Travelling gives us a chance to explore new worlds, including those underwater. Whether you’re a scuba newbie (Hi, Discovery Diver), or a Dive Master, it’s never been easier to submerge ourselves in the big blue and rub shoulders with our fishy friends (do fish even have shoulders?) Vibrant coral reefs and their residents attract travellers from all over the world to take the plunge. But this booming tourist industry comes at a cost to our oceans and the communities that depend on them. Extensive coral bleaching, countless endangered species and ocean pollution are just some of the dangers our seven seas are facing right now.
So, how do we stop this? Marine conservation builds more resilient oceans by protecting marine wildlife while securing the needs of the 250+ million who depend on ocean ecosystems. In fact, you can actually do your bit to save our oceans while taking the trip of your dreams. Volunteering as a conservation diver provides a unique (and unforgettable) opportunity to contribute to the preservation of marine ecosystems while exploring the extraordinary underwater world.
When considering which volunteering programme to join, it’s essential to research and select reputable organisations that prioritise sustainable practices and have a positive impact on the marine environment. It’s also more cost-effective to go to local companies whose main concern is saving our oceans rather than taking your money. Ready to dive in? Here are some of the best places in the world to strap your scuba gear on and become a marine conservation champion.
1. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Hugging the curves of the eastern coast of Queensland is the stuff of marine legends, one of the world’s seven natural wonders – AND the largest coral reef in the world we might add. Yes the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef is teeming with underwater angels, damsels and butterflies (the fishy variety, ofc.) Not to mention its heftier residents: whales, dolphins, dugongs, six species of sea turtles, sharks, giant clams and many many more. While once a colourful sight to celebrate, coral bleaching and over-tourism have become a BIG problem here. Instead of strapping on a snorkel, why not get involved in the numerous volunteer programs focused on reef monitoring, coral restoration and marine species conservation?
Where can you do marine conservation volunteering in Australia?
- Reef Check Australia: Reef Check Australia conducts citizen science programs and reef monitoring initiatives. They offer volunteer opportunities for reef surveys, data collection, and conservation projects along the Australian coast.
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority: THE primary agency responsible for the management and protection of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia. They’ve got volunteer programs focused on coral reef conservation and research so you can be part of the team working to keep this incredible ecosystem thriving.
- Tangaroa Blue Foundation: Tangaroa Blue Foundation focuses on marine debris cleanup and prevention. They organize beach cleanups, data collection, and awareness campaigns across Australia’s coastlines, providing volunteer opportunities to address marine pollution issues. Get ready to join the cleanup crew!
- Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS): AMCS promotes marine conservation in Australia on a massive scale. Join their volunteer programmes to campaign for marine sanctuaries, sustainable fisheries, and protection of endangered species.
- Dolphin Research Institute: The Dolphin Research Institute focuses on research and conservation efforts related to dolphins and their marine habitats. If you’re into dolphins, this is the place for you. They offer volunteer opportunities to help with dolphin monitoring, data collection, and educating the public. Get ready to make some fin-tastic memories!
- Sea Shepherd Australia: Sea Shepherd is an international marine conservation organisation that conducts direct-action campaigns to protect marine wildlife. You can volunteer on their vessels or join their shore-based activities like marine patrols and spreading the word about marine conservation.
- Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Australia: MCS Australia works towards the protection and conservation of Australia’s marine environment. They organise volunteer programs for activities such as marine biodiversity surveys, marine education, and habitat restoration projects.
Lazing on palm-fringed beaches with silky white sand between your toes may seem like a welcome escape from your day-to-day city life. But, submerging your head in that luminous blue water reveals an ecosystem overloaded with attitude: reefs splattered in colourful graffiti, fish dressed in the waviest of garms, and the provocative whistles thrown between rival dolphin clans. The future of these islands’ colourful populations (both above and below water) is entirely reliant on the protection of its marine and coastal environments. Head to a volunteer programme in the Maldives to focus on coral reef conservation, monitoring reef health, and collecting data on marine species populations.
Where can you do marine conservation volunteering in the Maldives?
- Blue Ventures: Blue Ventures operates marine conservation projects in the Maldives. Their volunteer programs focus on coral reef monitoring, sustainable fisheries, and community-based conservation initiatives. Volunteers can participate in activities such as coral reef surveys, seagrass monitoring, and marine education.
- Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP): MWSRP is dedicated to the research and conservation of whale sharks in the Maldives. Join their crew and get hands-on with whale shark monitoring, data collection, and community outreach.
- Reefscapers: Reefscapers is a marine research and conservation organisation in the Maldives. They offer volunteer programs that involve coral reef surveys, marine biodiversity monitoring, and conservation projects.
- Olive Ridley Project: The Olive Ridley Project is calling all conservation warriors to join their mission to protect sea turtles and marine ecosystems in the Indian Ocean, including the Maldives. Their volunteer programs offer a chance to dive into sea turtle conservation, rescue, and rehabilitation. Get hands-on with turtle monitoring, nest protection, and rock those public awareness campaigns.
The lure of airbrushed beaches and Little Mermaid re-enactments of Fiji has accommodated many a tropical film (Cast Away or Blue Lagoon, anyone?) Reefs here are unashamedly garish, intensely coloured and bound to elicit excited bubbles from any divers mouthpiece. The fishy crew you’ll find off the coast of Fiji is diverse (over 1200 species), not to mention the National Fiji Water Acrobatics Team – aka dolphins – you’ll witness showing off in the waves around your dive boat. Fiji’s warm waters and vibrant coral reefs make it an excellent destination for marine conservation and scuba diving volunteering. Expect to dive into projects involving coral reef restoration, marine protected area monitoring, and research on marine biodiversity.
Where can you do marine conservation volunteering in Fiji?
- Fiji Shark Conservation Project: This project is run by the rad crew at Beqa Adventure Divers, who promote shark conservation and research in Fiji. If you’re up for it, you can join as a volunteer and get in on some shark surveys, data collection, and even help spread the word in the community about shark conservation.
- Coral Cay Conservation: Coral Cay Conservation operates marine conservation projects in Fiji, including coral reef monitoring, reef restoration, and marine species research. As a volunteer, you can get involved in reef surveys, plant some coral, and engage with the local community.
- Vatuvara Foundation: The Vatuvara Foundation focuses on marine conservation and sustainable development in Fiji’s remote islands. Volunteers can participate in coral reef conservation projects, community outreach, and marine resource management initiatives.
Paradise Lost is what the Seychelles promises. And if you venture a few metres into the waves lapping across pristine ribbons of sand, you’ll FIND an equally vibrant paradise underwater. A balmy current warms the home of many a tropical fish in this submerged plateau in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Here, coral reefs are the places to be. Wrasses and Parrotfish add to the tapestry of coral-fuelled colour while Hawksbill and Green Turtles glide majestically between sub-aquatic neighbourhoods. The Seychelles archipelago offers various opportunities for marine conservation volunteering. Programs involve coral reef restoration, sea turtle conservation, and monitoring of marine habitats.
Where can you do marine conservation volunteering in the Seychelles?
- Marine Conservation Seychelles: Marine Conservation Seychelles is a local organisation dedicated to marine conservation and research in the Seychelles. They’ve got awesome volunteer programs where you can get your hands dirty with coral reef restoration, marine species monitoring, epic beach cleanups, and spreading some environmental education vibes.
- WiseOceans: These ocean warriors are making waves globally, including in the Seychelles! WiseOceans is a marine conservation organisation that’s all about research, conservation projects, and spreading the word about the wonders of the sea. Their volunteer opportunities are the real deal, where you can join in coral reef surveys, marine species monitoring, and make a splash with community outreach.
- Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF): SIF are the guardians of the Seychelles’ underwater wonderland. They’re a non-profit organisation that manages and protects UNESCO World Heritage sites like Aldabra Atoll and Vallée de Mai. SIF occasionally opens up volunteer opportunities for cool research and conservation projects. You could be part of marine monitoring, restoring ecosystems, and experiencing the magic of these incredible islands firsthand.
- Island Conservation Society (ICS): ICS is a local organisation dedicated to conserving the biodiversity of the Seychelles’ islands. They offer volunteer programs that involve coral reef restoration, marine debris cleanups, seabird monitoring, and habitat restoration.
Baja California, Mexico
The earth’s second-longest peninsula is fringed by a band of mystical ocean that hides a weird and wonderful marine diversity within its waves. By day, divers can witness the big hitters: Great whites, scalloped hammerheads and whale sharks can all be spotted on a regular basis. By night, cross the veil of dreams and watch the ocean come alight with electric blue bioluminescent plankton. These nutrient (and krill) rich waters are visited by 25% of the world’s whale species for breeding and feeding, as well as five out of seven of the world’s turtle species. Volunteer programs here welcome your help with marine mammal conservation, reef monitoring, and community education.
Where can you do marine conservation volunteering in Mexico?
- Ocean Conservancy: Ocean Conservancy is an international organisation that works on marine conservation and policy initiatives. They’re on a mission to protect our oceans, promote sustainable fisheries, and conserve marine wildlife. And they have projects and volunteer opportunities in Baja California focusing on just that.
- Pelagios Kakunjá: Pelagios Kakunjá is a marine conservation organisation that operates in Baja California, with a focus on research, conservation, and education. You can join their volunteer programs and dive into exciting projects like whale shark research, sea lion monitoring, and dolphin conservation.
- Gulf of California Marine Program: This program, run by the Marine Conservation Institute, focuses on the conservation of the Gulf of California’s marine ecosystems. They offer volunteer opportunities for research and conservation projects, including marine protected area management and species monitoring.
- Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI): Let’s give it up for COBI, a Mexican non-profit organisation dedicated to marine conservation and community-based projects in Baja California. They offer awesome volunteer opportunities to get involved in marine research, conservation initiatives, and engaging with coastal communities.
- Pronatura Noroeste: Hold tight, because Pronatura Noroeste is making big waves in conservation efforts across Northwest Mexico, including Baja California. Their volunteer programs focus on sea turtle conservation, mangrove restoration, and managing coastal ecosystems.
- Pacific Whale Foundation: Although their main base is in Hawaii, the Pacific Whale Foundation is also making a splash in Baja California, Mexico. You can lend a hand as a volunteer in their marine mammal research, whale and dolphin conservation, and community education programs. You’re guaranteed a whale of a time.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Venturing to these enigmatic islands off the coast of Ecuador has inspired many a unique thinker, and strapping on your scuba gear won’t fail to keep you mesmerised. The non-human residents of the Galapagos are superbly unique, on land AND underwater. Within the marine reserve alone, a vast array of over 2,900 species can be found, including sea lions and marine iguanas (yes, you heard that correctly).
Like a landscape straight out of a fantasy novel, underwater volcanoes bubble near the water’s surface, serving as feeding grounds for anything from tuna fish to reef sharks. The mind-blowing biodiversity here is all thanks to the island’s prime real estate right on the edge of the Equator. The convergence of warm and cold ocean currents blends with nutrient-rich cold water from the ocean floor to create a cocktail of nutrients that fuels a seriously wild food chain. From tiny (and painfully spiny – wear sea shoes!) sea urchins to big sea-lebrities like the whale shark, the marine life here is diverse, to say the least. Volunteer programs in the Galapagos often prioritise the conservation of marine species, particularly endangered ones such as sea turtles, sharks, and marine iguanas.
Where can you do marine conservation volunteering in the Galapagos?
- Galapagos Conservation Trust: The Galapagos Conservation Trust works towards protecting the flora and fauna of the Galapagos, promoting sustainable development, and supporting local communities in the Galapagos Islands. They’ve got awesome volunteer programs where you can get involved in various conservation projects, like monitoring marine species and doing exciting research.
- Ecology Project International (EPI): Ecology Project International (EPI) is a non-profit organisation that focuses on conservation education and field research programs for youth. Their programs in the Galapagos offer students like you the chance to dive into hands-on conservation work and scientific research.
- Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF): CDF is a research organisation that works to conserve the unique ecosystems of the Galapagos Islands. Their volunteer programmes focus on scientific research, collecting data, and contributing to marine biodiversity and ecosystem conservation. Let’s follow in Darwin’s footsteps!
- Galapagos National Park: The Galapagos National Park Authority runs conservation and research programs in the Galapagos Islands. They occasionally offer volunteer opportunities for marine conservation and research. If you’ve got the skills and expertise, this is your chance to make a difference!
Most visitors to Belize choose to splash about in the shallow waters of the cayes (islands) that sprinkle the length of the east coast. These are open-air evidence of the world’s second longest barrier reef, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. Below the waves, divers can scale the coral-caked cliffs of the 120m deep Great Blue Hole, or, swim in the shallows with lumbering manatees and the pulsating tentacles of the Caribbean Reef Octopus. With such an abundance of marine life, volunteers are needed to assist with reef conservation, monitoring of endangered species like manatees and sea turtles, and conducting research on coral health.
Where can you do marine conservation volunteering in Belize?
- Belize Audubon Society: The Belize Audubon Society is a non-profit organisation that focuses on the conservation and management of protected areas in Belize, including marine reserves. Their volunteer programs are extensive, with opportunities to dive into marine conservation projects like coral reef monitoring, beach cleanups, and environmental education.
- Hol Chan Marine Reserve: Hol Chan Marine Reserve, located in Belize, is dedicated to the conservation and management of marine ecosystems. They occasionally open their doors to volunteers like you. Get ready to make waves with tasks like coral reef restoration, marine species monitoring, and community outreach.
- Green Reef: Green Reef is a Belizean non-governmental organisation that focuses on marine conservation and research. You can contribute to their awesome conservation initiatives and raise awareness about the wonders of the sea by diving into coral reef monitoring, mangrove restoration, and environmental education.
- Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE): TIDE is a non-profit organisation that works on conservation and sustainable development in Belize, including marine ecosystems. Their volunteer programmes are the real deal. Get stuck in with coral reef monitoring, mangrove conservation, and environmental education.
Coral Triangle, Southeast Asia
Spanning a huge area of coral-encrusted reefs in Eastern Asia, the aptly named Coral Triangle is home to a staggering 600 different species of reef-building corals. The waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands conceal over 2000 species of colourful fish in their flourishing underwater ecosystems (and 6 out of the world’s 7 turtle species, FYI.) If you want to be part of the effort to keep these waters thriving, you can dive into coral reef conservation, help save those adorable seahorses and turtles, and monitor the mind-blowing biodiversity that this place has to offer.
Where can you do marine conservation volunteering in the Coral Triangle?
- Coral Triangle Center (CTC): CTC are all about promoting sustainable marine resource management and conservation in the Coral Triangle. They’ve got awesome volunteer programs that focus on community outreach, coral reef monitoring, marine protected area management, and environmental education.
- Marine Conservation Philippines: These guys are on a mission to restore coral reefs, monitor marine biodiversity, and educate local communities. Get hands-on with their volunteering conservation efforts and learn all about the amazing marine ecosystems of the Philippines.
- Reef-World Foundation (Philippines and Indonesia): Reef-World Foundation promotes coral reef conservation and sustainable diving. They’ve got volunteer opportunities where you can help protect coral reefs and promote responsible diving practices.
- Marine Megafauna Foundation: The Marine Megafauna Foundation conducts research and conservation projects focused on large marine species, including sharks, rays, and sea turtles, within the Coral Triangle. Join their volunteer programs and be part of exciting research activities, data collection, and community outreach efforts.
- Manta Trust: If you’re a fan of manta rays, this is the place for you. The Manta Trust is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of manta rays and their habitats. They operate projects in multiple countries within the Coral Triangle, including Indonesia. You can volunteer with them, participate in manta ray research, collect important data, and engage with local communities.
Instead of burying your head in a bucket on your next trip to Thailand, try giving a bit back to the oceans that inspired many of your Gap-Yah dreams. Exploring these iconic coastlines almost never gets boring. But with oversubscribed beach spots comes damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Many conservation opportunities are found around popular diving destinations like Koh Tao (Tao = Turtle) and the Similan Islands. These colourful hotspots are teeming with schools of brightly patterned boxfish, sweetlips and blue spotted stingrays. Expect to get stuck in with coral reef restoration, marine debris cleanup, and the conservation of endangered species like whale sharks.
Where can you do marine conservation volunteering in Thailand?
- Save Koh Tao: Save Koh Tao was established in 2000 by the Koh Tao community, including several business owners. It provides volunteer opportunities across the island (partnering with various dive schools) for marine conservation projects, such as reef monitoring, coral restoration, and marine education initiatives.
- Blue Guru Conservation: Blue Guru Conservation is based in Phang Nga in Thailand and offers volunteer programs for marine conservation and education. Volunteers can get involved in reef surveys, marine species monitoring, coral propagation, and environmental education activities.
- New Heaven Reef Conservation Programme: Based off the island of Koh Tao, the New Heaven program has championed the safeguarding of Koh Tao’s marine habitats in a variety of ways, both active and passive. You can volunteer with them all year round.
The largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras is almost entirely bordered by coral. This iridescent jewel of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System is home to over 60 stony coral species (for maximum colour), more than 500 species of fish (more colour) and 350 species of marine molluscs (SO MUCH COLOUR.) Despite its colourful (I’ll stop now) exterior, Roatán’s reefs are in considerable danger, both from construction and the sheer amount of visitors. Volunteer efforts centre around reef conservation, lionfish eradication, and marine ecosystem monitoring.
Where can you do marine conservation volunteering in Roatán?
- Roatán Marine Park: Roatán Marine Park (RMP) is a community-based organisation dedicated to the conservation of Roatan’s marine resources. Get involved in volunteer programs for coral reef monitoring, lionfish control, seahorse research, and spreading the environmental education vibes. You can also be part of reef surveys, cleanup missions, and outreach programs.
- Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA): BICA is a non-profit organisation that focuses on environmental conservation in the Bay Islands, including Roatan. Join the conservation crew for marine research, beach cleanups, and sea turtle conservation.
- Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences (RIMS): RIMS is a dedicated organisation focused on marine conservation and research in Roatán. They offer a range of programs and initiatives to protect and preserve the marine environment while providing opportunities for education, volunteering, and scientific exploration.
- Bay Islands Reef Restoration: This organisation is dedicated to creating offshore coral nurseries and restoration programs for threatened coral species. With a variety of internships and opportunities for conservation divers like you, get ready to make a splash in the world of coral restoration.
Have you taken the plunge into any of these marine conservation opportunities? Let us know where you would recommend. Happy diving!
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