How to choose the best marine conservation volunteer project for you.

There are hundreds of marine conservation volunteer projects out there, but how do you choose the right one for you? We’ve used our experience of volunteering on marine life projects to create a list of questions to ask yourself in order to help you choose the best one for you.

Humpback whale fluke seen on a marine conservation volunteer project.

What marine life are you interested in?

Would you love 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 marine life volunteer projects that are specific to your passion. As well as helping protect the ocean, you could fulfil a life goal too.

Where do you want to go?

Do you have a dream of going to Bali, or spending time in Thailand? There are marine life volunteer 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

Baby turtle on beach

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 – marine life is as well. Whales and dolphins are migratory. Different turtle breeds nest at different times of the year (and hatch at different times too). If you want to join a marine life project to see a specific creature, make sure you go at the right time of year.

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 marine life projects that will allow volunteers to stay for months. 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 that case that you can extend when on the project, then do it rather than booking a longer stay straightaway and changing your mind.

A remote tropical island is where many marine conservation projects take place.

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 ocean conservation volunteer project be prepared to go back to basics, like regular power cuts, or no running water (bucket showers for the win). Often accommodation will be basic – shared dorm rooms with bunk beds are standard. Although some projects will offer private rooms for extra.

Do you want to stay dry or get wet?

Ocean conservation projects don’t always take place in the water. There are plenty of land or boat-based marine life projects to choose from, such as turtle nesting and rehabilitation programmes, seabird surveying 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 help to build artificial reefs.

A beach cleans volunteer is holding a plastic can holder.

What do you want to get out of your ocean conservation volunteer project?

Are you volunteering to do something good for the planet, or is there something else you’d be interested in? Many marine conservation volunteer projects offer additional activities and certifications, such as:

  • First aid – learn how to save lives while saving the ocean.
  • Learn a language – From Bahasa to Swahili, many projects actively encourage you to learn local dialects in order to interact with the locals.
  • Beach and ocean cleans – Organise or take part in beach and ocean clean ups.
  • Contribute to scientific research – Gather data that directly benefits the conservation research.
  • Conduct 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. 
  • Increase your dive qualifications – Some marine life projects offer on-site scuba instructors who can teach all courses from Open Water to Divemaster.
  • Divemaster Internships – Become a Divemaster and get a solid understanding of the underwater world.
  • Community education – Teaching English or organising workshops to educate 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. There are projects that are easier than others so think about your body when making a decision and don’t take risks. It’s meant to be an enjoyable experience after all.

Who is the project with?

If you find an ocean conservation 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.

Ready to choose the right marine conservation volunteer project?

Hopefully we’ve been able to make things a little clearer for you. If you have any questions that we haven’t answered here, please let us know in the comments below.

Why not visit our volunteer page for more information about marine conservation volunteer projects. Or search Sea Fans to see what projects are out there.

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