Due to rising global temperatures and an increasing human population, marine conservation efforts are needed now more than ever. Pollution and unsustainable fishing practices have led to massive negative impacts for marine habitats. Those who volunteer in marine conservation abroad will be working to combat this trend and preserve seascapes and sea creatures for future generations, thus contributing to the large-scale environmental movement. If you are passionate about marine conservation and looking to make a difference, volunteering abroad could be your next life-changing adventure.
Why Volunteer Abroad
The effects of industrialization, nuclear disasters, and global warming are happening at an alarming rate: ice caps melting, animal populations declining, and coral reef networks shrinking. The demand for volunteers in marine conservation worldwide is decidedly urgent. Not to mention that traveling abroad exposes volunteers to a wide range of habitats and species that may be unavailable at home, as well as hands-on experience in new cultures and environments. Volunteering abroad will also expose volunteers to different international and local policies, and alternative ways that cultures approach and contribute to the field of marine conservation, which will make them more innovative and understanding conservationists.
Volunteer opportunities in marine conservation are plenty and available all over the world, especially throughout the Caribbean, Mediterranean, coastlines of Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia; so much so that volunteers may find it challenging to decide on a location for marine conservation volunteering abroad. Some of the most common places where volunteer programs in marine conservation reside are Costa Rica, Ecuador, Fiji, and the nations surrounding the Mediterranean.
Costa Rica – With over 800 miles of coastline, this country is truly a “rich coast.” It’s located on the isthmus of Central America, with the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Caribbean Sea to the East. The two bodies of water are quite different from each other in temperature, movement, and marine life, providing participants with a variety of volunteer opportunities in marine conservation. Costa Rica also includes several island chains, such as the Cocos, with even more specific volunteer projects and conservation programs. The local Ticos are a relaxed people with a strong sense of sustainability.
Ecuador - Located in northwestern South America, Ecuador is rife with volunteer projects in marine conservation, especially working in coastal National Parks and the neighboring Galapagos islands. This is a great place for volunteer work with local communities on sustainable fishing practices or animal conservation working with turtles, sharks, manta rays, or coral reef systems.
Fiji – This island nation is located about 3,000 miles northeast of Australia and offers numerous opportunities for marine conservation volunteering. In the middle of the vast Pacific ocean, Fiji is one of the more exotic and adventurous places for volunteering abroad. You can complete volunteer work focused on improving conservation awareness and the use of sustainable practices, even while earning your PADI diver’s certification along the way.
The Mediterranean – Places like Italy, Greece, and Spain are some of the premiere tourist hot spots in all the Mediterranean, which makes preserving the national wildlife and historical beauty of these nation’s a big challenge. For those looking for a culturally European experience, this region can be a great option for marine conservation volunteering abroad, although potentially more pricey. Many opportunities for volunteer work involving direct fieldwork and research, as well as volunteering with various animal populations, like sea turtles and dolphins, are available in this region.
Diversity is rather inherent in the field of marine conservation, so individuals can choose the type of volunteer work that interests them most. The most popular types of marine conservation volunteer abroad programs are based in wildlife sanctuaries or focused on coral reef conservation.
Marine Wildlife – With so many different animal populations affected by environmental changes, volunteers will have their pick of species when it comes to protecting marine wildlife. Working with sea turtles in a turtle sanctuary is one of the most commonly available options across the globe. But volunteers can also work with whale shark populations in Mozambique, Great Whites in South Africa, crocodiles in India, dolphin pods in Greece, or even frogs in Costa Rica. Marine conservation volunteering includes working with animals directly, tending to their needs, tracking animal behavior and movement, and contributing to the protection of their natural habitats.
Coral Reef Conservation – The rapid degeneration of coral reef networks has led to a large number of marine conservation volunteer programs dedicated to researching and protecting coral reef ecosystems. Often times this kind of physical volunteer work requires participants to become skilled in snorkeling and diving techniques, and sometimes volunteers even have the chance to earn their diving certification. Volunteer responsibilities can include gathering data, observing ocean floors, or reporting areas of coral damage.
Individuals can choose to volunteer in marine conservation for one week or several months, and depending on the location programs have varying requirements and specific components. The best place to start in your search is to select the area of marine conservation that interests you most!
Freedom of Location: As oceans and marine life make up the majority of our planet, opportunities to volunteer in marine conservation efforts are available along coastlines worldwide. Therefore, volunteers will have a lot of freedom to choose a location that is agreeable to their interests, as well as their budget.
Diversity of Work: As part of a larger environmental movement, marine conservation volunteering encompasses many different areas, such as marine research, aquatic biology, responsible tourism, environmental public policy and awareness, rehabilitation of wildlife, and much more. Volunteers can choose their area of interest, and develop valuable skills that may benefit them in their future careers.
Field Experience: This is particularly important in marine science and conservation. Most marine conservation volunteer programs abroad focus on going beyond research in the lab to provide participants with hands-on experience in the field with various marine populations. While volunteering abroad, individuals may have the opportunity to work with endangered or exotic species or even earn their PADI diver’s certification, which is typically not an opportunity available to them back at home.