There are so many wonderful conservation projects around the world that support our fragile oceans and marine life, but how many do you know of that you can actually become involved in? Many conservation charities provide you with opportunities to donate money, read about their work and fund raise, but maybe not get involved with the actual work itself. There are always the conservation ‘gap year’ options, which definitely get you more hands on with projects. However, more often than not these trips are very far away, costing a small fortune in fees and flights, where a large amount is received by the travel company rather than the project itself.
Therefore, this series of articles aims to present marine conservation projects world-wide, that provide interesting and worthwhile volunteering opportunities and allow divers and marine enthusiasts to contribute their skills to a good cause, without completely breaking the bank. The first search began in Australia.
Ningaloo Reef is Australia’s largest fringing reef and can be found off the coast of Western Australia, with Exmouth being the usual gateway for visitors. It has a wonderfully high diversity of marine life and is a perfect habitat for threatened marine creatures such as dugongs, whale sharks, humpback whales and turtles. Three species of marine turtle use Ningaloo as their feeding and nesting grounds: green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles. All are internationally recognised as threatened and protected species.
This area is also where you will find Ningaloo Turtle Program, an award winning project whose aim is to predict long-term trends in marine turtle populations along the Ningaloo coast. A hugely important factor in achieving this aim is collecting data at turtle nesting sites. This data facilitates the implementation of effective protection of nest sites, identifies the level of threat from feral predation and assists the Department of Wildlife in making key decisions regarding the Ningaloo coastline and its sustainable future.
The Ningaloo Turtle program attracts local, national and international volunteers to collect this data during the turtle nesting season between December and January. 12 volunteers, 3 team leaders and one communications intern are required each year. The volunteers work approximately 4-5 hours per day data collecting with the rest of the day to explore and dive the beautiful Ningaloo reef coastline. As well as this, volunteers may get opportunities to remote camp adjacent to the Ningaloo Reef, monitor isolated beaches, complete data entry and assist with turtle rescues.
This is one of the projects that will affect your bank account. The cost is $1300 per volunteer but this does include all accommodation for the duration as well as training to become a turtle tracker. Or, if you are experienced in the relevant fields then applying for one of the team leader positions could be an exciting option! There is no cost for this option, accommodation is provided and food and transport is subsidised.
It is easy to agree, whether a local or not, that the turtle population of Ningaloo Reef is an essential element of the reefs biodiversity and beauty and therefore a worthwhile cause for money and time. Successful volunteers have the wonderful opportunity to see these magical creatures their natural habitat and help guarantee their survival, as well as making memories exploring the magical Ningaloo Reef!
For a volunteer opportunity that would allow divers to get their feet wet, Reef Check Australia really stood out. The hub of this charity is the truly powerful tool of citizen science. They aim to build support for the survival of Australia’s reefs by empowering people to get hands-on and experience the wonders of the reef themselves.
Once again, Reef Check Australia’s conservation work also comes from a mass of data collected by volunteers which is then used to inform projects to do with Australia’s reefs and coastlines.
Reef Check Australia provides volunteers with many opportunities to get into the water for various data collection. You can become a reef surveyor, where you dive or snorkel on Australia’s reefs as part of a survey team. Or, if you do not have the time to commit to planned surveys you could become a Reef Searcher, where you have the freedom to collect data in your own time. Finally you can join the Grey Nurse Shark Watch, by just taking photos and providing information on any grey nurse sharks you encounter on your dives.
Reef Check Australia goes above and beyond when it comes to inspiring people to become passionate about Australia’s oceans. As well as diving opportunities, there are also volunteer opportunities for those that prefer to keep their feet dry! You can become a Reef Ambassador, where you speak about reef science and marine conservation at various events within your community. Sticking with the education theme, Reef Check Australia provide schools with education packs and resources, even organising marine biologists to visit your classroom, so people of all ages can really become enthusiastic about Australia’s oceans!
“As divers, we all have an incredible opportunity to share both with the research community and the world the things that we have the privilege to see underwater (both the good and the not-so-good). It’s so rewarding to hear the responses from new volunteers about how Reef Check training has changed the way they see the reef—how it provides a new perspective and greater appreciation for this beautiful and complex ecosystem. It’s truly inspiring to help people who love the reef discover additional knowledge, skills and motivation to help look after it.”
Jennifer Loder – Director of Programs & Partnerships. Reef Check Australia
If you believe that the reef surveying is an amazing opportunity for you and something you would love to get involved in then you would need to take part in a Reef Check Australia training course. This costs between $325 & $495. You must also be qualified to the Advanced Open Water Diver level or equivalent, have a minimum of 25 logged dives and supply your own diving equipment.
Conservation through education and community involvement really is an incredibly powerful tool. It allows people to love the environment around them and therefore become more passionate about saving it. If you fancy falling in love with Australia’s reefs, and helping other people too, then check out Reef Check Australia!
For more information on the volunteer projects in this article, please visit: