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What Does a Marine Conservation Volunteer Do?

C. Mitchell
C. Mitchell

A marine conservation volunteer spends time supporting efforts designed to keep the world’s oceans clean and safe. Most of the time, volunteers work with established marine conservation organizations. Jobs can be short, often little more than a weekend, or on-going, with volunteers committing time on a regular basis. Volunteers can get involved in a host of different ways, but their work is always designed to contribute to ocean protection.

Marine conservation organizations typically operate on a non-profit basis, and are often eager to welcome volunteers. Helpers can do a whole range of things, from basic administrative tasks like answering phones and printing mailings to actually assisting with hands-on conservation efforts. Much depends on the organization’s need and the individual’s skills and availability.

Marine conservation volunteers often inspect coral reefs.
Marine conservation volunteers often inspect coral reefs.

People who live or work near oceanfront communities often find it easiest to become a regular marine conservation volunteer. Most organizations are situated on the coasts. They often coordinate beach cleanup projects, run animal rescue and rehabilitation centers, and raise community awareness about ocean health and pollution concerns. Volunteers can usually be as involved as they wish. Some will commit a number of days or afternoons each month, while others will participate in one-time events. Any volunteer work with a conservation organization usually qualifies.

Many tour operators combine volunteer opportunities with vacations.
Many tour operators combine volunteer opportunities with vacations.

Conservation training is not usually required for more casual volunteers. A lot depends on the nature of the volunteer experience, but for regular cleanup and wildlife restoration projects, groups are usually willing to take on anyone who is willing to donate their time. This sort of volunteering is popular for school groups as well as concerned community members.

Students of environmental conservation, marine biology, or ocean chemistry often also commit time to marine conservation volunteer activities. These types of volunteers are often much more equipped to take on more serious work. Students may shadow a conservation officer, or help with more complex and science-based conservation efforts. Many of these volunteer opportunities are also described as unpaid internships. Regardless the title, spending time as a marine conservation volunteer is a great way for conservation degree candidates to build up a portfolio of useful experiences that can help in landing conservation jobs later on down the line.

An entirely separate class of volunteer opportunities exists for tourists. Many people enjoy taking diving or other sea-based vacations at exotic locations all over the world. Extensive tourism and dive traffic can damage sensitive marine ecosystems over time, however. To ease vacationers’ consciences, many conservation groups have teamed up with popular dive resorts to sell volunteer-based packages, where tourists have a chance to serve as temporary volunteers in between leisure dives.

This kind of marine conservation volunteer usually spends a few hours each day helping to clean ocean waters, checking for damage on coral reefs, or collecting water samples for marine biologists to study. Volunteers are also usually asked to keep running tallies of the animals they see on their dives in order to aid population studies and re-growth initiatives. These kinds of trips often come with a lower price tag or some sort of complimentary services in order to encourage participation.

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    • Marine conservation volunteers often inspect coral reefs.
      Marine conservation volunteers often inspect coral reefs.
    • Many tour operators combine volunteer opportunities with vacations.
      By: Iakov Kalinin
      Many tour operators combine volunteer opportunities with vacations.