Nature-Based Volunteering: What Gives?

youth volunteer

Why do people volunteer? Studies show that people want to give back to their community, learn something new, share what they know, and have fun. Are folks who volunteer for the environment the same? Knowing what volunteers want out of their work will help us design projects to fulfill those needs. We decided to visit some volunteer events posted through the Nature Groupie Experiences page to ask the volunteers themselves.

On a perfect summer day last week, I visited a group of folks who spent the morning of July 10 volunteering on behalf of The Nature Conservancy on a dock at the University of New Hampshire’s Jackson Lab in Durham, NH. Sun hats and sunglasses were out, and the six volunteers were seated around a picnic table surrounded by numbered wire cages filled with thousands of wet oyster shells (see A Day at the Dock with Baby Oysters to read about the project).

Each volunteer had signed up for a 4-hour shift, and most had signed up for more than one. When I asked what they were doing, I got a barrage of information from all sides. They knew about the oysters, how they reproduced, and why they were needed to help restore Great Bay’s reefs. I learned about sea squirts (competitors to baby oysters on the shells), and that measuring the size and presence of baby oysters on the shells would help figure out the best way to raise oysters to be used in reef restoration. If volunteers are motivated by wanting to learn something new, that box was clearly checked off!

What else might have brought them to the docks that day, besides learning about oysters?  Here’s what the volunteers had to say:

Volunteer with sample bucket

Marc Tosiano (pictured at right) lives in Hampton and had lots of reasons for volunteering: “I love New Hampshire’s environment and Great Bay. I want to do good things for my community, and with this project, I know we’re doing something that directly contributes to making the bay healthier.”

Laura Byergo is a Great Bay Steward and a Coastal Research Volunteer, so she heard about the work through the many volunteer hats she wears:  “It’s fun being out on Great Bay. Last year, I helped raise the oysters on my dock in Greenland, so this year I wanted to see the beginning product…It’s also great to meet all sorts of people. Here we have a new business owner and a middle school student. Not everyone is retired! With the different days and shifts, they made it easy for us to fit this work around busy schedules.”

Sam Howland, a middle school student from Durham (pictured top left), was there for his second shift of work in a week. “For school we were doing community service. Then my mom thought I would like this. She told me to check out the [Nature Groupie] website.”  When I asked him if his mom was right, he agreed that “Yes, I like it.” He continued measuring and counting, completing his oyster data sheet while the other volunteers talked.

volunteers working on a dock

Ted Riter came all the way to Durham to volunteer from his home in Boxford, MA. He saw a New Hampshire Chronicle television program about Great Bay, and brought his kayak up this summer to explore. When he saw the volunteer opportunity posted on a kiosk, he wanted to help with something he had grown to love, Great Bay. 

Paul Ambrose is a business owner who lives in Portsmouth. “I came because I wanted to see what the Nature Groupie events were all about. I love the ocean and I always like oysters. Eating them, I mean! Plus, the weather was supposed to be nice and I knew I had time off this morning. [Nature Groupie] made it easy to find something to do. One day in spring I want to bring my employees to a trail workday for a day of service; it can help us build teamwork.”

Mike Stockdale is a member of the Coastal Research Volunteer Program who lives in Lee ("not on the Bay!” he says). “I started volunteering with The Nature Conservancy on this project years ago, and I’ve come every year since. It's gotten a lot easier. We used to have 2-ton bags of shells, and Kara was doing this all by herself, standing on the piles of shells in the blazing hot sun. This way is a lot better!” 

Volunteers talking

 “Kara” is Kara McKeton, who coordinates volunteers for the oyster reef project on behalf of The Nature Conservancy. She was delighted at the progress of the weeks’ volunteers, who worked hard, had fun, and finished one day ahead of schedule.  “It’s so great to get such a range of ages this year!  We look forward to involving more people in this project at the end of the summer.  We’ll be counting and measuring the grown-up oyster shells again then.” 

So stay tuned for more volunteer events like this on the Experiences page. You heard it directly from the volunteers: it will be fun, beautiful, signing up is easy, you will be helping nature in your community, and you’ll learn something new. Like Sam’s mom said, we think you’ll like it!