Written by Christel Schultz
Beyond the trending ecotourism ideals is a basic respect for the places one visits, and the unique characteristics that make each location special. For many of us, travel holds little value without the aspect of outdoor exploration and adventure. We may want to immerse ourselves in the culture of our destination, journey through the jungle, or perhaps navigate unknown waters. Regardless of our chosen activity, an experience has the potential to impact who we are. Traveling to a new or exotic location is just the beginning.Unfortunately, a number of popular destinations have become somewhat overwhelmed by tourism, and the atmosphere that attracted vacationers to begin with can become compromised. It may not be the goal of any traveler to take advantage of a foreign territory or community, but unfamiliar habitats, landscapes, and resources are part of the allure for visitors. As a result, the environment and its creatures tend to be exploited in an effort to satisfy the sometimes insatiable appetite of a constant stream of guests. Our outdoor world was intended to be experienced in its natural state, where we enjoy the beauty it offers and only leave our footprints behind. This includes activities like hiking to that breathtaking vista, snorkeling the coral reef, paddling across a glassy lake at dawn, and observing wildlife in its natural element. It is tempting to touch or remove a bright, colorful piece of coral, for example, but this would be detrimental to the reef system that is struggling to survive, and it is typically prohibited.Animals may be held in captivity, bound and drugged to provide humans with a coveted wildlife encounter, but those circumstances are so unnecessary to experience the awe these creatures provide. Consider these sorts of things when venturing about, and discourage practices that exploit the natural world by not participating or not visiting locations where they are common. It is important that we exercise awareness and responsibility concerning our surroundings at home and abroad.
This accountable type of behavior is definitely more prevalent amongst travelers today. In fact, individuals, groups, and families have the opportunity to do significantly more than just visit a desired location. There are awesome possibilities for adventure travel with a purpose – YOU can personally contribute to a variety of projects designed to protect, conserve, and restore our global environment! What a wonderful way to make an impact and a memory!
There are a number of popular, reputable organizations to get involved with, but one in particular repeatedly came up in my research – International Volunteer HQ!!! I’ve chosen a select handful of the options available, but I strongly encourage you to visit their website and learn more! What an amazing library of videos, volunteer accounts, photographs, project and community details! I’ve provided a summary and direct link to the programs that most deeply touched my planet-loving heart!!!
This project is primarily dive-based and requires an Open Water Dive Certification that can be completed before traveling or after arriving to Belize. Volunteers receive training to identify marine wildlife, spear fish, collect data, conduct coral and marine species surveys, and remove invasive species like lionfish. You may even have the opportunity to research whale sharks!
This volunteer project involves conservation activities to help preserve the ecosystems and species. Different aspects of the program include community education and development, bird surveys – Simeulue is home to over 200 species, organic gardening and sustainability, marine environment and debris surveys, spotlighting nocturnal island species, camera trapping to evaluate animal populations in the forests of Simeulue and Bangkaru, and sea turtle conservation through patrols and assistance with Sumatran Hatchery operations. This project is especially fitting for enthusiastic eco-volunteer individuals and families.
Volunteers on this project can join a variety of conservation efforts focused on the protection of the marine ecosystem working in collaboration with a number of oceanographic organizations to gather data. The various initiatives include reef surveying, turtle monitoring, sea slug research, beach cleanups, community environmental education, and reef regeneration by coral propagation. Volunteers receive specific training to conduct research activities at sea, and most of these involve scuba diving, though others include snorkel surveys and dry activities. Participants must be Open Water Dive and Advanced Open Water Dive Certified. Dive training can be completed prior to arrival or in Madagascar.
Volunteers in this program must be physically fit, able-bodied and not worried about getting a bit muddy due to the hands-on, outdoors nature of the work! The traditional Māori land activities include restoration of native bush, land and surrounding freshwater ecosystems dependent upon the time of year. Duties may include collecting seeds, removing invasive species, organic farming, reforestation, and working in the native plant nursery. Monitoring birds, insects, invertebrates, plants and fish may also be included. The marine environment beach and waterway cleanups involve litter removal from coastlines around Auckland’s harbours, islands and estuaries as well as data collection, location scouting and educational activities.
This project offers volunteers the opportunity to live and work at an Amazonian jungle conservation base. The main tasks are reforestation, trail and home-base maintenance, conducting animal inventories, and basic research, based on the project and field conditions at the sites. This is a unique opportunity to contribute to the Amazon ecosystem, but it is important to note that volunteers do not choose their location. Local staff places volunteers in the location where they are most needed, and conditions are suitable, upon arrival.These various locations and projects offer something for everyone with a love for the environment. The opportunity to do something meaningful, connect with like-minded people, and develop a deeper understanding of other cultures is inherent in any of these choices, but there are far more than I have mentioned! I hope you can indulge your inner travel bug and find a purpose-filled adventure suitable for you!