Our History

Setting the Stage

The modern environmental movement didn’t begin with a bang but rather with a book. In 1962, American biologist and author Rachel Carson published her seminal book Silent Spring, calling attention to the overuse of DDT and other pesticides in the U.S. Carson’s engaging and poetic prose detailing the extreme consequences of these pesticides on the environment and human health captivated the nation, spurring immediate outrage. The controversy increased public awareness and awoke a nationwide, grassroots ecological campaign.

Carson’s words helped to ignite the modern environmental movement, ultimately leading to the creation of major national policies, including the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Policy Act, as well as the development of the Council of Environmental Quality. In 1970, 20 million Americans peacefully protested from coast to coast on the world’s first Earth Day, underscoring the intense public demand for environmental regulation and accountability. This same year, President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).



Earthwatch’s Founding

In 1971, building off of the momentum of this growing environmental movement, Earthwatch was founded. Through its unique citizen science model, Earthwatch empowered individuals to take collective action through scientific research and conservation. By pairing scientists with non-scientists in research locations around the world, Earthwatch filled a unique niche—it provided an outlet for people from all walks of life to study and conserve the natural world.

Throughout its history, Earthwatch has expanded upon this quest for knowledge, adapting and responding to emerging environmental threats. Our mission, our focus, and our values have never been more important than they are today. We are uniquely positioned to mobilize the scientists, volunteers, and resources needed to protect the planet when it needs us the most.

Earthwatch operates on the proven belief that individual actions can create massive, multiplicative change in the world



Earthwatch was born out of a sense of excitement about exploration. We’re a research corps at work on the frontier of knowledge. But the search for knowledge is not just an adventure. It is a need—both personal and societal. We need to know where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going. Earthwatch is a testimony to what people—scientists AND non-scientists—can do when they come together in the name of field research and environmental conservation.

Brian Rosborough — an excerpt from the 1981 report “Earthwatch: The First 10 Years.


Since its founding in 1971, Earthwatch has been committed to protecting our shared planet by harnessing the power of individuals to create environmental change.



Earthwatch scientists and volunteers have helped to change environmental policies, achieve critical conservation goals, and produce groundbreaking findings. Check out just a few examples of Earthwatch’s scientific impacts over the years.


An excavation of mammoth graveyard sites in South Dakota
A Mammoth Excavation
Excavation of mammoth graveyard sites in South Dakota begins, a project supported by Earthwatch for 39 years and led by Dr. Larry Agenbroad.
Three common terns (Sterna hirundo) on a beach
Cape Cod National Seashore
Earthwatch launches a Cape Cod study with Dr. Stephen Leatherman, focused on erosion and its landward migration at Nauset Spit. Subsequently, researchers advocated for the significance and relocation of a Cape Cod National Seashore landmark, the Old Harbour Station.
Funnel-web spider (Aname earthwatchorum)
Discovery of New Spider Species
Drs. Geoffrey Monteith and R.J. Raven discover a new species of funnel-web spider in Queensland, Australia that is named Aname earthwatchorum (“of the Earthwatchers”).
A Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Conservation Award for Sea Turtle Efforts
Earthwatch receives a Conservation Service Award from Donald Hodel, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, for our successful efforts to save endangered Caribbean turtles, led by several Earthwatch scientists, including Dr. David Nellis, Dr. Jaime Collazo, Mr. Sean Furniss, Dr. Scott Eckert, Dr. Karen Eckert, Dr. David Olsen, and Ms. Susan Basford.
Hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius)
First Observation of Hippos Eating Meat
Earthwatch teams in Zimbabwe, led by Dr. Joe Dudley, make the first observations of one of nature’s greatest vegetarians, the hippo, eating meat, suggesting that drought gave rise to omnivory.
African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus)
Saving Oiled Penguins
Earthwatch teams led by Dr. Peter Barham support efforts to clean 23,000 penguins that were “oiled” in the Treasure oil spill disaster between Robben and Dassen Islands in South Africa. 90% of oiled penguins survived.
Eodromaeus (Eodromaeus murphi) is an extinct genus of probable basal theropod dinosaurs from the Late Triassic of Argentina.
Unearthing New Dinosaur Species
Earthwatch volunteer James Murphy unearths a near-complete skeleton of a new species of dinosaur in the Argentinian Andes, on an excavation led by Dr. Oscar Alcober. The species is named Eodromaeus murphi.
Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)
Groundbreaking Research on Isle Royale Wolves
With 20 years of support from Earthwatch, Dr. Rolf Peterson produces groundbreaking findings about extinction risk among Isle Royale wolves, and is the first to detect the impact of inbreeding within this population.
Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrnidae)
Endangered Sharks Gain Increased Protections
Data collected by volunteers in Belize under the guidance of Dr. Demian Chapman contribute to the listing of five shark species of concern by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).




Earthwatch depends on donations—above and beyond what we raise from volunteers who participate on our expeditions—in order to deliver our global conservation mission. In fact, volunteer contributions provide only half of the total resources Earthwatch needs to sustain over 40 field research expeditions, a wide variety of educational programs, corporate sustainability trainings, and more each year.




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Experience hands-on science in some of the most astounding locations in the world. Meet a community of like-minded travelers and return home with stories filled with adventure.

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Savannah Illustration