There are hundreds of projects out there, so how do you begin to choose the right marine conservation project for you? Based on our personal experience, here are a few starting questions to help narrow things down…
What are you interested in?
Would you give your right eye to see a humpback whale, or a great white shark? Perhaps it’s the small things that get your heart pumping – seahorses, corals, nudibranchs and such. What about working with baby manatees, or swimming with whale sharks. The best place to start is by checking out the projects that are specific to your passion. As well as helping protect the ocean, you might as well fulfil a dream too.
Where do you want to go?
Do you have a dream of going to Bali, or spending time in Thailand? There are projects all around the world so pick somewhere you really want to go and then see what projects are in that country. Same goes if there’s a particular monument you want to see or a mountain you’d like to climb. The world is meant be explored. Generally speaking, flights are the most expensive part of travelling. If you’ve bought them, you might as well make the most of your time in that country. Give yourself room at the beginning or end of a project to squeeze in one or two bucket list items like those featured on the UNESCO world heritage website.
When do you want to go?
This point is so important. There’s nothing to dampen the mood like arriving in the middle of a monsoon, or the weather being too hot and muggy that you can’t keep up with the daily activities. If you can only volunteer at a certain time of year, make sure you choose a country in the right season. Of course, weather is not the only thing that is seasonal – wildlife is too. Whales and dolphins are migratory. Different turtle breeds nest at different times of the year. If you want to volunteer with a specific animal, make sure you go at the right time of year to see them.
How much time do you have?
Most projects have schedules to allow volunteers to get the most out of their experience. Different projects require different amounts of training. To learn how to survey a coral reef takes longer than learning how to monitor turtle nests. Choose a project that will allow you to really get stuck in to the work, in the time that you have. All projects have set minimum times that you can volunteer. Some you can join for a week, others specify a minimum of two weeks, or sometimes more. How long you stay depends on you. There are projects that will allow volunteers to stay for months.
Sea Fans say: Not sure how long you want to stay? Ask what the minimum amount of time is, and how easy it is to extend once on the project. If it’s the case that you can extend when on the project, then do it rather than booking a longer stay straightaway and changing your mind.
Do you want to stay dry or get wet?
Marine conservation doesn’t always take place in the water. There are plenty of land or boat-based projects to choose from, such as turtle nesting and rehabilitation programmes, working to protect mangroves or whale and dolphin monitoring. If you don’t want to dive, there are snorkel only projects where you can carry out mangrove or coral reef surveys, or swim with whale sharks. Perhaps you do want to dive, then there are projects where they’ll first teach you to dive, then teach you what you’re seeing underwater. If you’re already a diver, then the marine conservation world is your oyster. Join a project photographing manta rays, or helping build artificial reefs.
How remote do you want to be?
Can you live without the internet, or does being cut off from the world sound like heaven? The more remote the project, the longer and harder it is to reach. When choosing a remote project be prepared for regular power cuts, or no running water. Often accommodation will be basic – shared dorm rooms with bunk beds are standard. Although some projects will offer private rooms for extra.
What do you want to get out of volunteering?
Are you volunteering purely to do something good for the planet, or is there something else you’d be interested in? Many projects offer additional activities and certifications, such as:
- First aid – learn how to save lives while saving the ocean.
- Learning a language – From Bahasa to Swahili, many projects actively encourage you to learn local dialects in order to interact with the locals.
- Contributing to scientific research – Gather data that directly benefits marine conservation research.
- Conducting personal research for a dissertation – Marine biology students can conduct their own field research alongside the project aims.
- Internship – Gain work experience and improve your C.V.
- Increasing your dive qualifications – Some projects offer on-site scuba instructors who can teach all courses from Open Water to Divemaster.
- Divemaster Internships – Become a DM, gain leadership skills as well as a solid understanding of the underwater world.
- Coral reef surveying – Learn how to gather data on the health of coral reefs.
- Getting involved in community education – From teaching English, to organising workshops to educate the locals about the importance of good fishing practices and ethical wildlife tours.
- Coral Rehabilitation – Help grow new corals or repair broken ones.
How much do you want to spend?
When you count up the cost of flights, visas and equipment, some projects can get pretty pricey. Projects vary wildly in terms of cost, depending on the country they’re in, the facilities on offer, and the accommodation. Make sure you know what you’re getting before paying. If you’re on a budget, try looking for projects in your own country. You never know what you might discover.
What does your body say?
Some projects require heavy lifting, walking long distances, or spending long hours out in the sun. Projects in remote locations won’t have access to the same medical facilities as those in more developed areas. Think about your body when choosing a project and don’t take risks. It’s meant to be an enjoyable experience after all.
Who is the project with?
If you find a project you like the look of, the next thing is to research the agency. How long have they been established? Have they won any awards? Do they have any reviews online? If someone has left a poor review, work out why. Sometimes, a project may not be what that person expected so they take it out through a review. Next get in touch and request more information and see how they respond. And above all, ask questions. No matter how silly. If it’s important to you, it should be important to them.
Has that made things a little clearer?
The next step in order to choose the right marine conservation project for you is to start searching all volunteering projects. You never know what might jump out at you. Or, if you need some more information check out our volunteering in marine conservation page. If you have any questions that we haven’t answered here, please let us know. The right marine conservation project for you is out there. Let’s find it.