Welcome to the second week of the second month of the United Nations-designated “International Year of Volunteers.” To mark this joyous occasion, we are pleased to announce the release of a book named “Kokusai Volunteer Guido,” aka “Inside International Volunteer Work,” published by The Japan Times and written by Midori Paxton.
|Volunteers from Tethys Research Institute participate in a dolphin-monitoring project. Several organizations need help to save turtles (below). Work ranges from counting hatchlings to building fences to protect nests from poachers.|
It is not the purpose of this column to urge everybody in Japan to rush off and buy several hundred copies (although it might not be a bad idea).
Nor do we intend to detail the 10 years spent scouring the globe in search of organizations that accept, sometimes desperately need, volunteers in fields ranging from famine relief to radio-tracking endangered tortoises.
This column’s not an advertisement for “Kokusai Volunteer Guido” (on sale now for only 1,800 yen, the perfect gift for an English-language student wishing to broaden horizons, fits neatly in a coat pocket and might, conceivably, deflect a sniper’s bullet).
This column’s business is to assist all you foreign-types who have lived in Japan for a couple of decades but still have to take your waiter outside and point to the plastic replica of what you want for lunch.
The book’s in Japanese, you see. So, in English, a few nature-related highlights:
There are hundreds of marine volunteer opportunities. And in some cases, you do not even need to get wet.
The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece needs people each summer to staff public information booths on Greek and Turkish turtle-nesting beaches that are also popular with tourists. Expect, too, to erect protective cages over nests to avoid tourists inadvertently flattening them, count hatchlings as they scurry to the sea, and so on. Bring a tent. For some reason, this project seems to attract lots of long-legged Swedish blondes. STPS: www.compulink.gr/stps
Beach walkers are also needed in the Central American nations of Guatemala and Costa Rica. Basically, these projects involve tropical days spent in seaside hammocks recovering from long nocturnal walks on sea turtle-nesting beaches, trying to find new nests before the poachers do. The more you walk, the more turtles you save. For Costa Rica, contact Association Anai via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or check out the Caribbean Conservation Corp.‘s Web site (www. cccturtle.org ). If you are not a marine biology student, you have to pay quite a lot to volunteer with CCC.
For Guatemalan beachcombing, contact ARCAS via e-mail (email@example.com).
More turtle work is conducted by the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers. This organization also runs many other volunteer programs including mangrove-planting schemes. ATCV has a site at www.atcv.com.au
If you’d rather be on a boat, you are spoiled for choice — though if you are on a boat, you generally pay to volunteer. Sometimes a lot. Guess that’s boats for you: holes in the water that you fill with money, as the saying goes.
San Francisco-based Oceanic Society Expeditions (www.oceanic-society.org) runs a series of boat-based marine life surveys. As a rule, volunteers tend to be energetic but elderly Americans. Currently on offer are dolphin surveys in the Bahamas, Belize and Hawaii.
University Research Expedition Programs (urep.ucdavis.edu) is another organization that pairs volunteers with scientific research projects, such as monitoring bioluminescent squid catches off the French coast or killer whales off Canada.
CEDAM International at www.cedam.org is rather similar. It operates in the South Pacific, Mexico and Central America.
The Tethys Research Institute ( www.tethys.org), based at Italy’s creaky Milan aquarium, urgently needs one heavily muscled volunteer to kick the bejesus out of whoever it is that doesn’t respond to mail or telephone inquiries.
If you ever manage to elicit a response from its moribund HQ, TRI’s volunteer programs range from a dolphin-monitoring project in the Croatian Adriatic to fin whale studies in the Mediterranean. They’re all extremely worthwhile and have led to the establishment of marine preserves. Rather Italian in flavor.
Hard cases might consider the White Sea, where Russian scientists require assistance studying beluga whales. You’ll be living as Russians do when Russians are living rough and studying beluga whales. Mosquitoes, seriously wild wilderness and dodgy vodka will be your constant companions.
Humpback whales off Brazil also need studying.
For both balalaikas and samba background music, see www.ecovolunteer.org Ecovolunteer hooks volunteers up with other scientific projects worldwide.
So, too, does Earthwatch (www.earthwatch.org). Same system. Layperson volunteers join scientists. Laypersons pay to volunteer. The money pays for their bed and board, volunteer training and keeps the project going, be it counting cod catches off the Grand Banks or studying lemon sharks off Florida.
Scuba divers are required in various parts of the world to monitor coral reefs and log their diverse populations. Coral reefs have been described as the rain forests of the sea due to the huge number of species that inhabit them. Like rain forests, they are also little understood and are in a state of crisis due to destructive human activities.
Coral Cays Conservation (www.coralcay.org) and Operation Wallacea (www.operationwallacea.win-uk.net) specialize in surveying reefs, then persuading governments to create reef reserves or national parks. Volunteers swim transects to monitor species, and are offered free scuba diving training and an education in marine species and ecology. Both organizations are highly recommended, and as a result of their work, an area exceeding 70 percent of all of Japan’s national parks put together has been declared protected by governments in Asia and Central America.
Readers with hair that is getting a bit silvery might consider contacting Elderhostel (www.elderhostel.org). They’ll take you to all sorts of places, involve you in all sorts of things, but you have to be old enough. Over 55s only.
And, of course, we must not forget the United Nations. For a host of volunteer-related suggestions (and a fair amount of pompous waffle), check out their IYV Web site at www.iyv2001.org