I was scheduled to go on a research expedition in the Bahamas this month. Unfortunately, on my day of departure, a major winter storm closed Charlotte airport and my plane did not leave Hartford. Because it was the beginning of February vacation week, it appeared that I would be unable to find another flight for three days and I would miss a significant part of eight full days on the project.
When I called Earthwatch I was told that I should "do the best I can" to find a flight and get there as soon as possible. Not much help there. I was concerned about missing so much of my project experience and asked if I had any alternatives, for example, would it be possible to reschedule to a later project as there are several others this year? A senior staffer told me that I could cancel my trip if I wished and the travel insurance (a portion of the $2775 donation to Earthwatch) could compensate me for travel costs, but the insurance would not reimburse me for any portion of the donation. Also, he said that I couldn't transfer my donation or any portion of it to a later project. Essentially, he was saying that the full responsibility for what is often described as "an act of God" fell to me; Earthwatch accepted none of the burden. Is that a fair way to treat volunteers? I don't think so. I think that Earthwatch needs to think about options for this type of situation.
Fortunately, I was able to arrange another flight that got me to the project just two days late, so I did get to participate in all the different kinds of activities. What I missed was an introduction and presentation of the research questions under investigation and the specifics about the methods that were being used. It wasn't until the final day when the principal investigator made a presentation to the group that I learned the five research questions that guided the project.
Another effect of arriving late to the project is that, thought subtle, I never felt that I was quite a full member of the team. I don't know whether I missed some team-building activity on that first day; if there was none, I would suggest that it would be a good addition to the orientation/introduction at the beginning of a project.
Earthwatch is an organization whose mission has huge potential, but through many, many years of in-fighting at board and senior management level - and financial mismanagement - appears to be imploding.
I worked for Earthwatch for nearly 10 years and cannot speak highly enough of those on the front line working long hours to keep the organization afloat. Those managing the organization however have been, and still are, totally out of their depth.
Earthwatch has had several different 3 to 5 year strategies in the last 10 years or so. None of which they have stuck with for much longer than 6 months. As all of the evidence on this website, and that of the UK charity commission suggests, the organization is failing. It is generating very little revenue beyond what it generates via it's partnership with HSBC Bank.
Participating as a volunteer with Earthwatch was exactly what I needed to re-confirm what I already knew about myself (that I want to be a wildlife biologist). I first participated with Earthwatch in 2010. I traveled to Nova Scotia to volunteer on a small mammal project. The hands-on experience was fantastic and exciting to me, especially since I enjoy fieldwork. The scientists were amazing and very informative. For me, volunteering through Earthwatch gave me several things including (1) hands-on experience in wildlife biology, (2) travel, (3) see parts of Nova Scotia that most tourists wouldn't get to experience, (4) make a contribution to the scientific community, (5) meet people from around the world with similar interests, and (6) to meet scientists from other countries. This is a great way to give back to the environment, learn, travel, and to meet new people. I am looking forward to participating with Earthwatch again in 2013. I plan on volunteering through Earthwatch for as long as I am physically able to do so. If you are a teen (15 to 18), you can still volunteer. There are opportunities specifically for teens. They also have ones that are specifically geared towards families. There are opportunities for people of all ages and physical ability. Although it is a little on the expensive side, it is nothing compared to the experience and the memories that will obviously last a life time.
Earthwatch is a great organization to volunteer for and I hope to particpate in one of their volunteer research expeditions again (next summer).
As a long-time volunteer, I know many of the staff at Earthwatch, and they are nice, for the most part. But I don't know what's going on there now because they have lost two top executives and the CEO has been forced out by the staff in the UK office. I'm not giving any more of my money to this organization until it straightens itself out. It needs to be more transparent. There is in-fighting at leadership and staff level between the US and UK offices and they have major money woes.
Review from CharityNavigator
Volunteering with Earthwatch allowed me to participate in scientific research. As a high school science teacher, I could "bring my students along" virtually through photos, videos, blogging and a live camera session. We took baseline data on trees in a wooded area (diameter, position, species, condition, etc.) for future comparisons by scientists investigating the effects of global climate change on forests. In the evenings and off times, it was interesting to share experiences with educators from all over the country. The scientists also educated us on climate change issues. I love being able to contribute to science!
My Earthwatch was an amazing experience that I used many times during my 30 year teaching career. I showed the slides and video that I took and explained the power of our our commitment. Over the years many students and colleagues joined Earthwatch Expeditions based upon my slide show and the excitement of my field trip experience.
As a member of a team of grant-funded educators, I participated in field research about the possible evidence of global climate change at the boreal forest-tundra boundary near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. It was an amazing experience working alongside 10 other like-minded teachers under the supervision of a global climate change expert. I felt I was truly helping to make a difference in the study of global climate change. Actually experiencing the tundra and its environs, performing authentic scientific research, and witnessing firsthand the effects and changes evident in this remote yet awe-inspiring area will greatly enhance my teaching.