Why Volunteer in Australia?

by Narelle Webber on Tuesday, 10 February 2015


Volunteering on an ISV Australia project

Volunteering on an ISV Australia project involves hands-on habitat restoration tasks  (c) International Student Volunteers

There are lots of ways I can answer this question, including focusing on how you as a volunteer would benefit, but I’m going to start with another reason; volunteer in Australia because Australia needs volunteers to help address our urgent conservation issues. That’s why.

So what are some of these big picture issues? Here’s two to start with….

Our biodiversity crises. Australia is a biodiversity hotspot and we’re one of only 17 countries in the world considered “megadiverse“! Megadiverse countries cover less than 10% of the global surface but support more than 70% of the biological diversity on earth. Unfortunately, over 1,700 Australian species and ecological communities are threatened and at risk of extinction. Degradation of our environment continues and many ecosystems are increasingly vulnerable to collapse. Many of our plants and animals are endemic – only found in Australia, so if we lose them, they’re gone for good!

pygmy possum

The pygmy possum is under threat due to the effects of climate change (c) Amanda McLean, National Geographic

Australia’s getting seriously hot. Australia is likely to be the country worst affected by climate change with temperatures rising as much as 5°C (41°F). Climate change is already having detrimental impacts on Australia’s fragile ecosystems and threatened species. One such species threatened by climate change is the pygmy possum, the only marsupial known to hibernate under the snow (yes, it snows in Australia, we even have a ‘ski-season’ for now, at least). The pygmy possum’s alpine habitat is shrinking due to rising temperatures which mean less snow and shorter seasons to hibernate. One of ISV’s long-running project partners, the Australian Ecosystems Foundation Inc (AEFI), is working hard to help save the impossibly cute pygmy possum. ISV volunteers have collaborated on projects with AEFI since 2003 and we are hoping to send more ISV teams this year.

There are local groups all over Australia, just like AEFI, working to help bring threatened animals, plants and ecosystems back from the brink of extinction. Many of these organisations are fully run by volunteers, and Australia needs sustained, positive local action for our environment more than ever before.

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage Area that must be protected for all of humanity (c) International Student Volunteers

Sometimes change doesn’t happen because of top-down influences like governments. Often, it comes from community action, driving change from the bottom-up.  Margaret Mead’s quote speaks directly to me when I think of ISV’s impacts in collaboration with our local project partners –

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Volunteerism involves small groups of committed citizens who are passionate about changing the world. Local level action from volunteers is especially critical right now, when Australia’s current government is making decisions that may sacrifice Australia’s natural heritage in favour of perceived economic opportunities. Examples include new government policies that directly undermine the renewable energy sector, the development of a major coal port on the Great Barrier Reef, and support for expansive coal seam gas developments.

Given all the challenges, what can an individual possibly do to help? Simple – contribute to ongoing conservation activities by volunteering with ISV and let our partnerships with Australian project organisations contribute to lasting change at a local level. ISV’s policy is that a volunteer should never replace a local’s opportunity to gain employment. This is true in every host country in which ISV operates, and forms part of the agreement that ISV has with our project organisations. Volunteers can be assured that if they choose to volunteer with ISV, we’re supporting local organisations that don’t have the funds to pay someone to undertake the planned conservation activities.

ISV volunteers planting trees

ISV volunteers planting trees with the local community (c) International Student Volunteers

ISV’s story actually begins in Australia. In 2002, we started with about 40 volunteers from the USA who came to help support local organisations with their environmental projects. Over the years we’ve planted, weeded, built trails, put up fences, collected scientific data and done a whole host of conservation tasks. We’ve not only protected and enhanced our natural resources, but sent a clear message to other Australians that our environment is so important, people from overseas have committed their summer to take action!

It’s a tribute to the quality of ISV volunteers and staff that for many years ISV hasn’t had to actively seek out projects; they come knocking on our door as word has spread about the incredible contributions of ISV volunteers.

Why else should you volunteer in Australia?

volunteer in australia

Join us in Australia: we have kangaroos, need we say more?! (c) International Student Volunteers

Because after your project you can join our Adventure Tour!  ISV’s tour supports responsible travel practices so you can relax knowing you will discover and explore Australia, making a positive impact through your travel experiences.

Along the way, you’ll visit  F-I-V-E World Heritage Sites: the Great Barrier Reef, the beautiful Wet Tropical rainforests in the far north, the majestic Blue Mountains, the Sydney Opera House and the largest sand island in the world: Fraser Island (home to dingos). Get ready to see whales, kangaroos, koalas, white sand beaches, rainforests, wild rivers, crystal blue oceans and more!  You’ll learn about our land’s Traditional Owners as well as contemporary culture. You’ll surf, snorkel, raft, rappel, hike and explore. Oh, and dare we say, NO ONE knows how to have more fun than Aussies, so get ready to learn, laugh, connect, discover and literally have your eyes opened as you experience Australia with ISV.

In summary – Why Volunteer in Australia? Australia needs volunteers. Australia needs responsible travelers. You need to experience Australia. Need I say more?

You can read independent reviews on our Australia program here!

To learn more about ISV and our programs visit our website!



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