Wildlife conservation and community volunteer projects and internships worldwide

baby turtle in Costa Rica

Environment & Wildlife, General

9 of the BEST Marine Conservation Volunteer Projects

February 13th 2024

For as long as humans have harnessed the power of transport (literally: to carry across), they have been using the ocean as a source of food, trade and exploration. The ocean covers 70% of the earth’s surface, contains 1.35 billion km of water (97% of all water on earth) and is home to an immeasurable number of creatures. But an inevitable consequence of humans seeking to utilise and benefit from this natural resource is the toll it takes on the natural world, namely through overfishing, oil spills, pollution and plastic.

Our seas are more accessible than ever and we are on track to have more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, with at least 14 million tonnes ending up in the ocean every year, damaging coral reefs irreparably, killing sealife and contaminating waters. As such, marine conservation becomes more essential every day.

Marine conservation Volunteering

There are numerous ways to get involved with marine conservation volunteering, from local beach cleans and surveys to international projects with sea turtles and scuba diving.

The Marine Conservation Society has identified various ways to help clean our oceans, save its sea creatures and preserve its ecosystem. Becoming a community presenter or media spokesperson is a great way to engage with and educate your local community, raising awareness of the Marine Conservation Society and the importance of their work through community talks and presentations or speaking on your local radio/TV. The Marine Conservation Society provides you with the necessary resources and training to adopt these voluntary positions. 

Taking part in surveys such as the Big Seaweed Search, seasearch diving and reporting wildlife sightings can be a great way to collect data on certain areas of the ocean, providing information about its inhabitants and contributing to scientific research. This allows marine biologists to assess the data to see how sea creature populations are changing and to track the health of the waters and ecosystems within them, to create the most effective strategies of conservation. These surveys take place both onshore and offshore, so there is something for everyone to get involved in and add to over 30 years of data already collected by volunteers.

Participating in a source to sea litter quest or organising/finding a beach clean are other effective ways to volunteer and support marine conservation. 80% of marine litter comes up rivers and drains from land-bases sources, arriving on our beaches via the sea and causing destruction along the way. By taking part in beach cleans and recording what you find in the process, this data is collected to trace litter back to its source and used to find and implement strategies campaigning for change.

Top 9 marine conservation volunteering projects:

WorkingAbroad has various marine conservation volunteering programmes with different locations and interests that allow you to gain invaluable experience abroad, while also supporting an urgent cause. Here are our top 9 marine conservation projects:

Playa Tortuga Conservation Project, Costa Rica

What: This project gives volunteers the opportunity to live in a tropical rainforest reserve and study and patrol the sea turtle population, researching their nesting habits and monitoring caimans, crocodiles, sea boas and various mammals in the region. It also provides divers with the option to get involved with coral reef restoration. 

Where: Playa Tortuga lies along the Pacific coastline of Costa Rica and is part of its tropical rainforest nature reserve. It is home to vast expanses of beaches and coral reefs.

Volunteers have rated this WorkingAbroad project 5/5 stars, with Amy O’Donovan reporting only last month that:

“We had the most amazing time at Playa Tortuga! What an incredible experience to catch turtle eggs in our hands as they were being laid, excavate nests and the baby turtles, then get to release them. I have recommended the project to everyone I’ve spoken to. This was an experience of a lifetime and I felt privileged to able to do my part to help with the project.”

Costa Rica coral reef restorationVolunteer Costa Rica | WorkingAbroad

 Coral Reef Restoration and Diving Project, Bali

What: This project aims to carry out reef restoration using artificial reef technology to bring new life to damaged reefs while providing essential marine conservation skills. Volunteers will empower local communities to protect and nurture life on the coast, construct and deploy artificial reefs and dive up to 8 times a week to monitor progress.

Where: Based in Tulamben, a small fishing village on the northeast coast of Bali, this region is known for its diving and breathtaking coastline.

Our volunteers have also rated this project 5/5, with Hannah saying:

“My time in Bali with the project was genuinely one of the best decisions I’ve made. The local team are all glorious people and the programme is really well put together and so much fun… The food is amazing (thank you chefs) and just know that you’ll be well looked after… I sobbed when I left and I’m not the only one! I couldn’t recommend it more.”Coral reef restoration in BaliBali Coral Restoration | WorkingAbroad

Caribbean Reef Buddy Diving Project, Carriacou, West Indies

What: Volunteering for this project can offer formal diving training in preparation for working on the coral reefs, taking surveys and assessing fish, benthic species and substrate composition and helping with coral reef regeneration. There are a range of levels available, including a training week for complete beginners.

Where: Carriacou is an island in Grenada renowned for its coral reefs and crystal clear waters. It’s long stretches of coastline provide picturesque views and ideal diving and snorkelling conditions.

This is yet another of our programmes rated 5/5 by our volunteers, with Jonny, who joined for 8 weeks, saying:

“The program as a whole was an amazing experience where I got to develop great friendships, develop myself personally and as a diver and get involved in a large amount of conservation work, which actually makes a difference. Definitely a life-changing experience and I could not recommend the program more to anyone who loves diving and the underwater world.” diving fish shoalsVolunteer in Carriacou | WorkingAbroad

Great Barrier Reef Conservation Project, Australia

What: Our Great Barrier Reef Conservation Project in Australia encourages interns to support research, education and conservation of the Great Barrier Reef. Marine biologists work with our volunteers to train them in reef ecology and survey techniques, showing you how to monitor the reef and collect and input data you have collected on your surveys.

Where: The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef and one of the seven wonders of the natural world. It is the only living thing visible from space and stretches for over 2,300 km of Australia’s northeastern coast along the state of Queensland.

Our Great Barrier Reef Conservation project has been rated 5/5 by our volunteers, one of which, Catherine, said:

“… I found that unlike many internships that are primarily looking for free labour, this project is very focused on providing value via education and skill-building of their interns. It felt like a mutually beneficial experience, and I would absolutely recommend it to others.”Volunteer snorkel in great barrier reefCoral Reef Conservation Australia | WorkingAbroad

Dolphin and Whale Research Volunteer Project, Portugal

What: The aim of this project is to help conserve dolphin and whale populations in the Mediterranean. Volunteers can gain experience working at sea, learning new research skills and working with marine biologists to collect data and learn about photo analysis.

Where: Our Dolphin and Whale Research Volunteer Project is based in Albufeira, a coastal city in the southern Algarve region of Portugal. Its bays and strips of sandy beaches make it the perfect spot for diving and dolphin watching.

With another 5/5 overall rating, Ioana Lacriteanu said:

“The time spent in Portugal during my Dolphin and Whale Research Project internship was the best and most fruitful experience I’ve had so far. The team is absolutely wonderful. The only regret that I have is that I’ve stayed for only 2 weeks.”Conservation volunteer watching dolphinDolphin Whale Research | Volunteer Portugal | Working Abroad

Dolphin Research Volunteer Project, Greece

What: The Dolphin Research Volunteer Project in Vonitsa comprises working alongside scientists to research bottlenose dolphins, seeking Mediterranean monk seals and common dolphins in the Ionian Sea, learning about dolphin behaviour and examining dead dolphins to investigate cause of death, all while residing in a charming Greek fishing village.

Where: This project takes place both in Vonitsa in the Gulf of Ambracia and in the Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago, just a few kilometres south of the Gulf, allowing volunteers to explore different parts of Greece.

One of our volunteers, Judith Marti, said:

“Working as a volunteer at Dolphin Research Volunteer Project in Greece, I can state that I feel fulfilled about life and my future goals. I am grateful every day for this adventure thanks to WorkingAbroad. Learning all about dolphin behaviour and helping scientists to research bottlenose dolphins in Vonitsa has been the best experience I’ve ever had.Volunteers watching dolphin jumping in GreeceVolunteer Greece | Volunteer with Dolphins | Working Abroad

Deep Ecology and Sea Turtle Conservation Programme, Costa Rica

What: Our Deep Ecology and Sea Turtle Conservation Programme allows volunteers to experience eco living while researching turtles in Drake Bay. Based in the Osa Peninsula, volunteers participate in ecological food production and sustainable living, with free yoga and Spanish and cooking lessons available in your free time.

Where: This project is located in the Osa Peninsula, just next to the Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica, a country which holds more than 5% of the world’s species, despite its land only covering 0.03% of the earth.

Yet another project rated 5/5, Helen and her family recently returned from Costa Rica and said:

“…We had an amazing week, and I would thoroughly recommend the whole experience… Rob ensured that we did a variety of activities during our week; including making fertilizer, gardening, scrapping coconuts for coconut oil and turtle patrols… When we were not volunteering, activities included yoga, Spanish lessons, swimming in the sea and relaxing in the hammocks. We all felt it was a wonderful way to experience Costa Rica.”Sunset Playa GanaditoVolunteer in Costa Rica | WorkingAbroad

Sea Turtle Conservation Project, Greece

What: This project focuses on protecting endangered sea turtles, conserving populations, gaining experience in marine conservation and monitoring techniques, surveying turtle nests, conducting inventories and ensuring hatchlings reach the sea safely.

Where: This project is based along the south coast of Kefalonia, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea to the west of the mainland. Kefalonia is renowned for its sandy coves and untouched coastline, perfect for sea turtle nests.

Cathy Gunn, a volunteer on the project for 2 weeks said:

“I had a FANTASTIC experience volunteering with the Sea Turtle Conservation project in Kefalonia. They are a hard-working group who work, with passion, for the survival of the endangered sea turtles. The leaders informed and trained us voluntary field researchers every step of the way. I was impressed by their dedication to detail and duty. They deserve to be supported every which way for the benefit of their cause.

You certainly paved the way too to something I had never ever imagined would be so worthwhile and memorable. Despite being the eldest member of the team, I felt entirely at ease as the organisers and volunteers were all so welcoming. We had lots of fun and happy times together. Your organisational skills with the run-up to my experience were impeccable too. Thank you so much for this great experience.”Baby sea turtle in hands in GreeceVolunteer with Turtles | Volunteer Greece

Galapagos Conservation Volunteers

What: Our Galapagos Conservation Volunteers Programme offers numerous opportunities from caring for giant tortoises to ecotourism in the nearby national park and monitoring sea turtles along the coast. During your free time, volunteers can snorkel with penguins and seals and explore the islands. As a sea turtle nest monitoring volunteer, you will identify different sea turtle species, determine nesting patterns and monitor nest sizes and hatching.

Where: The Galapagos is an idyllic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, home to spectacular scenery and a wealth of wildlife. The islands were the source of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution following his visit in 1835 and remain invaluable to scientists today.

John volunteered on the project for 4 weeks and said:

“…I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the trip I’ve just done to Galapagos. I really admire the jobs that you do, and appreciate so much the help and encouragement that you gave me prior to leaving… So, having gone to Galapagos and having had such a great time, I know for sure that both the project and Working Abroad are totally great, and believe me if I’m welcome back I will definitely try to organise future projects with you.”

Why not dive into one of our top 9 marine conservation volunteering projects above and seize your next adventure!Galapagos sealsGalapagos Volunteering | Working Abroad

Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Gemma Howard-Vyse

About the Author

WorkingAbroad Projects

Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.