By Lorraine Flaherty

My volunteering experience took place within a village in Oaxaca, Mexico called La Ventanilla. Here I worked alongside a community of people for Five weeks. This community was made up of several families all with the same goals; prevent the killing and selling of turtles along with their eggs. Previously a hurricane destroyed the local mangrove, and with that, a habitat was wiped out for the local vegetation and wildlife. The locals have managed to salvage, restore and maintain this mangrove, and as a result; Biodiversity is thriving.

For the five weeks, I spent there, I was shown how they restored and worked their land. The Sustainable Development Goals were an essential aspect of my project, especially goals 13; Climate Action and 15; Life on Land. I was impressed with how the community cared for their wildlife; they respected the animals and their environment. They did not want to take the land for their uses, but instead, they learnt to share this land. This is something I would love to happen all over the world.

The volunteers and tourists that visited La Ventanilla used eco-toilets. This meant the toilet used no water instead after each use, sawdust was used, and this managed to turn the waste into a fertiliser that would be used to grow trees. Thousands of litres of water were saved every year as a result. At first, using this toilet was a far cry from home, but eventually, I got used to it. When you compare this to Ireland, the average person used six litres per flush and can use up to 80 litres of water a day. The question is; is this sustainable, and can we look into a more environmentally friendly approach?

I remember one of my first thoughts was thinking about how green this place was. That thought takes me back to Ireland where unfortunately our green spaces are being destroyed due to deforestation and urbanisation. Ireland has the second-lowest rate of forest cover compared to the rest of the EU with forestry accounting for 10.6% in land area in 2015. The leading causes of deforestation in Ireland is human activity and climate change. Without areas such as woodlands, grasslands and forests, the local wildlife suffers greatly where ecosystems are destroyed, and biodiversity is lost. The trees and shrubs act as coverage for many animals such as birds and insects. A significant impact by cutting trees down aids the effects of global warming. Trees store large amounts of carbon that helps the fight against climate change. The goal for Ireland is to increase forest coverage rate to 17% in the near future.

Mangrove forests are crucial all over the world and in the village where I stayed, they didn’t just act as a home to many endangered species but also served as a carbon sink. This means they can reduce global warming. The locals there showed the 100s of tourists every day just how important they were and also giving them a chance to plant a tree of their own, therefore, educating others.

Coming back to Ireland organisations such as; working and education for biodiversity (WEB) focuses on protecting Ireland’s natural habitat, flora and fauna. This organisation campaigns to prevent further losses and help the fight against climate change. Another great organisation is Ireland wildlife trust and every county in Ireland has its branch. I was lucky to volunteer with the Galway wildlife trust. This conservation charity raises awareness of Ireland’s abundant wildlife, endangered species and invasive species.

These great organisations, along with many more welcome volunteers. Looking back at my volunteering experience, I am very grateful to have spent my time with people who have shown such respect, passion and care for the world we live in. I learnt so much there and hope to continue my volunteering experiences here in Ireland.

Biodiversity loss, deforestation, habitat loss and climate change are exponentially growing in Ireland. Everyone can make a
difference by starting in their local communities, moving onto the regionally and eventually globally. We all live on this planet and need to treat it with respect.