I love to swim and have always been fascinated by the waters – beaches, oceans, rivers – and the colorful fishes I encounter in them. I feel so at home while in the sea and have always fantasized living in it like a mermaid, since I was a kid. Hence, being a marine volunteer made that fantasy quite a reality!
Traveling is my next favorite thing to do – visiting incredibly beautiful places especially ones that boast stunning white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters, and would love to tell everyone about it. However, after telling my story and the incredible destinations, I felt something was missing. That those travels were empty and meant nothing at all. I realized I did not make any impact on the places I visited and the people I’ve met, that I won’t have meaningful and lasting memories to tell everyone. That’s when the thought of volunteering abroad occurred to me. And since I’m passionate about marine life and have also witnessed how the riches of the sea are under threats of being exploited, I then decided to embark on a volunteer journey abroad and make an impactful difference to the vulnerable marine habitat. You too can start your life-changing adventure!
Why Marine Conservation?
Marine Conservation is in many ways essential not only for today’s generation but also for everyone’s continued existence. People who love the waters are the first to notice and be disheartened to see the complex and alarming ways that the marine wildlife is gradually degrading and its abundance drastically declining. Coral reef depletion, toxic waste spills, climate change, pollution, coastal degradation, unsustainable fishing practices, trash, bad tourism practices – these are overwhelming desecrations causing tremendous negative impact to marine wildlife. The ocean is the world’s most precious life source and the largest ecosystem, hence this should be a top priority for all conservation and altruistic efforts in making the world a better place.
What does it take to be a Marine Volunteer?
Being a marine volunteer is a humbling and yet a rewarding experience. What greatly matters to be one is having the heart for marine life – the riches of the waters and its creatures – and being committed to save them! If you are passionate about this vulnerable ecosystem and want to give back to them, this is a great opportunity for you.
You need to be a competent swimmer, physically fit, 18 years old and above, speak at least basic English, and ready for an adventure and challenge.
Some programs require previous diving experience or diver certification, and some offer certification courses during the program. I highly advise that you check first the program you’re interested in if diving certification or experience is a prerequisite.
If you are considering pursuing studies and a career in veterinary medicine or marine biology, this is a great fit for you. Having a practical scientific field experience will come in quite handy in your career, even to those who will be pursuing a different field. Adding your marine conservation volunteer experience will give prospective employers the idea that you are responsible and use your free time for an altruistic cause, like volunteering.
Be a responsible volunteer.
Choose the right volunteer company. Make a brief research on the volunteer organization – their clear and defined objectives; how ethical and responsible their volunteer programs are, not only for the volunteer’s benefit but also for the host or local community; proven sustainable conservation initiatives; check the travel guidelines and responsible travel policy in their website; look into partnership or a significant working relationship of the organization with the community.
Select the right program that suits you and will make a positive impact. Research on the program location and the local community; understand and respect the culture and practices of the locals; examine if the program can contribute to the local community’s economy; check the testimonials and reviews from volunteer program alumni; look into the skills needed, if any; check out the certificates and other prerequisites required; review if program cost meets your budget; consider program duration that meets your time frame.
I always aim for meaningful travels and impactful experiences, hence I make sure to always choose the best volunteer abroad adventure. My first volunteer adventure was a Dolphin Research and Marine Conservation project in Zanzibar. I have always been fascinated with these intelligent creatures and dreamed of befriending one (Free Willy fan here!), hence a well-informed decision. I was lucky to stay in a private beach house with other volunteers, with full housekeeping service. Though I wouldn’t mind doing chores like cleaning my room, washing the utensils and laundry, however the staff made sure that we get to devote our time on our volunteer tasks and get the most of our experience. Free WiFi was available at the accommodation too! I love every meal time as we were served with fresh cooked meals of local and international cuisines. I was glad they also prepared vegetarian meals for volunteers with such meal requirements. I woke up each day gazing at the stunning beauty of the white sand beach and turquoise waters.
I start my volunteer duties by going out to the sea to look for ponds of dolphins and do some data gathering. Though dolphins are friendly mammals, I have to be careful approaching them as they tend to swim away if they get unwanted attention. But I love the privilege of seeing them everyday during the entire volunteer duration. I also love snorkeling in the waters to monitor and collect data on coral reefs and coral species. This is where I got a deeper understanding of the coral bleaching phenomenon and felt the concern for the health of the coral reefs.
Everyday, I am in the waters – which is a truly treasured moment for me – and end each day with gladness in my heart for I know that I am making a difference in the world each day. Above waters, I also got the opportunity to connect with the local community especially with the school children. I appreciated the role entrusted to us volunteers to help raise awareness to the kids the value of their natural environment and how they can help in taking good care of it. We also had the chance to help educate through workshops, the adult members of the community especially concerning eco-friendly dolphin tours.
After volunteer duties or during days off, there are other activities that volunteers could engage in – like boat rides, kitesurfing, scuba diving, and dhow sailing. We also had the chance to go on a safari tour – which was a very unexpected experience for me. I truly enjoy every moment of my volunteer experience in Zanzibar and wouldn’t mind going back there if given the chance.
Few points to remember.
Respect others and the community you are visiting. Have an awareness of the people around you, and respect their culture.
Be mindful of the simple ways that you can help protect the place and support the people in the local community. Pick up visible trash; dress appropriately when out of the waters and in the local community; ask permission before taking photos of people; support local community stores or economy.
Make new friends. Try to get to know everyone in the community and the people you are interacting with during your whole volunteer time. Talk to them, share stories and experiences, and make meaningful connections.
Smile. Be kind. Make a positive impact.