Marine conservation travel guide

Marine conservation travel guide


There are lots of common misconceptions about marine conservation: itís hugely Ďseriousí: a perpetual science lesson; issues only affect far-flung exotic places; and volunteering vacations are aimed at gap year students and are always very intensive.

Of course, marine conservation is a very serious matter. The health of our oceans and seas and the incredible life that lives in the water is so often taken for granted and is hugely vulnerable to harm by tourism and human activity Ė but thatís not to say you canít be in the company of some really interesting people and have a lot of fun while helping out with it. Itís also a global issue which affects everyone, from those who have fond memories of afternoons spent rock pooling in Lyme Regis to those who have been enchanted by a chance encounter with a whale in Sri Lanka. Intensive projects still exist, but they exist alongside other initiatives that are able to cater for people wanting to help out for as little as a week.
Get to grips with what a marine conservation vacation entails and how you can choose the right one for you with our marine conservation travel guide.

Is a marine conservation vacation for you?


Go on a marine conservation vacation if...

  • You are passionate about the marine environment and want to help preserve it.
  • You love snorkelling and are not yet a diver, but are keen to learn.
  • You want to understand marine conservationís bigger picture and are comfortable that research and science are a really important element of doing that.
  • You are looking for a really alternative trip: marine conservation vacations are nothing like booking a villa for a week somewhere sunny, theyíre an entirely different experience where you will be helping to do something incredible, but probably out of your comfort zone too.
  • Thankfully, the relationship between the local community and conservationists is becoming stronger and one of the markers of a conservation projectís success now is how well it works within the local community. It isnít compulsory to get involved with the local community, but most people want to and youíll need to have an active interest in finding out more about the local lifestyle to get the most out of your time there.
  • Itís important that you find a marine conservation trip that matches your own interests and your own skill level too Ė find out if you need previous diving experience, or any prior training, so the trip matches your own expectations of what you want to learn and achieve.
Don't go on a marine conservation vacation if...

  • You want to go somewhere to party. Donít confuse a relaxed environment with the fact that youíre actually helping out as part of an important environmental picture.
  • Youíre hugely unfit.Conservation work is pretty hard work and some trips involve up to three dives a day; you donít have to be an Olympian, but you do need a moderate level of fitness that will allow you to walk a few miles comfortably as well as feel happy to lift and carry equipment.
  • Youíre no good in the sun. Marine conservation projects are often based on smaller islands off the mainland in hot locations.
  • You want air-conditioned, resort style accommodation and umbrellas in your cocktails. The locations may be 5*, but theyíre not 5* resorts and conservation work is far more about local people and living how they live than creature comforts.
  • You need a regular sleep pattern, or a set routine. Particularly in turtle conservation projects, youíre going to be walking up and down a beach several times a night, so your sleep pattern will be more erratic. Flexibility is a must for any conservation trip because you are working within nature, which essentially has no rules, so you need to be prepared for changes to your daily plan.
  • Youíre not able to manage your expectations. One night you might see 20 turtles, the next you might see none Ė there is neither rhyme nor reason to their behaviour.

What does a marine conservation entail?


A marine conservation trip is essentially a working vacation joining a team of trained researchers and scientists working on a long-term project to protect and preserve ecosystems in oceans and seas around the world. A lot of the work that goes into conservation requires large amounts of manpower, so volunteers are needed to muck in and can do a combination of research-based activities, such as data collection and data entry, which can be done on land and from the deck of a boat, and reef protection and restoration activities, which require more time to be spent diving in the water.

Not all marine conservation vacations involve diving Ė some shark monitoring trips in South Africa, for example, involve observing the sharks from above the water, and turtle conservation is very much based on land and with far less science involved than if you were assisting on an intensive coral protection project. And if your dream marine conservation vacation does require diving skills, you donít have to be a diver before you go, as PADI training is factored in and can be completed in a week.
Without question, what you absolutely need before booking a marine conservation trip is passion for marine life, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. Learning to dive involves reading and studying, and youíll be learning about conservation and attending lectures frequently, so a genuine interest is imperative.

The idyllic beach setting runs the risk of people presuming marine conservation trips are a bit more of a vacation than they actually are; they can be very hard work and demand long days with quite physical, but very rewarding, work involved. Although accommodation will be provided and some is more plush than others, you should approach marine conservation expecting a 5* experience, not a 5* resort.

Responsible Travel recommends


Koh Tao Festival

A genius blend of partying and environmental awareness, the Koh Tao Festival combines live music, DJs, food and dancing to stress the importance of local conservation projects and raise money for the three branches of the Save Koh Tao Group: land, marine and education. For two days and two nights, the whole community gets involved and, besides having a jolly good time, help with the release of 150 juvenile or rehabilitated sea turtles into the sea, the relocation of 1,000 baby giant clams into nurseries under the sea, the cleaning of beaches and roads, and underwater clean-ups. Guest lecturers offer free talks and advice too.
Photo credits: [topbox: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] [research on-land: U.S. Army Corps of Engin] [Koh Tao festival: Julian Tysoe]
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