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Travel goals: connect to nature and to yourself all while giving back.
Conservation vacations and give-back trips are the new way to ethically support wildlife, research, and the environment.
Chances are that during this bizarre, pandemic-related lockdown period, you’ve been bitten by the travel bug. With everything going on in the world, all of us are itching to jet-set somewhere: if not to escape our cramped apartments, but also to escape the negative news cycle. For many of us, travel is a passion and a way to break out of reality for a bit. But the pandemic has opened up the collective mind of people everywhere to the reality that there is a need to do good– for ourselves, our communities, and the environment.
Do you want to immerse yourself in the culture and lifestyle of other people while also being able to make a difference? Then a conservation vacation is definitely for you! Luckily, there are loads of ecotourism opportunities all over the world. Take this quiz to get started!
The king of the mountain (and he knows it!)
Whether you are an animal lover, someone looking to give back to Mother Nature, or you want to help out a research team of biologists, there is the perfect life-changing ecotourism project out there. Not only will you be helping preserve and protect the world’s wildlife, but you’ll also gain an incredible once in a lifetime experience.
Let’s check out some cool (yet always ethical) eco-tourism experiences!
Destination: Kenya and Ecuador
You’ll be: protecting giraffes, birds and other wildlife!
If you’re looking for action then Life Net Nature is for you! Life Net Nature is a wildlife conservation organization that hosts citizen scientist volunteers on field projects in Chile, Ecuador, Kenya, and the U.S.A. Protect wildlife by preserving habitats for endangered species, help local communities establish protected areas, do wildlife research, and much more!
Life Net Nature has a pretty impressive track record: they helped make public lands next to Yellowstone National Park safer for park gray wolves. They manage a protected area in Ecuador called Reserva Las Tangaras where 300 bird species, endangered monkeys, and spectacled bear securely reside. In Kenya, they support local Maasai protecting giraffe and other wildlife on private lands next to the famed Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. They are expanding habitat for the endangered huemul deer in Chile. Are you still reading or did you get up to tie your hiking boots and book a flight already!?
Head out on the Kenya Wildlife Conservation Expedition where volunteers assist Maasai Morans Conservation and Walking Safaris and Life Net Nature’s directors and wildlife conservation biologists, Dr. Dusti Becker and Dr. Tony Povilitis. Volunteers assist with field research on Masai giraffe group composition, movements, photo ID-ing, and mother-infant behavior, and help document forest resources and corridors used by elephants and other wildlife. Volunteers also suggest improvements to guiding and eco-campsite management by Maasai youth.
Additionally, you can help avian scientists in Ecuador by assisting with bird monitoring and banding. Volunteers will help set up mist nets, record data at banding stations, and assist with bird surveys. Volunteers will train in bird banding and extraction, but still have plenty of time to take gorgeous photographs of the biodiverse Ecuadorian Andes.
Destination: Vancouver, British Columbia
You’ll be: monitoring and collecting data on birds!
Maybe you hear the term “citizen science” and automatically assume to take part in conservation-based research you need to have some background in science. That is not the case at all, and the folks at WildResearch are proving it. At WildResearch, they want to empower people from all backgrounds to get connected to nature by running citizen science programs. WildResearch programs allow volunteers (aka citizen scientists) to contribute hands-on to conservation science research.
WildResearch offers two programs: First, the Iona Island Bird Observatory monitors populations of wintering and migratory birds in an ecologically important park in Richmond, British Columbia. Their winter monitoring program is unique in western Canada and aims to estimate survivorship of over-wintering songbirds. Second, the Urban Raptor Monitoring program aims to gain data on the Cooper’s hawks in the Vancouver/Burnaby area. Citizen scientists will learn about their ecology and how to conduct raptor surveys.
You’ll be: helping sea turtle conservation efforts!
Want to spend some time defending the wildlife of Greece? Oh, yeah you do! You’ll be spending your days working hands-on to help monitor and relocate vulnerable sea turtle hatchlings, tag nesting females, and experience Greek culture first hand. Check out ARCHELON: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece! They offer a few different projects volunteers can help out on, each one addresses a number of different sea turtle conservation issues. For example:
Did you know that there are seven sea turtle species?
1. The Sea Turtle Rescue Centre in Glyfada (a suburb of Athens): volunteers will help to receive injured and sick sea turtles from all over Greece for treatment and rehabilitation. Fully recovered animals are released back to the wild..
2.Volunteer in the shallow waters of Amvrakikos Bay and the beaches near Preveza, in northwestern Greece. You will monitor and collect data from an important sea turtle feeding grounds. The turtles are obtained using the ‘rodeo’ technique from a boat, where they are then measured and examined, and finally released all within a few minutes. Additionally, on the beautiful beaches of Preveza, you will survey for nests while enjoying a glorious sunrise.
You’ll be: protecting national parks and nature protection areas!
Aside from its snow-covered volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls and lagoons, Iceland’s other-worldly terrain will have you under its spell as soon as you step off the plane. Between hiking the trails, lounging in the Blue Lagoon, building a hiking trail, cleaning the coastline, or being part of ecological research, a conservation trip in Iceland is like no other! These are the types of projects you can take part in with SEEDS, a volunteer organization that promotes environmental protection and awareness through social projects.
SEEDS is a non-governmental, non-profit organization with the aim to promote intercultural understanding, environmental protection and awareness through work on environmental, social and cultural projects within Iceland. SEEDS workcamps are generally 2 to 3 weeks long. A group of volunteers live and work together on a project that has been identified by a local community. The types of projects can be building walking paths and hiking trails, cleaning the coastline, reforestation and erosion control works, construction or renovation of a community building,
monument or community center, ecological research, removing invasive plants, and more. Where can I sign up?
For anyone looking to gain practical conservation skills, you can volunteer with The Environment Agency of Iceland. You will live in tents and work in some of the most beautiful parts of Iceland. Volunteers will be involved in practical conservation management in nature protection areas including wilderness and heritage management projects.
Destination: Costa Rica
You’ll be: rehabilitating rescued macaws!
Did you know macaws can live for as long as 60 years in the wild?
Bird lovers, this one is for you. The Ara Manzanillo Project is dedicated to the conservation of two native and endangered macaw species: the Scarlet Macaw and the Great Green or Buffon’s Macaw. The aim is to rescue macaws, breed them and release into the wild. They also conduct conservation research on their patterns after release.
Over 35 years ago, an American couple fell in love with Costa Rica and were determined to help repopulate these endangered birds. The project now has one of the largest collections of Great Green Macaws in the world. Volunteers work side by side with dedicated conservationists and biologists to protect these magnificent and endangered birds.
The Ara Manzanillo reintroduction project needs volunteer field assistants from all walks of life. Nature lovers, conservation enthusiasts and the like are welcome to learn about and work closely with the most beautiful birds. Plus, the experience of living in the tropical rainforest and experiencing rural Costa Rican life in a remote coastal wildlife refuge is quite special in itself. Contributing towards the survival of a threatened macaw species: priceless.
BONUS: Costa Rica is the hub of biological conservation and sound eco-tourism places to volunteer. Check out Green Communities to get hands-on with truly sustainable agriculture.
Destination: South Africa
You’ll be: taking care of baby monkeys!
Monkeying around at a wildlife refuge in Israel for neglected animals
For anyone hoping to get close to some monkeys, this is the trip for you! Rescue, nurture, and rehabilitate injured and orphaned primate babies in order to get them ready for release to the wild. The Riverside Monkey Sanctuary is offers volunteers hands-on opportunities to bottle feed the babies, watch as they play, help with basic care needs, and more.
Ever wanted to live at a rehabilitation center alongside 400 monkeys and baboons (and maybe a human or two)? This is seriously the coolest trip ever. Of course, expect to work hard- it isn’t all monkeying around over there! You’ll definitely be getting your hand’s dirty preparing food and cleaning the enclosures. You will leave with the reward of knowing that one day these primates will be released back into the wild. (Note: The wildlife shown on this page are in contact with humans because they were rescued from a negative situation caused by humans or from natural causes. These animals are not pets!)
To learn more about primate researchers, check out our interview with Natasha Bartolotta!
Though the pandemic has slowed things down, it’s time to consider how to change the way you approach your next holiday. Modern travel has opened up opportunities for exploring new places (both in the world and within ourselves) and for finding deeper meaning through our travels.
I don’t know about you, but on past trips, my focus has been getting the perfect shot of an elephant in Thailand or a gorgeous sunset in Turkey. However, it’s important to realize that these beautiful creatures are in danger. Adopting a give-back component to your next travel adventure is not only rewarding for you, but essential for planet Earth.