Rainforest Volunteering in Australia
Beyond buying Ben & Jerry’s Rainforest Crunch ice cream and using recycled paper, one may feel helpless to contribute to the preservation of the world’s disappearing rainforests. But one way to make
your visit to the tropics a valuable experience, not only for yourself but for the environment too, is to volunteer at a facility like the Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Station in the heart of Australia’s Daintree Tropical Rainforest.
Volunteers help with maintenance of the station and researchers have access to its two laboratories and a place to sleep.
The station was co-founded by and is presently run by Dr. Hugh Spencer, an Australian biologist with a wild afro, a grey beard, and a tenacious appetite for discussing conservation issues. Hugh has lived at the station
for the past 16 years. As Director of Research for the Australian Tropical Research Foundation he oversees the station’s day-to-day needs.
Sleeping arrangements are on bunks in a cabin built from recycled materials. Other buildings include two laboratories, a kitchen, library, and office. The Bat-House, the one building officially open to the public,
is filled with megabats, also known as flying foxes, or fruit bats. Hugh brought them here to revive and protect them from orchard-men’s rifles. Staffed by volunteers, the Bat-House is an educational tool for the public.
While Hugh has made every effort to make the station as efficient as possible, it still needs constant maintenance. High humidity accelerates decay. Our clothing and belongings soon acquired a musty aroma, and my wallet
even grew a fine fuzz of mold.
The primary focus of the research station’s efforts is conservation of the rainforest. Despite its World Heritage designation, the rainforest is broken up into many privately-owned plots of land and risks being
deforested if the owners decide to develop their plots. Hugh runs the station as an example of minimal impact living and has spearheaded efforts to buy out the private lots.
While our volunteer weeks were long and our cost of living higher than we had initially hoped (volunteering paid for housing, not food) experiencing the rainforest in all its glory was an experience of a lifetime.
We learned about managing the resources we use, from power to water. Volunteering on the research station makes you an active participant in the issues that affect the region you are in, rather than a transient visitor.
For more information on volunteering at the Cape Tribulation Research Station, visit www.austrop.org.au.