How Earthwatch Works

Earthwatch Research, Conservation and Education

Tracking whale migration is one of the options Earthwatch volunteers have.
Tracking whale migration is one of the options Earthwatch volunteers have.
Robert Frerck/Stone/Getty Images

Working toward a sustainable environment isn't easy, so Earthwatch attacks that goal on three fronts: research, conservation and education.


Since its founding, the group has led more than 1,322 projects in 119 countries and 36 states [source: Earthwatch]. Earthwatch picks projects based on their fit with its mission and the likelihood of their providing valuable data to further sustainability. The research program typically supports the projects of people who are underrepresented, such as women, scientists from developing countries or researchers with long-term projects.

Research investigates four target areas:

  1. Sustainable Natural Resources. Many Earthwatch expeditions investigate ways to protect habitat, water supplies and soil fertility. Other projects research conflicts between humans and wildlife to find ways to benefit both parties.
  2. Climate Change. Earthwatch also sends people to research the impacts of rising temperatures and to develop possible coping strategies.
  3. Oceans. Still other Earthwatch expeditions take place at sea. Scientists and volunteers dig for data on promoting sustainable fishing, preventing runoff and reducing the negative effects of oil exploration and transoceanic shipping.
  4. Sustainable Cultures. Earthwatch tries to help communities develop policies that will protect nature and preserve their culture.


Earthwatch has boiled down its approach to conservation into three steps.

Plan with local stakeholders.

Research strategies using volunteers.

Engage people to work together.

The theory behind bringing community members, volunteers and experts to work together is that the local people adopt the cause as their own and effect lasting change, long after Earthwatch and the scientist pack up.


The final piece of Earthwatch's three-way approach to sustainability is education, which allows the group to spread the word about what scientists and volunteers learn in the field. The group has trained and involved more than 3,500 students and 4,000 teachers in its projects [source: Earthwatch]. Each year, Earthwatch awards scholarships that provide teachers and high-school students the opportunity to participate in research. College students can often receive credit for going on expeditions. In addition, teachers can apply to be part of the group's Live from the Field program, where they participate in an expedition and relay their experience to thousands of students in their home community through online journals, interviews, videos and live conferences. Earthwatch also offers lesson plans and other educational resources on its Web site.

Earthwatch expeditions incorporate these three focus areas and bring them to life in projects in every corner of the world. Expeditions span a wide range of biological, physical, cultural and social sciences and usually last between two and 21 days. Interested? Read on.