Do you care the preservation of wildlife? Do you want to travel deep into the forest and be surrounded by nature? Do you want to interact with a new culture and learn sustainable ways of living? If the answer to these questions is yes, then conservation volunteer opportunities may be right for you!
The best ways to promote conservation through volunteering abroad
Don’t get intimidated by the very “sciency” sounding nature of conservation volunteer opportunities, there is a volunteer placement fit for everyone interested in conservation, regardless of their skills or academic background.
Here are a few of the top conservation opportunities you should keep an eye out for if you really want to help save the world:
Frogs are the most affected group by climate change in the animal kingdom. They are currently facing an rate of extinction comparable to the when dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago.
Humans have developed an intuition that if we keep certain areas that we don't touch, let's call them "reserves" or "parks", then frogs will be just fine, but this is simply not the case. Climate change and pollution are not containable by simply creating an artificial border and calling it a park. In fact, studies being conducted deep in the forest continue to show a downward trend of frog species even in the most protected areas.
Every month biologists and volunteers spend hours hiking in the forest to collect data on frogs. By doing this over long periods of time we can start to understand the biodiversity richness of the species, how many different species of frogs there are and the amount of frogs from each species. By conducting these types of conservation studies we can demonstrate, understand, and hopefully take action to prevent the decline of the species.
Recommended Program: Volunteer in Amphibian Research with IPBio in Brazil
Bioluminescent Mushroom Research
Portobello mushrooms, yummy! Shimeji mushrooms, yummy! Glowing mushrooms, glowing?!?! Did you know that there are over 100 species of mushrooms that glow green in the world? As you explore deep into the forest the whole floor starts to shine in a Avatar-like fashion. This is a truly spectacular natural phenomenon, and there is still so much to learn these incredible living organisms.
Humans are part of the natural world; we have a place in it and interact with it, so sometimes conservation is finding ways for nature to coexist. When researching bioluminescent mushrooms, you may help answer important questions like: Can you eat them (glowing mushrooms soup)? Do they have medical applications (for tracking spread of illnesses for example)? Do they have energy applications (imagine living street lamps that glow)? Can they be used for ornamental purposes (instead of a bonsai tree in your apartment)? By learning from nature and finding practical benefits to human civilization, we can determine what is worthwhile to focus on conserving.
Volunteers can support bioluminescent mushrooms conservation with lab research and ecology projects focused on finding new species. Cultivating these mushrooms is the first step, then we have to conduct research into preferred substrates, inoculation methods, sterilization methods, and fruiting techniques. Conservation volunteers focused on bioluminescent mushroom research will get out into the forest and have fun searching for new species of glowing mushrooms too.
Recommended Program: Become a Bioluminescent Mushroom Researcher in Brazil
The sounds of the nature can tell us a lot the wildlife within and well as the health of the forest. The field of bioacoustics does just this. Although bioacoustics is relatively new in the field of biology, the tool has made understanding the forest much easier by holistically listening to the forest soundscape.
According to Bernie Krause, a soundscape ecologist famous for his TED talk on bioacoustics, has demonstrated that if you photograph or film an area near a construction site, you won't notice any difference in sound of nature as long as you are not pointed directly at the site. However, the reality of the devastation can be heard through bioacoustics as the once vibrant sounds of the forest turn to silence.
Conservation volunteers can support a range of bioacoustics projects, from attempting to understand human impact on wildlife to recording wildlife so we can better understand the daily activity patterns as well as seasonal patterns. Bioacoustics requires patience, attention to detail, and a handful of tech-savvy skills. Bioacoustics volunteers spend most of the time listening to recordings and attempting to identify new species’ vocalizations. These vocalizations are then used in bioacoustics software to create “recognizers,” which allow the computer to learn and automatically recognize each species’ call.
Recommended Program: Learn About Bioacoustics Through Volunteering
I know, you are probably thinking, “where is the non-sciency conservation volunteer opportunities?” Just hear me out, I’m to get to them. I’ll begin with a kind of sciency role, however, it does not require any academic background in biology (I promise!).
The value of a tree inventory in conservation work is incalculable.
Take a plot of land in a highly preserved untouched region of the forest. Now take another plot of land which was once a farm but is now slowly regenerating. By comparing the biodiversity and growth rates of trees in these two plots we can understand what a general picture of a preserved forest looks like compared to a degraded young regenerating forest. This information coupled with studies of wildlife allow us to understand the conditions wildlife need to maintain a healthy status and inform conservation actions.
Tree inventory volunteering require volunteers to head out into the forest and plate the trees with numbers, identify and note the variation of the tree (some trees are on a slope, some are deformed, some have multiple trunks), photograph the bark, measure the trees to monitor their growth rate, and collect fruits and other botanical sample to help in the identification process. It can be dirty work at times, but adventurous and meaningful every day.
Recommended Program: Join Tree Inventory Efforts
Fundamentally, biological research is the basis for all conservation volunteer opportunities. Biological research is the greatest tool for conservation that humanity has at its disposal. To effect change we must understand the consequences of our actions. Science allows us to diagnose our planet's health and it can also provide the remedies needed to recover.
A research assistant volunteer placement doesn't always require a background in biology. Often the experiments are set up and the protocol is already developed. What research organizations usually need are people to support the collecting of data (the fun part!), so what really matters is your level of interest, work ethic, and willingness to learn. Of course, if you have a biology degree you’ll be able to utilize your knowledge, so it will definitely be beneficial, just not necessarily required.
A volunteer in a research assistant placement might be assigned to look at camera trap footage to identify mammals caught on cameras, feed lizards and frogs in captivity, or collect fish in the river to help researchers understand species diversity. Research assistance can also be supporting a staff member or another volunteer in all the “sciency” roles outlined above.
Recommended Program: Volunteer as a Biodiversity Research Assistant
Now those conservation volunteer opportunities not related to biology directly that can be massively beneficial for conservation organizations. Sciency roles are all good and well for conservation, but there are many other ways to get involved in conservation efforts.
Photography & Videography
Communicating to the general public the issues conservation is facing and emphasizing the success stories is just as important as the hands on research. Often the connection with the natural world that comes through the visual senses can be more impactful to changing the habits of the general public than a scientific research paper.
Volunteering with conservation organizations often means you’ll have close with the forest and the wildlife in their homes. But, many organizations have a deep need to get the word out their incredible work. They need people to communicate to the world why we should value conservation and explain how it works on the ground. They need people to document their success and explain their challenges. They need people to attract more volunteers and promote their project.
Producing documentaries, short videos, and taking wonderful shots of conservation efforts can be just as important as doing the conservation work itself, because it can have a ripple effect and get more people on board!
Recommended Program: Support Conservation Through Your Camera
Fundraising & Communications
Conservation, animal release, and research organizations usually have a staff of half a dozen or so biologists, ecologists, or vets. While these roles are critical to the primary goals of the organization, this limits the skills of the team to very specialized topics. Often a biologist is focused on a specific topic, such as whether the medium-sized mammal population is declining due to hunting practices on a reserve, and they may not have much time, skills, or the desire to promote the importance of their work. They just want to know the facts. That is why many conservation organizations love volunteers with a diverse set of skills that can help promote their work.
Conservation volunteers who know how to use social media or have experience communicating with universities to develop partnerships, for example, can be very valuable. A volunteer who can write grants for veterinary equipment or find new ways to bring resources into the organization for financial sustainability can make a huge long-term impact. Volunteers who have graphic design skills can use their education to improve the appearance of a conservation organization’s website.
Recommended Program: Work as a Fundraising & Communications Coordinator
The best place to find conservation volunteer opportunities abroad
Brazil by far ranks as the best place for conservation volunteer opportunities in the world. That's why, as you may have noticed, all our recommended programs are located in Brazil. Why? Brazil has the most biodiversity in the world, but unfortunately also has the most threats to biodiversity on the planet!
Around 38 million wild animals are removed from Brazilian natural habitats every year.
Home to the majestic jaguar, the colourful toucan, the poisonous dart frog, and the rambunctious howler monkey, the diverse range of biomes that spread over this enormous country provides visitors with a massive range of unique and diverse adventures. From exploring the Amazonian Jungle to crawling through the caves of the Atlantic Forest to spotting wildlife on the banks of the Pantanal swamps to gazing over the view of the canyons in the Cerrado, Brazil will not disappoint any nature lover or conservationist!
Ready to get to it already? Find Conservation Volunteer Opportunities in Brazil
Why the whole world needs us too...
The sad fact is: the world's natural paradises, that are so abundant in nature and wildlife, also tend to be the most threatened by human action and inaction. Climate change, deforestation, hunting, these are all bulldozing the natural environment and killing wildlife in staggering numbers. But, you can help change this pattern by getting involved in conservation efforts.