Stories in Virginia

Volunteer in Virginia

A smiling man in a wetsuit, mask and snorkel stands in waist deep blue water and holds up eelgrass shoots.
Restoration Success Volunteer Al McKegg collects eelgrass shoots in South Bay, Eastern Shore of Virginia. © Alex Novak/The Nature Conservancy

There is more than one way to volunteer for TNC in Virginia!

Did you know?

  • Seventy years ago, before TNC had strategies, staff, or even a mission statement, it had volunteers.
  • Across TNC we mobilize more than 17,000 volunteers across 45 states donating a total of 200,000 hours each year—a contribution worth $5 million annually.
A group of people build oyster reefs in shallow water. They are bent over placing large concrete oyster castle blocks in interlocking arrays. Low heavy clouds hangs over the gently rippling water.
Building Resilience TNC staff and volunteers use concrete oyster castles to build new reef at a site near Wachapreague on Virginia's Eastern Shore. © Mark Schwenk

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, we've had many accomplishments to celebrate over the last two years. We're grateful for the volunteers who have given back in a big way, both through safe and socially distanced in-person events and online engagement and training opportunities.

In 2021, 700 volunteers participated in more than 70 projects around the state, donating nearly 6,000 hours of their time in more than 30 locations—a contribution worth $175,000.

Families took action to clean up their watershed, teams collaborated to install oyster castle substrate and individuals monitored wildlife for conservation. Volunteers inspired positive change in their communities, gave students outdoor learning experiences and partnered with other organizations to develop skills and new connections.

For more information, download the volunteer application and liability release form or contact the Virginia Volunteer Program by email at

In addition to participating in work days, trail maintenance and cleanups, our volunteers perform internet research, help at events and complete administrative tasks in the office. Some needs we regularly seek to fill include:

  • Preserve Stewards: Visit select preserves at least 4 times a year to assess trail and preserve conditions and perform basic trail maintenance by removing fallen branches and overgrown vegetation.
  • Volunteer Photography/Videography: Take pictures and/or video throughout the year for use in the Virginia chapter's publications, website and social media.
  • Social Media: Share posts from the chapter's Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts with your personal networks to help spread the word about our work across the commonwealth.



Each year since 2016, the Virginia Chapter has partnered with Fairfax County Park Authority in Northern Virginia to host a Chesapeake Bay watershed cleanup. The goal of the cleanup is to keep trash and debris out of waterways that flow into the bay.

While the scale of our 2021 cleanup was reduced due to Covid-19, TNC implemented safety measures—including limiting group sizes, social distancing and mask wearing—to ensure that we could once again partner with the Fairfax County Park Authority for this annual event.

Over 3 workdays, 303 volunteers gave 625 hours of service across 11 Fairfax County parks, removing 2.5 tons of trash along miles of stream, shoreline, roadways and trails.

The most common items found during our cleanups include plastic bottles and bags, cans, cigarette butts, styrofoam, and glass bottles.

While the numbers are impressive, it’s the stories that make this effort successful, too. Many volunteers express how the cleanup impacted their children and how it “opened their eyes” to some of the environmental challenges we face. We also get a lot of people asking how they can continue to make a difference.

Each year, The Nature Conservancy and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), along with several partners in the Seaside Heritage Seagrass Community Restoration Program, begin another chapter in the largest seagrass restoration project in the world!

And you can be a part of it.

Volunteer snorkelers and water lovers are needed to collect millions of eelgrass seeds offshore of Oyster on Virginia's Eastern Shore. We were able to safely and successfully complete the 2021 collecting season following TNC Covid-19 guidelines to ensure the health and safety of our staff and volunteers.

Volunteers must sign up to get updates as collection days each year are weather dependent and cancellations may occur. Trips will last from 4-5 hours. Volunteers will meet at the eelgrass tanks near 6493 Sunnyside Road, Cape Charles, VA. If you have not collected before we highly encourage you to sign up for at least two collection days.

For more information or to sign up, call or email Jen Dalke, volunteer program manager, at or 540-335-1302 (cell). 

Eelgrass is a simple seagrass that once thrived in the coastal bays of Virginia. In the early 1930s, a noxious slime mold and the powerful Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane combined to devastate seagrass meadows in Virginia’s coastal bays. The Seaside Seagrass Community Restoration Program has been conducting highly successful efforts to restore eelgrass in the nearby coastal bays since 1999.

Each spring since 2008, 40 to 60 volunteers have signed on and suited up to collect eelgrass (Zostera marina), a simple seagrass that once thrived in the coastal bays of Virginia. Over more than a decade nearly 500 volunteers have given 2,175 hours to the effort.

Volunteers collect reproductive shoots containing ripe seeds from the underwater plants. The shoots are measured into water tanks where the seeds are then cured, separated, and prepared for fall planting.

VIMS and The Nature Conservancy have broadcast more than 72 million seeds into 600 acres to help accelerate the natural spread of eelgrass, which now covers almost 9,000 acres in South, Spider Crab, Hog Island and Cobb Island bays.

The program's success offers a blueprint for restoring and maintaining healthy marine ecosystems around the world.

  • Volunteering

    Volunteers should be comfortable with snorkeling and being underwater. During low-tide collection, the water will be about waist deep.

    Collection takes place in the seagrass meadows of South Bay off Oyster, Virginia, on the Eastern Shore. Departure times vary based on the tide.

    Volunteers board an open 24’ Carolina Skiff to get to the collection site. We can only transport those who are actually collecting.

    Trips typically last from 4-5 hours.

  • Seed Collection Dates

    The collection schedule is dependent on weather, as well as seed ripening. We try to collect a few days before peak ripening, during peak ripening and a few days after peak ripening, all of which can be difficult to predict. Typically these dates fall during the last week of May into the first week of June.  

    Weather and timing are variable, and trips may change on short notice. It is important that volunteers are flexible. For those who are inexperienced, we highly encourage you to sign up for at least two collection days. 

    It is very important to show up if you sign up so that we can plan transportation and logistics appropriately.  Trips typically last from 4-5 hours.  If you have not collected before, we highly encourage you to sign up for at least two collection days.

  • Cancellation Policy

    It is important to note that volunteers need to be flexible, as collection trips may be cancelled last minute due to conditions: choppy water, wind, etc. It is the volunteer’s responsibility to determine if a collection date has been cancelled.

    The Nature Conservancy is not responsible for any lodging, equipment or travel costs incurred if a collection date is cancelled.

    We will send you an email if the workday is cancelled.  If you would prefer to have a phone call or text, please contact Jen Dalke at or 540-335-1302.

  • Gear

    TNC is not able to provide masks and snorkels; volunteers will need to bring their own along with wetsuits. 

    You need a wetsuit, face mask, snorkel, towel(s) and swim suit. There is no good place to change on the boat or at the meeting location. 

    Bring drinking water and snacks/lunch. If you have special dietary needs be sure to bring what suits you.  

    The water temperature will be around 65-70 degrees F. You may also prefer some type of water shoe or hood. You are responsible for your personal gear. 70 degrees sounds warm, but after an hour you will get chilly. Dress in layers.

  • Training

    There will be on-site training each collection day. Volunteers will be trained on how to identify the reproductive shoots of the eelgrass plant and how to collect and bag them along with other related educational information.

  • Traveling

    The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel has toll charges. Visit the CBBT website for cost information and other details.

  • Lodging

    If overnight accommodations are needed, please contact one of the following local businesses for rates and availability. 

  • Partners

    Our thanks to the partners who make this event possible.

Which city on Earth has the most nature and the most engaged residents? The City Nature Challenge aims to find out!

The City Nature Challenge (CNC) is an international community science effort to discover and document plants and wildlife in cities across the globe. The observation period for CNC 2022 took place April 29 - May 2.   

Explore Your World

The City Nature Challenge encourages people to discover and document the biodiversity of our urban spaces. What began in 2016 as a friendly challenge between Los Angeles and San Francisco has now grown to an international event!

There are many ways to look for nature right in your own backyard. Discover the plants that are growing on their own and the insects and pollinators that live in and around our homes and yards. You never know what you mind find!

How to Find Insects

Insects are probably some of the easiest organisms to find in and around our homes, since they’re abundant and incredibly diverse! But where should you look to find them? What can you use to catch them?

These sites provide some guidance on how to find and temporarily hold insects. Be sure to release them after you've posted your observation on iNaturalist!

Moth Lighting

Setting up a light and a sheet to attract moths is a simple and easy way to bring more nature into your backyard. Photographing moths on the sheet is easy, and you’ll definitely attract other flying insects as well!

Science Friday has a great set of instructions for observing moths, and the Devon Wildlife Trust's video shows how to build your own moth light to attract a wider variety of moths. (Note: in the video, "torch" is British for flashlight.)

Get Involved

It’s easy to get involved using the iNaturalist app (free on the App Store or Google Play). Just take a picture of a plant or animal and upload it to the app.  Any observations made in the Charlottesville or Richmond challenge areas will count during the four day challenge. Observations made during City Nature Challenge also provide valuable data for scientists, land managers, non-profits and governments about the areas that they help to protect.

Explore your neighborhood parks—or even your own backyard. There's nature all around you!

Graphics and text for how to take part in the City Nature Challenge. Illustrations include binoculars, a smartphone and several stacked photos.
City Nature Challenge Taking part is easy! © TNC

Virginia's Preserve Volunteer Community Program provides a vital service to help up maintain and monitor our public preserves across the state.

How can you get involved?

  • Community Members—become involved with a preserve without committing time to stewardship work. Receive periodic updates about the preserve and special events.
  • Preserve Stewards—visit a preserve at least 4 times a year to assess trail and preserve conditions and perform basic trail maintenance by removing fallen branches and overgrown vegetation.
  • Preserve Leaders—demonstrated commitment to the preserve and willingness to take on additional responsibilities like managing communication & scheduling, leading workdays, guiding naturalist hikes.

Please contact the Virginia Volunteer Program by email to receive further information.

Positions are available at:

Want to be a part of our conservation efforts on Virginia’s Eastern Shore? Opportunities are available as an island or boat ramp steward.

Island steward is a volunteer position best suited for a person who lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia who visits The Nature Conservancy’s barrier islands by their own means and would like to serve as a Conservancy representative on these occasions

Boat ramp steward is a position for someone who is interested in volunteering to distribute educational brochures at seaside boat ramps on weekends, especially holiday weekends, throughout the summer.

Volunteer stewards act as official representatives of TNC’s Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve program, to educate visitors about the sensitive natural resources of VVCR’s barrier islands by talking with visitors and handing out brochures as needed. The steward’s educational efforts focus on, but are not limited to, breeding shorebirds and colonial waterbirds. Duties include:

  • Attend annual training sessions at TNC’s office in Nassawadox, typically held in early spring.
  • When on the islands and engaging in stewardship responsibilities, educate visitors about the sensitive natural resources on the islands through casual conversation and distribution of informational literature.
  • Report incidences of use-policy violations immediately to TNC staff.

Commitment: No regular island visitation schedule will be set; steward responsibilities will be on an on-going, opportunistic basis, when stewards choose to visit the islands. Stewards interested in volunteering at boat ramps can set their own schedule and report days and hours spent to TNC staff.

Qualifications include:

  • Local Eastern Shore resident.
  • Excellent communication skills which can positively and effectively, yet casually, teach all island visitors.
  • Desire to help protect the biodiversity of the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve through education of island visitors.
  • Must have transportation to get on and off the islands, as well as familiarity with the local waterways unless only interested in volunteering at boat ramps.
  • Must undergo a background check (requires SSN) and Nature Conservancy Youth Safety Qualifications prior to volunteering which will take 1.5-2 hours of time.

If interested please contact Jen Dalke, volunteer program manager, at or 434-951-0572 (w) or 540-335-1302 (c).

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