If the chance to travel abroad and participate in an ongoing ocean research project sounds more appealing to you than drinking Mai Tais poolside, here are seven sea-friendly ideas for your next vacation. Whether you call it "voluntourism," "travelanthropy" or just meaningful travel, each is an opportunity to support ocean conservation and education efforts around the world with your own two hands.
SEE Turtles is a non-profit which will connect you for free with a sea turtle conservation volunteer project. Typical volunteer work includes nightly beach patrols, looking for nesting adult female turtles and helping researchers measure, tag, and move eggs to the hatcheries. Depending on timing, volunteers may also get to help release baby sea turtles. Six out of the world's seven sea turtles species are threatened or endangered and each project works with specific species, primarily leatherbacks, olive ridleys, and green turtles. Volunteering costs from $20/day to several thousand per week for food and lodging, depending upon the location (travel expenses additional). Most trips are 8-10 days long.
SEE Turtles is a pilot project of SEEtheWILD, an organization that connects travelers with eco-tours and volunteer expeditions around the globe that generate income for endangered species protection.
Assist with dolphin monitoring aboard a sailboat off the coast of Italy with Global Vision International (GVI). Whales and dolphins are attracted to the nutrient-rich waters of the Ligurian Sea, but heavy vessel traffic and fishing activity pose a threat to the marine mammals. Volunteers will spend a week living aboard a sailboat and monitoring the animals' spatial distribution, habitat preferences, ecology and behavior in support of scientifically based management of the Pelagos Cetacean Sanctuary. The cost is $1360, plus travel expenses. GVI is a private organization which operates 100 ongoing volunteer programs around the world.
Join one of 22 ocean-centric expeditions organized by the non-profit EarthWatch and assist with data collection in the Seychelles, Belize, Thailand, and other coastal settings around the world. The non-profit's currently listed trips last 7-15 days and range from $1,200-2,700 with meals and accommodation included (airfare is additional).
The Reef Ball Foundation works at sites around the world to rehabilitate and protect reef systems by deploying "reef balls" (manmade concrete habitats for juvenile fish). On a project-by-project basis, they need help building reef balls (working with concrete), deploying them (scuba certification required) and propagating and planting corals and mangrove trees. Volunteers pay for transportation, room and board and the cost and duration vary with the type of project. Read descriptions of typical Reef Ball volunteer projects here.
Coral Cay Conservation organizes conservation expeditions in Cambodia and the Philippines and soon Sri Lanka. Volunteers dive daily to help survey species on the reef. Program costs start at approximately $1280 for two weeks, plus travel expenses to and from the site. The longer your stay, the cheaper the per-week cost is. Expedition lengths range from 2-16 weeks, and PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water training is included for those not yet certified.
Conduct underwater surveys, fishery surveys, and educational outreach in southwest Madagascar's coral reefs, sea grass beds and other marine habitats. The Reef Doctor's Research Assistant Programs last from 4-12 weeks and are limited to six participants at a time. Program costs begin around $2,000 for four weeks and other volunteer expenses (air flights and transportation, dive gear, and insurance) are additional.
Disclaimer: These ideas are meant as a starting place for your own research. The rates, dates and details are controlled by each respective organization and subject to change.