Citizen science travel, or trips where the traveler is encouraged to participate in scientific research through observation and data collection, is growing in popularity thanks in part to an increasing number of ecotourists who want to support research initiatives around the world. These travelers also want to contribute positively to the destinations they visit.
Expedition operators with scientific missions
The environmental charity Earthwatch has been sending volunteers on research trips for nearly fifty years, with tours focusing on climate change, ocean health, wildlife and ecosystems. Ecotourists collect and analyze environmental data that is used in the hope of advancing conservation efforts on a global scale.
“We’ve seen a 20 percent rise in participation over the past five years,” said Scott Kania, Earthwatch’s chief executive. “Citizen science offers people the opportunity to own ecological problems and be a part of the solution.”
According to a 2017 Earthwatch report, scientists and participants have discovered new species and gathered data that have been influential in establishing nature reserves and protecting endangered wildlife, like leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica. The firm’s latest expedition takes citizen scientists to Peru on a weeklong journey to photograph, measure and collect genetic samples of giant manta rays with the goal to help halt overfishing.
Earthwatch’s Peruvian expedition is $2,750 per person, and includes room and board, research permits, scientific equipment, airport and land transfers, and medevac insurance for the duration of the expedition.
Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic
The travel outfitter Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic is piggybacking on the success of last year’s pilot program, Citizen Science BioBlitz, with new 19-day expeditions to South Georgia & the Falkland Islands and Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falklands.
“People want more than to tick a holiday box,” said Jimmy White, a naturalist who will lead participants as they record biodiversity levels and track king penguins, albatross and fur seals with wildlife photo identification. “There is no better classroom than in the field with experts documenting the natural world,” he added.
Trips starting in 2020 will follow humpback whales in Alaska, sharks in the South Pacific and study microplastics in the Antarctic Peninsula.
Prices per person for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic trips start from $17,940 based on double occupancy and include all food and beverage, excursions, onboard physician, hotels as indicated, and airport transfers.
“Everyone from novice to expert has something to offer to conservation,” said Matthias Hammer, executive director of the international nonprofit Biosphere Expeditions. One of their most popular expeditions is surveying snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan, but they’ve launched a series of new trips including monitoring the “Big Five” in Kenya, tracking wildlife in Romania’s Transylvanian Alps and studying brown bears in Sweden.
“Hard data forms the core of all scientific arguments, and we empower people to collect useful data to help preserve the planet,” he said.
Prices for Biosphere Expeditions trips start from $1,670 per person and vary depending on destination and duration. They include room and board, meals, activities, and transportation beyond initial assembly point.
Hotels and resorts that cater to ecotourists
Shinta Mani Wild in Cambodia
Hotels are also responding to guests’ desire to seek a deeper connection to the places they’re visiting through environmental stewardship.
Shinta Mani Wild, a new tented camp in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains, has partnered with Wildlife Alliance and the Cambodian government to safeguard an 800-acre river valley from poaching, logging and mining.
“Our guests get a real thrill at hopping on the back of a rangers’ motorbike to save local wildlife by patrolling for poachers and clearing the jungle of hunting snares,” said Sangjay Choegyal, the general manager. Guests can also assist botanists in studying the rain forest’s rare orchids.
Rates start at $2,345 per tent per night based on double occupancy, inclusive of all food and beverage, private guided activities and excursions, spa treatments, personal butler, airport transfers, and taxes. A minimum three-night stay is required and participants must be at least 13 years old.
Daydream Island Resort in Australia
The freshly-renovated Daydream Island Resort, located on Australia’s Whitsunday Islands between Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef, is home to a nearly 700-foot free-form coral reef, a new educational center and an underwater observatory. Travelers have the opportunity to become “reef rangers,” assisting local marine biologists in stingray feedings, coral monitoring and marine health checks.
Room rates start from AUD 392 (approx. $280) and include complimentary breakfast for two adults; all meals for children under 12 are included.
Refugio Amazonas in Peru
Rainforest Expeditions, a tour operator which founded the Tambopata Macaw Project 30 years ago, organized a citizen science initiative called Wired Amazon in 2016.
At Refugio Amazonas, their eco-lodge in Tambopata, Peru, guests are invited to participate in a number of interactive science programs including “AmazonCam Tambopata” and “Discovering New Species,” during which participants collect insects and officially name new species they uncover.
“We’ve had over 1,500 guests participate in these activities,” said Rocio Guzman, Rainforest Expeditions’ marketing manager. “Their personal experience creates a link between them and the environment, which drives them to want to protect it.”
Rooms start at $602 per night and include land and river transfers, meals, activities and excursions.
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