Earthwatch Institute

Why choose Earthwatch Institute?

Earthwatch is a worldwide non-profit organization unlocking the potential in people and the environment. Since 1971, Earthwatch has connected volunteers and partners with scientists undertaking vital field research around the globe. Everybody who works with Earthwatch, from students and teachers, to companies, retirees, and other individuals make a genuine, hands-on contribution to tackling climate change, understanding biodiversity, and protecting threatened habitats. For more information, please visit us.


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Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing and unique experience to explore a beautiful and remote region, contribute to scientific research, and connect with incredible individuals

Earthwatch’s Wildlife of the Mongolian Steppe was my first expedition with the organization, and I must say, I wish I had known about Earthwatch years ago! After this incredible experience, I am now determined to join many more of their expeditions in the future. I found out my impression was not actually unique. One volunteer in my group has joined Earthwatch 9 times, and another has joined 7 times!

I have always been drawn to adventure and exploring unique corners of the world, as well as connecting with inspiring, like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds. Earthwatch has provided me with the perfect opportunity to combine my love for travel and adventure with my passion for volunteering and environmental conservation. I was thrilled to learn and actively contribute during the expedition.

The focus of Earthwatch Mongolia is particularly intriguing as they aim to study the impact of climate change on the ecosystems and wildlife of the Mongolian Steppe. Our group, consisting of six volunteers, was fortunate to have Mary-Jo, an expert in cinereous vultures, as one of our group leaders. Another group leader Rentsen Oyunbat (Remo), who is the director of the Mongolian Conservation Initiative and an expert in small mammals, consistently radiated positivity and upbeat energy to organizing activities and life around the camp. In addition to studying the near threatened cinereous vultures, we worked alongside students and researchers who were conducting studies on small mammals, the endangered argali sheep, ibex, lesser kestrel birds, the endangered marmots, insects, and plants.

Thanks to Earthwatch and the camp manager (thank you Uujgii!), the camp exceeded my expectations in terms of comfort, with modern-like amenities like sun showers and sinks in our gers (traditional Mongolian tents). The teamwork and camaraderie among the volunteers, students, and staff were exceptional. We all enjoyed working together in the field (thank you Remo, Jak and Ulmaa for taking us safely to and from the fields!), and having our meetings and meals together in the dining ger. The food was tasty and always prepared fresh (thank you Babu and Oyunaa!). And our gers were cleaned everyday! (thank you Ari!).

The range of activities during the expedition was diverse and exciting. We participated in setting up traps for small mammals and insects, tagging captured mammals, monitoring lesser kestrel and marmots activities, observing vulture nests, and hiking long distances to monitor argali sheep and ibex. We also conducted plant surveys and used the opportunity to strengthen our counting in Mongolian! During the entire 11-day expedition, we had no internet, no mobile signal, and no TV. Surprisingly, I found this lack of connectivity to be incredibly peaceful. We embraced early bedtimes, early mornings, and marveled at the vertical expanse of the Milky Way in the middle of the night. The culture day on day 7 was particularly special with a delightful Mongolian barbecue lunch, followed by a visit to the ruins of an 18th-century monastery and unique rock formations, mini bazaar by locals showcasing their art crafts, and demonstration by one of the students, a skilled competitive archer, who shared his knowledge of this traditional Mongolian sport. For those concerned about communication, I recommend downloading Google Translate for Mongolian, which can be used offline. While not perfect, it proved to be quite helpful.

Mongolia is a country steeped in history, and this expedition allowed me to fully immerse myself in its culture, interact with its people, and learn more about the country's rich heritage. The Mongolian people are warm-hearted and deeply passionate about their country.

In summary, my experience with Earthwatch's Wildlife of the Mongolian Steppe expedition was nothing short of amazing and truly unique. It provided me with the opportunity to explore a beautiful and remote region, contribute to scientific research, and connect with incredible individuals. I am eagerly looking forward to my future endeavors with Earthwatch and the adventures that lie ahead.

  • adventure and exploring unique corner of the world
  • connecting with inspiring, like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds
  • learn and actively contribute during the expedition
  • There should be clearer explanations on the research questions that the project seeks to address, including how the data we collected helps achieve research goals
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Yes, I recommend this program

Loved it so much, I did it twice.

I joined the Walking with African Wildlife project twice: in 2004, at 43 and in 2014, at 53.
I've traveled often to east and southern Africa, and can't get enough of its scenery and wildlife.
You and your fellow volunteers will be met at the airport, driven to spectacular Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park, and divided among two camps. The North Camp, is more secluded, built along a river and surrounded by trees in the hillier region of the park. Here were kept close company with elephants, vervet monkeys, nyala, zebra and buffalo. The South Camp is atop a hill, surrounded by rolling savannah and somewhat easier hikes. I once saw a cheetah perched on a hillside, scoping out the prey species below. Both camps have spectacular birdlife.

Each morning you will wake early, have a bit to eat and some coffee, and bundle up for the chilly ride to your trail in an open vehicle. You and your ranger will be deposited at a trailhead just as the sun is rising behind you, and will walk west, with increasing light, looking for herbivores.
Your ranger (invariably a Zulu man) will advise you to walk directly behind him, and within 6 feet.
And so, the world of the African savannah will be opened up to you. You will be keenly attuned to sounds around you: birds, a monkey's call, the alarm snort of an ungulate, the crackle in the brush of....? Depending on your Zulu and/or your guide's English, you may converse a bit, or you may just be relishing this singular experience too much for talk.

Your hike may be 2 miles or 6, easy or difficult, but at the end, tired and happy, you will be retrieved by the staff and brought back to the camp for lunch. Afternoon is for naps, birdwatching, data input, or socializing, which continues along with sunset watching and stargazing till everyone tucks themselves in at night.

Have I persuaded you yet? I hope so. If you have questions for me, I would be happy to answer them. I can be contacted through Earthwatch.

What would you improve about this program?
Can't think of a thing.
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Yes, I recommend this program

A Must for Anyone

Every Earthwatch project I have been on I have wanted to do again and this one was no exception. I was so excited to be in Churchill - Polar Bear Capital of the World.

I spent two wonderful weeks at the newly opened Northern Studies Centre with comfortable bedrooms, great facilities and three hot meals a day.

We spent most of our time collecting data from ponds. Whether we were dip netting, collecting water samples or identifying zooplankton....twice a day we would pull on our neoprene waist wadders and gaffer tape on our neoprene footwear before plunging into mud and water.

In the afternoons there was lab work to do before dinner and a lecture. I was lucky enough to be at the centre at the same time as a polar bear specialist who was happy to give a talk one evening.

There were understandably strict rules about going outside the centre and we had to be accompanied at all times by a bear-guide with a rifle. On 3 occasions polar bears came right up to the building which meant we got some great photos but were pleased to be inside! We were also treated to an amazing Northern Lights show on our second night at the centre.

On our recreational day all the volunteers decided to hire a guide and spent a wonderful morning touring the area before visiting the eskimo museum in Churchill. Dinner that night was at a restaurant in Churchill to give the cook at the Centre a much deserved night off.

Another unique and hugely informative project. A must for anyone.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Life on the Mongolian Steppe

Mongolia was truly a unique experience. Certainly one of the best Earthwatch projects I have done. The Mongolian people are lovely and passionate about their country. The national park that we were in, Ikh Nart, was wonderful.

The rendezvous was at a guest house in Ulaanbaatar and it is definitely worth arriving early to spend at least a day in the city sightseeing.

Travelling to the camp involved a 7-8 hour train journey which was a wonderful way to see the countryside and a further hour and a half's drive on from the station. We were so well looked after by the project staff and I had no concerns about the remoteness of the area.

There were 6 volunteers and we were really lucky to be at the camp at the same time as the Assistant Curator for Birds at Denver Zoo who was there to try to capture Cinereous vultures. Mary-Jo had 4 radio transmitters that she wanted to attach to the backs of 4 adult vultures. Capture was never going to be easy and I have to say that vultures are wise birds! We spent many hours sitting waiting near nest sites but were not successful. One day we were out for 14 hours.

As well as the vultures there is research being done on the Argali sheep, snakes, Lesser Kestrals, small mammals and hedgehogs. There was plenty of bird life too. One evening we had a talk by the hedgehog researcher and and watched as he fitted a long earred hedgehog with a radio transmitter.

Life around camp was very civilised. Our Gers were very comfortable and wood burning stoves were lit on the coldest nights. Showers were taken in the afternoon/evening using sun showers. Everyone ate together in the dinning room/classroom Ger and there was certainly no risk of going hungry. Boiling water was available all day for hot drinks as well as snacks.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this project to anyone and would love to go back for the argali round-up in the future.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Mongolian Magic - Earthwatch style

The long train ride snakes away from the bustle of grey concrete Ulaanbaatar into the Mongolia of the imagination, dotted with the occasional ger that marks civilization--we call them yurts. Lazy hours on the train give way to a bucking ride in The Boneshaker, a weathered grey van that can travel over ANYTHING to camp, a collection of gers that will be our home, nestled amidst outcroppings of tall rocks with a stream rustling through, our only source of water.
Earthwatch is not for the slothful. There are armies of traps to be laid, and baited and checked twice daily. There are Argali sheep to be monitored, which means hiking kilometers up and down over rocky terrain, accompanied by a youthful Mongolian scout who is years younger and much fitter than I have ever been. Some teams actually snare these sheep to mark them, taking part in an old fashioned roundup with Mongolians on motorcycles as well as the traditional horses. Radio tracking hedgehogs sound cute and pastoral? Not when the little guy in question is a traveler, moving 10 km in one night. There are plants to be surveyed, mysterious clumps with Latin names, and counted in Mongolian! Sometimes there are young condors to be measured; some babies! The wingspan matches or exceeds the spread of my arms! After all this, there are sun showers to be had, and the absolute quiet of the Gobi desert. Occasionally we visit our neighbors, kilometers away, with their herd of horses and spotless ger, which can be dismantled quickly when they move on. In a nod to the 21st century, there are also motorcycles, the occasional pickup truck, one solar panel and a satellite dish. The scientists and staff are outstanding. Smiling pantomime is sometimes the only means of communication. Nonetheless, the meals are tasty, based on fresh goat prepared in every possible way, and the fellowship amazing. No phone, no TV, and no internet mean that we talk, we sing together, we play games, and we enjoy a true person to person experience, sharing our diverse cultures.

What would you improve about this program?
Some people will find the outhouse experience, plus the daily drawing and filtering of water off putting. A vegetarian would have a tough time. I relished the solitude of the Research Station and the challenge of the physical activity. A key person who normally would have done much of the translation was missing from my trip because of illness. This may have made things easier had she been there, but as an experienced traveler, enthusiastic to learn and participate, one learns to cope and ultimately interact in unexpected ways. As it turned out, the experience was incredibly varied. Some might thrive on routine, but one of the most exciting things about science is the variety of the experience. I am not a scientist by trade and I had a spectacular time.
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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Claire Doe

Claire Doe is in her late forties and based in the South of England. She has been a Sales Agent in the retail/consumer sector for over 20 years representing luxury accessory brands and beauty products. She loves nature and enjoys photographing it. She is passionate about Earthwatch having joined a project a year for the last 10 years.

Why did you pick this program?

I chose the Mongolian project, Wildlife of the Mongolian Steppe, because I wanted to experience a part of the world that I hadn't visited before. I wanted to have the opportunity to immerse myself in a culture and way of life that I had only ever seen in TV documentaries, a way of life that seemed a million miles away from my own. To be surrounded by wonderful wildlife was also very attractive.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Do it! Everyone should join at least one Earthwatch expedition in their lifetime and I would not hesitate to recommend the trips to anyone. Earthwatch gives ordinary people the opportunity to not only have amazing and unique experiences but also to take an active part in conservation around the world.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

The project site is in a remote area and you will be living in Ghers for 10 days with very basic facilities. Earthwatch provides very detailed briefings for each expedition which contain all the information you could possibly need, so it is crucial to read it through thoroughly. A prospective volunteer can find out about the project conditions, what to pack, accommodation, etc., and if they have any further questions, there are always the friendly and enthusiastic Earthwatch staff available, as well as past volunteers.

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

It is only by getting involved with Earthwatch that I feel I have gained a confidence that I never knew I had as well as a much more in-depth understanding about issues that affect our planet. In volunteering on Earthwatch projects I am now proud to call myself a citizen scientist and truly feel that I am helping in a really constructive and worthwhile way to research that is being carried out around the world.

Claire's thoughts on becoming a 'citizen scientist':

Whatever your profession or circumstance, you can become a citizen scientist and help collect data for researchers and scientists who are passionate about understanding and conserving the world around us. I have met some lovely people and made some wonderful friends around the world which is all part of the opportunities that Earthwatch projects give.