Removing the Ghosts of Hurricane Maria from Puerto Rico’s Sea

Raimundo Chirinos has devoted his life and career to protecting Puerto Rico’s waters. And in the wake of Hurricane Maria, his devotion matters more than ever. Among its many assaults, the Category 5 storm pulled fishing gear from the island’s shores into the ocean, creating “ghost traps.” These misplaced traps inadvertently catch fish and other species, disrupting the ecosystem and the local fishing economy. More determined than ever to protect his island’s waters, Raimundo has hired local dive fishermen to help him locate ghost traps, creating economic opportunity and community in the wake of devastation.


This movie was shot during a 20 day trip to Antarctica in December 2014 to January 2015.

Kalle Ljung started from Ushuaia in Argentina and went to Port Williams in Chile, rounded Cape Horn and crossed the Drake Passage towards the Melchior Islands in Antarctica. She spent 16 days in the Antarctic and got to experience the most amazing scenery and wildlife before she returned back to Ushuaia.

In the Slovenian Alps, an Island on an Emerald Lake Beckons

Just over 30 miles northwest of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, you’ll find an alpine lake that looks straight out of a fairytale. With a cliff-side castle, an emerald green, fresh water lake and some of the best views of the Julian Alps, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Lake Bled and its island church for a storybook cover. And as you cross the lake in a traditional wooden boat, learn the legend of the bell that lies below these emerald green waters.

Superblocks: Barcelona’s Car-Free Zones Could Extend Lives and Boost Mental health

Grid, glorious grid.  Kaspars Upmanis/Unsplash. ,  FAL

Grid, glorious grid. Kaspars Upmanis/Unsplash., FAL

The world’s biggest cities have larger populations and higher economic outputs than some countries. But as they grow in size and complexity, cities are also facing thorny challenges that threaten the health and happiness of residents. Congestion, pollution and a lack of community spaces have become major drags on people’s aspirations and experiences of urban living.

In response, cities must manage their resources and priorities to create sustainable places for visitors and residents, and foster innovation and growth. Enter Barcelona – the capital of Catalonia, in Spain – where a bold stroke of urban planning first introduced “superblocks” in 2016.

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Superblocks are neighbourhoods of nine blocks, where traffic is restricted to major roads around the outside, opening up entire groups of streets to pedestrians and cyclists. The aim is to reduce pollution from vehicles, and give residents much-needed relief from noise pollution. They are designed to create more open space for citizens to meet, talk and do activities.

Health and well-being boost

There are currently only six superblocks in operation, including the first, most prominent one in Eixample. Reports suggest that – despite some early push back – the change has been broadly welcomed by residents, and the long-term benefits could be considerable.

recent study carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health estimates that if, as planned, 503 potential superblocks are realised across the city, journeys by private vehicle would fall by 230,000 a week, as people switch to public transport, walking or cycling.

The research suggests this would significantly improve air quality and noise levels on the car-free streets: ambient levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) would be reduced by a quarter, bringing levels in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The plan is also expected to generate significant health benefits for residents. The study estimates that as many as 667 premature deaths from air pollution, noise and heat could be prevented each year. More green spaces will encourage people to get outdoors and lead a more active lifestyle.

This, in turn, helps to reduce obesity and diabetes and ease pressure on health services. The researchers claim that residents of Barcelona could expect to live an extra 200 days thanks to the cumulative health benefits, if the idea is rolled out across the city.

Space to play.  Mosa Moseneke/Unsplash. ,  FAL

There are expected to be benefits to mental health, as well as physical health. Having access to such spaces can stave off loneliness and isolation – especially among elderly residents – as communities form stronger bonds and become more resilient.

Stumbling blocks

It was Salvador Rueda, director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, who first championed the introduction of superblocks – and he argues that the idea could be used in any city. Even so, authorities looking to expand the concept in Barcelona or beyond will need to be mindful of some concerns.

Changes like these require capital investment. Even as the car-free streets are transformed with urban furniture and greenery, the remaining major roads will likely have to accommodate heavier traffic.

Nothing comes for free.  Zvileve/Flickr. ,  CC BY-SA

Nothing comes for free. Zvileve/Flickr., CC BY-SA

Further investments in local infrastructure – such as improving surrounding roads to deal with more traffic, or installing smart traffic management system – could be required to prevent serious congestion. Then the question remains, how to finance such investments – a higher tax rate is unlikely to be popular.

What’s more, whenever a location becomes more desirable, it leads to an increase in property demand. Higher prices and rent could create pockets of unaffordable neighbourhoods. This may lead to use of properties for investment purposes and possibly, displacement of local residents.

It’s also worth noting that Barcelona is an old and relatively well-planned European city. Different challenges exist in emerging global cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America – and in younger cities in the US and Australia. There is a great deal of variation in scale, population density, urban shape and form, development patterns and institutional frameworks across the cities. Several large cities in the developing world are heavily congested with uncontrolled, unregulated developments and weak regulatory frameworks.

Replicating what’s been done in Barcelona may prove difficult in such places, and will require much greater transformations. But it’s true that the basic principles of superblocks – that value pedestrians, cyclists and high quality public spaces over motor vehicles – can be applied in any city, with some adjustments.

Leading the way

Over the history of human civilisation, great cities have been at the forefront of innovation and social progress. But cities need a robust structure of governance, which is transparent and accountable, to ensure a fair and efficient use of resources. Imposing innovation from the top down, without consultations and buy-in, can go squarely against the idea of free market capitalism, which has been a predominant force for modern economies and can lead push-back from citizens and local businesses.

Citizens must also be willing to change their perspectives and behaviour, to make such initiatives work. This means that “solutions” to urban living like superblocks need to have buy-in from citizens, through continuous engagement with local government officials.

A man speaks at a public consultation on the Eixample superblock in Barcelona.  Ajuntament Barcelona/Flickr. ,  CC BY-ND

A man speaks at a public consultation on the Eixample superblock in Barcelona. Ajuntament Barcelona/Flickr., CC BY-ND

Successful urban planning also needs strong leadership with a clear and consistent vision of the future, and a roadmap of how that vision can be delivered. The vision should be co-developed with the citizens and all other stakeholders such as local businesses, private and public organisations. This can ensure that everybody shares ownership and takes responsibility for the success of local initiatives.

There is little doubt that the principles and objectives of superblocks are sound. The idea has the potential to catch on around the world – though it will likely take a unique and specific form in every city.

ANUPAM NANDA is the Professor of Urban Economics and Real Estate at the University of Reading.


Why Stores and Restaurants are Ditching Plastic Straws

Single-use plastics like straws can harm the environment. Photo by Marco Verch C.C. 2.0.

Single-use plastics like straws can harm the environment. Photo by Marco Verch C.C. 2.0.

You may have noticed that the beverages you’ve been ordering at your favorite coffee shop or restaurant have not been accompanied by plastic straws. Chains as big as Starbucks and establishments as small as neighborhood cafes have been finding creative substitutes to plastic straws, or are just getting rid of them altogether. 

What’s so bad about straws? 

Straws are just one example of wasteful single-use plastic. Hundreds of millions of tons of plastic are produced each year, and a large portion of that plastic ends up in the ocean. It seems like plastic straws is an interesting place to start in the crusade against single-use plastics. However, for an able-bodied person, avoiding plastic straws is an easy way to start reducing plastic use. 

How are things changing? 

Some restaurants have tried to be more conscious about their straw usage by not automatically putting a plastic straw into each beverage. Some establishments will wait for their customers to ask for a straw instead of serving it to them. 

Other establishments—like Starbucks—have developed a new plastic lid that looks like a sippy-cup so that customers can sip their drinks without needing a straw. However, cups like these are difficult for those who aren’t able to pick up their drinks and bring them to their mouths. A straw is literally the only way for some people to drink on their own. 

Therefore, better solutions may be composter-approved paper straws, like Aardvark straws, or reusable glass or metal straws. 

While finding alternatives to plastic straws can make a substantial impact, it should just be the beginning of a global campaign to reduce single use plastics. Hopefully, there will be future campaigns to reduce plastic bottles, plastic cutlery, or single-use containers. 

ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur. 


Zimbabwe’s All Women Anti-Poaching Unit

Conservation becomes a community enriching project.

Photo of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park by  Christine Donaldson  on  Unsplash .

Photo of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park by Christine Donaldson on Unsplash.

The unit is called Akashinga, Shona for The Brave Ones, and it could not be more aptly named.

Founded by Damien Mander, an Austrailian former special forces soldier, Akashinga is a part of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the Phundundu Wildlife Area. 

Phundundu is a 115-square-mile area in the Zambezi Valley ecosystem which is home to 11,000 elephants and other endangered wildlife. In the past 20 years, frequent poaching has taken its toll on the reserve, resulting in the loss of thousands of elephants. While killing wildlife without a permit is illegal, animal trophies such as bones, tusks, and teeth can be sold on the black market for an amount equivalent to a month’s salary.

According to Akashinga’s website, anti-poaching initiatives often close off “traditional grazing areas, places of burial, worship, water points, food sources and traditional medicine,” making communities feel that endangered plants and animals are more important than their humanity. This resentment can fuel poaching attempts for which offenders can be arrested and sometimes killed. These experiences then reinforce the idea that endangered flora and fauna are of greater importance than the community, creating a cycle of resentment and violence.

To address this phenomenon, Akashinga takes a community-first approach to conservation. By recruiting women from the communities surrounding the Phundundu to serve on the unit, the organization is able to use conservation initiatives to enrich communities. Akashinga’s website describes the effort as having a “community-driven interpersonal focus, working with rather than against the local population for the long-term benefits of their own communities and nature.” To this end, 62% of operational costs are returned to local communities.

In this light, it is significant that the unit is made up entirely of women. According to National Geographic, research shows that in developing countries, women invest 90% of their income in their families, while men only invest 35%. Women are at the grassroots of community life, and when their wages are invested in their families, the entire community proffits.

But this is not the only reason that women are so right for the job. Mander had formerly trained male rangers for years before changing to an all-female model. He said that women are far better rangers; they are less likely to take bribes from poachers, and are skilled at de-escalating high tension situations. In National Geographic he commented that a gun in the hands of a man is a toy, but with a woman it is a tool.

Women also prove to be more resilient. Only three women quit the army-style training necessary to become part of the unit. When Mander was training men, all but three recruits quit after the first day. In National Geographic Mander said that, “we thought we were putting [the women] through hell, but it turns out, they’ve already been through it.”

This resilience is not without cause. Many of the women of Akashinga are victims of abuse, and have experienced their own trauma and exploitation. The BBC writes that Kelly Lyee Chgumbura, a unit member, was raped at seventeen and forced to drop out of school, abandoning her dream of becoming a nurse. She then had to give her baby to her rapist's mother, in accordance with Shona norms where if a mother is unable to provide for her child, the father’s parents become its guardians.

“My goals had been shattered,” she told the BBC, “It was like I couldn’t do anything more with my life.” A few years later, Chgumbura was recruited by her village head to try out for a ranger position. She was selected for the unit, and with a steady career now has a chance to win back custody of her daughter.

Being a ranger provides a sense of purpose as well as an income. “When I manage to stop poachers, I feel accomplished,” Chgumbura told the BBC, “I want to spend my whole life here on this job, arresting poachers and protecting animals.”

Like Chgumbura, most of the unit have faced traumatic experiences and lacked the agency and resources to protect themselves. “Who better to task with protecting exploited animals,” Mander told National Geographic, “than women who had suffered from exploitation?”

Phundundu is the first reserve worldwide to be managed entirely by women, but it will not be the only one for long. According to its website, Akashinga plans to welcome 1,000 new recruits who will protect 20 reserves. They aim to accomplish this by 2025. 

EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her. 

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Climate Apartheid: The Prediction for our Future

A road flooded. maxinux. CC by 2.0.

A road flooded. maxinux. CC by 2.0.

Mother Earth is dying and we are only furthering her demise. Not only that, but we are creating an environment and society that will soon be the rich versus the dead, according to Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, in his report. “There is no shortage of alarm bells ringing over climate change, and an increase in biblical-level extreme weather events appear to be finally piercing through the noise, misinformation, and complacency, but these positive signs are no reason for contentment,” Alston said. “A reckoning with the scale of the change that is needed is just the first step.”

Alston is quick to call out government leaders, like President Donald Trump, about how complacent they are being concerning environmental issues. Alston states, “Somber speeches by government officials have not led to meaningful action and too many countries continue taking short-sighted steps in the wrong direction.” Alston’s report is not only a call to action—it is a warning.

Alston deems that with climate change will come “climate apartheid”, meaning “the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” Alston states that, “while people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change, and have the least capacity to protect themselves.”

So not only is climate change affecting our environment, but it will affect our lives, threatening to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” Alston said. “It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places [where] poor people live and work.”

The risk of a climate apatheid also increases the possibility of “climate refugees”, or people who will have to seek lives elsewhere because the dying environment has made their current home unlivable. In a town in Gwynedd, Wales,  Phil Black reports that the inhabitants of said town might become “climate refugees” given the rising sea levels and how close the town is to those levels. While there are people, such as Lisa Goodier, a project manager attempting to make preparations for those in the town to leave, many of the townspeople refuse to give up their properties or believe the scientific facts presented to them. They would rather stay until they truly have to leave.

It is perspectives like this that make our environmental crisis what it is today. The facts are there, the evidence has been proven, but if we continually ignore what is right in front of our faces, it will be too late. Well, it will be too late for anyone who is not rich because the rich will always have the ability to pay and get rid of anything that inconveniences them.

It is not just about our environment anymore, it is about us, as a human species. If we let things continue how they are, millions will die and it will only be time until we are all wiped out. Alston states, “The risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex.”

We are responsible for our future. If we don’t take responsibility, or rather, if those who have the money and are making the problems do not take responsibility, it is not just our environment at risk. It is our humanity. 

Nothing will change if those who have the money do not fix the issues. And by the looks of Alston’s report, we need change, now.

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form. 

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In the Czech Countryside, a City Eaten Alive by Its Own Beauty

Since the fall of communism, Český Krumlov has transformed from relic to hotspot—but has it lost its authentic appeal along the way?

Český Krumlov. Alan Bloom. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Český Krumlov. Alan Bloom. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Czech capital of Prague is known the world over for its storybook beauty, manifesting most dramatically in the towering gothic facade of the St. Vitus Cathedral and the sprawling tableau of red rooftops visible from atop Petřín Hill. Yet just over 100 miles away is another sparkling jewel in the Czech Republic’s crown: Český Krumlov, a city of only 13,000 residents whose 13th-century castle and picturesque riverbanks have brought it not only recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site but also an increasing influx of tourists that now threatens its very identity. 

Former Czechoslovakia’s communist regime, which lasted from 1948 to 1989 before it was ushered out by the Velvet Revolution, left much of Český Krumlov in disrepair. Yet the city’s neglected state lent it a sense of mystery and charm. In the years since, Krumlov—much like the country’s capital, Prague—has been transformed into a tourist wonderland, with historic buildings being renovated and revitalized and ensuing increases in tourist income bolstering the city’s economy.

City streets. Hindol Bhattacharya. CC BY-SA 2.0

City streets. Hindol Bhattacharya. CC BY-SA 2.0

As the city has changed, so have the demographics of its visitors. In an interview with Radio Praha, Krumlov’s mayor, Dalibor Carda, explained that an initial boom of Austrian and German tourists after 1989 gave way to an influx of Americans, many of whom settled in the city indefinitely. Today, for locals—whether native-born or transplants—the off-season is a thing of the past, with tour groups flooding the city on a year-round basis. “[I]f you want to have a pristine Krumlov,” writes Jan Velinger in a piece for Radio Praha, “you have to get up very early to ever have its romantic streets, or overlooking castle, ramparts to yourself.” Fed up with the unrelenting crowds, locals have largely migrated to the outskirts of the city, resulting in an exodus of local businesses: Bakeries, hardware stores, and family-owned shops are now difficult to find, having been replaced with bars, restaurants, and hostels catering to short-term visitors.

One of Český Krumlov’s bars, popular among tourists. kellerabteil. CC BY-NC 2.0

One of Český Krumlov’s bars, popular among tourists. kellerabteil. CC BY-NC 2.0

In some respects, Český Krumlov has moved to mitigate the encroaching tendrils of tourism, notes reporter Chris Johnstone, pointing to a ban on advertising and the exclusion of cars and buses from the city center. Moreover, just this June, the city established a tariff on buses in an effort to regulate the influx—up to 20,000—arriving each year. The plan is the first of its kind in the Czech Republic, although Salzburg and other Austrian cities have imposed similar measures. Now, all buses rolling into Krumlov must book in advance, navigate to one of two designated stops, and pay the toll of CZK 625, approximately $28.

Tourism has inspired not only legislative changes, but also works of art—as in the case of “UNES-CO,” a 2018 project by renowned conceptual artist Kateřina Šedá. Responding to the profound impact of visitors on the distribution of local populations, Šedá conceived of a work that involved relocating a group of individuals and families to the heart of Český Krumlov for three months at the height of the tourist season. The participants were provided with starter apartments and jobs “on the basis of what Krumlov most needs,” which Šedá deemed to be “the pursuit of normal life.” The title played on the city’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site and on the Czech words “unést” and “co,” meaning “take away” and “what,” as in “What do visitors get out of this place?” Šedá, whose work often involves social themes and who is famed for relocating an entire Czech village to London’s Tate Modern in 2011, stressed that the project was not intended to be a show for tourists, but rather a social experiment.

Houses along the banks of the Vltava River. P. N. CC BY-SA 2.0

Houses along the banks of the Vltava River. P. N. CC BY-SA 2.0

On the opposite side of the artistic spectrum, Huawei—the Chinese electronics behemoth currently facing scrutiny from the U.S. for potential security issues—announced in January that it would build an exact facsimile of Český Krumlov at its headquarters. The Huawei campus, which lies just outside of Shenzhen in the city of Dongguan, will also count Granada, Verona, Paris, Budapest, and Bruges among its plethora of reconstructed European cities. “I heard about it when they started preparing it,” commented Cardo. “The fact that they [are] building it without at least contacting the city does not sit well with me.”

The Krumlov replica may well draw more Chinese tourists, who already represent the largest segment of visitors to the historic city. Yet for embittered locals, the mini-city could be a grimly apt representation of what their home has become: a mere palimpsest of its original iteration, and a cautionary tale depicting how capitalism and tourism can spur unwelcome transformation.

TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.


ICELAND: Beyond the Lighthouse

It opens with a shot of an iconic looking lighthouse perched atop a giant cliff. From there you'll see one of the country's famous black sand beaches, one of Iceland's many epic waterfalls, a lava field, several fjords, a glacial lagoon, as well as views of some of the world's most stunning mountains. You'll even get a glimpse of some of the famed Icelandic horses!

Saving India’s Most Sacred River

Each year, about 8 million tons of flowers are dumped into India’s rivers. As flowers hold a sacred place in Hindu rituals, they are often thrown into the Ganges, India’s holiest river. Unfortunately, pesticides and other chemicals from these flowers are mixing with the water, exacerbating an ecosystem already plagued with pollution. Enter HelpUsGreen, an organization that has begun collecting the waste flowers and upcycling them into products like incense, soap and biodegradable styrofoam. Through the group’s efforts, they’re addressing an environmental threat while giving the flowers a new life.

Take a Gap Year to Learn about Yourself and the Environment

Eco-Gap Participants in the Greenhouse. Photo provided by Eco-Gap.

Eco-Gap Participants in the Greenhouse. Photo provided by Eco-Gap.

Gap years are on the rise. More and more, young adults are being encouraged to defer their acceptance to college to take a break from the grind of school, mature, and learn more about themselves. For some, taking a gap year serves as an introduction to living away from home. For others, a gap year provides work experience, and the opportunity to make extra cash to pay for college and other expenses. Articles and opinion pieces are frequently being published, attesting to a gap year’s ability to provide crucial preparation for college.

But gap years can serve a purpose other than bettering oneself. Some gap year programs have been created with the goal of fostering a generation of environmentally aware young adults. These programs have an eco-focus, encouraging their participants to live socially and environmentally conscious lifestyles.

International School for Earth Studies

The Cushing family runs the International School for Earth Studies in Southern Alberta. According to Co-Founder, CEO, and Director of Operations Geoffrey Cushing, he and his family were, and remain, “Eco-tourism pioneers.” The International School for Earth Studies run programs that educate and connect people to the environment. They accepted their first gap year student in 2005, and they have maintained a vibrant program ever since.

At the core of their gap year program are four pillars:

  1. Environmental Literacy

  2. Self Defense

  3. (Non Motorized) Outdoor Recreation

  4. Animal connection

The International School for Earth Studies runs two sessions of gap year programs: an Autumn and a Winter session. In addition to living and learning on the institution’s immense property that includes a private lake, diverse animals, and a stable, participants travel to other important places such as the Great Lakes, and the largest concentration of power plants in North America. The gap year students will learn from knowledgeable and experienced staff and speakers, including first nation biologists.

Geoffrey explained that students experience an “immersion into an outdoor lifestyle,” as students spend six to eight hours a day working outdoors. A typical day is split up into morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. In the morning and afternoon, participants will learn how to work and connect with animals, or develop outdoor survival techniques. Evening sessions are more discussion based. Sometimes, participants will stargaze. Other times, a participant will lead a discussion. Geoffrey said that the discussions can get particularly deep and emotional.

Geoffrey hopes that participants will leave this program as more educated global citizens, and will feel the urgency of Earth’s environmental situation. “We feel that the world is in crisis environmentally,” Geoffrey said. “We try to use animals, the voiceless, as the platform for our students to realize how desperate the situation is.”

Eco-Gap at EcoVillage at Ithaca

Ecovillage at Ithaca, NY is comprised of three neighborhoods organized as housing cooperatives. Learn@ecovillage’s gap year program is brand new, they just initiated their first cohort last year.

Liz Walker, Director and Co-Founder of EcoVillage explained that Eco-Gap is unique, as it is set in the Ecovillage, a community that is completely environmentally oriented. Participants live with families in the communities.

There are two opportunities for gap year students:

  1. The Eco-Gap immersion program

  2. The Eco-Gap internship program

The Eco-Gap immersion program is an eight-week structured program in the fall, for a small cohort of eight participants. Liz outlined the major, and varied, components of the Eco-Gap immersion program:

  1. Agriculture: local food and farming. Participants will work on the Ecovillage’s four organic farms, and learn to prepare food for themselves and for the needy.

  2. Health and Wellness: Participants will learn yoga and meditation skills, as well as tap into their own artistic creativity,

  3. Building Skills: Participants will learn about green building, and learn carpentry skills to build their own small shed.

  4. Living and leadership skills: Participants will learn how to express themselves fully, and how to deal with conflict through non-violence.

For those that want more work experience, or a more flexible timeline, the Eco-Gap internship program offers individual mentoring.

Through Eco-Gap’s programming, Liz aims to teach from a “context of environmental and social sustainability and social justice.”  Her goal is that her participants “obtain practical skills for transforming oneself and the world.”

These are just two examples of environmentally focused gap year programs. There are more out there, all around the world. Additionally, gap year students can volunteer for the environment independently, without an organized program.

ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur. 


Explore the Melting Ice Caves of Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is a spectacular 12-mile-long glacier near Juneau, Alaska. Ice caves make up its surreal interior. Only the truly adventurous can access its icy walls, as the trip to see them requires a kayak trip, an ice climb and—once you're inside—the faith that the glacier’s melting walls won't give way. But this natural wonder is under threat. The glacier has been retreating incredibly quickly in recent years due to warmer temperatures and rising sea levels. Since 1958, it has receded by almost two miles. What remains, however, is an utterly breathtaking fantasyland.

The Abandoned Whaling Station Nature Reclaimed

Rusty boats and barrels dot the shore of the British Island of South Georgia. They’re relics of a whaling station known as Grytviken that ceased operation in 1966 after the whale population had been nearly depleted by hunting. Today, the remote island, which sits 1,500 miles from the foot of Argentina, is home to millions of penguins and as well as seals. What was once the scene of one of the worst wildlife massacres in history is now a space that nature itself has reclaimed.

The Floating Forests of India

Located in the Indian state of Manipur, Keibul Lamjao National Park is the world’s only floating wildlife sanctuary. The park’s Loktak Lake—the largest freshwater lake in northern India—is a spectacular sight, dotted with green patches and rings of vegetation known as “phumdi” that float atop the water. A biodiverse park, Keibul Lamjao provides sustenance to the people and animals of Manipur—including sangai, an endangered subspecies of brow-antlered deer revered by locals as the binding soul between humans and nature.