4 Marine Biology Volunteer Opportunities to Help Clean Our Oceans

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Marine wildlife conservation for intrepid volunteers 

Does traveling abroad and spending your time lounging on a beach sound like a dream? Does soaking up sunshine with a drink in your hand sound like just what the doctor ordered? Now picture yourself lying on your towel, the sand between your toes—and your beach cabana surrounded by trash. 

Marine biology volunteer opportunities

What if that pristine coral reef where you went to snorkel after that delicious, just-caught fish lunch was filled with non-biodegradable castaways from careless tourists and companies who aren’t worried about the trail they’re leaving behind? That sounds like a nightmare. Unfortunately, it’s the reality for beaches and oceans around the world where a laissez-faire attitude toward the environment means tourists and locals are experiencing dirty, unsafe water - and so are the wildlife that claim those habitats as home. 

What if you could add some depth and meaning to your beach vacation by volunteering abroad with a marine wildlife conservation effort or for a beach clean-up to make your beach excursion even better - and to ensure others have a stellar experience, too? While we wish everyone would follow the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you - including how we treat the environment - the unfortunate reality is that is not always the case. And while we all think we deserve a clean beach to lounge - or live - on, that beach isn’t going to clean itself up. 

Why seek out marine biology volunteer opportunities? 

That’s where you come in. From Madagascar to Morocco and from Venezuela to Vietnam, there are hundreds of programs where you can build your skills in marine conservation while serving the global, and local, community. With water covering 70% of the Earth’s surface and over 372,000 miles of coastline for us to explore, the opportunities to travel abroad and be a marine conservation volunteer are endless. You don’t have to look good in a bikini or a wetsuit (or even wear either) to make a difference to marine wildlife. 

ocean coastline
Does your heart swell with love every time you smell that salty air?

Check out three reasons below for why you should look into marine biology volunteer programs, marine wildlife conservation, or beach cleanup projects. We’ve done the work of researching the best programs out there so you can get to the work of cleaning up our oceans!

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So you can just keep swimming. 

Pollution. Trash. Toxic-waste spills. It starts to feel overwhelming when you think of all the different ways we are slowly degrading the world’s largest ecosystem - our oceans. If you want to be a marine conservation volunteer, you will need to start breaking down these overwhelming affronts into manageable, actionable steps. 

One reason to volunteer with sea turtles or to scuba dive for research and conservation is so that you can keep swimming safely. And make sure, as a result of your altruistic efforts, that sea turtles and other swimmers can swim safely in the future, too. Marine wildlife conservation volunteering means you are making a concerted effort to help keep our water a safe place for wildlife and humans. That’s not a bad goal to have for your next beach vacation! And while the reasons why you are cleaning up the water or beaches may be frustrating and overwhelming, you have to keep Dory’s advice in mind and just keep swimming. And cleaning. 

So you’re ready to become a marine conservationist. 

While some people may be preoccupied with making sure they can just keep swimming, others are thinking about their voluntourism as a way to build up their skills for a resume or a future job. If you are thinking about a career in marine conservation and wondering how to become a marine conservationist, then spending a few weeks or months learning what people actually do in the field of marine conservation would be a great investment of your time.

From volunteering in the Seychelles Islands to having an un-Belizeable experience in Central America, you will not regret helping to conserve our world’s beaches and waterways with marine biology volunteer opportunities. If you’re currently studying marine conservation, or looking for a way to transition into the field, traveling abroad and adding on a volunteer experience in marine conservation will open your eyes to the many ways marine conservation is essential to our continued existence! Not to put too much pressure on you, but we need people like you who are committed to the improvement of our oceans and beaches. We’re counting on you!

woman holding a seashell
Conduct hands on research during your marine volunteer projects

To feel pride in using your vacation as a force for good.

As you plan your travel abroad, think about how you want to feel or remember your vacation when you come back home - and the one question everyone will ask you. If you are considering a marine biology volunteer program as part of your vacation, you can rest assured that when you return home from your travel abroad you will not only have worked on your tan, you will have helped make the world a better place. By volunteering abroad while on your vacation you can create lasting memories that will keep those feel-good memories lasting until at least your next vacation, if not longer! 

By contributing to the conservation of the waters and beaches that make up some of our world’s most precious natural resources, you will not only make a difference today — you will make a lasting contribution that will endure long after you return home and shake the sand out of your suitcase. And that’s why we think marine biology volunteer opportunities are some of the most important ways you can spend your time as an international volunteer. 

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Our top pick marine biology volunteer programs

Check out some of the great marine conservation programs below to help you make your decision!

1. Great Barrier Reef Conservation in Australia with GoEco

aerial view of great barrier reef
The great and powerful Oz is in need of a little help.

As the Great Barrier Reef faces threats to its very existence every single day, finding marine biology volunteer opportunities here has never been more critical. We need information and research, hands to rehabilitate wildlife, and volunteers who will return home as impressive advocates (you know, folks who know how to save our oceans).

  • Where: Australia
  • What: Conduct research for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
  • When: 12 day program; year-round 

2. Marine Research and Conservation in Mozambique with African Impact

Young black boy holding a starfish
Who knows what sunken treasures — alive or otherwise — you’ll find here

Mozambique might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of pristine marine life, but it certainly holds its own. Does hanging out with (and helping conserve!) manta rays, sea turtles, and whale sharks sound like a good time? Then this is the right program. 

  • Where: Mozambique
  • What: Conduct research on threatened ocean megafauna
  • When: 2-4 Weeks, 5-8 Weeks, 9-12 Weeks; year-round 

3. Southern Leyte Reef Conservation in the Philippines with Coral Ray Conservation

coral reef
Not all marine is cute and fluffy. Come to think of it, none of it really is.

Call the Heart of the Coral Triangle home as you research the general health of the incredible reef life surrounding some of the world’s most untouched aquatic paradises. You can even get certified in the Expedition Care Program (ECP) before you go.

  • Where: Philippines
  • What: Measure health of reefs to inform locally managed marine protected areas 
  • When: Start dates every four weeks 

4. Great White Shark Conservation in South Africa with GoEco

black tip shark
This black tip feels like child’s play compared to what you’ll be working with.

If there are few things you’d rather do than pretend biodiversity is not of chief importance for our planet and marine life, you’ve found your water tribe. Balance working with Jaws himself (no autographs please) with educating local communities and tourists on the need for rich sea life. 

  • Where: South Africa
  • What: Conduct research on threatened ocean megafauna
  • When: 4 weeks recommended; year-round

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How to find RESPONSIBLE marine biology volunteer opportunities

As you review some of the hundreds of marine conservation programs out there, and ultimately select one that fits you best, make sure to keep in mind what it means to be a responsible voluntourist. There can be a fine line between your dream vacation - and a nightmare voluntourism trip gone wrong. It’s up to you to make sure your trip remains a dream!

If you are not sure what your program has in store for you, read the reviews of the programs and reach out to program alumni to get a first-hand account of how your particular program operates in the country where you would like to volunteer. 

Coast of mozambique
It’s a palm tree’s life for me!

Whether you are trying to find Nemo, or you want to just keep swimming with Dory, take your time selecting a marine biology volunteer programs that fit your needs - and makes a positive impact on the oceans surrounding us all. Choosing the right marine conservation volunteer program could mean the beginning of a fulfilling career in the field - or at least a vacation you can be proud of! 

So, while your sea turtle dreams might be left unfulfilled (after all, finding ones that speak Aussie slang is no easy task), don’t give up on finding marine biology volunteer opportunities. There’s a project, a cold-blooded friend, a cause, or an effort that needs your time, skills, money, and generosity to better our planet, both now and in the future.

Find your squishy. We mean, uh, program.