Earthwatch: Working for the good of the planet

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Environmental awareness is one of the key factors that could help save the planet. By educating individuals from different walks of life that the physical environment is fragile and indispensable, we can begin fixing the problems that threaten it. Earthwatch, a non-profit organisation is designed to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. We spoke with their CEO Scott Kania, to discuss Earthwatch’s history, values, mission and outcomes thus far.

Earthwatch is an international environmental charity that unlocks the potential in people and the environment. Since 1971, Earthwatch has connected volunteers and partners with scientists undertaking vital field research around the globe. Everybody who works with Earthwatch, from students and teachers to companies, retirees, and other individuals make a genuine, hands-on contribution to tackling climate change, understanding biodiversity, and protecting threatened habitats.

At Research Features, we caught up with Earthwatch’s CEO, Scott Kania to discuss why promoting environmental awareness is crucial for taking the necessary action to help the sustainability of the environment and much more.

Hi Scott! Can you tell us about Earthwatch in terms of its history, mission and values?
Earthwatch is a Boston-based, international non-profit that connects people with world-class scientists on environmental research projects around the world to inspire new ways to think, act, live, and relate to the natural world. Through our “citizen science” approach we challenge individuals to leave their comfort zones and focus on a variety of sustainability and conservation issues including resource use, land stewardship, cultural awareness, and social equity. Our experience shows that these individuals return from the field feeling empowered and excited to take on these challenges in our rapidly changing and complex world.

On the expedition Trailing Penguins in Patagonia, volunteers help tag penguins and map the location of each nest in the colony. Photo credit: Chris Linder/Earthwatch.

The natural world is in crisis, so it’s critical that all of our initiatives are relevant and highly impactful, as well as financially viable.

We’re known for our immersive brand of research-based citizen science, but I think of us as being in the people transformation business. We have numerous stories of students who discover that they want to be scientists, teachers who learn new techniques for reaching their students, and corporate employees who become sustainability champions within their companies. I take great pride in our contribution to developing the environmental leaders of the future.

A volunteer records observations during the expedition Investigating Threats to Chimps in Uganda. Photo credit: Dustin Colson/Earthwatch.

What does your role as CEO of Earthwatch consist of?
I love my job, but in many ways, it’s the most challenging role I have ever had. It’s challenging because the stakes are so high. The natural world is in crisis, so it’s critical that all our initiatives are relevant and highly impactful, as well as financially viable.

The other aspect of my role that is high stakes is helping my team be successful and develop in their careers. I’ve never worked with a more passionate and dedicated staff, and many are in their first or second jobs. It’s critical that they feel they are making important contributions, as well as advancing their careers.

Earthwatch CEO Scott Kania, foreground, with volunteers on the expedition Restoring Fire, Wolves, and Bison to the Canadian Rockies. Photo credit: Mike Forga.

Earthwatch has had great global success by conducting scientific research in four areas in response to environmental challenges: Wildlife and Ecosystems, Ocean Health, Climate Change, and Archaeology and Culture – What difference and impact has Earthwatch made?
Earthwatch has been around since 1971, and during this time, research collected by our scientists and volunteers has fed directly into management plans and environmental policy. The data collected by our scientists and volunteers have helped to establish the Cape Cod National Seashore and in passing federal barrier island protection laws, have led to the discovery of new species, saved penguins in South Africa after the Treasure oil spill disaster in 2000, gained protections for five species of sharks, and contributed information used to help establish marine protected areas in Costa Rica. And those are just a few of the highlights! In addition to these tangible outcomes, the experience our volunteers have on these projects returns with them when they come home, and spreads to their communities through scholarships established to help students and teachers get into the field or setting up community gardens.

On the expedition Animals of Malawi in the Majete Wildlife Reserve, Earthwatch researchers observe an elephant.
Photo credit: Nico Wills/Earthwatch.

Earthwatch offers opportunities to both ‘Teach’ and ‘Discover’ Earth – What educational programmes do you offer and why is educational outreach/engagement in science so important for Earthwatch?
Investing in science education is paramount if we hope to empower future generations with the passion, skills, and confidence they need to combat the environmental challenges our world currently faces. Earthwatch’s experience working with people from around the world clearly illustrates that science education is most effective when presented through hands-on engagement with real-world challenges. Therefore, all our educational programmes build off of our traditional research expeditions and focus on inspiring a new generation of advocates for our planet. For more than 25 years, we’ve been working with the Durfee Foundation in Los Angeles to enable under-resourced students to join an Earthwatch expedition to help spark a passion for science that enables them to better engage with their studies back in the classrooms. Survey results showed that 89% of the participating students took more STEM classes after going on their expeditions. Our teacher fellowship programmes help to build the confidence and skills teachers need to effectively teach science in their classrooms, and provides them with a support network of hundreds of other teachers. Our Girls in Science programme offers young women the opportunity to join research projects led by highly accomplished female scientists. This programme helps to inspire young women to pursue a STEM career, which is increasingly important given that women currently represent 24% of the STEM workforce.

Volunteers look on as a green sea turtle swims away during the expedition Tracking Sea Turtles in The Bahamas. Photo credit: Chris Linder/Earthwatch.

Can you tell us about your corporate partnerships, why you work with them and what difference this has made?
We have some incredible corporate partners. Corporate fellowships are highly competitive, so the people who participate are highly skilled and incredibly motivated. In addition to their contribution to the research, many of these fellowship opportunities include engagement with and support for the communities in which we work.

The programmes also have a highly transformative impact on the employees. When I was working for HSBC bank in London, I was able to see this first-hand. I had the opportunity to participate in something called the Earthwatch Sustainability Leadership Programme. This involved taking bankers from London into the woods for six days to roll up their sleeves and contribute to climate change field research while exploring how they could advance sustainability at the bank. Their discomfort in the woods was only exceeded by their personal transformations. Many of them became passionate environmentalists in just six days!

Investing in science education is paramount if we hope to empower future generations with the passion, skills, and confidence they need to combat the environmental challenges our world currently faces.

For our readers, how can they get involved with Earthwatch?
There are many ways people can get involved, first and foremost by joining us in the field for an expedition. We have almost 50 projects around the world all in need of extra sets of hands helping to collect data – from mapping biodiversity in Cuba, to tracking sea turtles in the Bahamas, to restoring wolves, fire and bison to the Canadian Rockies – there is no shortage of opportunity! If an expedition isn’t in the cards right now, I encourage people to join our Ambassador Programme for access to great rewards and project updates or donate to help support this scientific research.

What does the future hold for Earthwatch and what are your goals for 2018?
Our mission has never been more important or relevant than it is today. Climate change and biodiversity loss, which has been magnified by the lack of governmental support, has created an environmental crisis. From crisis comes opportunity. I haven’t seen people this fired up about protecting the environment since the 1970s. Our goals are straightforward. We want to grow the next generation of environmental leaders. To do this, we immerse people in hands-on research that is focused on solving important problems. In 2018, we are aiming to expand opportunities for teachers and students, as well as corporate employees to participate in our projects, and will continue to add high-impact research projects.

For more information on the incredible work at Earthwatch and how to get involved, please visit their website at

United States
114 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134

T: + 1 978 461 0081

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