To wrap up 2015, we tallied the evaluation scores submitted by each volunteer after his or her expedition—a measurement of training, safety, support, team dynamic, research contribution, overall satisfaction, and many other factors. Knowledgeable, tireless, and inspiring research staff; the experience of interacting with wildlife and ecosystems untouched by tourists; a feeling of safety unparalleled by other organizations; the knowledge that one person can make a difference in the world—these are just a few examples of volunteers’ expedition highlights.
Below are the top 10 expeditions in 2015, according to our volunteers.
Flowering plants and their pollinators are declining in Himalayan orchards, largely due to climate change. Volunteers are working with researchers to determine the best way to manage these changes to support traditional sustainable agriculture.
“A particularly memorable experience was our meeting on the last day with the villagers of Nashala. We were touched by the warm welcome and their obvious appreciation of how Earthwatch was helping them.” – Judith and Peter Bird
In the Great Otway National Park in Victoria, Australia, the effects of climate change, including increasing temperatures, declining rainfall, and increased likelihood of fire are threatening the habitat of the charismatic koala. Volunteers are helping to research and protect this region in an effort to conserve the species.
“We were well-trained and supported in the field. I learned so much about koalas…and about the environment in the Otway’s. I didn’t expect to learn so much about trees. I’ve been doing canopy checks in the parks in NYC ever since I got back.” – Joanne Edgar
As food supplies decline in the Budongo Forest, chimps have begun to raid farmers’ crops, leading to human-wildlife conflict. Volunteers are helping to determine the causes of this decline in food and studying ways to ensure the area can support both farmers and primate foragers.
“Earthwatch expeditions give one access to a region that is unlike any tourist experience. We learned so much on this expedition.” – Katherine Babiak
Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California has seen increases in wildfires, severe storms, and persistent droughts due to climate change. Volunteers explore the beauty and diversity of the desert landscape while studying how climate change is shaping this environment.
“I gained an appreciation and understanding of citizen science that will sustain my enthusiasm for such projects for a long time to come. The staff for this expedition were awesome. They were organized and the scheduling was done very well. The staff members were all excellent instructors, and even more excellent mentors. Also the comradery of the team was exceptional. I would never have thought that fifteen people randomly assembled could get along so well. I hope that all of my future Earthwatch experiences are even half as good as this one.” – Nancy Cook
Cutting-edge technology could help to unravel a penguin mystery: where and how do these seabirds forage for food? In Patagonia, Argentina, volunteers travel to penguin rookeries on the shores of Golfo San Jorge to monitor and protect a colony of Magellanic penguins.
“The fact that we were able to work in a remote location and work with penguins is an experience most people will never have and that’s amazing. But the science piece on top was fascinating.” – Nancy Pengra
In a region filled with mountainous cliff dwellings and canyons, volunteers are digging into the archaeology of ancient Pueblo communities to uncover clues about the switch from hunting and gathering to agriculture.
“For me it’s all about the experiential learning and understanding the perspectives of the researchers. They all did a great job teaching us and giving us a sense of the value of the research and the depth of their understanding.” – Briant Wolfe
In the high slopes of the Pyrenees (in a location that has now moved from France to Andorra, a small nation sandwiched between France and Spain), climate change is altering the landscape. Here, volunteers are investigating the amazing biodiversity of these forests and alpine meadows to identify conservation strategies.
“I had a vague understanding that climate change has had a remarkable impact on ecosystems worldwide, but after completing this expedition my level of awareness has increased to the point where I am now implementing changes in my life to contribute to mitigating this growing problem.” – Freddy Ramirez
A Roman military settlement in Northern England was once considered to be the edge of civilization. Volunteers are helping researchers to uncover new artifacts that will help to paint a more detailed picture of life inside this Roman base.
“I loved the chance to get hands-on with artifacts, exposing things no one has seen in thousands of years. It left me wanting to learn more about this period in history, and wanting to bring archaeology more fully into my life at home in some way.” – Laurel Schneider
One quarter of shark and ray species around the world are at risk of extinction. Volunteers in Belize are tracking and tagging sharks, as well as using underwater video cameras to monitor their behavior, to study how marine reserves function to protect vulnerable shark species.
“I grew up loving sharks, and going on this expedition was like living out a boyhood dream. I will never forget touching my first live shark.” – Aaron Hersum
The ancient seaside city of Populonia is one of the most important historical sites in Tuscany. Volunteers and researchers are reconstructing the complex history of this city by digging for clues and rebuilding original objects from discovered fragments.
“I was able to touch the past and comprehend its relevance to the future, both my own and that of the world as a whole. I left this expedition as a better person and with a healthier mindset.” – Madeleine Colburn