In the Wild on Earth Day (and the Other 364 Days a Year)

As Earth Day 2013 quickly approaches, there’s always one question buzzing around Earthwatch Headquarters: what are we doing for Earth Day this year? That’s easy, Earthwatch staff members will be assisting in a park clean-up near our offices in Boston, Massachusetts.

But aside from just our staff, what are we doing as an organization? Well, at Earthwatch, we celebrate Earth Day 365 days per year. Every day we continue to make an effort to help conserve our planet. Since 2013 began, at least one Earthwatch team has been out in the field every single day. Every day! Whether it’s protecting the oceans, preserving wildlife, digging up history, or understanding climate change, we are constantly trying to do our part to sustain the planet.

This year, on Monday, April 22nd, volunteers on three Earthwatch Expeditions will be in Trinidad, Seychelles, and Uganda celebrating Earth Day by conducting research, conserving the oceans, and surveying animals.

Trinidad’s Leatherback Sea Turtles

Let’s start with our sea turtle expedition in Trinidad. The research conducted by the scientists, the local conservation group, and Earthwatch volunteers on this expedition is nothing short of amazing. In 2011, all turtle harvesting in coastal waters of Trinidad and Tobago was banned completely because of findings realized on this expedition. Along with the prohibiting of egg harvesting, this research has lead all species of sea turtles in this region to be considered for “species of concern” status. That means leatherback sea turtles are not officially on the Endangered Species List but because of their rapid decline, they are in need of big-time conservation efforts. This year on Earth Day, a team of 8 volunteers will travel to Central America to continue these already incredible efforts by working side-by-side with scientists and a local conservation group to study the 150 sea turtles that nest in the area at night. Last year alone, almost 7,000 sea turtle eggs were successfully laid at the expedition site. Those eggs then hatched into baby turtles who the volunteers helped scurry to the sea.

Recently hatched leatherback sea turtles on their way to the ocean. (copyright Dr. Sam Burgess)

Coral Communities in the Seychelles

Across the Atlantic to the Seychelles, volunteers will work to survey the climate change impacts on coral in the Indian Ocean. A lot of the coral in this area has been bleached as a result of unusually warm temperatures, increased sedimentation, or a lack of plankton from overfishing. Because of the research conducted by scientists and Earthwatch volunteers, it has been discovered that some species of coral are genetically stronger against bleaching than others. That means that one bout with El Nino might destroy a section of coral, but unharm another. Scientists have realized that this weaker, more easily bleached coral can be trained to increase its tolerance to climate change. This on-going Earthwatch research has enabled scientists to identify which areas of coral need more help than others and has literally created a management solution for the Seychelles issue of climate change. This year on Earth Day, volunteers will head back to the Indian Ocean to aid in the conservation of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean.

A volunteers surveys coral in the Seychelles. (copyright Genevieve Pearson)

Tracking Chimps Through the Trees of Uganda

Because 2013 is our first trek into Uganda with citizen scientists, we don’t have any results to report on… yet. In field for the first time this Earth Day, volunteers will explore human, chimpanzee and monkey interactions in the Ugandan rainforest to help scientists develop a strategy for sharing shrinking food supplies. Mysteriously, 15% of the trees here have stopped producing fruit in these forests, trees that are still alive but unable to provide fruit for both humans and chimps. As a result, locals have reported that primates are forced to raid the crops of local farms more frequently, which is of course doesn’t make the farmers very happy. This research hopes to identify reasons for the lack of fruit coming from these trees, by examining various factors from climate to the reduction of pollen in the area. Earthwatch teams will head to Uganda for Earth Day to survey these animals and their environment and with any luck, we will have amazing results to report on Earth Day 2014.

Researchers observing chimpanzees in the rainforest.

Researchers observing chimpanzees in the rainforest.

Each year on Earth Day we take a survey of ways we can help our environment, make our planet more sustainable, and at Earthwatch, we strive for that each and every day. The results from our expeditions will benefit the planet for decades to come. If you’re still looking at ways to make a difference on this Earth Day, or inspired to venture out to Trinidad, Uganda, or the Seychelles visit our Earthwatch Expedition page for more information on our more than 50 expeditions.

Happy Earth Day!