How Earthwatch Works

Some Earthwatch research focuses on African wildlife, like this cheetah. See more pictures of African animals.
Keren Su/Photodisc/Getty Images

Scientists have recently tossed out some scary warnings. According to recent studies, the oceans will be essentially devoid of fish by the year 2050, supplies of oil will soon reach their peak and warming temperatures may soon turn Montana's Glacier National Park into the National Park of Puddles [sources: Black, Porter, Jamison]. At the rate we're going, it looks like future generations will face some insurmountable challenges, but not if the environmental nonprofit Earthwatch Institute has anything to say about it.

African Animal Image Gallery

Earthwatch, the world's largest private independent organization supporting volunteer-assisted research, is on a mission to create environmental sustainability one volunteer at a time. Environmental sustainability means protecting the environment so that it can support diverse plants and wildlife indefinitely. Founded in 1971, Earthwatch takes a three-pronged approach to sustainability by engaging scientists, educators, students, business people and others in research, conservation and education.

Since its inception, the group has directed more than 80,000 volunteers and $57 million to research projects that otherwise would not have had enough resources. That equals 10.8 million hours spent on activities like surveying a coral reef in the Bahamas, excavating an ancient settlement in the Andes Mountains or tracking cheetahs in Namibia [source: Earthwatch].

Each year, approximately 4,000 volunteers sign up for one of roughly 160 projects located in 50 countries and 18 states [source: Earthwatch]. By involving people in research and education for a sustainable environment, Earthwatch not only provides labor and funding to research projects, but also tries to inspire those people to spread their knowledge (and Earthwatch's goal of sustainability) throughout their hometowns. Earthwatch reports that many volunteers start their own conservation projects upon returning home.

In this article, you'll learn more about Earthwatch's mission to create a sustainable environment by having scientists and volunteers work side by side on important research projects. You'll also learn how the organization is funded, who's in charge and how you might be able to score the trip of a lifetime. On the next page we'll look behind the scenes of this international nonprofit organization and its novel approach to sustainability.