Four Ways Earthwatch Teen Expeditions Have Inspired Young Scientists

The sun sets on the expedition Climate Change: Sea to Trees at Acadia National Park. (Courtesy Mike Mao)

The sun sets on the expedition Climate Change: Sea to Trees at Acadia National Park.

Nationwide, teens are demanding for their voices to be heard. In Florida, an emboldened group of students are working tirelessly to write op-ed pieces, hold interviews with the media, and organize rallies and demonstrations, all in an effort to gain support for common sense gun laws.  In Kansas, there are six teenagers running gubernatorial races in an effort to help shape the policies that will impact the economy and environment that they will inherit. In July, thousands of teens are expected to march on Washington D.C. for the Zero Hour Youth March with the goal of “holding adults and elected officials accountable for their legacy of destruction and inaction when it comes climate change.”

Even amidst this incredible uprising of teen voices, there are still adults who doubt the power of teenagers, who view teenagers as “too young” or “too inexperienced” to really make a change.

That’s not the case here at Earthwatch. We’re well aware of exactly how much teenagers are capable of when given the opportunity.

Below are four examples of such teens whose perspectives of the world were permanently altered after fielding on an Earthwatch Teen Expedition

The view from the expedition Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge. (Courtesy Matti Urlass)

The view from the expedition Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge.

1. An unexpected, life-changing adventure

Judith Santano experienced a lot of firsts when she traveled from her home in urban Los Angeles to participate in the Earthwatch expedition Spotting Songbirds in the Rockies. It was the first time she was able to experience a literal breath of fresh air, the first time she saw a bear in the wild, and the first time she realized that there was “more than one way to love science.”

Judith joined her first Earthwatch expedition as a teenager with a love for science and left with a new sense of direction to take in life, even if she did not know it at the time. By experiencing real field science, and knowing that the research she was conducting was a part of a larger effort to protect these songbirds, Judith was given the opportunity to take a step back and appreciate the beauty in nature. She credits the experience as “giving her the opportunity to fall in love with the earth.”

“Although I didn’t completely know it when I was 15, Earthwatch would influence the path I would take in my studies, career, and life.”

Now pursuing a degree from Stanford University in Earth Systems, Judith hopes to study the impact humans have on the environment and promote the importance of science education.

Teens tackle mountain peaks on the expedition Wildlife in the Changing Andorran Pyrenees.

Teens tackle mountain peaks on the expedition Wildlife in the Changing Andorran Pyrenees.

2. A step outside the comfort zone and into a career path

In 2006, when Moria Robinson joined Earthwatch in Arizona to study the relationship between caterpillars and climate change, she had no idea how the experience would shape her life. For Moria – who has a love of science, nature, and bugs – this Earthwatch expedition was a trifecta. She spent two weeks in Arizona helping Earthwatch scientists collect data on the impact of these insects on their environment.

Ten years later, Moria went on to run her very own caterpillar research lab at the University of California, where she simultaneously pursued a PhD. in Biology, in large part due to her experience in the field as a high school student.

3. A test of courage, a lifetime of resolve

Few can say that they knew what they wanted to do with their lives at the age of 17. For Taormina Lepore, it wasn’t a question of what she wanted to do but how she’d be able to get there. Before joining her first Earthwatch Expedition as a teenager, Taormina had dreams of pursuing a career as a scientist and an educator. Being actively involved in the field of science seemed like a nice idea to her, but without a clear path to follow, that idea seemed unattainable.

That’s until Taormina packed her bags and boarded a flight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming as an Earthwatch fellow. Little did she know that along with uncovering ancient fossils, she’d also uncover the path to pursue her dream career that she’d been in search of. Taormina credits her two weeks fielding with Earthwatch as the reason she was able to build a career that allowed her to travel around the country as a museum director, as a research paleontologist, and as a high school science educator.

I think about Earthwatch when I remind my students that they can do these same kinds of things. Scientific fieldwork is within their reach.”

Teens band together on the expedition Helping Endangered Corals in the Cayman Islands. (Courtesy Gabrielle Schavran)

Volunteers band together on the expedition Helping Endangered Corals in the Cayman Islands.

4. A taste for field work, a deeper understanding of conservation

When Taylor Rhoades was 16 years old, she had it all figured out. She was going to study veterinary medicine, work with animals in the field, then retire working for a zoo; simple as that. In her mind, the best path to conserving the environment was through protecting animal life. Her parents, however, while supportive of her dreams, urged her to get a more well-rounded picture of what conservation really looks like. That’s where Earthwatch entered the picture.

Joining an Earthwatch expedition gave Taylor the chance to live her dream, even if just for a few weeks.

Once she entered college at Texas A&M University, Taylor was able to draw the connection between her work in the field studying animal life and the role that humans play in conservation. She is now working to educate the public to take action to save all types of animals.

“Earthwatch was the only organization that I found that would allow someone my age to actually go out and do hands-on work in the field, working directly with wildlife and conservationists.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Earthwatch’s Teen Expeditions and student groups, please contact Earthwatch at or by calling 1-800-776-0188.

Scientific Research: A ‘Labor of Love’

A meadow of wildflowers in Acadia National Park. (Courtesy Jared Biunno)

A meadow of wildflowers in Acadia National Park. (Courtesy Jared Biunno)

By Jared Biunno, Earthwatch Volunteer

What are we to do?! November 9th, 2016, the election has changed everything and with that change has come a newly invigorated assault on environmental protections and policies. After almost a year of signing online petitions, reading Washington Post articles and donating to the Sierra Club, my fight against climate change existed only in the digital sphere. That approach proved to be mentally exhausting, and so my inner voice told me to get my eyes off my laptop and out into the world. Do something practical, something you can touch, on the ground, out in the field, literally in the dirt!

Fast forward to September 10th, 2017, and I’m stepping foot in my very first national park as one of ten team members on an Earthwatch expedition – Climate Change: Sea to Trees at Acadia National Park.

I grew up in a suburban household with parents that were either too busy or too uninterested to integrate nature into our childhood. On vacations, we would go on cruises or to resorts. On sunny summer afternoons, we would go to the local pool or the crowded beach. Nature simply wasn’t part of my family’s everyday. Naturally, making first ground at Acadia National Park was like stepping into a wonderland. The air! Oh my goodness, the air. Crisp and fresh with a smell that was the most natural and pleasant aroma to ever fill my nostrils. If the first goal of my Earthwatch expedition was to enhance my appreciation of the natural world, I was off to a good start.

After a brief night of meeting my team and going through the program itinerary, we began the real work at the crack of dawn. Here is what I have to say about my experience during this expedition: it is real work. Hard work. It’s not a vacation, it’s not a light, relaxing getaway. We arrived out in the field and you could feel the intimidation amongst the team. At that moment we knew this was not going to be a “fun little science trip.” This was going to be rough and tough data collection, at the very least.

On my first day, I, along with some of my other team members, began to naturally complain and sigh about how rigorous and tedious our load was. We were hunched over, digging through the brush, branches whacking us in the face, counting berries and sweating from head to toe. We had a predetermined list of tasks to accomplish in a set amount of time and there was no special treatment. This was not a Carnival cruise by any means.

However, as we slowly pushed through the first day, the second day, the third day, I began to notice something. Our team of “citizen scientists” had begun to gel. Our confidence grew, our complaining subsided and we began to build efficiency in our work. I have to admit, it was a sight to behold. Here are brand marketers, a chef, a school teacher, people from all walks of life adapting and growing, developing systems and methods to execute the work faster and better. After a little while, we started to really enjoy the process through the teamwork and camaraderie. The actual work did not get any less tedious or tiresome, but the pride amongst the team continued to grow and grow. We were not going to fail! This was a group of human beings with a brash determination to finish the day with success; there was simply no other option.

A team of Earthwatch volunteers in Acadia National Park. (Courtesy Jared Biunno)

A team of Earthwatch volunteers in Acadia National Park. (Courtesy Jared Biunno)

We had begun to understand that this is a job of labor and love, and that being a citizen scientist was clearly a title that was earned. Slowly but surely we felt that we were earning that title.

At one point in the trip, we came to a profound realization: this is the life of a scientist. Long after we return to our office buildings and studio apartments, these scientists will continue on to the next week. And then the week after that. And throughout the years and years, they will be here, at Acadia National Park, in the forest or on the coast, researching and collecting data and studying samples and fighting climate change. We began to understand that scientists, like firefighters and astronauts and soldiers, were true American heroes.

We had a conversation amongst ourselves one night about how these men and women are dedicating their lives to this hard, gritty work and sacrificing so much all in the effort of obtaining answers to nature’s greatest questions. We wondered why someone would do this for their entire life (as our backs ached from the day’s work) and, after a moment of silence amongst the group, one of our team members said in the simplest of ways, “Someone has to.” We all silently nodded to ourselves, and at that moment we understood the significance of why we were there.

To learn more about the research being conducted, visit our project webpage, Climate Change: Sea to Trees at Acadia National Park.

An Earthwatch Meet-Cute For The (Bronze) Ages

By Karen and Michael Crisafulli, Earthwatch Volunteers

In 1993, a team of Earthwatch volunteers assembled in Spain to participate on a Bronze Age archaeological dig as part of an expedition excavating an ancient Iberian village. And while digging side-by-side, two citizen scientists uncovered more than artifacts. They uncovered love. They each share their stories of how they met.

Karen during what would prove to be the serendipitous 1993 Earthwatch expedition Ancient Iberian Village.

Karen during what would prove to be the serendipitous 1993 Earthwatch expedition Ancient Iberian Village.

Karen: “This is the whole story in a nutshell: Michael came home and said, ‘Ma, look what I dug up!’”

So begins the toast my brother-in-law, Greg, made at our wedding, August 19, 1995.

Two years before, I met Michael on my first Earthwatch project, and though I had lived in Australia, traveled to Europe and Africa, the project in Spain was to be different in two important ways: one, I would be participating in my first dig; and two, I was about to turn a corner in my life…

A more unromantic meeting place would be hard to find – the bus station in Zaragoza. But Michael seemed to notice me right away and managed to sit with me on the one-hour long bus ride to Borja. Our final destination was a youth hostel, The Albergue, in the village of Santuario de la Misericordia near the Bronze Age dig site. During the two-week expedition, we found we had a lot in common as we worked together at the excavation, talked over drinks in the soft summer night air at the village outdoor café, and made plans to meet once we were back in the U.S. Parting after the expedition was hard, but what began in Spain extended into a year of weekend commutes from Binghamton, NY, to Farmington, CT, Michael moving in with me, and our eventual marriage.

Earthwatch brought us together, and it, along with Michael, has a special place in my heart.

Michael during that same 1993 expedition.

Michael during that same 1993 expedition.

Michael: I arrived in Spain early for my third Earthwatch project, Ancient Iberian Village, a Bronze Age archaeology dig, and spent nearly a week traveling around the country by train. By the time I reached the bus station in Zaragoza for the last leg of my travel to the team rendezvous, I was well acclimated to the hot summer weather and Spanish culture. Here, I met several of the other volunteers, recognizable by their Earthwatch pins or emblems. Karen was one of these folk and I took to her at once. We sat together on the hour bus ride to the small town of Borja, and spent much of the next two weeks together as well. I kept a journal of the entire trip and I find my thoughts about Karen filling page after page after our meeting, nearly squeezing out my notes on the project and its related cultural experiences.

Our days were ordered this way: We had a minimal breakfast in The Albergue, or youth hostel where we stayed, in the tiny village of Santuario de la Misericordia. Since the team was large, we were driven in separate groups to the excavation site of Majaladares, the first group walking the last part of the trek so the car could return for the second. We worked through the morning, stopping for a sandwich break, and then reversed the order for the trip back to The Albergue, the first group being driven from the site, the second walking part of the trip. Karen and I were assigned to the same excavation crew, working near the top of the hill that afforded a beautiful view of the Ebro River valley, so we spent lots of time together, both working, riding, and walking. As we got to know each other I found my initial positive reaction continuously reinforced. One day, Karen was not feeling well and stayed back at the Albergue. I very much missed her that morning, but took advantage of my walk from the site to pick some wild flowers – “three varieties, three colors,” my journal says – and had her roommate deliver them.


We arrived at The Albergue near noon when the summer heat was peaking, and usually enjoyed a siesta before what was always a fabulous main meal prepared by the hostel staff. The afternoons were spent in the shaded yard of The Albergue cleaning, sorting, and marking finds. For this work we were rewarded with a second fabulous meal at 8 o’clock. Shortly into the first week, a small team of hearty volunteers was organized to return to the site in the afternoons. Karen and I volunteered for this group. The first week of the project, the weather was sunny and hot until the afternoon it rained. “Rain” is insufficient to describe the wind and downpour that hit the hearty team that afternoon. We ran for the cave where we stored our tools. We were soaked literally to the skin while we waited out the storm. We found the trenches filled with water when we emerged and the weather from then on was strangely cool, rather like Scotland.

I lived in Connecticut at that time and Karen four hours away in upstate New York, but the distance didn’t seem prohibitive and we made plans to get together. I had another week in Mallorca scheduled after the Majaladares team finished its work, but I promised Karen I’d call the moment I returned home. Weather on my return flight gave our relationship its first test. My plane couldn’t land at JFK and was diverted to Hartford, Connecticut. This was, in fact, my final destination, but of course I couldn’t disembark. I missed my connecting flight and my call was late, even though I made it at the airport. But we passed the test and it was great to hear each other’s voices again.

That was 1993. Karen and I were married in 1995. We’ve participated in a new Earthwatch project each year since then. It’s always fun to see the reaction when we tell people how we met on an Earthwatch project Spain.

During their 2015 Earthwatch trip to Spain, Karen and Michael found an infinity mirror while visiting a museum on one of the project's excursion days.

During their 2015 Earthwatch trip to Spain, Karen and Michael found an infinity mirror while visiting a museum on one of the project’s excursion days.

Earthwatch – The Beginning of Everything

By Taylor Rhoades, Earthwatch Volunteer

At 16, Taylor Rhoades traveled to Trinidad and South Africa with Earthwatch to conduct hands-on research alongside scientists – an experience that would set her on the path to her dream job at the Houston Zoo.

Taylor during a tour of the Dallas Zoo when she was working for the National Geographic Photo Ark.

Taylor Rhoades

At 26, it may seem silly to sit back and think about where life has taken you – but when you’ve just landed your dream job, you start to think about all the experiences that have shaped you, and how all of those years of hard work have led up to this moment. Looking back almost a decade, I can say without a doubt that my experiences with Earthwatch were key in defining both my personal and professional identities as a conservationist.

During my junior year of high school, I was aggressively pursuing a future in veterinary medicine, and knew that my ultimate goal would be to work with animals in the field, and then eventually find my way into a zoo setting as I neared retirement age. Believe me when I say 16-year-old me had it ALL figured out – but my parents, while unwavering in their support, weren’t quite sure I had thought through what life in the field would mean. They encouraged me to find a project I could go work on that would allow me to gain field experience, and that is exactly what I did!

Earthwatch was the only organization that I found that would allow someone my age to actually go out and do hands-on work in the field, working directly with wildlife and conservationists.

So, the summer before my senior year of high school, I spent two weeks in Trinidad working with leatherback sea turtles, followed by two weeks in South Africa studying brown hyenas. The trips I went on gave me a taste for field work, and I fell in love with every aspect of it – so much so that I jokingly called my parents from Trinidad and told them not to be surprised if I lost my passport. I came home energized and beyond ready to graduate so I could start the next chapter of my life.

Fast forward to college – I ended up at Texas A&M University where I started out as a pre-vet student, but ultimately switched into anthropology after meeting a professor who does cultural studies in Trinidad. We bonded over our research in a country that we both loved, and through our discussions, I realized just how much of an impact my time in the field had had on me. I didn’t just want to save wildlife, I wanted to know all about the people who lived alongside these animals. My professor mentored me for the next several years, and the more immersed I became in cultural studies, the more I understood that conservation wasn’t just about the animals – it was about people too.

After graduating with my BA in Anthropology, I went on to do my MSc in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes in the UK. My dissertation, entitled “A Texas Perspective: is there a preference for the conservation of endemic versus foreign species through viewing wildlife documentaries?” explored how factors such as generation and gender impact individuals, and in turn influence species preference and willingness to contribute to conservation initiatives. By this time, I knew that I wanted to work directly with people and better understand how to not just inspire the public to care, but to get them to take action to save wildlife.

After graduating from the MSc program in 2016, I completed two internships – one at the Houston Zoo with their conservation department, and one with National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, founder of the Photo Ark. As of October 2017, I have started full-time at the Houston Zoo as the Conservation Action Analyst and I couldn’t be happier! Every day I get to offer support to our staff of over 450 conservationists and our project partners all around the world that are working tirelessly to save wildlife. Not only that, but I get to work with people in my hometown and watch them become advocates for wildlife within their own communities! I also get to join my co-workers out in the field on beach clean-ups, sea turtle surveys, and annual monarch butterfly tagging excursions, so field work is still very much a part of my life.

For years when I told people what I was studying, I would often be met with a giggle followed by a discouraging “And how will you make a living doing that?” Now, one of my favorite questions to answer is “how in the world did you get a such a cool job?” The answer? It all started with an organization called Earthwatch.

To learn more about Earthwatch teen expeditions, visit our website.

Conducting “Real Science” Alongside Real Scientists at Acadia National Park

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By Kyle Ang, Earthwatch Ignite Fellow 2016

After scouring the web for opportunities to conduct hands-on research, Kyle Ang received a fateful email that would send him from his home in Los Angeles to Acadia National Park in Maine. Kyle shares his experience as participating in the Ignite Student Fellowship Program, and how this experience inspired him to pursue a STEM major at the University of Rochester.

Kyle Ang

Kyle Ang

I wanted to do real science.

I was in my junior year of high school, and I knew I wanted to do something hands-on. I wanted to contribute to expanding humanity’s library of knowledge and learn more about what it truly meant to be a scientist.

After weeks of searching for opportunities, nearly all research programs popped up with prices of $2,000 and upwards. There was no way I could afford them, so I continued looking for others. I could hardly count how many websites I visited and signed up for to get updates.

Then, two months later, I received an email that said, “Are you a high school sophomore or junior in the LA area? Spend two weeks next summer participating on a fully funded, scientific research expedition alongside scientists and other students in a natural landscape.”

It was perfect. I applied and was accepted into Earthwatch’s Ignite program for Climate Change: Sea to Trees at Acadia National Park.

2016 Earthwatch Ignite FellowsForward to July 11, 2016, I set off on a six-hour flight from LA to Maine with eight other high school students from Los Angeles County. It was exciting to be on my own for the first time traveling to a new place, with new people. We had a six-hour layover at the Boston Logan International Airport before we actually arrived in Maine. During the wait, my team and I bonded over playing cards, telling jokes, and trying to keep each other awake.

We stayed at the research and education campus of Schoodic Institute where we spent two weeks hopping from different field sites and tide pools to study the effects of ocean acidification on intertidal communities.

I learned about how carbon dioxide, the pumping of fossil fuels, and burning of chemicals into our atmosphere has created a disruption between interactions among the organisms in our oceans. We discussed the urgent issue of lowering pH levels and how our oceans’ rising acidity is dissolving the shells of organisms that contribute to a large part of Acadia’s natural resources and marine ecosystems.

It struck me then that we, as inhabitants of our planet, must act urgently in every way possible to take care of our environment and preserve its natural beauty for future generations to come.

When we headed out into the field, in our neon yellow vests, we collected crabs while crawling through cobble, ate freshly salted seaweed straight from the rocks, examined algae and even watched barnacles open up their mouths to feast on sea plankton. We mixed epoxy glue for our settlement plates and discovered a new side to science as we watched researchers drill holes into volcanic rock.

The best part for me was being able to experience so many new things. I had never been to the east coast or a tide pool. I hadn’t eaten lobster, scones, whoopie pies, s’mores, or had a campfire. I had never been away from my house for so long, bunked/slept over with friends, watched the sunrise while eating my breakfast on top of rocks facing the ocean, nor had I picked fresh blueberries off of bushes before.

I’d never gone on a mystery adventure drive at 10 p.m. under the full moon to search a wobbling boat dock for a shoal of squid, or gone moth hunting, or had multiple caterpillars waddling up and down my arm. (My teammates and I named one Francesca.) I hadn’t gone on a hike up Alder trail in 90-degree weather (probably my most challenging hike to date), and I surely never had as many bug bites as I got during this expedition. (I ended up with 44. I guess it was the mosquitoes’ way of welcoming me to Maine!) And to add to all of that, I can even say now that I’ve met the inspiring explorer, Sylvia Earle.

I time-lapsed fast moving clouds, painfully slow snails, and fascinatingly bizarre barnacles feeding on sea-plankton. I learned how to use a compass and search for our sites using a handheld GPS. (We had cool site names like Mordor, Hogwarts, Tabletop, and Blueberry Hill.) I’ve always viewed data-entry as tedious, but with this expedition, I realized it was actually satisfying. I learned how to make settlement plates to place at our sites. I learned to avoid slippery sea lettuce — or “the green slime of death,” as John Cigliano, our lead scientist, called it.

When I got home, I wanted to tell everyone that I watched a scientist drill holes into volcanic rock. I wanted to let them know, “Scientists aren’t just nerds in lab coats!” Some of them stared at me with amusement as I gushed on about barnacles opening up to eat sea plankton, and about how crabs leave behind dead skin in the shape of cool translucent shells. I wanted to tell them how amazing it was to walk through dirt paths with nothing else but green trees and fresh air surrounding you. I opened up the topic of how worrying it is for people to still doubt climate change.

Most of all, I was excited to tell them I contributed to science. I did field work, lab experiments, and worked alongside real scientists. I wanted to tell them all about how wonderful it felt to be a part of something that would actually impact the welfare of our planet.

I realized that while science exists to study and answer questions still unanswered, sometimes, science does not work the way we expect it to. It takes time, error, failure, and countless tries. And sometimes, while it does not answer our questions, it can present new ones that continue to fuel humanity’s insatiable curiosity to seek answers.

Now, as a freshman exploring the arts, music, and sciences at the University of Rochester, I look back on my Earthwatch expedition with pride and gratitude knowing that it was an experience I will continue to share with others and remember for many years to come.

Learn more about this program by visiting the Earthwatch Ignite Fellowship website.

The Top 10 Earthwatch Expeditions of 2017 (according to our volunteers)!

What were the best expeditions of 2017 according to our volunteers? To find out, we tallied evaluation scores submitted by volunteers – scores that factor in safety, support, team dynamic, research contribution, training, overall satisfaction, and more. Some of the most common comments we received have to do with the inspiring and hardworking staff, the discovery of science, and the feeling of having an impact as major highlights.

1. Saving Joshua Tree’s Desert Species

Joshua tree (Courtesy Joanne Owen)Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California has seen increases in wildfires, severe storms, and persistent droughts due to climate change. Volunteers help safely trap and release reptiles, small mammals, and arthropods, and conduct vegetation surveys to better understand the movement of species within this desert ecosystem and help to develop a critical baseline understanding of how climate change is shaping this environment.

“I was impressed not only with the knowledge and expertise of the scientists, but also with their compassion and concern. This was shown by their compassion for and consideration of the research subjects, plants and animals. Traps were set and attended so as not to hurt or injure. Even plants and bugs were not unnecessarily tromped on. Each of the participants was treated with consideration and care. Even discussion of those who might not value the research or misbehaving park visitors were respected. I heard one of the scientists say, ‘It’s their park too. We have to teach them how to experience it if they don’t know how.'” – Alison Bishop

2. Uncovering the Mysteries of Colorado’s Pueblo Communities

Uncovering the Mysteries of Colorado's Pueblo Communities project site. (Courtesy Warren Stortroen)In southwest Colorado, Earthwatch volunteers are uncovering some of the least understood questions around great houses of ancestral Pueblo communities. Archaeologists at Crow Canyon Research Center are discovering the nature of Chaco influence and impact of drought on building practices during the Pueblo II period in a region filled with mountainous cliff dwellings and canyons.

“All of the staff and researchers at Crow Canyon are great to work with. They are always attentive to the needs of volunteers, and show that they really care about our welfare and our involvement in the research.” – Warren Stortroen

3. Amazon Riverboat Exploration

Volunteers cruising down the Samiria River in the Amazon. (Courtesy Pablo Puertas)A kaleidoscope of wildlife lives deep in the heart of Peru’s flooded Amazon region, including rare pink river dolphins, macaws, and small alligator-like caimans. Volunteers survey these species and more while operating out of a historic boat – collecting data that directly shape local conservation and management policies.

“I am a bench experimental biologist. The expedition introduced me to an entirely different kind of science. Learning about community-based conservation, meeting the young biologists who were our teachers and the local people who were our boatmen, and experiencing environments and landscapes entirely new to me – it was enormously enjoyable.” – Barbara Baltelle

4. Wildlife in the Changing Andorran Pyrenees

The Andorran Pyrenees (Courtesy Mathew Yee)In the high slopes of the Andorran Pyrenees, as in other mountain ecosystems, climate change is altering the landscape. Volunteers are helping researchers to investigate the amazing biodiversity of these forests and alpine meadows so they can identify mitigation strategies. During their nine days on the project, they learn to identify birds, assess mammal diversity with camera traps, study alpine flowers, and track bats under the stars.

“The scientists – Bernat, Irene and Jana – could not have provided a better experience. Their enthusiasm and eagerness to share information engaged the team and allowed us to feel a real part of this project. I learned a great deal about employing scientific method to obtain data that would be of value. As a new retiree, it felt great to realize continued physical and mental abilities that could be of use. I was always encouraged to challenge myself, but never expected to do more than what I was comfortable with.” – Henry Bowen

5. Wildlife of the Mongolian Steppe

Siberian ibex running across the Mongolian Steppe.A wilderness landscape with a rich diversity of wildlife that few people ever experience – that’s the beauty of Mongolia. Here, volunteers are assessing the health and behavior of Argali sheep, Lesser Kestrels, Cinereous Vultures, Siberian ibex, and other species – many of which are threatened by poaching, illegal mining, and overgrazing.

“I learned a lot about the local community and the project. The community is highly involved, therefore you can see the impact. I learned from the herdsmen that during the past 30 years, climate change has had a direct impact on the local community. This project also brought out the best in me as I learned to work with my fellow teammates.” – Bernard Johnpulle

6. Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge

Volunteers conducting field research during the expedition Climate Change at the Arctic's Edge. (Courtesy Erica Marlaine)Churchill, Manitoba, known as the “polar bear capital of the world,” is located at the Arctic treeline and is extremely sensitive to small environmental changes that have a huge impact on ecosystems. Warming temperatures have led to shrinking areas of polar sea ice, freshwater wetlands that are drying up, and less extensive winter snowpack that melts earlier. Volunteers are helping researchers to gather evidence of climate change in this extraordinary region to better understand what the future may have in store for the environment.

“The expedition made me realize that this is the type of work I would possibly want to do in the future. Before this, I didn’t know what being a field scientist really entailed. But being a part of this team made me appreciate the work of field (and all) scientists and truly understand the importance of work like this.” – Olivia Ellman

7. Protecting Whooping Cranes and Coastal Habitats in Texas

Two adult Whooping Cranes with a subadult in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. (Courtesy Dave Rein)Hunting pressure and landscape changes have pushed the endangered Whooping Crane to the brink of extinction. Thanks to conservation efforts, the only wild migratory population, which winters in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, has grown from just 15 birds to more than 300. Volunteers are helping scientists along the Gulf Coast of Texas, a region that has seen some of the most devastating impacts of Hurricane Harvey, to survey Whooping Crane habitat and foraging patterns to inform protection measures for their winter home.

“This program provides an excellent opportunity for the average citizen to become educated about our planet at a level beyond the textbook. I learned more about the earth’s beautiful resources and the importance of protecting this endangered species and its habitat. I gained firsthand knowledge of the work by the few that care so much to dedicate their lives to accomplish this.” – Rick Bryant

8. Following Forest Owls in the Western U.S.

Volunteers measure owls.Deep within the aspen groves in northern Utah and the riparian canyon and coniferous forests in southeastern Arizona, a suite of small forest owl species seek out tree cavities for their nests. But climate change threatens to disrupt the routine of these species. Researchers, assisted by Earthwatch volunteers, are conducting nesting surveys, measuring, photographing, and banding several small cavity-nesting owl species, including Flammulated, Elf, and Whiskered Screech Owls.

“I have been on 17 Earthwatch expeditions and this was one of the best. Dave and Markus (the scientists) were always patient, enthusiastic and generous. They understood that a key ingredient of a successful expedition is making certain that the volunteers feel useful. We all worked hard and reveled in that.” – Alice Jacklet

9. Climate Change: Sea to Trees at Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park (Courtesy Thomas Tepstad Berge)Maine’s Acadia National Park is a popular pit-stop for migratory birds that need to rest and refuel, thanks to its abundance of berries and insects. But changes in climate have shifted the timing of this rendezvous, which may affect the survival of species that rely on each other for pollination and sustenance. Volunteers are assisting scientists in studying the effects of climate change on land, in freshwater lakes and streams, and along the rocky seashore of this iconic New England landscape.

“Real world data collection – fantastic! The Schoodic area is breathtakingly beautiful. The variety of tasks and environments (forest and intertidal) made for an interesting adventure. Also, I now know what phenology is! This project gave me an appreciation for the difficulty of getting good data.” – Michael Flumian

10. Conserving Marine Life along Catalina’s Coast

Volunteers kayaking off the coast of Catalina Island. (Courtesy Brad Stevenson)On the picturesque island of Catalina, located off the coast of southern California, scientists and Earthwatch volunteers are assessing the impact of Marine Protected Areas on the abundance of species such as California sea lions, gray whales, and common dolphins. They are also monitoring threats from climate change and human activities and helping to conserve this unique coastal habitat.

“The expedition opened my eyes to the opportunities within science and the accessibility for all. Also, that science is something which should be enjoyed as well as questioned.” – Emily Mawbey

To learn more about any of these projects, visit the Earthwatch website, email us at, or call us at 1-800-776-0188.

One… Two… Three trips to the Andorran Pyrenees.

Andorran Pyrenees Mountains. (Courtesy Mathew Yee)
By Nita Losoponkul, Earthwatch Volunteer

As an Earthwatch volunteer, Nita Losoponkul has traveled to Andorra three times to participate on the expedition Wildlife in the Changing Pyrenees. She shares what makes this place so special and why she has chosen to return each time.

“Again? Didn’t you go there last year?” Well yes. And I LOVED every minute of it!

While most people can’t find Andorra on the map, it is now one of my favorite places and I hope that I’ll be fortunate enough to be able to visit again in the future. I’ve been lucky enough to go on five Earthwatch expeditions and chose to do three of the five on the Wildlife in the Changing Pyrenees, where scientists are studying how climate change is impacting this Alpine environment.

(Courtesy Mathew Yee)

When asked about why I’m a three-timer, it’s hard to choose just one reason, but here’s my best attempt to explain:

1. My inner science geek is set free. I’ve always loved science. As a child, I begged my parents to go to “nerd camp,” to spend summers digging for fossils and to be excused from curfew to stay out late to view constellations. But as I got older, it became harder to stick with what I loved, and I eventually walked away from science and into business school.

Earthwatch is my avenue to stay in touch with that inner science geek that I had pushed aside as I began adulting.

The Wildlife in the Changing Pyrenees project, in particular, has been amazing at satisfying my nerdiness as the team has continued to innovate each year. Even as a third-timer, there were new sub-projects underway that I needed to learn about. There are 12 different study sites and numerous activities at each site that volunteers self-select to do involving small mammals, bird banding, tree measurements, nest boxes, soil decomposition, insects, and permafrost flower and plant species. It would take many more trips for me to do every sub-project at every site. And then there are new ones added each year! (We started setting up a new sub-project for next year on this last trip, but I’ll leave it to the research team to spill the beans on this.)

2. I’m inspired by the passion and dedication of the team to do more. I’ve never seen a team that works as hard as the research staff on this project. While we are enjoying our desserts and wine (see #4, below) after dinner, they are back out in the field, in the dark, doing a nighttime check of the small mammal traps. On our “day off,” they are hauling supplies up the mountain so there was less for us volunteers to carry. On the hikes, they have the heaviest packs, loaded down with stacks of wood, hammers, mallets, and anything else you could possibly think of.

They are out with us every step of the way, and then some more after we’ve called it a day.

The crew members are also some of the smartest and kindest people I’ve ever met. I’m language challenged, and I consider it a personal victory that I say basic things like wine, cheese and bathroom in a few different languages. But to be able to converse, and know less commonly used words like dendrometer and know that a group of crows is called a murder in Catalan, Spanish, French, Latin (the scientific names of things) and English is awe-inspiring (I didn’t really know these myself until I did this project, and English is my native tongue).

3. “Stretch assignments” that “push the limits” build character. This is not an easy project from a physical standpoint. Except for those who have natural abilities to run both on and off trails with ease (i.e. “mountain goats”), it’s definitely an expedition that requires some training in advance. But it’s pushed me to work harder and train harder and believe that if I try, I can conquer the hills! And in case I’m wrong, I have a supportive team to catch me when I fall! That being said, the team also believes in “no volunteer left behind.” They have done an amazing job on each of my three expeditions with finding skill and strength-appropriate tasks for volunteers, no matter where they are at physically.

If you are thinking of doing this project (which I highly recommend), I do encourage you to train for it. The views are spectacular (see evidence of this in the photos on this blog post and on the project Facebook page) and worth the challenging hikes to get there. (Well, except site 11, which I’ll let other volunteers and the team share more about some other time).

The team that survived the climb to site 11. (Courtesy Daniel Almeida)

The team that survived the climb to site 11. (Courtesy Daniel Almeida)

4. It’s still my vacation and I come home rejuvenated. I’m at the age where if given the option, I’m going to select an actual bed, a flushing toilet, and a hot shower over “roughing it” like I did in my younger years with bucket rinses, pit toilets, and sleeping bags. Hotel Bringue definitely meets that requirement, and then some. (There is also wifi and cable TV.) Many of the volunteers (myself included) have had a number of dietary restrictions and the hotel staff does a fabulous job ensuring there is something for everyone to eat. After a day booking it up the mountain and sometimes, on rainy days, sloshing in the mud, it’s amazing to come back to a hot shower, a glass (or three) of wine at dinner, and a three-course meal. (There’s also a cash bar for those who want something other than wine.)

Hotel Bringue (Courtesy Zachary Zimmerman)

Hotel Bringue (Courtesy Zachary Zimmerman)

And that’s my long-winded attempt to explain my three-peat on this project, so I’ll stop here. But please feel free to reach out to Earthwatch to connect us. I’m happy to answer questions about the trip and to help in any way that I can. And I hope to see you in Andorra in the future! (You can bet I’ll be back for more.)

To learn more about this project, visit the Earthwatch website: Wildlife in the Changing Andorran Pyrenees.