pests 'important for aesthetic or public health reasons', such as springtails, woodlice, earwigs and crickets; and 'insects which cause allergic reactions', including pigeons, swallows, moths such as the pine processionary and brown-tail moths, paederus beetles, house-mites, dust-mites and poultry-mites5 (Article 2, Clause 10).

Even though bees are not included in the official list of 'enemy insects', they definitely qualify in the allergy category. As things stand, they are on the front line, even though they are not named in the target list.

Bee with hibiscus, on the front line? Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Pollinators are essential

There is widespread concern about the loss of bees, with some types even listed as endangered6. Pesticides are implicated in the decline, causing different kinds of harm, including damaging changes in bee behaviours7,8. Measures are suggested to protect bees, especially honey bees9, but total protection is impossible, especially when insecticides are used on a large scale.

Many of the world's crops depend on pollinators. Honey bees are not the only crop pollinators, and domesticated honey bees cannot cover all the needs for agricultural pollination10. Apart from bees, there are many other pollinators of different kinds11. Pollinator diversity, besides creating a healthier environment, can increase crop yields12. A lack or loss of animal pollinators can have damaging consequences for human health13, 14. Protection of pollinators is therefore a vital part of crop security15.

Insecticides are harmful poisons

Chemical poisons can never be 'safe'. Even when they do not kill, they inevitably cause damage. When applied indiscriminately on a large scale, they cause collateral damage to non-target victims. All insects have some part in the natural chain. Insect loss is an increasing problem16. Interfering with the natural chain causes unexpected harm. For instance, insecticides based on Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti) have been found to reduce reproduction in birds17, The research focussed on house martins, which are feared to be in decline in some parts of the world. Bti insecticides are considered to be a low-risk alternative to chemical pesticides18. They are commonly used for the larvicidal programme on Hvar. However, repeated applications may cause a loss of biodiversity, and certain formulations of Bti pesticides may even be harmful to humans19. For an overview of the possible adverse effects of commonly used insecticides in Croatia, please click here.

House martins. By Ómar Runólfsson [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The 2012 Directive states that "chemical methods of insect suppression are carried out only when other preventive methods have failed to prevent an uncontrolled increase in harmful arthropods" (Article 2, Clause 12). In practice, throughout Croatia chemical poisons are the method of choice for insect suppression. Local authorities receive annual directives from the National20 and County21 Public Health Offices as the basis for their insect suppression programme. There are some regional variations, according to local conditions and finances. In general, larvicidal actions, which aim to eliminate breeding grounds and hatching insects, extend from April to October. In summer, there may be several poison sprayings to kill off adult insects, particularly mosquitoes. On Hvar and elsewhere this is usually done by 'fogging', the practice of spraying a poison mist from a moving vehicle. In some places it used to be done by aerial spraying: this was limited in the 2007 Directive to exclude aeroplanes flying over inhabited settlements, national parks and other protected areas (Article I, Clause 14), and not mentioned at all in the 2012 Directive (Article I, Clause 13).

From 'Glas Slavonije', April 2014, happily, aerial spraying is no longer allowed. Photo reproduced by kind permission of PIXSELL

Damaging and inefficient practices

The current practice of insect suppression using chemical means, especially through 'fogging', assumes that the chemicals used only affect the target insects, do not spread in the environment, do not last longer than it takes to apply them, and are otherwise safe. None of this is true. Apart from Bti formulations, pyrethroids are the main poison of choice. On Hvar an organophosphate product, Muhomor, based on the active substance Azamethiphos, was thrown into the fray for use against flies for good measure up to 201722. This product was not included in the Health Institute's Programme or Implementation Plan, and was not on the ECHA list of approved products as from 2018. Pyrethroids23 are far from safe 24, 25. They are synthetic poisons which must be distinguished from Pyrethrins26, which are based on the extract pyrethrum from chrysanthemum plants, a natural insecticide. Both pyrethrins and pyrethroids can cause adverse health reactions in humans 27,28, and they are extremely toxic to bees29, 30.

The 2012 Directive states that following review of the success of the preventive pest control methods, every second year less pesticides should be used, in order to improve sanitary conditions and reduce the overall emissions of harmful organisms into the natural environment (Article IV, clause 41, 2012).

In practice, insects develop resistance to poisons after repeated applications31. On the island of Madeira, resistance mechanisms were identified32. In Croatia, the tendency has been to use increasingly strong toxins to counteract resistance, contrary to Article IV, clause 41 of the Directive.

Hvar Town's 2017 Programme of Measures for Preventive Pest Control33 is based on the regulations set down by the Split-Dalmatia County Health Office. Apart from Bti for larvicide, it allows for the use of neonicotinoids as an alternative to pyrethroids (article V, clause 3.3). Neonicotinoids have been shown to be particularly harmful to bees 34, 35, 36. The EU partially banned certain neonicotinoids in 2013, and further restrictions were being proposed in 201737, which resulted in a ban, due to come into force by the end of 2018. After stiff opposition from chemical company Bayer, the ban on imidacloprid, clothlanidin and thiamethoxam was finally confirmed by the EU Court fo Justice on May 6th 2021.

On Hvar, the toxins used for the summer 'fogging' treatments have continued relentlessly year on year. There is a lack of transparency: active ingredients are named in the Health Institute's documents, but the actual products used are not, and are never named in the sparse public warnings given, apart from the bland assurance that the products are not harmful to warm-blooded creatures - which is untrue. It is known that the formulations of insecticides in combination tend to be more toxic than the active ingredients alone38. Even the synergist PBO is not inert: besides making the active pyrethroid ingredients more poisonous, it carries toxic dangers of its own39.

Poisons threaten the loveliest insects indiscriminately. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

There is concern about mixtures of  pesticides, as there is minimal regulatory control over the practice40. Scientific overviews of such mixtures are generally vague, and are mainly for two rather than four or five active substances41. The potential adverse effects of mixtures of poisons which accumulate in the environment are almost completely unknown. The 2012 Directive states: "during the implementation of compulsory pest suppression measures, it is the duty of the accredited health inspector - to ensure that the pesticide is being used in the concentration and manner prescribed and printed on the declaration of the product according to the Instructions for use of the product, in accordance with the Resolution for the marketing and use of the product as laid down by the relevant body of the National Office, also the inspector must ascertain that the pesticide formulations not only conform to the toxicological profile laid down according to the special regulations, but has also been evaluated for effectiveness on the basis of chemical, physical and biological researches in the Republic of Croatia..." A further duty is "to ensure that the pesticide is included in the Programme of Measures" (Article IV, clause 39).

In relation to 'fogging', the 2012 Directive states "In carrying out compulsory insect suppression measures, every pesticide application must keep the spread to non-target surfaces at the minimum level possible, starting with the choice of pesticides, to the decision on which method to use, and through the actual treatment...in order to reduce unnecessary pesticide spread, applications should be made with less volatile formulations, should use sprays at the right pressure, with appropriate nozzles, also taking into account droplet size. The use of cold fogging (ULV) or thermal fogging should be avoided if localized targeted treatment can achieve a satisfactory result." (Article IV, Clause 45.) In practice, the fogging vehicle sprays indiscriminately along the roads it passes through, to the detriment of people, animals, beneficial insects and the environment as a whole - for more details, see our articles 'Poisoning Paradise - a Wake-Up Call' and 'Insect Spraying:the 'Fogging Practice'.

It seems the practice of poison use for insect suppression has gone beyond the safety measures proposed by law.

This is the more worrying, because there is ever-increasing evidence that the commonly used glyphosate herbicides also pose their own threats to bee health. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that on Hvar as elsewhere all over the world, beekeepers are lamenting the visible loss of honeybees. For an overview of the potential harm glyphosate does to bees, please consult the section on 'Bees' in our reference list: Glyphosate Herbicides, Scientific Evidence.  

Precautions and warnings

The poisons used for the insect suppression programmes are clearly dangerous. The Law aims to protect the population against transmissible diseases. The 2012 Directive specifies regulations for protecting workers handling poisons (Article IV, Clause 43), but no specific advice for protecting the public from the pesticides used (Article 1, Clause 3/3). This is perhaps because chemical insecticides were considered to be a last resort, for use only if other preventive methods had failed to prevent an increase in harmful pests (Article I, Clause 12).

Medulin: warning published the evening before 'fogging', 2017.

Hvar Town's 2017 Programme for Compulsory Preventive Pest Suppression states that the public must be informed of adulticide 'fogging' actions and advised of precautionary measures to take, three days beforehand. Accordingly, warning notices are placed on official notice boards, in Croatian only, advising people to close windows and shutters, and beekeepers to close their hives. The possible adverse effects of the poisons used are not identified in detail. The actual route of the 'fogging' vehicle is not publicized. In practice, even local people rarely, if ever, see the notices. The several thousand non-Croatian-speaking tourists who are present on Hvar when the 'fogging' takes place are left completely in the dark.

In some parts of Croatia, 'fogging' dates and times are announced without any mention of precautionary measures. On Hvar, the Programme does not specify that the public needs to know about larvicidal actions. Very few people know that these poisonings even happen, never mind when and where.

The Medulin 'fogging' notice for July 2017, like many, carried a minimum warning to citizens and beekeepers, in Croatian only.

Prevention measures now the greater risk

The diseases which the insect suppression measures are supposed to prevent are rarities in Croatia, especially on the islands. Fatalities from insect-borne diseases are even fewer. West Nile fever42 appears sporadically in Europe, especially among horses and other animals. The virus often shows up on testing, without necessarily causing disease symptoms. In Croatia, West Nile Fever virus was first found in four horses in 2001-0243. Regular monitoring shows that in general very few cases are reported in humans among EU member states44. Human cases in Croatia numbered six in 2012, 20 in 2013, and since then one or two annually45, until 2018, when several cases were reported, mainly in inland Croatia. As at 15th November 2018, 53 cases were reported in Croatia, with no reported deaths, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Total cases in the EU to that date numbered 1499. The Croatian Health Statistics Yearbook for 2019 (p.174) reported a final count of 63 West Nile cases, with four deaths, for 2018, but no cases at all in 2019.

Dengue Fever was first reported in humans in Croatia in 2007, with six cases between then and 2010, all of which were imported, that is the victims had recently travelled in South-East Asia or South America, where the disease was endemic. The first case contracted within Croatia was in 2010, although testing in 1980 had revealed the presence of the relevant antibodies in healthy people in north-east Croatia, without any reports of actual disease46. Only one other case of Dengue Fever was identified on Pelješac where the first infection had occurred, when testing confirmed the disease after the patient had recovered. Fifteen people from the same area out of 126 tested were positive for Dengue Fever antibodies, but remained healthy. Nevertheless, mosquito control measures for disease prevention were introduced46. Dengue Fever cases have numbered one or two each year up to 2016, peaking at 3 in 2013, all of them apparently imported45. There was no major outbreak of Dengue Fever in Europe in 2018, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. In 2018 there were two reported cases, and five (all imported) in 2019 (Croatian Health Statistics Yearbook for 2019, p.191)

West Nile and Dengue Fever were two mosquito-borne diseases added to the list of transmissible infections in 2014. To put their figures into context, enterocolitis cases have consistently numbered over 4,000 annually since 2004, with a peak of 13,461/6 in 201645. Cardiovascular diseases were the biggest killers in Croatia in 2016, accounting for 23,190 deaths. By contrast, the total deaths in the same year from transmissible and parasitic diseases, which include a far greater variety than just the mosquito-borne illnesses, numbered 45747.

Thousands of people in Croatia get bitten by mosquitoes each year. Mosquito numbers are not being controlled by current practices. This is in keeping with the experiences of other countries which have recognised the problems, and in some cases actually suffered epidemics of those diseases. In Brazil, in areas where outbreaks of Dengue Fever are frequent, insect resistance to pesticides was found to be hindering attempts to prevent the disease, and alternative methods of controlling vectors were strongly encouraged48. Research from the island of Madeira showed similar problems and conclusions32. In China rice paddies are being treated with alternative methods of insect suppression49. From these examples, one can conclude that a policy of attempted total suppression of mosquitoes will not prevent an epidemic of mosquito-borne diseases, and might even cause greater problems in the longer term.

Scarlet darter dragonfly. Dragonflies are one of the natural predators to mosquitoes. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Conclusions

The Croatian insect suppression programme fails to take into account collateral damage to vital pollinators, especially bees. It is inevitably reducing the natural predators which would help to control mosquito numbers. On Hvar the dramatic decline in the numbers of insects, bats and birds has become all too apparent. Insecticides, along with all the other kinds of pesticides are certainly a major factor causing this Disrupting the natural chain causes damage to the environment, wildlife and human health, which may not be evident or provable for many years, if ever, by which time much irreversible harm will have been done.

Current methods relying on pesticides are not working, and are out of step with the latest scientific evidence. They are likely doing more harm than good. It is time for Croatia's Law on Protecting the Population from Transmissible Diseases to be updated, along with the Directive for implementation practices. The six extra categories of insect 'pests' added to the 2007 Directive alongside the disease vectors should be removed; non-invasive methods of insect control should be identified and used; and chemical insecticide use should be strictly limited, preferably totally eliminated.

© Vivian Grisogono, MA(Oxon), 2017, updated September 2021

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49) Hong-xing, X., Ya-jun , Y., Yan-hui, L.,  Xu-song, Z., Jun-ce, T., Feng-xiang, L., Qiang, F., Zhong-xian, L. 2017. Sustainable Management of Rice Insect Pests by Non-Chemical-Insecticide Technologies in China. Rice Science. Vol.24, March 2017, 61-72

Comment received via the Eco Hvar Facebook page:

ZP: It is sad that we persist with pumping more and more poison into our environment when science has determined non-toxic methods are as good without the nasty side effects.
Even in China - see for example
http://www.sciencedirect.com/.../pii/S167263081730001X -  Sustainable Management of Rice Insect Pests by… sciencedirect.com
Or do a search for "non toxic insect control" (26.09.2017., 08:43)

Eco-Hvar Many thanks, I've included the link you gave in the article, a very valuable addition. (26.09.2017., 09:51)

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    Packages arrive at my house more than I’d like to admit. Whether they contain cosmetics, swimwear, T-shirts or socks, the sight of a brown cardboard box makes me feel two things: excitement for the new thing and guilt over its environmental impacts.

    Often the packaging feels excessive: boxes inside bigger boxes, things wrapped in bubble wrap or corrugated cardboard. And while compostable satchels are becoming more common, they’re not perfect solutions.

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  • Fears for penguin colonies after the discovery of the highly contagious H5N1 virus in two dead skuas

    Bird flu has reached mainland of Antarctica for the first time, officials have confirmed.

    The H5N1 virus was found on Friday in two dead scavenging birds called skuas near Primavera Base, the Argentinian scientific research station on the Antarctic peninsula.

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  • Warm spell in northern and central areas will make way for icy blast this week

    A sharp swing in temperatures has been forecast across northern and central parts of the US this week, with potentially record-breaking warm weather giving way to a cold front.

    Wisconsin is likely to challenge its all-time February high on Tuesday with a forecast of 17C (63F) – 0.5C above the record set at Stevens Point in 2000. The warm spell is likely to be short lived, however. On Tuesday evening a broad area of low pressure will bring heavy rain before a surge of cold air turns rain into snow as the temperature dips to zero.

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  • Hundreds of tractors arrived in Brussels Monday and more are on their way as European Union agriculture ministers meet to address farmers' concerns. It follows weeks of protests by farmers across the EU. Farmers are demanding the reversal of progressive measures to counter climate change and protect biodiversity, arguing that the rules are harming their livelihoods and strangling them with red tape

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  • Biodiversity campaigner Isabella Tree says wild areas work ‘hand in glove’ with food production as her Sussex estate boasts return of endangered species

    The Knepp estate in West Sussex is home to the first white stork born in the wild in Britain for over 600 years. It’s a place where endangered bats, turtle doves and nightingales are thriving, where “officially extinct” large tortoiseshell butterflies are breeding and where tens of thousands of people visit each year to experience “a story of hope” about the resilience of nature in the face of the global climate emergency.

    There have been many exciting changes at Knepp since 2018, when Isabella Tree wrote Wilding, her award-winning book about rewilding an unprofitable 3,500-acre arable and dairy farm. Now she has written a captivating illustrated book, Wilding: How to Bring Wildlife Back – An Illustrated Guide,updating her readers about extraordinary developments at Knepp and offering practical advice about rewilding their own spaces, however small.

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  • Caistor St Edmund, Norfolk: As breeding season begins in the unseasonably mild weather, I’m transfixed by a local find – a meteorite

    I am holding a meteorite in my hand when something plummets to the ground just a couple of metres from my feet. I step back, trying to puzzle out what it is. At first, it’s just a brown, writhing shape, but then it fragments into three birds – house sparrows. One pings off into the sky, leaving a female pinned down by a male.

    Courtship often begins with a bobbing display dance from the male, but it can turn into a rough and tumble chase like this, sometimes with several males pursuing one female. This might be followed by mating. Seconds later, they both fly up from the ground and vanish out of sight.

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  • Near flooding of Henley-on-Thames building prompts decision to tell the story of climate crisis

    From the reconstructed riverside of The Wind in the Willows to an historic Georgian rowboat used in the inaugural Oxford-Cambridge race, the exhibits at the River and Rowing Museum celebrate the importance of British rivers.

    But the award-winning building in Henley-on-Thames – designed by the modernist architect David Chipperfield – is facing a significant threat from the very river beside which it resides.

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  • Charity says the decline of invertebrates linked to chemicals in water while Environment Agency said Wiltshire river had not deteriorated


    A citizen science programme has revealed the decline of one of the country’s most significant chalk streamsafter claims by Environment Agency officials that it had not deteriorated. The SmartRivers programme run by the charity WildFish, which surveys freshwater invertebrates, reported “strong declines in relation to chemical pressure” on the River Avon in Wiltshire. It said its data indicated a decline in the condition of the river over the last five years.

    The charity compiled a report on its findings after the conservation groups say they were told at a meeting by the Environment Agency in August that “the Avon has not deteriorated in water quality in the last five years”. David Holroyd, head of water quality for Wiltshire Fishery Association, said the numbers of invertebrates collected in spring and autumn samples from 2019 and 2023 at 11 sites on the upper Avon had shown a decline.

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  • It’s easy to understand why ambitious reforestation campaigns capture public attention. Earth’s forests are absolutely vital to staving off a climate crisis and protecting nature. But what about grasslands?

  • It’s a simple formula: More women in science equals more impactful and innovative science.

    Studies have found that scientific teams made up of women and men produce better research. Yet, of course, a persistent gender gap remains. Women make up about a third of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math. And while there has been some progress in recent decades, it’s uneven. If current trends hold, it could take more than a century for women to be equally represented in fields like physics, math and engineering.

    For International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we are highlighting some of the women who power the science behind Conservation International’s work — changing conservation practices and informing critical policy decisions. Here, they share their passion for protecting nature — and their advice for the next generation of women scientists.

     

    Shannon Murphy

    Marine biologist, seascapes program manager, United States

    © Mark Erdmann

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    You need to be passionate about what you do. Always be open minded and listen to others.

    What do you love about your job?

    I love that I get to work with people around the world — I learn something new every day and I’m never bored.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    Be kinder to yourself and have confidence that you deserve to be in the room.

     

    Anna Jean Haw

    Africa Rangelands Program manager, South Africa

    © Tom Kiptenai-Kemboi

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    Keep your eyes open to opportunities and be clear on your values. You may not know your exact career path, but if you have clear values and passion, you will find a fulfilling journey — and it’s all about the journey.

    What do you love about your job?

    I love grappling with challenges and collaborating to find innovative solutions to complex problems. There is always more to learn and discover, especially in the natural world. Science and learning are a lifelong gift.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    Don’t be afraid to shine…or fail. Find other women in STEM who can provide a supportive peer group to help you celebrate your successes and challenge you to do the hard stuff.

     

    Ret Thaung

    Wildlife conservationist and biodiversity manager, Cambodia

    © Kouy Socheat

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    Seek out mentors and collaborators who support your growth — and, especially, never stop learning.

    What do you love about your job?

    I have the opportunity to engage with local communities and the younger generation, fostering a shared commitment to protecting our natural world. The experiences I’ve had in deep forests, places few people have the chance to visit, are truly special.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    Be confident that you are enough and capable of doing great things. Take up space and don’t afraid to make connections with people who inspire you.

     

    Remesa Lang

    Forestry engineer, development and communications coordinator, Suriname

    © Devika Narain

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and think outside the box. Never underestimate yourself. Embrace the challenges, be willing to take risks and trust in your ability to overcome obstacles.

    What do you love about your job?

    I love contributing to brainstorming sessions to develop new ideas. I have a genuine passion for learning and embrace the role of a multitasker.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    If you have a dream in mind, you must pursue it and believe that you can achieve it. Don't be afraid to try new things. Embrace the journey with confidence and determination.

     

    Luciano Andriamaro

    Senior Director Science and Knowledge, Madagascar

    © Luciano Andriamaro

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    Love what you do and don’t hesitate to start small. As you progress, step by step, you will begin to see the value of the efforts you've made.

    What do you love about your job?

    In my 22 years at Conservation International, I have gone from coordinator, to technical manager, to senior director of science and knowledge in Madagascar. I work with a multidisciplinary team, and it is always a pleasure to learn from my colleagues. I am proud of the women on my team and I encourage them to do new things.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    You need patience, perseverance and conviction to know you’re on the right path. Have keep the courage to continue and always be optimistic that you will reach your goal.

     

    Elle Wibisono

    Fisheries scientist and policy fellow, Indonesia 

    © OceanX

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    Be curious and always challenge your own assumptions.

    What do you love about your job?

    I get to learn new things all the time and meet the most brilliant (and fun) people.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    You can still be a scientist even though you feel inadequate as an undergraduate! Sometimes, even our brains are late bloomers.

     

    Cecilia Gutierrez

    Forestry engineer, social impact manager, Peru

    © Humberto Saco

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    Adaptability, teamwork and ethics.

    What do you love about your job?

    Traveling to different countries and having the chance to see more than the typical tourist places — seeing “real” places and people that I otherwise would not know; experiencing their culture, their day-to-day living and the way they think.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    Don't be afraid of trying. Just by trying you will feel more empowered and will gain a lot.

     

    Virginia Simpson

    Community conservation specialist and program manager, Australia

    © Virginia Simpson

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career? 

    Similar to what it takes to be successful in any career: tenacity, leaps of faith, and the willingness to learn and to back yourself as needed!

    What do you love about your job?

    The fact that I get to work on something that matters to me — and do it alongside such an amazing global team of people.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    Know the worth of your skill set, and don’t go around comparing it unfavorably to other people’s.

     

    María Claudia Díazgranados Cadelo

    Marine biologist, senior director for the Blue Carbon program, Colombia

    © María Claudia Díazgranados Cadelo

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    You need to learn to understand people's different ways of working — to have patience and tolerance for the different situations that arise with colleagues and with external partners. We are all different, but those differences can enrich the work and make it more successful.

    What do you love about your job?

    I love the team I'm on, especially my supervisor whom I admire a lot. I like to try new things in places that need our work. Even though it is very complex, I know we are going to succeed in what we do. The challenges are interesting.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    Few people put their heart and soul into what they do. But that doesn’t change the love and passion you put into every seed of a project or idea you plant at work. You will surely see many trees grow big and strong over the years.

     

    Carter Smith

    Wildlife ecologist, Sojourns program director, United States

    © Judy Holme Agnew

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career? 

    Hard work, a few bruises and dedication. 

    What do you love about your job?

    So many things; I pinch myself a lot. One thing I love is that my role offers a continual learning curve. If I ever get bored, that’s all on me. There’s lots to learn thanks to vast nature of Conservation International’s work around the globe. 

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    Don’t be dissuaded by closed doors. Believe.  Really truly. It is half the battle. And never lose your sense of humor.

     

    Ana Guzman

    Biologist, executive director of the Costa Rica program, Costa Rica

    © Ana Guzman

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    Success can take many shapes, but for me it means achieving your goals, being happy with your decisions and having no regrets.

    What do you love about your job?

    I love being a bridge between science and people — to advance actions that have a positive impact on local communities and witness the joy that comes from helping others.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    Trust yourself, you know what’s best for you. It might not be the path people expected you to take but it will be the one you made for yourself. Own it!

     

    Natasha Calderwood

    Senior director carbon portfolio, United States

    © Natasha Calderwood

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    Remain curious and open-minded. Be prepared to challenge others’ views and think about how to apply your own learnings and experience in a different light. STEM careers help drive so much innovation in the world today but sometimes the best solution to a problem can be found by re-framing a tried and tested approach.

    What do you love about your job?

    Getting to work on a daily basis with people who are passionate, smart, authentic and driven to find solutions to our world’s toughest challenges.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    Find what you are passionate about! If you love what you do the rest will come. Along the way don’t be afraid to experience different things, try out new skills and stretch outside of your comfort zone.

     

    Susan Vulpas

    Coastal ecologist, Indonesia program development advisor, Indonesia

    © Susan Vulpas

    What does it take to be successful in a STEM career?

    I think it means making strategic decisions about your job and being honest about the career you want to have and taking steps to get there. (I feel like I'm still working towards my ideal STEM career).

    What do you love about your job?

    That's an easy one. Field work is the best; it nurtures passion while keeping us motivated and connected to our conservation goals. I love being in the water in Indonesia, chatting with the field teams and partners, and experiencing the amazing places we are working to protect.

    As a woman in STEM, what advice would you give to your younger self?

    Believe that you have a place in STEM and keep working towards the career you want to have. Also keep learning from people whose work you find interesting.

     

    Vanessa Bauza is the editorial director at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

  • In the remote lowland forests of northwestern Bolivia, a small community has taken a big step to protect one of the Amazon’s most biodiverse regions.

  • When humans and elephants come into contact, the results can be deadly — and if climate change and habitat loss continue, a new study finds, things could get even worse.

  • Not long ago, the idea that nature could be humanity's ally against climate change was not widely known. In recent years that idea has increasingly moved into the mainstream. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that recognition has led to some confusion.

  • While it may seem unusual for a medical doctor to work for a conservation nonprofit, it's centered on a powerful premise: that human health and the protection of nature are inextricably linked.

  • This week, the United Nations holds its first global freshwater conference in nearly 50 years. In the years since, the global population has doubled — yet the challenges facing the health of, and access to, freshwater resources have been largely overshadowed by the climate and biodiversity crises.

  • Until self-quarantine ends, here are new shows, podcasts and more that can help bring nature to life for you, wherever you are.

  • In a recent article, the director of Conservation International's Indigenous and Traditional Peoples Program explained why the COVID-19 pandemic affirms the need to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples.

  • Despite dire headlines, tropical forests are still among our best allies to fight climate change, an expert explains.