An Earthwatch Christmas
An Earthwatch Christmas

An Earthwatch Christmas

In December 2012, Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) distributed chocolates to children in the Netherlands, while households in Spain created beautiful Nacimientos (nativity scenes), and the Australians in the height of their summer packed their beach bags. But the Edgar house in Alberta, Canada, was quiet and empty.

That’s because Marta and Stuart Edgar were in sunny Puerto Rico, surveying colorful birds (but no partridges in pear trees) and frogs and learning about the tropical habitats that make up this Caribbean paradise.

Marta’s Earthwatch Journey
A full-time psychologist and student counselor, Marta Edgar was looking to devote part of her limited free time to volunteering. She stumbled across Earthwatch in a book about birdwatching, and a brief Internet search led her to realize that the volunteer opportunities were exactly what she was looking for. “They are not that long—I could use my vacation time,” she recalls thinking.

It was more than just the length of time that attracted Marta to Earthwatch Expeditions. Her journey to become a psychologist was triggered by an interest in the behavior of another species—birds. “I loved researching questions that are fascinating but have no immediate use,” she laughed. Due to limited funding for animal behavior research at the time, Marta had to abandon her first love and pursue another form of science.

Earthwatch gave Marta the opportunity to once again participate in animal research without pulling her away from her full-time commitments. Accompanied by her husband, Stuart Edgar—a philosophy and English professor at Athabasca University—Marta has traveled to Ecuador and Puerto Rico on Earthwatch Expeditions. Alongside other volunteers, they contributed to valuable research through activities like tree surveys, and catching and identifying native frogs and lizards. “We both learned a lot and we didn’t know much about tropical ecology. Doing it first-hand it allowed for a deeper understanding of how species interact and understand how people like to live in a sustainable way,” she adds.

Puerto Rico’s Rainforest is one of several Earthwatch Expeditions that field in December. This year, Earthwatch is offering the following volunteer opportunities over the winter: Costa Rican Sea Turtles, Climate Change and Caterpillars in Costa Rica, Origins of Angkor, and Carnivores of Madagascar.

A Stress-Busting Holiday
Earthwatch Expeditions are no average tourist vacation. Shopping lists and museum passes are replaced by packed lunches and binoculars, and sunscreen becomes your new best friend. They’re also hard work. So, what drew a full-time psychologist and her professor husband to an Earthwatch field trip during their annual vacation?

“On one hand it can be challenging, yes, but my biggest source of fatigue at work is stress, not physical exertion. I don’t think I would feel more rested if I was lying and doing nothing. The radical difference in tasks, as compared to my daily work, is very rejuvenating and that allows for a break,” says Marta.

Marta also confessed to not enjoying touristy vacations. “I like things that would allow me to see remote places and learn from others who are already familiar with those places and the nature that is there. It sounded just perfect for me!”

Bonding Time
The decision to spend Christmas away from family took some deliberation. The Edgars decided to give it a try, and they didn’t regret it. “Going on an expedition during (the) Christmas–New Year holidays was much easier with my husband; this way we could treat it also as a couple’s special outing,” says Marta. Rejuvenated by her experience, Marta has been encouraging other friends and family members to try an Earthwatch expedition. But the nature lover in her recognizes the need to balance social commitments with her love for travel. When asked for her plans for Christmas 2013, she said, “this year, it’s family.”

A Christmas Miracle
Earthwatch’s winter expedition to Puerto Rico, in 2012, resurrected Marta’s deep passion for bird research. Following her return, she kept herself up to date with the latest on the project and when a vacancy to lead a bird survey was announced, she immediately applied for the position. In the summer of 2013, Marta returned to Puerto Rico to lead bird surveys for two Earthwatch teams under the supervision of lead scientist, Mark Nelson. Marta says, “I am living my dream.”

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