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Environment & Wildlife, General

Top 7 Volunteer Projects in Europe for 2021

February 28th 2021

Tagged: Dolphin, Ethical Volunteering, Europe, Greece, Sea Turtle, Whale

Victoria volunteer in ItalyVolunteer with Dolphins | Volunteer with Whales | Working AbroadResearch Participants of the Summer ’21 – Take Your Places! 

It’s (finally) about to start, and we cannot be more thrilled.

The summer of 2021 is finally on its way and, thankfully, it looks like we are all in the position of being able to travel more widely. This, coupled with a range of amazing opportunities on offer, could really start to get our personal positivity deficit firmly back in credit.

According to The Guardian this pent-up demand will be directed to the different countries, as they open up, with Tui chief executive, Fritz Joussen, saying “people are sitting on their suitcases and are waiting for what opens first. We just fly wherever is open.” 

Whilst most of us cannot wait for the green light to pack our bags, get back on long empty aeroplanes, and fly off on intrepid adventures to far away lands, this lengthy intermission – grounded with interminable solitary time – has given us time to consider the impact of the aviation industry, and the thought of long haul flights, and their multiple environmental issues, may have created quite a conflict in our desire for travel.

Well, one way to assuage these qualms and quiet your conscience is to create an itinerary which has a foot firmly located in each of these arenas; one that is able to fulfil your individual needs and is equally worthy of your social and political conscience. Enter the WorkingAbroad volunteering and research holiday.

Volunteering projects are the perfect place to focus our material resources and our pent-up personal energies for wider social good. Covid-19 has decimated the voluntary sector and now is the time to redirect the flow of financial and practical energy moving back in their direction. Volunteering ensures that this doesn’t have to be at the loss to our fun-loving goals.

For those looking for a European break these research options offer individuals a way to contribute towards environmental action, essential species support, location specific data collection, and ecosystem observation, as well as incredible, life-affirming experiences. 

If you are travelling to regions with rail access from home then why not consider making the journey there a memorable experience in itself (slow travel really is the way to go) and root yourself in the most environmentally sound option, extracting every last drop of experience from your time.

With so many choices in the world the difficulty is not going to be in making the decision to go, but rather where to visit, and who to support. A great way to start deciding is right here with our Top 7 European Project choices for the summer of 2021.

  1. Sea Turtle Conservation Volunteer Project, Greece

Baby turtles in GreeceVolunteer with Turtles | Volunteer GreeceLocated along the Kefalonian coastline, this project is focused on monitoring and protecting the endangered local sea turtles, as well as with essential ocean conservation that is the natural habitat of these incredible creatures. Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian islands, and is home to a large number of rare and endemic species. It is a place where you can completely immerse yourself in the natural surroundings and truly appreciate the need to support this project. Its role providing data and engaging in local public awareness and education work helps manage the intersection between the turtles and the impact of the human population on this and the surrounding islands. 

Boat strikes, fishing gear entanglement, and the ingestion of improperly disposed of plastics all contribute to the issues that these migrating turtles have to face, their ‘safe’ nesting ground a more challenging place than it once was. The Sea Turtle Conservation Project is successfully collating the necessary data, and putting in place practical strategies to support this amazing turtle population, ensuring not only their survival but their ability to thrive on this stunning island, for generations to come. To be a positive part of their story is more than a simple holiday, it is a way to determine the local history of a species.

  1. Dolphin Research Volunteer Project, Greece

Dolphin jumping through the airVolunteer in Greece | Dolphins | Working AbroadDays spent watching out for the graceful curve, the playful jump, or the crazy spiral which breaks the azure water and throws tiny crystals of refracted light into a cloudless blue sky can’t be a bad way to spend your time. The best part of this sweet deal is that the time and effort you spend is doubly beneficial. The work of this small project is essential to the wellbeing of the pods of dolphins which inhabit the Ionian Sea and ensures the longevity of these beautiful animals in this stunning environment. 

The Dolphin Research Project focuses on the Bottlenose and the Short-Beak Common Dolphin species and offers volunteer researchers the opportunity to develop identification, recording, local impact, and dolphin inspection skills as well as the time to sample the best of Greek culture. The base of Vonitsa offers research participants a truly delightful insight into the region’s cuisine, its history, and provides a platform for all manner of aquatic and beach sports. All this whilst they collect data on these fabulous creatures in their natural habitat and provide ongoing protection to the Amvrakikos Gulf and Ionian Sea archipelago. The life of a researcher can be tough but the personal rewards and experiences are beyond price.

  1. Dolphin and Whale Research Volunteer Project, Portugal

Dolphin closeup underwater in PortugalDolphin Whale Research | Volunteer Portugal | Working AbroadWhilst the Algarve coast is synonymous with families sunning themselves on sandy beaches and enjoying the simple hospitality and great cuisine that the region has in plenty, this research project is the epitome of offering something positive back to the wild places and keeping them safe for future generations. Albufeira houses the base for this project and allows participants to indulge in cultural events, an intense night life, amazing weather and stunning beach time, alongside the (enjoyable) demands of being an essential part of the research team. 

The opportunity to increase your skills with instruction in a diverse number of scientific methodologies ensures that you will wish you had more time to spare, after all once you have got to grips with data collection, photo analysis, and aerial and underwater video and sound collection you will be eager to put these amazing skills to use at every turn. Formal lectures and informal conversations with the highly qualified and experienced permanent researchers will cement your learning and ensure that you have the most valuable personal experience imaginable.

  1. Bottlenose Dolphin Volunteer Research Project, Croatia

View of Veli Losinj marina in CroatiaVolunteer Croatia | Dolphin Volunteer Research | Working AbroadCroatia is famed for its 5,835km of stunning coastline and as with all national treasures there is a strong desire to safeguard and preserve it. The island of Lošinj, located in the cleanest region of the Adriatic Sea, is a stunning place to call ‘home’ during your time in Croatia. The research project is based out of the Lošinj Marine Educational Centre (LMEC) and all participants will be found offshore, scouting for dolphins, as often as the weather permits. This project provides opportunities for volunteer researchers to spot, identify, record data, and potentially create acoustic samples of the animals they see. There are daily lectures from the permanent team and thanks to their availability and willingness to share personal and professional knowledge of this work, volunteers are in a position to develop themselves in new and incredible ways. Alongside the volunteering numerous swimming, snorkelling and diving opportunities can be found on the island, making this an unparalleled intellectually, socially, and emotionally fulfilling experience.

  1. Reforestation Volunteer Project, Iceland

Volunteers reforestation project icelandVolunteer Iceland | Tree Planting Iceland | Working AbroadIn the southwest of Iceland lies the region of Úlfljótsvatn Lake. A region with areas of deforestation, and heavy erosion. South of the Þingvellir National Park and the “Golden Circle” of Iceland, the importance of supporting and maintaining Iceland’s natural beauty is all too clear. The planetary need for tree life is well known, and yet sadly there have been many recent global instances where the loss of tree and plant life has been vast and devastating – the fires in California and Australia being recent heart wrenching examples. 

This project offers a beautiful way to be part of the other side of the narrative. A way to make a positive difference to the number of trees that bind carbon in our atmosphere, that provide diverse habitats for any number of life forms in the region, and that continue to battle the current challenges of soil erosion and global warming. The planting also works to recover aspects of Iceland that have been lost, as a result of agriculture and settlement. Working in partnership with the Icelandic Forestry Association (IFA) you will be trained in the skills necessary to monitor, plant, and fertilise saplings and seedlings, and support the more mature trees. Your farmhouse home offers a stunning vantage point of, and immersion into, the work you are doing and the reasons why this is such an important project. 

Enjoying the simple life for a few weeks whilst you plant for the future is the sort of practical meditation that many of us crave, and after the challenges of Covid-19 there is no better time for you to make this project, and your recovery and wellbeing, a priority.

Life Aboard A Research Vessel

For those wanting the ‘up-close-and-personal’ immersive experience then you need look no further than the following couple of projects, both of which involve living and working aboard their respective research vessels. These opportunities offer the most complete way to experience the very best of marine research, as well as down time exploring aspects of the respective regions impossible to reach otherwise. 

  1. Fin whale next to boat in ItalyVolunteer with Dolphins | Volunteer with Whales | Working AbroadDolphin and Whale Volunteer Research Project, Italy

With a focus on the majestic cetaceans of the Ligurian Sea, you will gain an incredible insight into not only the lives of these beautiful marine mammals but also into the political partnership work necessary when working across waters that transect multiple political powers, in this case France and Italy. Developing a range of practical research skills alongside this social, cultural and political understanding offers a unique perspective, one which will enliven your knowledge of how best to continue the essential preservation work of this aquatic region.

  1. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Volunteer Project, Hebrides

Silurian research boat in the hebridesHebrides Cetacean conservation | WorkingAbroadThe collection of visual and acoustic data is essential to the cetacean protection and preservation work being carried out in the Hebridean Sea. 24 cetacean species (1/3 of the global total) can be found in this region, however it is also a major economic fisheries hub (a large part of Scotland’s £582 million pound industry) and specific research is being conducted to understand the impact of it’s aquaculture business on our watery neighbours. 

Sadly, they have been observed to be under threat from lost and adrift ‘ghost gear’ as well as static lines and, more recently, the impact of acoustic deterrents being used by aquaculture sites to scare off predators. The importance of this project cannot be understated, and whilst the Hebrides might not conjure images of turquoise seas and bright sunshine, the sightings of such a range of species, as well as nesting seabirds, rare bees, and a multitude of plant life accessible during shore forays, make this a project well worth your time and sea legs.

Partner Project Researchers Wanted

The partnership you create by attending these projects and putting in your time, skills, and heart-and-soul cannot be underestimated. It is both an incredible privilege to be this close to these species and also entirely essential that we all learn about the direct and indirect impact of humanity on them, hopefully learning to modify our behaviours and ensure the ongoing survival of all of us on this amazing planet. So grasp the opportunity to play your part and enliven your volunteer research project of choice with your presence this summer. Not only will it benefit from your energies, but you will find that what you expend you get back in (buckets and) spades!

Written by WorkingAbroad blogger, Rae Hadley

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