Where to go on a marine conservation holiday

From the vibrant culture of Thailand to the rustic Atlantic coast of Portugalís Azores, the locations that host marine conservation holidays are as diverse as the work you can do on them. Although once youíve arrived youíll be travelling by boat, either on short journeys between different dive spots, or spending the duration of the day out at sea, itís worth thinking about the travel that actually getting there entails. When youíre thinking about where to go on a marine conservation holiday, consider how seasoned you are as a traveller Ė some projects are tucked away on faraway islands and require additional onward flights or long stretches of road travel to reach and may not suit everyone. Think about the logistics involved and donít be immediately wowed by the location.
The Azores

1. The Azores

Best time: Apr-Aug. A pocket of rugged Portugal in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Azores is a hotspot for whale and dolphin conservation. Join a dive-free expedition on a research boat IDing whales, including might blue and sperm whales, recording vocalisations and logging important ecological data alongside a team of biologists.

2. Belize

Best time: Year round. There are masses of options in beautiful Belize – home to the second biggest barrier reef in the world – from five days learning to dive and helping marine conservationists with ad-hoc tasks, to volunteering trips for a maximum of 12 weeks, with a focus on spearing invasive lionfish. Kids over 10 years old are welcomed on many trips, too.

3. Cambodia

Best time: Feb-Aug. If you love diving (or want to learn) and hope to use your skill to do something worthwhile, head to Cambodia. Here, you can build manmade coral reef pods under the water surrounding a remote tropical island, track and monitor endangered seahorses, and when you’re not diving, teach English to local kids and help install vital infrastructure in surrounding villages.
Costa Rica

4. Costa Rica

Best time: Jul-Dec. Working on a turtle conservation project in Costa Rica gives you the chance to explore its unspoiled coastline while helping to protect this precious environment for its shelled inhabitants. You’ll patrol the beach, monitor nests, protect new hatchlings and record observations for future protection campaigns. A great option for families, too.

5. Greece

Best time: Jun-Sep. Greece offers various marine conservation options. Support the turtles that come ashore to lay eggs on the beaches of the Peloponnese by protecting nests and improving public awareness, or head to sea to live the life of a full-time researcher, collecting valuable data on the four dolphin species found in Greek waters.

6. Indonesia

Raja Ampat is a gorgeous marine paradise of white, sandy beaches and turquoise sea located in the East Indonesia/West Papua region of the Coral Triangle. The marine diversity here is astonishing, with 80 percent of the worldís coral species found here. Youíll be working not only to protect the coral reefs here, but to improve the lives of the communities that rely on them.

7. Italy

Join a small group of volunteers on a six day research cruise in the Ligurian Sea to identify, track and record information on the whales and dolphins that live here. Youíll delve deep into the marine ecology of the Med, helping preserve it for generations to come, helping log data on behaviour and population numbers, as well as soaking up the sun and spotting superb cetaceans.

8. Mexico

Best time: July. Head to the Caribbean Coast of Mexico to discover a giant of the ocean, the whale shark. Swimming with them is unforgettable, but you can also help with ongoing research here alongside two whale shark researchers. Once in the water with them, you will assist in digital photo IDing and recording their behaviour and also the other species which use the whale sharks as mobile habitats.

9. Portugal

Work with local experts to protect the marine ecosystems of Portugalís Atlantic coastline. This is all about diving, with all abilities welcome. If youíre a beginner, learn here with a local diving school, before plunging in to see Portugalís beautiful marine life up close. Tasks vary, but you can expect to identify fish and seaweeds, and clean up rubbish. More experienced divers can explore caves and wrecks, too.

10. Seychelles

Best time: Year round. An natural utopia, the Seychelles are a serene set of islands, but the conservation work that needs doing there is tough, with long days and early starts. Holidays include turtle conservation with beach patrols at night, and coral and fish surveys along the coast. Sometimes, other conservation work is combined, such as bird counts or alien vegetation control. Full-on fun.
South Africa

11. South Africa

Best time: Year round. The shores of South Africa's iSamangaliso Wetland Park offer a host of work around the conservation and distribution of megafauna. We're talking turtles, sharks and whales here! Expect to be monitoring numbers, collecting data and uploading photos to global databases. If you're a beginner diver, you can do PADI Open Water training in the first week, too.

12. Thailand

Best time: Year round except Oct to mid Dec. Varied research and restoration activities make every day on a marine conservation holiday in Thailand different. Monitor reef health, help construct artificial reefs, erosion control and releasing turtle hatchlings are all included plus the chance to work with community groups to raise awareness, help with educational workshops and perform underwater clean ups.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Marine conservation or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Typical daily timetables

Marine conservation in Belize (from 1 week)

6am: Tea, fruit 7.30am: First dive - lobster survey, commercial fish survey, lionfish spearing 9am: Big cooked breakfast; training - coral ID or fish ID session 11.30am: Second dive - coral watch, ID session fish, lobster/conch survey 1pm: Lunch Free time 3.30pm: Third dive - coral watch survey 7pm: Dinner - fresh fish, rice, okra Evening: Relax, socialise; presentation on the marine environment or the organisation

Turtle conservation in Costa Rica (from 1 week)

7pm-5am: Rotating four-hour beach patrols 9am: Tico-style breakfast with fruit, rice and beans, toast, cereal and pancakes 10am-1pm: Hatchery duties, logging of turtle data acquired overnight, releasing baby turtles if necessary and in season (Sep-Dec) 1pm: Lunch 2pm-6pm: Downtime to explore or have a nap 7pm: Dinner Evening: Relax, socialise; two patrols of four hours long each

Marine conservation project in the Seychelles (from 4 weeks)

5am: Helping out - cooking, cleaning, general prep 7am: Breakfast 8.30am: Prep boats and dive kit 9am: Dive boats leave in waves every two hours 1pm: Lunch Afternoon: Those not diving are entering data, studying skills, preparing English lessons for local kids, beach cleans 3-5pm: As last boats come in, clean kits, prepare equipment for next day Evening: Dinner, debrief, discussions, make plans for next day
Written by Polly Humphris
Photo credits: [Page banner: USFWS - Pacific Region] [Belize: jayhem] [Cambodia: Frontierofficial] [Costa Rica: Steven Gerner] [Greece: Frontierofficial] [Indonesia: Lakshmi Sawitri] [Italy: Lemone] [Mexico: Skinned Mink] [Portugal: Chrismatos] [Seychelles: Jean-Marie Hullot] [South Africa: Travelbag Ltd] [Thailand: Phuket@photographer.net]