Gap Year Conservation Programs

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If you’ve ever dreamt of studying the marine life in a coral reef, working in the Amazon Rainforest or observing the wildlife on the Galapagos Islands, volunteering on a gap year conservation program could be just what you’re looking for.

In exchange for your hard work (and possibly a fee), you’ll get the privilege of living and working in some of the most remote and untouched areas on the globe.

Oftentimes the people doing conservation work in these areas won’t have the manpower that is required, so they’ll recruit volunteers to help them do their work. Because you’ll often have to pay to work in one of these areas, this is also a source of income for the scientists (as it helps to fund their work).

Environmental and wildlife conservation projects take place all over the world (from Brazil to Russia and everywhere in between) and in all kinds of conditions (such as snowy mountains and humid rainforests).

Typically, conservation work projects last for anywhere between two and twelve months. In many cases you’ll be working directly with scientists and assisting them in their work. For example, in some cases you’ll be trained to identify certain plant or animals species’ and record (often in detail) your observations.

PandaVolunteering on a wildlife conservation project is great because you’ll become an integral part of a scientific expedition, and you’ll really feel like you’re making a difference.

Obviously the level of responsibility you’ll be given will largely be based on your skills and your level of experience. Most of the time, your job will be to assist the scientists in their day-to-day work. This might sound like a bit of a chore, but you’ll really get a sense of involvement in the project, and you’ll eventually grow to become a trusted member of the team.

If, for example, you have a degree in marine biology, the kind of work you can do on a coral reef will be different from someone that has no such qualifications

As well as working with the scientists, on some wildlife conservation projects (such as the ones set in the rainforests) you might be asked to do some work with the local communities. Having the support and cooperation of the local people is vitally important to the success of all conservation work. Oftentimes the local people might see conservationists as an annoyance, so you may be asked to some educational work with them to help them understand what you’re doing and why it’s so important. Helping them to understand the importance of your conservation work is often the best way to earn their support and trust.

Here’s a short video from ‘Projects Abroad’ about some of the work they do:

How Much Does it Cost to Work as a Volunteer?

In most cases, working as a volunteer means you won’t be paid anything and it won’t cost you anything (as that’s essentially what a volunteer is). When you’re doing volunteer conservation work abroad, however, it’s likely that you’ll have to pay for the privilege of working in such a remote area.

Obviously every conservation project will be different and will charge different rates depending on where it is and the work that’s involved. In my experience, however, I’ve found that three month expeditions can cost as little as $1500 (excluding flights), and that two week expeditions can cost as much as $1600 (excluding flights).

You can expect to have your food and accommodation included in the cost (unless explicitly stated otherwise), but you’ll have to pay for optional extras, such as scuba diving lessons (should you wish to learn).

On most conservation programs you’ll find that the longer you stay, the cheaper it becomes per day. For example:

  • Staying for one month might cost you $1000
  • Staying for two months might cost you $1700
  • Staying for three months might cost you $2000

Although environmental and wildlife conservation programs are expensive, they offer you the opportunity to go somewhere and do something you’d never normally do. How many people get to study the behavior and the habitat of a rare animal?

How to Improve Your Chances of Being Selected

The competition for places on conservation programs is often limited, and at times there will be more people applying than they’re able to take on.

LionBefore you go away, you’ll have to be certified healthy from your doctor, and you’ll have to have the relevant vaccinations. The reason for this is that oftentimes conservation work will occur in fairly inhospitable areas that you won’t be used to living in. Work may be done in extremely hot or cold areas, or perhaps out in the middle of the ocean or halfway up a mountain (where the air is thin).

Volunteer organizations will be looking for fit and healthy people who are enthusiastic and ready to work. They take their work extremely seriously, so if they think you just want to use it as a holiday than the chances are they’ll pick someone else!

Having relevant qualifications to the field of work is the other major thing that can help your selection. For example, if you’re applying to work on a coral reef, having a degree in marine biology will stand you in good stead. Don’t be put off from applying if you don’t have such qualifications, however, as most people applying won’t have anything of the sort.

After You’ve Signed Up – Buying Your Gear

Once you’ve successfully applied and been accepted onto a conservation project you’ll likely be given a list of equipment that you need to buy (depending on where you’re going). For example, if you’re going to work in the rainforest, you’ll need waterproof clothing (such as a mac), hiking boots, a mosquito net, etc. If you’re working on a coral reef (where you’ll be diving), you’ll need a wetsuit, a snorkel, a set of fins, etc.

For a list of gap year conservation projects and organizations, visit the Gap Year Directory. This is a UK based site, but should give you a good idea of what volunteer conservation work is available.

Working on wildlife conservation projects can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do, and a gap year is the perfect time to do it.

I’ve often heard people describe gap year conservation programs as ‘conservation holidays’. Although you are going away to a foreign place and you’ll be having a good time, it’s far from being a holiday because you’re there for a serious purpose, and because you’ll be working while you’re there.

Related posts:

  1. The Advantages and Disadvantages of Taking a Gap Year
  2. Gap Year Expeditions

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