Meet Abigail Alling, the co-founder and CEO of the Biosphere Foundation. She is an internationally renowned explorer and scientist who has sailed the world’s oceans studying marine mammals and coral reefs. She spent two years (from 1991 to 1993) in Biosphere 2, a laboratory for the study of global ecology (the only other biosphere after our own). Moreover, she co-authored a book, “Life Under Glass,” which was reprinted in 2020, and is the author of numerous publications about marine mammals, coral reefs, wastewater gardens and closed system experiments.
For the past three decades, Abigail has been actively engaged in marine conservation and environmental projects. She received a Master of Science degree from Yale University and was the former Director of Marine Ecological Systems and Assistant Director of Research and Development for the ‘Biosphere 2’ project. She envisions regenerating Earth’s biosphere by empowering individuals to become “biospherians”—people who understand that their lives depend on changing the way people collectively care for its natural world.
Care for our blue planet; it’s ours to love
The Biosphere Foundation is dedicated to changing the way we care for our world for the benefit of all. The team focuses on contagious sustainability — the power of inspiring behavioral change through the appreciation of beautiful biodiverse demonstration gardens that are both underwater and on land. Its programs give people tangible ways to be better stewards and champions of our biosphere, and focus on inspiring sustainability in the Coral Triangle, an area of our planet with the greatest biodiversity.
In 1991, Abigail co-founded the Biosphere Foundation while working on the Biosphere 2 project. Its primary focus at the time addressed the health and vitality of coral reefs and their role as the indicator biome of our planet’s biosphere. She and her colleagues (Mark Van Thillo and Sally Silverstone who were also crew members of the historic 1991-1993 experiment) had learned that the coral reef of Biosphere 2 was the indicator biome of its overall health and they were interested to learn about the health of our Earth’s coral reefs. After a 14-year Planetary Coral Reef Expedition around the world studying the health and vitality of 49 coral reefs, they discovered that 2/3 of the reefs were at risk. Then, they turned their attention to what they could do to regenerate the health of the oceans and land.
Abigail grew up near the sea and in the wilderness, which gave her great joy and a desire to explore. She learned to sail as a child and then began sailing the world’s oceans in her late teens. She has been both a leader as well as an integral part of a team. She and the Biosphere Foundation team think big and apply both a total systems approach as well as detail to solve problems. Over the years she is inspired by women such as Jane Goodall and Sylvia Earle, as well as by friends and loved ones who pursue their passions. She believes that successful leaders dare to follow what they are called to do and are each, in their own way, explorers.
Abreast to technology
The work of Biosphere Foundation has evolved over the years in response to new technology and the demands of environmental challenges. In the years 1996–2006, the company pioneered the design of a Coral Reef Satellite Mission with a world-class team of advisors, scientists, engineers, and institutions. All the members of this prestigious team contributed their expertise and time to put together this pioneering program entirely on a pro bono basis because they believed in the necessity of the project. Unfortunately the CRSM never came to fruition due to lack of funding, probably because it was the first such Mission designed to remotely map and monitor coral reefs on a continued basis and was therefore not understood as it was ahead of its time.
Wastewater Gardens®, subsurface constructed wetlands that recycle black and gray water, were developed by the Biosphere Foundation 30 years ago to be used primarily in tropical coastal regions so as to prevent run-off sewage onto reefs. The system uses zero mechanical or moving parts and no chemicals; all wastewater is recycled via a gravity system into elegant, biodiverse gardens, which produce lovely flowers and compost and fodder crops for animal consumption. These systems are carefully sealed so that no wastewater contaminates the soil, groundwater, or coastal waters. Since then, they have been successfully installed and continue to be used in numerous locations such as Mexico and Bali The two largest Wastewater Gardens® installations are at Xpu-Ha EcoPark near Akumal, Mexico (designed to recycle the human waste produced by 1500 visitors a day) and at Tirtagangga Water Palace in Bali.
Biosphere Stewardship Center—a campus in NW Bali, which is a learning center for sustainable solutions. It is located in the hills of Pejarakan Village at the margins of Bali Barat National Park in Northwest Bali; Situated at an elevation of 66 meters above sea level, this newly opened center features great views spanning its forest restoration project to the ocean and Menjangan Island in the distance. The center is where the Foundaiton hosts its unique lifelong experiential learning programs to regenerate our earth’s biosphere. Working with its community leaders at their Ridge to Reef projects, located inside and outside Bali Barat National Park, the program immerses people in the beauty of nature and learn practical hands-on skills for nature restoration. “The Center is the perfect living laboratory for discovery, and the projects provide the field experience to learn how to restore coral reefs and forests as well as implement your own home food garden,” Abigail says.
Sailing Ship Mir is a classic 1910 113’ sailing ship that is currently based in Bali and leads Coral Triangle Voyages to remote Southeast Asian islands Mir is ‘called to action’ by island people who live by and with the sea, and provides apprenticeship programs at known locations for students to engage with practical hands-on work to steward reefs or implement Home Gardens to regenerate soils, recycle water and augment food reserves in a changing climate. It is wondrous to realize that no action is ‘insignificant’ and everyone can make a difference and be part of the solution.
The Making of the Future
Abigail mentioned that the company’s experiential learning programs—about how to restore the environment and learn how to become stewards of its well-being—is the most important education of today. The world is beginning to awaken to the challenges of climate change and the misuse of limited resources due to a growing population, so students and people in general yearn for knowledge about what they can do.
Biosphere Foundation welcomes schools, families or groups the opportunity to use the Center as a field campus and or students to join Mir for more in-depth apprenticeship learning about how to steward our land and sea. All of our projects engage with decade-long community projects that span Ridge to Reef, or mountain to sea which include: Reforestation, watershed and soil regeneration, coral replanting and stewardship, agriculture and home garden empowerment, waste recycling, and trash education.
“We are all about changing the way we perceive our relationship with the world and how we care for it – ‘biosphere love’ alive in every head, heart and action.”