Photo by Thinkpanama.
SO HOW DO YOU narrow down your options and choose the best volunteer diving program for you?
First and foremost, do your research. It is important to know what you want out of the volunteer experience (i.e. location, accommodations, number of weeks/months, etc.) so you can decide if an organization offers what you looking for.
Here are some of the top volunteering organizations around the world that host opportunities designed for divers and those who are looking to become divers.
As one of the world’s top ranked volunteering organizations, GVI offers experienced and non-experienced divers the opportunity to participate in crucial coral reef, fish, turtle and shark monitoring projects located in some of the most pristine diving locations.
You can spend 5 weeks to several months living in tropical locations, experiencing local culture, making new friends, and diving 8-10 times a week in places most of us only dream of seeing.
Who they are
Global Vision International (GVI) tackles critical local and global issues by operating award-winning education and training programs on sustainable development projects around the world, in partnership with renowned international partners.
GVI operates their own programs and partner with local and international NGOs, government organizations and education institutions including Save The Children, WWF, The Red Cross, PADI, Project AWARE, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and the National Parks of South Africa, Costa Rica, Seychelles, Mexico and Thailand, among others.
What they offer divers
GVI has several Marine Conservation Expeditions that are located in some of the most amazing diving destinations in the world. Volunteers are offered guidance, support, and training from highly professional and energetic staff who not only strive to make GVI an amazing organization, but who also strive to make your experience as a volunteer unforgettable.
GVI’s location in Mexico along the Caribbean coast, offers both the opportunity to learn how to dive (if you are not already certified) earning an internationally recognized diving qualification and the chance to contribute towards crucial coral reef research. For new divers, you can gain your PADI Open Water and Rescue Diver Certification on a 8 week expedition or up to Divemaster during a 24 week expedition in Pez Maya. At the end of the expedition divers will also have their PADI Specialty Certification in Coral Reef Research. Volunteers are also able to take their training further by gaining their PADI IDC and MSDT instructor qualifications.
The Pez Maya base is located on a remote beach on the southern shores of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Sian Ka’an Reserve, and speaking from personal experience it offers the opportunity of a lifetime for both diving and volunteering.
GVI also offers a Marine Conservation program in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. GVI has been invited by the Seychelles government and local NGOs to assist their priority biological study and conservation programmers, including coral reef research, invertebrate surveys, turtle nesting research and sea turtle surveys.
It may sound complicated, but on all GVI expeditions, volunteers are given complete training in scientific methods and continued lessons in species identification and conservation concepts.
GVI’s Marine Conservation programs also include involvement with the local communities where volunteers assist with the continued development of an environmental education and awareness program. With plenty of free time, you can also explore ancient Mayan ruins, take long-weekend trips to a neighboring country, or participate in local festivals.
Over the last 20 years, Frontier has established itself as a top-notch, highly professional non-profit volunteer organization. This is one of very few organizations that will provide volunteers the opportunity to gain professional level certifications in Tropical Habitat Conservation and Management, PADI dive training, and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) all in one trip. Dive the seas of the Mediterranean to the waters of Fiji and be part of a vital conservation effort.
Who they are
Frontier was established in 1989 as a non-profit conservation and development non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystem integrity and building sustainable livelihoods for marginalized communities in the world’s poorest countries.
As one of the top-ranked and most accomplished volunteer organizations in the world Frontier’s commitment to conservation research, education and global awareness has helped to establish numerous marine parks, protected areas, and community-based organizations in more than 50 countries.
What they offer divers
Frontier has several projects located in Greece, Madagascar, Fiji, and Tanzania that are great for divers looking to contribute to conservation research. The Underwater Research Project in Greece runs weekly from May to September, and like all Frontier projects, the type of volunteer work you will be doing depends on the time of year you participate. This project involves diving and snorkeling in the local marine area – locating, marking and measuring the marine life under investigation.
Specific species being investigated vary from year to year but previous studies have included the Pinna (the largest mollusk in the world), local non-dangerous shark populations and sea horses. New projects are constantly being developed and new ideas are always welcome. The Underwater Research Project is ideal for those who may have specific ideas for research that they wish to pursue.
The Madagascar project is a great option for those who are looking to experience a variety of activities aside from diving. This trip is broken down into 3 phases: Day 1-15 involves teaching at a local village school which is extremely under-resourced. You will help to design and implement curriculum, correct work, and initiate extracurricular activities for the kids. Day 16-26 is a 10-day trek through the remote environment, sampling and surveying vegetation, small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.
Lastly, the Day 27-41 brings you Frontier’s marine camp, where non-divers will complete their PADI Open Water course. Already certified divers will participate in underwater surveys, collecting data about local species.
The Marine Research and Conservation Program in Fiji allows volunteers to gain a UCAS transferable, internationally recognized BTEC Advanced Diploma (10 weeks or longer) or Advanced Certificate (4 weeks or longer) in Tropical Habitat Conservation.
Frontier-Fiji will train non-divers up to PADI Advanced Open Water at no additional cost, and current divers will have the opportunity to advance up to PADI Divemaster at discounted rates. You will learn the research skills needed to aid in underwater surveys, where you will see an extraordinary array of marine life including turtles, manta rays, dolphins, and hundreds of fish species.
Tanzania’s coast is home to some of the most spectacular diving in the world. The crystal clear waters host a wealth of marine habitats and wildlife, making this a perfect location to learn to scuba dive and explore this pristine and magical underwater world.
Volunteers chart extensive areas of undamaged coral, record healthy populations of fish, note turtle behavior, sight marine mammals, and learn to recognize a huge diversity of intertidal animals.
Please note that not every Frontier diving project offers the same things, such as dive training and food. So it is essential to research each project carefully to know what is and is not included, and during what time of the year each project is available. Also, Frontier has a more selective application process than some other organizations, so read up on the qualifications they are looking for and decide if Frontier is right for you.
Coral Cay Conservation
Coral Cay Conservation allows divers to volunteer on marine conservation projects in the Philippines and Tobago. Both projects get the volunteer involved in crucial coral and fish monitoring, with opportunities to monitor turtles and other marine life.
Divers and non-divers can advance in their diving certifications up to Divemaster. CCC welcomes volunteers of at least 16 years of age, and allows opportunities to join as a staff researcher or specialist.
Who they are
Coral Cay are award winning specialists in coral reef and tropical forest conservation and have been organizing conservation projects since 1986. This organization has aided in the establishment of several marine protected areas, and was instrumental in having the Belize Barrier Reef declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
What they offer divers
Divers can join CCC projects as a volunteer, researcher or specialist for 4 to 20 weeks and work hands-on out in the field in the Philippines or Tobago on Marine Conservation projects.
CCC has worked in partnership with the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc (PRRCFI) and local communities to survey and safeguard reef and rainforest areas since 1995.
Project locations have included Palawan, Danjugan Island, Luzon and Negros. Currently, volunteers on the Philippines project are based at the Napantao Dive Resort, overlooking Sogod Bay. Here, divers will find some of the best diving in the Philippines, with plenty of coral, fish and macro-fauna (whale sharks) species.
As a volunteer you will be participating in 8-10 survey dives each week, Monday-Friday. Weekends are reserved for “fun” dives and time to explore the area and take in the local culture.
CCC Tobago offers divers a great chance to survey a fragile reef ecosystem in the Caribbean Sea. After the 2005 mass bleaching event in the Caribbean, these fragile ecosystems are now under attack from a variety of coral diseases and anthropogenic impacts, all of which are threatening the very existence of coral reefs in Tobago.
It is essential to collect scientifically sound data on coastal habitats in order to develop effective management plans for the island’s marine resources. As a volunteer you’ll be diving on the Caribbean side of the island of Tobago, collecting data used in these monitoring studies. If you are there between March and August you can join in on Leatherback and Hawksbill turtle surveys, monitoring the number of nests laid on the beach right outside your door.
Both project locations allow for non-divers to gain their PADI Advanced Open Water certification one week prior to the official start of the project session. CCC also allows you to further your certifications depending on how long you decide to stay on as a volunteer.
For those divers who also have backgrounds in marine or conservation science, you can join CCC as a researcher or a specialist and help lead the expedition. This is a great opportunity to further your career experience in the conservation field.
Blue Ventures offers a unique opportunity to assist scientists in data collection in one of the most biodiverse areas of the world, Madagascar. Volunteers will dive sites that no one else has ever dived during “reconnaissance” dives, and will encounter an unbelievable variety of marine species, all while receiving a high level of professional dive and scientific training.
Who they are
Blue Ventures is a marine conservation organization dedicated to conservation, education and sustainable development in tropical coastal communities. In 2006 they were “Highly Commended” in the Best Volunteering Organization category by the Responsible Travel Tourism Awards. Blue Ventures has one main marine conservation project located in Madagascar and is open to qualified and non-qualified divers, with expeditions lasting 6 weeks.
What they offer divers
Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world. Off the coast divers will find the 4th largest coral reef in the world, the Grand Récif de Tuléar. Blue Ventures, in partnership with local and international scientists, conducts research throughout this amazing habitat to aid in national conservation and management efforts. One of the most unique aspects of a Blue Ventures expedition is that volunteers live and work directly alongside these scientists.
Seeing humpback whales, spinner dolphins, endangered marine turtles and over 500 species of tropical fish and corals is part of the daily dive routine during the project. Varying from shallow forereef channels to deeper sea-fan forests, the sites that are visited are nothing short of stunning. As an added bonus, when conducting “reconnaissance” dives, there is a very good chance that you will be the first person ever to dive at that site in this exceptionally remote part of the Indian Ocean.
|Age Restriction||Must be 18 or Older||Must be 16 or older, and pass the selection process.||Must be 16 or older||18-70 years old, non-diving projects available for those under 18|
|Locations||Mexico (Caribbean), Seychelles (Indian Ocean)||Greece, Madagascar, Fiji, Tanzania||Philippines and Tobago||Madagascar|
|Cost|| 5 wks. = apprx. $3000 US
10 wks. = apprx. $5000 US
|4 wks. = apprx. $2800 US
8 wks. = apprx. $3800 US
| 4 wks. = apprx. $1600 US
Each additional week = $365 US
| 6 wks. = apprx. $4092 US
Each additional week = $487
|Duration||5 or 10 weeks, with opportunity to stay longer depending on availability||Varies depending on location, check website||Minimum 4 weeks, no maximum limit||6 week minimum, no maximum limit|
|Other Opportunities||TEFL, community outreach, long weekends for exploring, opportunity for internship||BTEC advanced diploma in Tropical Habitat Conservation (depending on location)||Qualified candidates can join as a researcher or specialist, community outreach||Chance to work alongside local and international scientists, possibility to be first diver at undiscovered dive sites|
Remember, this is just a simple overview of the top volunteer organizations available to divers and there’s much more information for you to know. All of the organizations highlighted here have great websites and resources to answer all your questions, including testimonies from past volunteers, resource links, and contact information. Global Vision International also has a fantastic guide to choosing a volunteer organization.
Volunteering can have a positive impact on the environment, the people you meet, and most of all on your own life. Why not take an opportunity to dive the world and help the world at the same time?