Scaling new heights: Volunteering with Project Biodiversity

Earlier this month, our team welcomed our first volunteer of 2021. Aidan, a university student from the United States joined our bird team for two weeks of hands-on learning in the field, scaling the rocky cliffs of Serra Negra to work with the iconic Red-billed tropicbird. At the end of her stay, we got together to talk about her experience, what she learned, and what advice she has for anyone interested in joining us for an adventure of their own!

What inspired you to join Project Biodiversity as a volunteer?

I already had plans to visit family living in West Africa at the beginning of 2021, and was looking for an accessible volunteer experience related to conservation and environmental science. When I saw the opportunities with Project Biodiversity it seemed like serendipity. I’ve also always been interested in exploring what conservation looked like in the field. So, in essence, – perfect timing, perfect opportunity!

What expectations (if any) did you have before volunteering with us?

I always try to come into new experiences without holding on to too many expectations. It’s difficult to know how things will go, especially when you’re experiencing completely different environments, cultures and people. That said, I was really looking forward to working outside, hands-on with the seabirds. I also was really excited to experience a little bit of the country and culture. Basically, the goal was just to learn and experience as much as I could!

What were some of the things you learned during your volunteer experience?

This experience really opened my eyes to the realities of working in the field. A lot of what you study in terms of environmental science is theory based, and it was really great to get an understanding of what it means to be a field scientist. Some days were not at all what I expected, but I learned that is a big part of field work – expecting the unexpected and learning to work around it.

It was also a great chance to see first-hand species within their ecosystem – especially seabirds, because their presence is part of many different ecosystems at the same time! I felt even more inspired to protect them seeing them in their natural habitat.

Any tips for others looking to volunteer with Project Biodiversity?

Practically speaking, make sure that you bring real hiking shoes with you, as the terrain is really rocky and regular tennis shoes are not as useful as you think they would be. Long but breathable pants are also helpful, as you’ll often need to sit on somewhat uneven rocks.

I also came at the very beginning of the year, when a lot of the staff was just coming back from holiday. I would love to come back when the other programmes were in full swing so I could experience the full scope of Project Biodiversity.

From an experience perspective, I would tell interested volunteers to really keep an open mind and be open to really taking part in all of the work. The staff have been doing this work for years and are really great teachers, so take advantage and learn as much as you can!

I would also highlight the importance of going outside your comfort zone and making an extended effort to be friendly and open to everyone – even if you don’t speak the same language! It is really easy to stay inside your own bubble but so much more worthwhile to engage wherever and whenever you can.

Traveling and international experiences are obviously a bit different now because of COVID-19. How did you feel Project Biodiversity (and Cabo Verde in general) handled health and safety in relation to COVID?

Because Sal island had very few cases of COVID, I was actually more worried that I would be at risk of catching it while traveling and pass it on to someone there. But Cabo Verde seemed to have a good system going – requiring negative PCR tests upon arrival and within 72 hours of flying, as well as making sure that they had record of where you were staying.

I would definitely recommend for any volunteers to have their printed declaration of volunteering in-hand when they travel, so they have proof of their reason for travel.

While the project staff took precautions such as having hand sanitiser available and wearing masks in groups, I personally took it upon myself to be extra careful and wear my mask as often as possible (even in places it wasn’t mandatory) because I was the most at risk of transmitting COVID. I would definitely tell incoming volunteers to consider that very carefully – be very aware of the impact you are having or could have on the organisation and the community. Mutual respect and consideration do wonders for your experience!

Our Seabird Volunteer programme runs from February-November each year. In addition to our seabird volunteering opportunities, we're currently have openings in our Sea Turtle and Hatchling Volunteering programmes, which run from July-December. Learn more and apply here!

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