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On the Science Trail

<i> Izon is a Canadian travel journalist covering youth budget routes. </i>

Young travelers with an interest in the sciences can combine touring with some fascinating firsthand experiences by assisting scientific expeditions operated by organizations that accept volunteers.

Earthwatch, one of several such organizations, is typical in that it acts as an international coordinator, matching volunteers and funds with scientists who need assistance with their field work. The one hitch for young travelers is that it can be overpriced for student budgets though there are some scholarship funds available.

The fees that are charged Earthwatch volunteers are used to assist the scientists with their field work, which ranges from anthropology to zoology. This year Earthwatch will be involved in 95 expeditions in 33 countries.

Volunteers have found themselves involved with projects as varied as trying to discover why the 5,000-year-old traditional medicines of India have been effective in curing diseases or studying the ruins of the ancient Maya of Belize and trying to determine why they had a huge stone tool manufacturing site at Colha.

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Earthwatch Volunteers

This year 2,500 volunteers will spend two to three weeks on research teams. About 33% of the volunteers are under age 29 and 17% are under age 20. However, only 6% of the Earthwatch volunteers are students, although with the help of private donors, foundations, and corporations, Earthwatch will provide scholarships and financial aid to 180 teachers and students this year.

One advantage for students taking part in expeditions is that the experience gives them an opportunity to determine if they want to spend a lifetime in the field they’re seeing firsthand.

Expedition fees range from $495 to more than $2,000. The average cost is $1,200, plus transportation to the staging area. The fees cover all food, accommodation, field equipment and ground transportation.

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Accommodations include a wide range of shelters--tents, farmhouses, university residences, research stations, even old castles.

A Few Examples

Here are a few examples of this year’s expeditions:

Volunteers assisting in the study of the famous large ceremonial statues, ahus , on Easter Island pay an expedition cost of $1,650. Those helping with the study of early man in Africa join a project in the Mlawula Wildlife Sanctuary in Swaziland at a cost of $1,295. Joining biologists in a study of the coral of the Great Barrier Reef costs $1,620 and assisting with the study of the fossils of little dinosaurs in Colorado costs $790.

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Some of the programs coming up in the next year include the study of black bears in North Carolina, teaching dolphins a form of language in Hawaii, investigation of a shipwreck in New Zealand, and studying sea turtles in Puerto Rico, tropical ecology in Colombia and mountain plants in Colorado.

Earthwatch members receive a quarterly magazine and newsletter giving details on the programs around the world. The cost of membership is $25 per year. Earthwatch is a tax-exempt, nonprofit institution. For further details contact Earthwatch, Box 403, Watertown, Mass. 02172.


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