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Marine conservation vacations
in Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is one of the most exciting scuba diving destinations in the world, a region of islands and well preserved reefs that’s home to 80 percent of the world’s coral species and over 1,300 species of fish. A handful of dedicated diving and snorkelling vacations run here, but if you’re keen to experience Raja Ampat’s underwater riches and also contribute to their protection, you can do more than just pull on a wetsuit, you can join a marine conservation vacation as a volunteer.
This is your chance to explore reefs that are home to a dazzling diversity of marine life and perform vital monitoring and research that will support its protection. It’s meaningful work and enjoyable, too.
Any diving fan or water lover will relish the chance to get below the waves in this pristine marine environment (if you don’t yet have your PADI certification, you can train for that during your first week on the project here). When not in the water, your home is a bungalow on the beach on a tiny, paradisal island, in a remote corner of the world that few people ever get to visit. It’s not a push to imagine how this all adds up to a phenomenal vacation!
Our top Raja Ampat Vacation
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How does this vacation help?
As a volunteer, you work alongside a team of scientists and marine conservationists. Typically, you dive twice a day, taking part in survey dives, habitat mapping and data gathering to build up a detailed picture of the reef’s health. All this data is then passed on to local government and stakeholders to inform sensible decisions about protecting the reef and Raja Ampat’s unique marine life. Without volunteers, this quantity of research just couldn’t take place, so that’s the first way in which your presence here helps.
In addition, you’ll have the chance to make a difference in the local community, too, bridging the gap between the reef ecosystem, local people and local government. Protecting these incredible coral reefs from threats such as overfishing, fishing with dynamite and coral destruction means involving the people that rely on them. The project teaches sustainable fishing techniques and explains the economic benefits of protecting marine areas.
You may work with local school children too, educating them about the importance of protecting the reefs, teaching them English or perhaps doing a beach clean together. This is your chance to inspire the next generation of conservationists who, hopefully, will go on to promote marine conservation in the region. This really is a well-rounded volunteer experience, combining data gathering and education, the marine world and the human, and it feels thoroughly rewarding as a result.
“I loved the balance of activities: snorkelling alongside whale sharks, whale watching, data logging, community projects, working alongside serious scientists and having a proper vacation all at the same time.” – Anna Bosatta, in her vacation review
What does a typical week involve?
Marine conservation volunteering in Raja Ampat is physical and fun, with one or two survey dives a day and time spent working on the numerous community projects in the surrounding area. You might start your day with a survey dive at 9am, or visit the local village to help out there, teaching basic English, playing educational games or helping with the island’s dental hygiene initiative. Lunch will be ready at midday and then, after eating, you’ll complete another survey dive.
In the evenings, there might be educational presentations on marine biology, ecology and fish identification, Indonesian language lessons and theory sessions for volunteers taking extra PADI scuba courses, or you’ll have free time to relax. Saturdays are typically set aside for leisure dives in the morning and free afternoons while Sunday is a completely dive free day, so you have some decent recovery time out of the water. Use it to lie on the beach, play volleyball or footie, swim or snorkel, or explore the island.
PracticalitiesIt’s a two hour boat ride from Sorong to Arborek Island where the marine conservation project is based. This is a tiny, flat sand cay, with pretty beaches and a thriving village, but it is extremely remote and facilities are basic. You will stay at the project camp, in a rustic bungalow right on the beach, built by the local community using traditional methods and materials.
Volunteers typically share a room with someone of the same sex, thought that can’t always be guaranteed. You can also choose to pay a little more for use of a bungalow with two private rooms. Rooms have bunk beds, mattresses, pillows, simple bedlinen, mozzie nets and a fan. An electricity generator runs at night so you will be able to charge phones and cameras.
Teamwork and good communication are key to the smooth running of daily life at the camp, and all volunteers and staff muck in to keep the area clean and tidy. Three meals are provided each day, cooked up by a local staff member using seasonal and local ingredients, except on Sundays, when expedition staff and volunteers take their turn to cook.
There are up to 18 people volunteering at a time and, as with all volunteering vacations, this is a superb option for solo travelers, providing a ready-made group of friends to work and play with. Marine conservation work involves being in the water twice on most days. There’s no need to be an athlete, but it’s essential you’re healthy and relatively fit; diving involves little movement, but kit is heavy and spending time underwater tires your body quickly.
If you’re new to diving, bear in mind that you must not be afraid of underwater submersion; getting some snorkelling practice in beforehand can help get you used to breathing with your face underwater, as well as the fit of the mask. You’ll also need to be comfortable swimming around 200m. The minimum age for anyone interested in marine conservation volunteering in Raja Ampat is 18, although children from 10 years old can join the project if accompanied by an adult.
The marine conservation project runs all year round. If you are eager to see manta rays, come from October to April, when they are present in Raja Ampat. You may be able to join identification dives, learning how to tell the rays apart by the markings on their bellies.
More about Raja Ampat
The best time to visit Raja Ampat if you’re keen to dive is September to April, when manta rays cruise in and the waters are calm, but at almost any time of year this region is a treat, with a steady climate and warm, clear seas.
One of the most biodiverse marine environments in the world, Raja Ampat is a collection of 1,500 islands lying between West Papua and East Indonesia.
Slap bang in the center of the Coral Triangle, Raja Ampat is one of Indonesia’s best kept snorkelling secrets.