Forests are being slashed and burned, habitats are destroyed each day, animal species are being wiped out completely, and humans are a huge part of the problem. What can one person do in light of all of these daunting problems?
If these issues pull on your heartstrings then conservation volunteering is for you.Volunteering in this way allows you to help protect the environment and everything in it. Caring about the planet, giving something back, and feeling like you are part of something much bigger than yourself are just some of the personal benefits you will encounter.
Conservation projects are all intertwined because ecosystems are that way. Protecting habitats, reforestation projects, and sustainable agriculture lead to safer places for animals and ultimately allow for endangered populations to increase.
Volunteering for conservation is typically off the beaten path, and most places are not accessible to tourists. Consider yourself one of the fortunate few to experience nature in a way that few ever will.
In addition to spending time in the great outdoors, many projects combine several types of volunteering. This may include educating the local community on environmental issues, helping to teach at schools about these issues, and assisting with animals and local plants.
Most projects will provide all the necessary training you will need while you are there, a place to stay, and daily food. They don’t, however, cover the cost of airfare, visas, travel insurance, country taxes, or additional excursions, so factor that into your overall budget.
Look for organizations that work with the local community to build sustainable programs not organizations that impose their own agenda. Volunteers come and go, but the communities are the ones who will be continuing these important initiatives.
Agriculture: Building and planting sustainable, environmentally friendly gardens is a worldwide trend, so why not take your love of gardening abroad. Combine that with educating local communities in healthy eating and sustainability, and you have a well-rounded placement.
You can also help develop technology that is both beneficial to the environment and the local community. You may even help people create a small business out of their organic farm, economic ventures.
The possibilities are endless and so are the locations. Crops can be grown pretty much anywhere from open fields to small rooftop gardens.
Forestry: Forestry projects are as diverse as the types of forests around the world. Trail maintenance, harvesting, agroforestry, seed gathering, education, planting trees, and cataloguing animals and species are just some of the varied possibilities while volunteering in a forest.
Wildlife: If you have always thought it might be fun working with animals, it is. Think of your favorite one, and most likely you will be able to find a project where you can help take care of these creatures. Many of these projects work with animal programs that help animals that are highly endangered.
The work isn’t all playing with lion cubs or giving an elephant a bath, but you will get great insight into how these animals live and feel good about saving them in the process.
Marine Conservation: The world is your ocean with marine conservation. Enjoy some of the best beaches and scenery in the world while giving back to Mother Earth. If you are an expert diver and have a certification, this is the project for you.
Many volunteers take part in snorkeling and diving to help scientists conduct research. You may also be able to work with some of the creatures that live in the big blue like dolphins, whales, or sea turtles.
If you aren’t a certified diver, fret not. You can still participate by helping to teach local people and tourists about conservation or helping with coastline projects at the same time spending time near the beautiful blue seas.
Conservation and environmental protection happen everywhere in all corners of the globe, but here are some of the hotspots for international conservation volunteering. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to whet your appetite for exotic adventures.
Central & South America
Practice your high school Spanish while helping animals and agriculture. Central and South American projects focus on all different issues including wildlife preservation with jaguars and turtles in Costa Rica, agriculture projects in Ecuador, and preserving the Amazon Rainforest.
Known for its safaris, Sub-Saharan Africa provides a wealth of opportunities to work with wildlife and help to encourage eco tourism. You can get up close and personal with elephants or the big cats of the world in South Africa and Kenya.
What an amazing once in a lifetime experience it will be when you learn how to track lions and collect data to help scientific research. You will spend your days soaking up the sun and going on game drives.
Thailand, Fiji, and other parts of South East Asia provide many chances to become involved with some unique animals like elephants and help developing communities at the same time. The climate is tropical, and you will be surrounded by some of the best beaches around.
In China you could work with the Yunnan Golden Monkey, one of the most endangered primates in the world with about 2,000 left. China is also home to the Giant Panda, which is also highly endangered. Maybe you are looking for some more adventure, then try a placement in the Mongolian grasslands.
As the human population rises at a dramatic rate and environmental impact is at an all time high, environmental issues cannot be ignored. Combining economic opportunity for the people and making the world a safer place for the ecosystems involved is a balance that is hard to strike. Volunteers, however, are making a difference.
Planning Your Trip
- The Nature Conservancy works around the world on various issues. This site has an enormous amount of information and slideshows showing their work in easy to read sections.
- The World Wildlife Fund is a leader around the world in conservation efforts. This organization is currently focusing on thirteen key areas including the Amazon and Forest and Climate issues.
- The Natural Resources Defense Council is another important organization in the conservation world. They focus on many large scale issues including defending wildlife and reviving the world’s oceans.
Contributed by Erin Dowd
Conservation Volunteer Programs Abroad
Rustic Pathways Scholarships
Every year, travel company Rustic Pathways give away $250,000 to students from across the world. Scholarships are varied and it's worth checking back...
United Planet Service Scholarships
Several scholarships are available for those looking to volunteer for a short or long-term period abroad with the non-profit organization United...
High Mountain Institute Award
If you’re looking at one of the four High Mountain Institute programs to Patagonia, consider applying for financial aid. Your application must include...