There can be many reasons for volunteering in the marine conservation/research sector and there are equally as many opportunities and providers. It is therefore worth looking around to find the opportunity that fits your needs. From an eco-holiday to serious CV building, from free to considerably expensive and from ad-hoc volunteering to extended durations overseas. It is worth noting that there are some providers at all levels that are either exploitative or serve little conservation/scientific purpose so do be careful about where you give your time.
To help get you started I have provided a list below of organisations and projects that have a proven record in delivering scientific/conservation results or come highly recommended as training opportunities.
A charity dedicated to the conservation of nature in the UK. The Wildlife Trusts has a federated structure with 47 local trusts around the UK ensuring that wherever you live there will be opportunities nearby. Their Living Seas team oversees their marine conservation work.
This Heritage Lottery Funded project is a partnership of institutions around the UK utilising citizen science to understand the diversity of UK shores. Training and equipment is provided free of charge by CoCoast scientists and you can be confident that all data you collect is used in real scientific research.
Sea Watch Foundation is the UK’s principal cetacean monitoring charity. Based in Newquay, Wales, SWF provides internship opportunities as well as opportunities to get involved with a regional sightings network so you can monitor whales and dolphins in your home region. SWF hosts the National Whale and Dolphin Watch in the first week of August each year with events taking place across the UK.
MCS is a leading charity in the UK working towards the protection of seas, shores and wildlife. MCS is highly active in public outreach and working closely with industry. Its Sea Champions programme is an easily accesible way for anyone to be involved in environmental volunteering.
The Shark Trust is the foremost UK charity campaigning for better protection and protective legislation for sharks, skates and rays in the UK. Their Great Eggcase Hunt is a great way to contribute to our knowledge of these animals every time you visit the shore.
SAS is a grassroots organisation tackling plastic pollution around the coastlines of the UK.
MARINElife is a charity dedicated to conserving whales, dolphins and seabirds in the North East Atlantic area through research and education. They coordinate and conduct their activities from a variety of vessels of opportunity and volunteers can train to conduct surveys at sea.
The HWDT conducts surveys and monitoring of cetaceans in the Hebridean region of Scotland. HWDT provide opportunties to take part in vessel based cetacean surveys as well as a limited number of longer term placements.
CRRU conducts research on the dolphins of the Moray Firth in Scotland. They provide opportunities for 11 day internships during their summer field season.
CBMWC is based in New Quay, Wales and is active in engaging with the public on matters of marine conservation and of course the Cardigan Bay dolphins. The have a wide variety of volunteer opportunities.
Coordinated by the Marine Conservation Society and supported by many other organisations, Seasearch is a citizen science programme for qualified divers to conduct marine life and habitat surveys during dives. Seasearch provides well recognised training and assessment levels that are excellent value for money.
Orca conducts research on cetaceans from vessels of opportunity as well as engaging in extensive public outreach.
For those of you currently studying at university one of the best ways to gain experience is to volunteer in your department. Researchers often need an extra pair of hands. If you decide to do this please be aware of your availability and how much you can commit. It is much better to commit to a few hours every two weeks and stick to it than to promise a full day every week and let people down.
If you are looking for a marine adventure in Madagascar, Belize or Timor-Leste then Blue Ventures may be just for you but be warned – they are not cheap! These SCUBA focused expeditions last anywhere from 3 weeks to 90 days and you can know you will be collecting data for an organization that has a strong record in publishing scientific results. You can even do your degree research projects with Blue Ventures. To find out more about volunteering with Blue Ventures download their expedition guide.
Coral Cay provides volunterring opportunities in the beautiful waters of the Phillipines with expeditions lasting from 2 to 16 weeks. CCC provide publicly available scientific reports so you know you hard work whilst there is worth it. It’s not cheap but I’ve heard great reports from past participants.
If you want an expedition or experience where you know that the data you collect will lead to quality science then Operation Wallacea (or OpWall as it is often affectionately known) is probably the place for you. OpWall works closely with academic institutions providing support for university researchers, thesis research and even PhD opportunities. Expeditions typically last from 2 to 8 weeks.
Love sharks? Then you have probably already heard of this place. Bimini Shark Lab offers internships lasting from 2 to 12 months. Bimini produces some world class science and is led by experts in the field. HIGHLY recommended.
The Perry Institute is based in the Carribean but supports projects around the globe. They do not have a formal volunteering or internship scheme but have occaisional opportunities. Check their website to learn about their great work and ways which you could get involved.
If you feel I have missed any opportunities from this list then please contact me and let me know.