Bringing the Eco-Volunteering Spirit to Your Own Backyard

This is a guest blog by Anni Murry a freelance writer for

Writing about eco-voluntourism means learning about the many thousands of ways a person can make a difference abroad. The sheer number of opportunities is staggering: helping children in Haiti, bringing clean water to Somalia, fighting oppression in Tibet, clearing trails in the Everglades… With so much to do, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. I’ve found though, that I gravitate towards a particular category of project. These are initiatives that speak to my own personal passions and interests. When I’m choosing a volunteer opportunity, it invariably involves wildlife and conservation.

I’ve participated in a few conservation voluntours—one in Kenya, one in Costa Rica, and one in the Galapagos Islands—and each one has opened my eyes to the startling diversity and beauty of the natural world. Ecologically based volunteer experiences focus on conservation, stewardship, and sustainability. They teach us to use our senses to observe the smallest insects, to understand the delicate balance of ecosystems, and to care deeply about the preservation of nature’s creatures. I’ve watched a sea turtle population rebound. I’ve cleaned oil off the slick feathers of Galapagos penguins. I’ve placed tiny aluminum bands on the wings of bats to track their migration over 300 miles of open wilderness. In each case, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and peace. Each time the hardest challenge was going home.

I often wish I could volunteer full-time. But I have a family and a job. I have a home that I miss and a cat that I can’t live without. For me, volunteering has to be integrated into the rest of my life. But these days, when I return home, I see the old familiar place in a new way. My vision has changed. I notice the ant colony living in the cracks of my patio. I see the squirrel family collecting acorns and the blue jays courting in the afternoon sun. I realize now that my volunteer work has bled into my home life. I think we can all learn to be more aware of conservation, stewardship, and sustainability in our own backyards.

If you need a little inspiration, meet Carol Kaesuk Yoon, a nature lover who decided to catalog every species, no matter how small, living in and around her home. She and her family (including an entomologist husband) started a running tally of plants, insects, mammals, birds, and fungi: a mini ecological study that included Oecophora bractella, a moth native to the forests of Europe, the first one seen alive in North America. She found it on her living room window.

Oecophora bractella and sparrow’s eggs from Carol Kaesuk Yoon’s backyard

Oecophora bractella and sparrow’s eggs from Carol Kaesuk Yoon’s backyard


This entry was posted in Conservation, Ecotourism, For the Independent Traveler, Travel Tips, Voluntourism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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