Give back to the ocean on your next vacation!

As avid divers and snorkelers, the ocean holds a special place in our hearts. It is where we choose to spend our vacations, bringing us joy, calm, and feeds our sense of wonder and awe. The animals and vistas we see on our dive and snorkel excursions allow us the opportunity to visit for a while and then we are gone, back to our regular lives. Most of us are aware that our oceans are under a great deal of stress and though we may feel helpless to do anything to combat this stress there are opportunities out there to lend a hand. You would be amazed to know that there may be a project or cause at your next holiday destination where you can spend time helping the ocean and its inhabitants: it is called voluntourism.

Voluntourism is a relatively new term in the travel realm. In a nutshell it is basically spending time volunteering while on your vacation. Some travelers may choose to plan their whole trip around a specific volunteer project while others may reserve a day or two to spend on their project of choice. This is a great way to maximize your vacation and contribute to ocean conservation at the same time!

What kinds of opportunities exist? There are many options ranging from environmental conservation and rehabilitation to volunteering in local communities (schools, food banks, medical assistance). It really comes down to what your goal is and what options are available at your destination. As divers and snorkelers, our focus tends to be on ocean-oriented projects such as coral restoration, wildlife rehabilitation and citizen science programs. Your contribution could even be as simple as cleaning up trash on the beach or underwater! Many of these activities depend on volunteers for support not only with hands-on work, but also by spreading the word to friends and family. Education is the key to understanding and understanding leads to action.

Many of these volunteer programs are very hands on so get ready to work! Coral restoration programs depend on divers to help clean the coral trees and graduate to planting the baby coral fragments onto the reefs themselves. All of this happens after spending some time with trained professionals who explain the process from start to finish. Wildlife monitoring programs vary from identifying and counting fish species to helping sea turtles safely lay their eggs and return to the ocean. Once again, all volunteer work is conducted under the guidance of professionals. The safety of the volunteers and the animals are always the number one consideration.

You may wonder if you need special training to participate in these types of programs. For the coral restoration programs strong buoyancy skills are imperative to being comfortable working around the coral trees. The trees have many coral fragments attached and the primary work volunteers do is scrubbing the PVC piping of algae. Excellent buoyancy control ensures that the corals are not damaged and that the surrounding sand is not kicked up. The wildlife monitoring programs that involve diving also require strong buoyancy skills, along with fish identification knowledge. It is always helpful to have as much ecology and behavior knowledge to draw from as well.

Are you ready to get involved and contribute to a healthy, prolific ocean? There are many opportunities to chip in and make your next vacation rewarding and relaxing. The first step is to identify what kind of work you are interested in. This will help narrow your search and guide you to the program you would find most rewarding. If you already have a destination in mind contact  the dive center you are diving with and see if they have a partnership with any local conservation groups. If you have no idea where to start, check with your local dive shop. More and more dive centers are beginning to offer dive adventures that incorporate volunteer and learning opportunities. If you don’t have a local or a favorite dive shop, check out Ocean First. This is the future of dive travel and not only is it enormously rewarding, it is fun and very encouraging to be around like-minded humans who care about our oceans!


by Guest Blogger, Amy Christopher

Amy’s fascination with the underwater world began at an early age, snorkeling with her family on a variety of adventures during their overseas assignments. Her experience living in Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Singapore forged her love of travel and guided her towards her current career as a dive travel specialist with Ocean First in Boulder, Colorado.

Ecotourism with a focus on marine conservation has always been paramount when building adventures for avid divers and snorkelers. Amy’s travel experience spans almost 20 years and has taken her to all 7 continents. In her spare time Amy is an avid cyclist, hiker, and newly certified yoga instructor. She serves as a member of the Mother of Corals’ Board of Directors.

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