When I applied to IPBio I wasn’t completely certain what to sign up for when volunteering in Brazil. I have always had a passion for nature and science but I am not a biologist so I wasn’t sure if they would accept me for a research role. To my delight I found the biodiversity research assistant role which IPBio had made clear required no educational expertise. Essentially my role was to help the more specialized volunteers in their research activities. With hindsight, I am glad I chose this role as I got to be involved in many different research topics and learnt so much from each.
Since arriving, I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing people from all corners of the globe on some really interesting things.
Volunteering in Brazil – Starting Out At IPBIO
My first few days volunteering in Brazil were spent in the field helping a fellow volunteer named Jeanne to photograph and catalog different species of frogs. Being amphibians, frogs breathe through their skin and live in both water and on land. As a result, they are particularly vulnerable to environmental changes and have an extinction rate exponentially faster than most animals, hence why they are referred to as an indicator species. Thus, in studying them we are able to get a better idea of how the environment as a whole is doing. The work itself consisted of 3-hour excursions into the jungle to visit different areas of the reserve in order to attain a more all-encompassing sample of the ecosystem. The hikes themselves were breathtaking, and the wildlife within the Atlantic Forest never ceases to amaze. On our last day in the jungle, Jeanne and I were lucky enough to bear witness to a family group of capuchin monkeys as they passed directly in front of us!
My next few days were spent in the lab conducting research on bioluminescent mushrooms, those that through chemical processes produce their own light and effectively glow in the dark. For this project I was helping a fellow volunteer named Grant whose passion for mushrooms knows no boundaries. The aim of the project is to find a method for reliably cultivating the fungi in controlled laboratory conditions. Admittedly, I knew next to nothing about bioluminescent mushrooms, or mushrooms in general for that matter, before starting this work but I have to say I learned a lot quickly and it was some of the most interesting work I have done thus far. We even spent an evening hiking back into the forest to gather samples – it was fantastic. At times entire patches of forest floor come alive in an eerie green glow. I find it hard to accurately describe this hike, and I wish my pictures could have turned out better, but the phrase “out of this world” comes to mind. You really need to see it to believe it, there is nothing like it.
This week has seen me all over the reserve. From helping with aquarium maintenance (feeding the eels and the turtles is always a good time), to gardening in the greenhouse, or even just general yard work out on one of the many trails. Nothing is mundane at IPBio, the people, the work, and the environment itself is dripping in a kind of exuberance rarely found. Moving forward I will help a new volunteer named Tess on a bioacoustics project to try and record some of the jungles most elusive creatures. I cannot wait to get started on this project and anything else that may come my way for that matter!
The reserve itself is a great place to stay. The Darwin House, where volunteers stay, is very comfortable (thanks to air conditioning!) and after work is done if we’re not relaxing dockside by the river, we generally just all find a hammock to call our own or play games in the living room. In terms of amenities it really has everything one could ever need. You can always have a hot shower or cook a great meal in the fully equipped kitchen.
Imran, the volunteer coordinator, is a really amazing guy and I have to say that he has made me feel at home from day one. He is always available if you have an issue, and his kindness extends past the workweek. Generally, he has all the volunteers over to his house in town on the weekend for a barbeque and on top of this he organizes a whole string of fun activities for us to try. My first weekend here we embarked on a 4-hour Boia Cross expedition down the river that runs through Iporanga. If you have never heard of Boia cross, don’t worry I hadn’t either. It’s a kind of intense river tubing wherein you hold on to a giant inflatable ring and bounce down rapids and lazy rivers alike. It’s an amazing experience and I highly recommend you try it. The following weekend we took advantage of the surrounding state park, PETAR, as we trekked over mountains and through rivers toexplore some of the regions incredible caves. Again, another great day and I truly cannot wait to see what Imran has got planned for us next weekend.
Overall, my experience here at IPBio so far has been nothing short of amazing. I have made some great friends, explored the picturesque landscape, and learned so much through the amazing work we are all doing. The town of Iporanga is quaint and equipped with all the essentials, and the reserve is a jungle paradise. I’m looking forward to the weeks to come and already know it will be very difficult to leave here. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and I’m glad I mustered the courage to sign up and go through with this incredible journey – absolutely no regrets. Thank you IPBio!
To learn more about this great nonprofit, and contact them directly for a volunteering opportunity, check them out here.