I went on four expeditions before a career change. Here’s how they changed my perspective


Yoni Pasternak was starting a new position as Chief Commercial Officer at Nala Earth, a nature and biodiversity software platform that enables companies to improve their environmental impact. Prior to assuming the role, he was looking for a way to deepen his understanding of ecology with on-the-ground research. But the typical set of nature tours seemed too superficial—he wanted thorough immersion and learning. 



Yoni had a meandering career to date: he had pursued rabbinical training, academic philosophy at Columbia University, management consulting, and e-commerce furniture before arriving at a career in sustainability.

While his initial work in sustainability focused on climate change and carbon, Yoni found work on biodiversity and nature especially fascinating. He said, “Carbon and climate are phenomenally important, but biodiversity is much more vivid. The goal of reducing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere is critical but can never be as inspiring as the broader goal of conserving the incredible array of life on our planet. And it’s something that everybody can be inspired and motivated by.” This passion for regenerating nature is what prompted him to pursue his current position at Nala Earth.

But Yoni had five months of downtime before joining Nala. He wanted to spend this time developing his relationship with nature and sustainability, but he struggled to find apt opportunities. In particular, he wanted something more than tourism—he wanted an opportunity to engage deeply in the field and have a positive impact. After a few hours of searching, he came across Earthwatch and was struck by the depth of the diverse offerings of Earthwatch’s Expedition Guide.


Earthwatch was exactly what I wanted. So, I went on four expeditions in five months.



On expeditions, new sensory worlds

Soon, Yoni was aboard a plane to join Earthwatch’s Amazon Riverboat Exploration expedition, on which he traveled along the Yarapa River, engaging with a diverse set of animals as he supported research into how climate change is impacting ecosystems. Next, he headed to investigate chimps in Uganda, venturing to the Budongo Forest Reserve to trail chimps through the dense forest. Yoni then headed to Brazil’s Atlantic Forest to plant trees and assist reforestation efforts on Earthwatch’s Wildlife and Reforestation in Brazil expedition. Last, he headed north to study beautiful and diverse pollinator species in the cloud forests of Costa Rica.  

These experiences, which ranged from catching and identifying intricate pollinators in the cloud forests of Costa Rica to doing dolphin surveys with sonar in the Amazon were, in Yoni’s words, “completely inspiring.” In particular, he told us about one experience he had trailing a single chimpanzee for nine hours in the rich, colorful world of the Budongo Forest in Uganda, which he described as the “most awe-inspiring experience of his life.” 

But Yoni’s Earthwatch experience wasn’t just about the grandeur of nature. For him, Earthwatch offered an opportunity to immerse himself in natural environments in a way he never had. Yoni has lived in urban environments for most of his life, and he's fully attuned to that audiovisual world. But when he came to the Amazon, Yoni told us he was “saddened by the fact that (he) was a relative stranger.” When confronted with the sounds and sights of the rainforest, he often struggled to parse its cues. But by working with the scientists and his fellow volunteers, he developed his understanding of the sensory world of the forest.  


Two chimps in a tree in Uganda (C) Stacey Godbehear
Cheetah in a tree (C) Stacey Godbehear
Volunteers work with Dr. Muanis to measure a small mammal and record the data.


I probably annoyed the biologists with constant questions. ‘Which species is that birdsong from? Why was it given that Latin name? What about that one? And that one?’ But by day six, I could intuitively identify them myself: ‘That's a horned screamer. That's a blue-and-yellow macaw. That’s a cocoi heron.’ Developing that intuition is something that can only happen by spending time immersed in that environment with field trips similar to Earthwatch.



An Earthwatch volunteer attempting to catch a pollinator out of a tree. (C) Stacey Godbehear


Thinking like the environment

At the same time, Yoni was engaging with scientists across disciplines to enhance his understanding of the local ecosystems and communities. He had extensive conversations with the local biologists about their use of the latest environmental technologies (e.g., environmental DNA or eDNA, bioacoustics, their use of AI), getting expert perspectives that would inform his work at Nala.

He saw firsthand the same patterns of destruction: conversion of habitat for agricultural and commercial use led to declining biodiversity, exacerbated by a warming climate. But at the same time, he saw examples of our capacity to regenerate nature. Yoni conducted biodiversity research in the Amazon from a ship built to extract Amazonian rubber that was now repurposed as a research station, and worked at research facilities in Uganda based at former sawmills.

There are a thousand ways to experience the beauty and wonder of the natural world. But, as he pointed out to us, Earthwatch expeditions offer a unique lens. In Yoni’s words, Earthwatch expeditions helped him learn how to “think like the environment,”whether that meant learning to think like a forest or learning to think like the individual animals he spent weeks observing.


 Here, you’re not a tourist; you’re contributing to these great goals and learning a lot on the way. It’s for everyone.



Yoni’s story exemplifies the purpose of Earthwatch’s work. Earthwatch is about so many things: contributing to important environmental research, building connections with volunteers and scientists passionate about protecting nature, immersing yourself in the beautiful complexity of nature, and so much more.

What will you take from your Earthwatch experience? There’s only one way to find out.


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