Caribbean Reef Conservation

Belize

Our award-winning Reef Conservation project in Belize contributes research to wider scientific work going on in Belize and worldwide working to protect the reefs and marine life.

You will assist the local team by collecting data, monitoring species and documenting sightings. This enables the project to collect larger quantities of data to assist the local government’s decision making regarding fishing in the area as well as how best to protect the area from the threat from invasive species and climate change. Divers of all abilities are welcome as training can be provided on site.

Live on an idyllic private island in the Caribbean and explore the rainforest, Maya history and coastal towns in your free time.

Volunteers are needed to assist the team’s efforts to conserve the marine environment.

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Key Info

key info
  • Location: Caribbean Island in southern Belize
  • Start dates: Every Sunday
  • Duration: 1 – 12 weeks +
  • Age requirement: 18+ (10+ for families or groups)
  • Availability: Spaces available, limited until Aug
  • Cost: From £895 / €1045 / $1145 - see fees table below

Project Information

Volunteer role: What will I be doing?

The project is focused on conserving the environment and contributing to ongoing marine research in the Caribbean. Volunteers are involved in various aspects of marine conservation work whilst learning to dive, increasing diving experience, or just enjoying the amazing diving opportunities – all standards of diver are welcome as everyone contributes to the project. With a small personal team and the opportunity to live on your own tropical island, it really is a great way to experience and contribute towards the conservation of marine life in the Caribbean.

We are aware that divers wish to do as much diving as possible, so there will be survey dives as well as recreational dives. Work is matched to the individual’s abilities. Please note that some roles are dependent on the number of volunteers there at the time and all dives are weather dependent, taking into consideration the currents and safety of divers.

Each day will differ and you could be working in the following areas:

  • Lionfish population monitoring and control
  • Lobster surveys
  • Queen Conch surveys
  • Reef health surveys – Coral Watch
  • Coral reef bio-diversity studies
  • Monitoring of species (fish / invertebrates / substrates)
  • Commercial fish surveys
  • Whale Shark monitoring – part of Project AWARE Whale Shark

Training in survey techniques and methodologies is carried out during the first couple of weeks. Identification skills and survey techniques are practised throughout the science training programme and at the end there is a short test to validate the accuracy of the data that you are collecting. By the end of the trip, you will be able to identify coral, fish and algae in the Caribbean.

The early morning and night recreational dives are a great way to begin or end your day. On the reef, along with the more common marine life, volunteers frequently spot hawksbill and loggerhead turtles, spotted eagle rays, dolphins and manta rays. If you are lucky, at full moon you may also see whale sharks and the bioluminescence water light show from the String of Pearls.

It is a great location for beginners divers to gain their PADI Open Water qualification during their first week (which is required for the conservation work), as there are no strong currents and great visibility (15-40 metres) it is a safe non-challenging location. Divers who have already have their Open Water certificate can start on the conservation role straight away.

PADI Dive Courses

Whilst on the island you can improve your diving skills by doing additional PADI courses.

  • PADI Open Water is included in the placement cost, but the following courses can be done for an additional cost:
  • Advanced Diver: 2-3 days
  • Rescue Diver: 4 days
  • Emergency First Aid: 1 day
  • Divemaster

Working days and hours

The ‘working-week’ runs from Monday to Friday between 7.30am and 6pm with breaks throughout the day. During this time you will be living on the island and going out daily for research and fun dives. Friday morning a boat will take you back to Placencia where you can spend your free time over the weekend relaxing.

Other volunteers

There are usually around 6-10 volunteers at one time with a maximum of 15 but this varies considerably throughout the year.

Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) award

This placement has been approved by the DofE as meeting the requirements for the Residential section of the Gold Award.

Volunteer reviews

Read about volunteer experiences and challenges in our Belize Reef Conservation reviews.

Why are volunteers needed?

Volunteers’ primary role is to contribute towards the project’s ongoing surveys, data collection and conservation work. They make a major contribution to the understanding of the reef ecosystem in the Sapodilla Cayes by providing additional resource enabling more data to be collected.

Volunteers help to raise awareness of the importance of the marine life and the research collected by the project team helps inform government decisions, particularly in regard to the department of fisheries.

“Coral reefs are home to 25% of all marine fish and the scientific community recognizes the need to work with non-scientists in order to help collect important data on these reefs. Volunteers do just that, help us collect the valuable data needed to help us monitor the health of the reef itself and its inhabitants”
Jo, Project Director

Closure dates

The project is closed to volunteers between 3 - 30 Sep.

Location, free time and accommodation

Belize

Belize is a small country on the Caribbean coast nestled between Mexico and Guatemala. It is a relaxed country and a great place to volunteer and explore the beautiful scenery and diverse nature.

With over 60% natural forest cover, and 40% of its land area under protection, Belize is one of the most pristine countries in the world. Popular activities in Belize include:

  • Diving at the Blue Hole
  • Visiting the Maya ruins
  • Exploring the cayes (offshore islands)

To find out more, see the Lonely Planet Belize.

Local area and free time

During the week you have the unique opportunity to stay on Tom Owens Island. This is a true ‘castaway’ coral caye with a few home comforts thrown in! It is extremely idyllic and an amazing true ‘get away’ experience as only the project team and volunteers stay here. The island is part of the Sapodilla group of islands, located in the south of Belize. It is a World Heritage Site and a marine reserve found approximately 40km from the mainland.

The surrounding area is abundant in marine life and in your free time you can take a kayak out, fish (hook and line), snorkel, lie in the hammocks, play volleyball or just soak up the Caribbean atmosphere.

Volunteers spend their weekends in Placencia; a coastal town located in southern Belize with 16 miles of sandy beaches making it popular with tourists. It’s also famous for Lobsterfest which takes place in June and Garifuna festival in November. The weekends are a chance for you to have some internet catch up time and eat out. It is also a great chance to sample laid back Belizean village life or relax on the beach.

There is a huge variety of things to do in your free time including exploring south Belize, visiting caves and waterfalls and staying in jungle lodges. Travelling the rivers by boat or canoe you can often spot howler monkeys swinging in the trees as well as a huge variety of bird life including the Montezuma bird, toucans and parrots. These activities are best booked locally once you are at the project.

Accommodation

During the week volunteers live on the island, staying either in the main building in a shared room or in one of the small, private, simple cabanas overlooking the sea. All rooms are clean and comfortable and have fans. The bathroom facilities are shared and there are communal areas to relax, eat and socialise in. WIFI is available on the island.

Weekend accommodation is not included but there are a number of guest houses for various budgets in the town of Placencia.

Read volunteer reviews from the Caribbean Reef Conservation project

Gregory

“My time in Belize was so amazing! It was the best experience of my life! The diving from the island was absolutely phenomenal! The staff were so much fun and knowledgeable that I felt completely safe underwater the entire time. Everything about the island was perfect. They made sure I was well fed as a vegetarian, my cabana was great, we had island volley ball tournaments and lots of laughs.

Looking back I realize that what made the trip so special was every single detail was something new and exciting and something I experienced with great people. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity I did! I honestly believe the whole experience was absolutely perfect and so much better than I could have expected. Very good is certainly an understatement! Coming home was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.”

Jill

“Our trip to the Reef Conservation project was so much fun and I so enjoyed the diving and meeting so many great people. The staff was amazing! The ladies in the kitchen were so sweet and consistently produced the most delicious meals - the food was outstanding and they were very accommodating of any dietary restrictions. The diving staff were so great - super helpful and informative, but also really funny and fun.

We loved diving and always felt safe and in good hands. I especially enjoyed the night dive and learning to spearfish. And I really enjoyed getting to know the other guests. It was so fun to spend a week with like-minded people and to have the time to really talk about hang out together. There was a lot of laughter during the week and it was nice to combine our love of diving with the opportunity to help with reef conservation at the same time.”

Oshy

“My experience at Tom Owen’s Caye with the Belize Reef Conservation project went above and beyond my expectations. I was met with immediate professionalism, warmth and an obvious love for the project from those who run the show themselves. My primary dive instructor was superb, had my confidence immediately and was dedicated 100% from the first minute to the last. I found myself learning more with every dive and in between.

The island and accommodations itself are quite magical. The main structure is lovely and my balcony was just steps away from the water. We went night diving under a full orange moon and saw phosphoresce underwater! I would absolutely recommend this program to anyone who wants to immerse themselves into the world of the reef while helping the creatures beneath.”

Tony

“Tom Owens Caye is a charming, tiny island surrounded by coral reefs, fantastic for snorkelling and scuba diving either from the shore or after very short boat rides. The food is good, the staff are friendly and the accommodation is basic but fine. The island is free of mosquitoes and there is plenty of shade from the coconut palms to laze in the hammocks.

The diving is beautiful, with coral, the occasional ray or shark and lots of fish in a warm (27 degrees C) sea and good visibility. The operation is smoothly run with tailored training built into the conservation work - I did five speciality dives for an Advanced Open Water Certificate easily within a week (12 dives over the week in total).”

Read more reviews

What's Included?

Before you go:

  • Carefully selected and vetted volunteer project
  • Support from our friendly and highly experienced Pod UK team
  • Single point of contact - Ellie is your dedicated Pod Volunteer Specialist
  • In-depth volunteering and planning your trip guides
  • Travel information - visa, health and safety advice
  • Access to specialist travel insurance at exclusive rates
  • Recommended travel agency for flights and tours
  • Access to special deals and resources
  • Fundraising guide and support
  • Financial protection for monies paid to Pod

On your placement:

  • Conservation volunteering placement
  • Return boat transfers to the island
  • Accommodation - weekdays on the island
  • Food - weekdays on the island
  • Induction and conservation training
  • All dives
  • Use of dive equipment (excl. mask, snorkel, booties, dive computer)
  • PADI Open Water (if you do not already have it)
  • Scuba review (if you have a dive qualification but haven’t dived recently)
  • Training for survey methodologies
  • Onsite support from local team
  • Support from Pod UK office by phone and email
  • 24/7 emergency back up
  • Incident Management and Emergency Response Plans

On your return:

  • Contact from your Pod Volunteer Specialist
  • Feedback scheme
  • Volunteering certificate (on request)
  • References (on request)
  • Member of the Pod community

Not included: Flights, travel insurance, visa (if required), PADI admin fee, PADI Dive Manual(s), World Heritage National Park fee, weekend accommodation and food, airport transfers. Budgeting guidance is provided in our Volunteering Guide which we will email you when you apply.

Pod Volunteer is run as a non-profit organisation. Fee levels are set to match costs and any surplus monies are distributed to the projects we work with via the Pod Charity.
Price table
1 week (not available for beginner divers) £895 GB Pounds
Extra weeks £595 GB Pounds
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Fees in currencies other than GBP are indicative only and volunteers are invoiced in GBP. For current exchange rates please see www.xe.com

12,000+

lionfish removed from waters

"It was an amazing experience that will stay with me forever! Pod Volunteer provided the ideal amount of support and guidance"Satvinder

Ellie

Pod UK Specialist

Apply and you'll hear from Ellie soon!

We look forward to receiving your application! There is no commitment by applying and we will send more information.

Apply

VOLUNTEER REVIEWS

  • Belize Reef Conservation volunteer – Betsy

    “The Reef Conservation project was an incredible experience!! I felt so well looked after, as it was my first time diving. But also the project itself was really fun. It was great to learn so much about the ocean as well as dive. Feeling that you were contributing was great!”

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • Belize Reef Conservation volunteer – Dan & Ruth

    “We were so impressed with the whole experience. It was everything we expected and more. We learned; contributed; laughed; met incredible people from all over the world; and felt part of something greater than ourselves.”

    Read more volunteer reviews
  • Belize Reef Conservation volunteer – Eve

    “Absolutely amazing project! The island is paradise and the dives are so much fun! All the research is really interesting and it doesn't feel like work at all. Knowing you are helping conserve the reef is such a great feeling. The marine life is outstanding and every dive you see something new.”

    Read more volunteer reviews

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AWARDS AND ACCREDITATIONS

  • Tourism Concern
  • Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust
  • Right Tourism
  • DOFE
  • theguardian
  • the independent
  • Sunday Times
  • Year Out Group
  • Best Volunteering Organisation
  • Wall Street Journal