Monday, February 21, 2011

Paid Volunteers: combining donations with field work to support conservation research

Supporting conservation can take many forms. You can simply contribute what you can afford to the organization of your choice. Or it can be in the form of actions in your personal life: paper or cloth shopping bags over plastic, replacing standard light bulbs with fluorescent, etc. Or it can be through volunteering at a local zoo, aquarium, or animal rescue center.

Another way that is being promoted more and more by various conservation and research organizations is paid volunteering in the field. There are many organizations involved in research which benefit from the assistance of paid volunteers performing important data collecting and other duties under the supervision of trained scientists and researchers. The organization gains both financial support and additional needed manpower, while the volunteer gets a taste firsthand of what is involved in the actual research that produces the data upon which conservation policy and regulatory decisions are made.

Conservation research groups like the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Save Our Seas Foundation, and others have welcomed the assistance from volunteers in varying degrees on projects ranging from turtle tagging to tagged shark observations to animal rescue. Being a paid volunteer can cost as much as a tropical dive vacation and travel to and from the site is typically not included. The volunteer will find that he or she is usually trading in some resort luxuries for hard work, but the satisfaction of being directly involved in a project that could have an impact on the future of a species more than makes up for it.

So where do you find the organizations who have such programs available? Well, you can search on your own or there has been enough interest in paid volunteering that companies have sprung up who specialize in offering a menu of projects to choose from. One such company is U.K.-based, in essence, is a travel agency dedicated to conservation activities, from studying minke whales in Canada, to tracking jaguars in Brazil, to helping villagers in Thailand understand the importance of preserving their sea turtles, mangrove marshlands, and coral reefs.

Times are hard economically for research groups and conservation non-profits, and it won't be getting much easier any time soon. The same could be said for all of us as individuals. So if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to afford a little vacation time in a faraway place and have a keen interest in seeing the conservation movement flourish, paid volunteering might just be a great way to roll up your sleeves and put your money where your mouth is.

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