Photo: derekskey/Creative Commons
Right about now, winter is getting a little old -- especially for residents of the Northeast U.S. and Western Europe who've been pounded with snow, slammed by wind, and chilled with freezing temperatures for more than two months. It's time to get away, no?
And when you choose a volunteering vacation -- one that lets you track whales, save sharks, protect endangered rhinos, maintain hiking trails, survey reefs, or care for wallabies -- your coworkers won't even be able to give you a hard time about it. The tropical temperatures? Those are just a bonus.
1. The Bahamas
Escaping snow and ice with a trip to the Caribbean is a no-brainer -- but you can trade your beach-sitting for do-gooding while soaking up the sunshine.
Take a 10-week expedition with Gapforce and work with the Bahamas National Trust on a marine survey that includes dive training, followed by 11 dives each week to take a census of the reefs in three new protected areas; the program also sends volunteers into local schools to drum up support for conservation efforts.
Average high for Andros Town, The Bahamas, in February: 78 degrees
If you've always wanted to see the Grand Canyon up close, then putting yourself to work on conservation initiatives in Arizona is a great place to start.
Join the Grand Canyon Trust as it protects the area from invasive plant species (like tamarisk, silverleaf nightshade, and Russian olive), or participate in programs that work with Native American nations to improve sustainability and undo past environmental damage.
The Nature Conservancy also offers eco-focused volunteer opportunities in Arizona: Lend a hand at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, the Lower San Pedro River Preserve, or the Hassayampa River Preserve.
Average high for Phoenix, Arizona, in February: 71 degrees
It may be winter on this side of the world, but that means it's summer Down Under -- and Australia offers plenty of opportunities for volunteer vacations.
Go Eco hosts two-week trips to a Queensland nature reserve where you'll care for endangered Flashback wallabies; Cultural Embrace sends 10-person teams to plant trees in Queensland, gather native seeds in Victoria, install walking trails in national parks, and protect native species from foxes in South Australia.
Prefer the ocean to the land? Earthwatch offers hands-on expeditions that assist their efforts to protect sea turtles, study manta rays, and learn more about freshwater turtles.
Average high for Sydney, Australia, in February: 79 degrees
With temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s during January and February, Kenya offers a break from winter -- and the kind of stunning scenery and hands-on eco-volunteer opportunities that will give you a mental break from winter's grind, too.
Join Earthwatch for trips that focus on rescuing black rhinos from the edge of extinction, surveying and salvaging plants used in traditional medicine, and counting and protecting the Sambru region's 2,000 endangered Grevy's zebras.
Go Eco also offers trips to Kenya; on these expeditions, volunteers fix and maintain habitats for the country's population of endangered Colobus monkeys.
Average high in Nairobi, Kenya, in February: 80 degrees
Warm up with a winter trip to the Amazon rainforest, a biodiversity hotspot facing a host of threats from logging and deforestation.
Volunteer Brazil works to counteract deforestation by gathering seeds from some of the region's most threatened species -- like the mogno tree, which provides mahogany -- and starting saplings in a nursery before transplanting them in the rainforest.
Rather work with animals? Earthwatch's Brazil trips allow volunteers to study the wildlife native to the Araguaia River and help measure the effects of climate change on Rio Cachoeira Natural Reserve. Or partner with the Sea Shepherd Brazil Institute in Florianopolis to research tuna fishing processes that are endangering other sea life.
Average high for Goiana, Brazil, in February: 84 degrees
Teams from Blue Ventures monitor fish in the area and collect baseline data to use in future surveys, and keep track of mangrove and seagrass growth to protect habitats for manatees, crocodiles, and turtles.
And if you're not the type to have nightmares after watching "Jaws," then sign up for Earthwatch's shark conservation program, which compares shark populations in different areas to see if protected habitats are helping the species.
Average high in Belize City, Belize, in February: 80 degrees
7. Southern California
If you'd rather stay off the water, then Earthwatch also offers an eight-day trip that lets volunteers collect data on plants in the state's protected mountain ranges, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association organizes crews to keep the trails maintained throughout the state.
Average high in Palos Verdes, California, in February: 67 degrees