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Mother Nature Conservation Camp Sado Island/Japan: Crested Ibis protection, Rice Fields

Praktikum und Volunteering möglich
From May 4, 2020, we will be offering a very special experience in Sado Island, Japan's sixth-largest island: amidst the most beautiful natural and coastal landscape of Japan, you will live on traditional terraced rice fields in our new Mother Nature Conservation Camp Sado as part of a local village community and you will join conservation activities of the island's nature and culture, including the protection of the iconic Crested Ibis.

About the Crested Ibis

The Crested Ibis ("Nipponia nippon") is a bird with a size of 54-88 cm and a wingspan of 140 cm, which until the onset of industrial agriculture in the mid-20th century was relatively common in Korea, China, Japan and parts Russia, but is now threatened with extinction by losing its habitats. In 2002 there were only around 150 Nippon Ibises left worldwide. In Japan, the species was completely wiped out. The last Nippon Ibis of Japan died in 2003.
As a result, the government of Japan, in cooperation with the Chinese government, launched an internationally recognized reintroduction program on Sado Island, where Crested Ibises from China were bred in captivity and released since 2008. The first hatchings in the wild were observed in 2012. Today there are again around 440 ibises on Sado Island, some of which were even spotted on the neighboring main island of Honshu.
Essential for the survival of birds in the wild are the presence of suitable habitats. This includes traditional rice farming methods and the design of paddy fields including zones where the birds can feed throughout the year, as well as biotopes optimised as feeding and breeding grounds for the ibis. The inclusion of Sado rice farmers and the promotion of traditionally grown, high quality organic rice from Sado Island have been crucial to the success of the reintroduction program.

How can you get involved as a volunteer?

As a volunteer, you will be involved in the management and preservation of Iwakubi's historic terraced rice fields, originating from Edo period. They are not just an agricultural heritage site, but also a feeding ground for the Crested Ibis. You will have the chance to learn a lot about the traditional and environmentally friendly cultivation of rice. You will also work on the management of biotopes in which the Crested Ibis breeds and feeds. You will be part of the Iwakubi village community and help with farm and forestry work. Once a week, we will assist other environmental organizations on Sado Island with their activities, as well as visit sites of biological interest such as the government-run Crested Ibis Breeding and Research Centre.
The people of Iwakubi village are very community oriented, deeply rooted in their traditional culture and have a great knowledge of nature that they will share with you. Due to the language barrier we have a multilingual staff (English-Japanese) on site. Mr. Oishi, the spokesperson for the Iwakubi village community, is also part of the team, and a biological consultant.
(Click on the activity to read more and see pictures!)
The rice fields of Iwakubi and their irrigation system were created during Edo period (1603-1867) and are recognized by the United Nations as a "Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site". Iwakubi grows 100% organic rice, which is one of Japan's highest quality rice.
The aging population of the village has however difficulties maintaining the rice fields and their irrigation systems. The irrigation system is a complex and elaborate system in which the irrigation level and flow rate of the water are optimally adapted to rice cultivation. The same water flows through the various terraces. If parts of the system collapse or are abandoned, the result is that other rice fields either dry up or flood. The edges of the rice fields must be regularly fixed with certain types of soil to keep the water in the fields. There are also certain parts of the rice fields where open-access water for the Crested ibises needs to be available all year round to make it possible for the protected bird to feed on frogs, small fish, river snails and insects.
You will also work in the planting of rice, cultivation of the fields and harvesting of the rice together with the people from Iwakubi village. A unique experience!
Between the rice fields there are zones that are managed as biotopes. They are designed to be ideal habitats for amphibians, fish and other small animals that feed the Nippon Ibis. For this purpose, certain plant species are planted and water levels are controlled, connected to the irrigation systems of the rice fields. Regularly grasses and bushes need to be cut, so that the birds have access to the water surfaces. In addition, the existing animal and plant species must be regularly monitored and their density determined.
As a volunteer, you will learn from biologists about working in the biotopes, the presence of which is of course also benefitial for many other animal and plant species besides the Crested Ibis.
In addition to rice, the farmers of the Iwakubi community also plant kakis (persimmons), oranges, kiwis, shiitake mushrooms and other fruits and vegetables. The forests of the area are also managed. Bamboo and other trees are cut for the wood to be used as building material and new trees are regularly planted.
You can also help with these activities and learn about principles of agriculture and forestry in Japan and Japanese rural life.
Several environmental organizations, which often cooperate with Japanese universities, are active on Sado Island. Typically once a week you can participate in various activities of these organizations, which include monitoring Nippon Ibises, finding nests and counting eggs, working on biotopes at other locations in Sado, as well as preparing and conducting environmental events and campaigns. One local group makes bamboo art with schoolchildren.
In addition, we regularly visit sites of biological or geological interest in Sado, such as the state Nippon Ibis Breeding and Research Center.
In the remote villages of Sado Island, in the last decades or centuries, little has changed in terms of lifestyle, values ​​and customs. Participation in our program in Japan offers you a rare and unique opportunity to gain insight into a society that is a completely different world compared to life in Japanese cities.
The life of the people in Iwakubi is very community oriented. As a participant of the program you will be part of the village community and can learn about traditional Japanese culture, participate in local festivities and ceremonies, and learn from the traditional knowledge of the people such as about the use of wild and cultivated plants as food, medicine, for dyeing fabrics, etc, and traditional crafts.
In the community building of the rice farmers, two participants of our program will every day cook lunch and dinner for all program participants together with a local housewife. This is of course also a great opportunity to learn about the preparation of Japanese dishes.
There are usually no volunteering activities on the weekends, but we do offer group recreational activities such as going to the beach, hiking and sightseeing for a small extra cost. You can decide locally if you want to participate.
In cooperation with the Sado Tourism Association, we are also developing other programs such as language lessons and templestay.

Did you know?

For the CO2 compensation of your long-haul flights, we plant 10 seedlings of native trees on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Info Box
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Location: Sado Island, Japan
Availability: First Monday of May to last Monday of October every year, program start every Monday
Minimum duration: 1 week
Maximum duration: 4-24 weeks depending on nationality
Language requirements: English
Other languages of advantage: Japanese
Accommodation: Mother Nature Camp Sado
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Supervision possible: Yes
Qualification Supervisor: Biologist
Minimum Qualification Intern:
no formal qualification required
Further project contribution: No
Volunteering possible: Yes
Expected Qualification Volunteer: None
Further project contribution: No
We expect:
Professional work attitude, "the right attitude"

Mother Nature Camp Sado Island

The Mother Nature Camp Sado Island is currently in the planning phase and will open on May 4, 2020.
It will be built on one of the highest rice terraces in Iwakubi, overlooking the valley and the ocean. There will be 2 fully furnished tents for 6 guests each (3 bunk beds), 2 tents for 2 persons each and a family tent for 4 guests. A photovoltaic energy system and a covered seating area with toilet are already available on the terrace. Complete sanitary installations will be ready for the camp opening.
The standard of the 6-person tents will be similar to that of our Mother Nature camps in Zanzibar and Kilimanjaro. The double tents and the family tent are furnished to a higher standard.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are prepared in the Rice Farmer's Community Center, which is about 4 minutes away by car and delivered to the camp. Two volunteers will help the women from the community every day with the preparation of the food. This is also a great opportunity to learn about Japanese cooking.

I. World Unite! Service Package

World Unite! Service Package: 800 EUR (one time fee)

The World Unite! Service Package includes:

  • Individual Consultation and Preparation prior to your arrival
  • Access to the World Unite! Online Resource Centre which has Preparation Materials including Intercultural Preparation, compiled particularly for your destination (PDFs, Videos)
  • Preparation Session via Skype, together with further participants
  • Support with the travel from Tokyo to Sado by our Tokyo team
  • Pick-up and Transfers from/to Sado Ferry Terminal on arrival and departure to/from Mother Nature Camp Sado
  • Personal support staff at your location and at our international office
  • Orientation and Introduction to Iwakubi and the project work
  • Our own World Unite! program instructor
  • Transfers for all volunteering activities and visits outside of Iwakubi
  • 24 Hours emergency support by local support team
  • For the CO2 compensation of your long-haul flights: Costs for 10 seedlings of indigenous trees that we plant on the slopes of Kilimanjaro
  • Issuance of Confirmations/Certificates for your university, scholarship, insurance, etc. and filling out/signing Internship Contracts for your university

The Rates do NOT include:

  • Accommodation and Meals (see below)
  • Travel to/from Sado Island (you book it on your own; we can assist you)
  • Insurance (Travel Health Insurance, Liability Insurance, Travel Cancellation insurance; you book it on your own, we can assist you)
  • Personal Expenses
  • Vaccinations
  • Weekend leisure activities

II. Accommodation Costs

Accommodation 280 EUR per week at the Mother Nature Camp Sado Island in a 6-person tent including full board (breakfast, lunch, dinner), including filtered drinking water.
Surcharge for family tent or 2 person tent higher standards: +70 EUR/week per person.
Surcharge pickup from Haneda/Narita Airport in Tokyo and transfer by public transport to the sharehouse in Tokyo (arrival Thursday between 8am and 9pm): 60 EUR
Surcharge pick up at Sado Island from Ferry Terminal and transfer to Mother Nature Camp Iwakubi on arrival days other than Mondays: 80 EUR
Children under 14 pay half of the service package and accommodation price.
Sado Island, with 855 km2, is the sixth largest island of Japan. When gold was found on Sado Island in 1601, the island flourished economically and culturally, developing a unique and rich cultural heritage, including performing arts such as dance, chants and music, the world-famous Taiko drumming, puppet theater, folklore festivals, and traditional handcraft. Sado has hundreds of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and several historical villages from Edo Period (1603-1867), which have remained architecturally mostly intact.
The island is of extreme scenic natural beauty, with 288 km of rocky coastline, dense forests, terraced ricefields and a northern and southern mountain range reaching an altitude of 1172 meters. Sado is sparsely populated, with the vast majority of the population of around 55,000 living in Sado City in the flat middle part of the island. The island has an oceanic climate with hot and humid summers and cool, humid winters.
The last Crested Ibis of Japan, which is a symbolic national bird in Japan (Nipponia nippon) died in Sado in 2003 due to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on rice fields. Since then, an internationally renowned reintroduction program was successfully implemented in Sado, with birds from China being bred in captivity and released since 2008. The first hatchings in the wild were observed in 2012. Today there are again around 440 Crested Ibises on Sado Island. The integration of the Sado rice farmers and the promotion of traditionally farmed, high quality organic rice from Sado Island were essential in the success of the reintroduction program.
Sado Island has been working hard in recent years to boost tourism and has some interesting and modern landmarks, such as the Silver and Gold Mine, the Toki Park for breeding Crested Ibises and numerous hiking trails, natural sites and beaches. There are also tourist offers such as scuba diving, boat trips and more.
World Unite! is a cooperation partner of the Sado Island Tourism Association, whose office near the ferry port we share.
 getthere sado
Arrival and departure should be on a Monday. You can arrive on a Thursday in Tokyo (Haneda or Narita) and stay for 3 nights in our sharehouse in Tokyo (1200 JPY/night for a dorm room bed) and then on Monday first proceed by bus or Shinkansen bullet train to Niigata and from there by Ferry or Jetfoil to Sado Island. The travel costs for the slowest (8.5 hours) option are 5000-8500 JPY (depending on the season) and for the fastest (5 hours) about 17,000 JPY one-way. Alternatively you can arrive directly to Sado on a Monday. Niigata also has an airport.
We will provide detailed travel information.
In the Ryotsu ferry port of Sado you will be picked up by us on a Monday and also brought back there on a Monday.
For the arrival or departure in Sado on a day other than Mondays, we would charge an additional 80 EUR per way for the transfer.

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