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April 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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How Divers Can Give Back: Part II

more ways to make your dive trips count

from the April, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In the February issue, we listed some exceptional dive trips hosted by 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that allow you to deduct most, if not all, of your expenses. But if the joy of diving for a good cause is the primary reason for a trip, and you're not so concerned about the tax deductions, there are a few overseas nonprofits that offer great trips worth considering, despite their lack of a 501(c)(3) status.

Jenny Collister at the dive travel agency Reef & Rainforest is promoting trips with Divo Dive Voluntourism, an Australian nonprofit planning dive trips in Asia and Australia. Founder Elaine Kwee works with community groups and NGOs to create "voluntourism" dive trips. First up is a trip to Lord Howe Islands, considered the Galapagos of the western Pacific, on May 5-11. Take a two-hour flight east of Sydney to Lord Howe to join marine park rangers in underwater survey protocols, and collect data on the native, threatened marine life that will be applied to the ongoing monitoring program. The US$3,300 approximate price includes the round-trip flight from Sydney, transfers, accommodations, dives and boat transportation. On August 4-10, Divo Dive is sponsoring two back-to-back trips in the Great Barrier Reef, starting with a rare opportunity to dive at Orpheus Island Research Station and get trained as a Reef Check coral reef surveyor, then dive the Whitsunday Islands and get a behind-the-scenes-look at how the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority manages its territory. The price is US$2,900 for airfare from Townsville and transfers, accommodations, dives, boat transport and some meals. ( )

Kwee warns that these trips are not for those who want luxury resort accommodations. "Be aware that voluntourism in rural or research-oriented settings may not have the usual creature comforts of hotel accommodation. Sometimes you have to share rooms and bathrooms, you may not have air-conditioning, you may have to pitch in to cook. That kind of camp-bonding atmosphere is part of the fun, but divers should inquire of conditions before the trip and set their expectations accordingly."

Reef Conservation International offers dive-survey trips on Tom Owens Island in the Sapodilla Cayes of southern Belize. Based on the time of the year, you can assist in surveys for lionfish, spiny lobster and conch. Trips leave weekly every Monday and return on Friday. Marketing director Jo Audinett says at least two out of the three daily dives are monitoring and research dives, and dive methodology training and coral and fish ID sessions are offered in between. Five-day trips are $995 and include all dives, meals, island transfers, accommodation and training. Keep in mind that while the private waterfront cabanas have amazing Caribbean views, they are "basic but comfortable." ( )

Resorts and Liveaboards

More dive resorts and liveaboards are giving back to the oceans and local communities that keep them in business. A favorite for Collister is Matava Island Resort in Fiji. Besides being an eco-friendly resort, Matava helps its community by hiring only locals for its staff, supplying local farmers with seeds and then buying the produce back from them, and it's currently funding the building of a local community center. Matava also helped the village of Nacomoto establish a marine reserve in its waters, and each time it takes divers there, it makes a contribution to the village via marine park fees. ( )

Collister also recommends Misool Eco Resort in Indonesia's Raja Ampat. Besides hiring its staff from Yelu, the closest local village, Misool offers them health insurance, job training and English lessons. It also sponsors four local teachers and provides books and supplies to the schools. In return, the local staff educates Misool management on local remedies, traditions, language and culture so they can pass that information on to guests. ( )

Cindi La Raia of Dive Discovery likes the Siren Fleet for the special conservation trips it holds annually. It teams up with Shark Angels, a shark conservation NGO, to offer a trip to a shark hotspot in the Indian or Pacific Ocean, so divers can help note the numbers and species of sharks sighted in the area, and the information is given to local scientists to push for stronger enforcement and marine sanctuaries. This year, the trip will be June 26 to July 6 aboard the SY Oriental Siren to Layang Layang and the Spratly Islands in Malaysia. The $3,600 trip price is per person, double occupancy, and covers four daily dives, all meals, nonalcoholic drinks and beer, gear rental, nitrox and round-trip transfers from Labuan airport. From July 23 to August 2, Reef Check Foundation founder Greg Hodgson hosts a trip on the SY Philippine Siren around the island of Cebu. He'll give lectures on reef survey techniques and offer insight into the Philippines' marine protected areas, many of which he helped establish. The $2,600 trip covers the same items as the Shark Angels trip, except transfers. ( )

The Kosrae Village Ecolodge in Micronesia has been running a coral monitoring program annually since 1996, and the data gathered by volunteers has been used by the State of Kosrae to declare the bumphead parrotfish a protected species in the island's waters. This year's monitoring period will be held October 6-20. Gale Young (Seattle, WA) did it last year, and is going back this fall. Besides collecting the environmental data and doing fish counts, Young and her fellow divers also helped to drill a new site for mooring buoys. "It's a win-win situation for the divers, the island and the global community," Young says. "I learned a lot about the environment, coral and the inhabitants of the reef." ( )

Wayne Hasson, president of the Aggressor and Dancer fleets, says his boats give back to their local communities many ways. The company contributes funding and marketing for Shark Savers, the Oceans for Youth Foundation and Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society. It gives free liveaboard trips to auction off during fundraising events. Last month, it gave a trip to the Wounded Warriors' charity event. Hasson says that the boats in Fiji and Papua New Guinea support local communities by taking guests ashore to their dance and singing ceremonies. "We donate money and support the local schools with books and supplies, and divers who go ashore can donate more. The Fijian village didn't have a public bathroom, but our donations helped them build one last year, complete with running water and toilets." Over in Costa Rica, the boats shuttle rangers to and from Cocos Island, and the locals take divers on tours to view their conservation efforts. Says Hasson, "We ask them to help pick up trash and fishing lines left off the reef."

The Nai'a in Fiji is very connected to the villages it visits, says co-owner Alexxis Edwards. "We always carry extra food supplies because they sometimes have supply boats visit just every two to three months. We also supply boat fuel to help them go between villages and to aid their sustenance fishing. Many times, we've offered them emergency transportation."

How You Can Help

If you're in the medical profession and willing to donate your skills, Nai'a wants you as its guest. "Many times, our guests have offered their medical specialties to the villagers. We have helped with some serious injuries, and set broken limbs. One year, we had three full trips of dentists chartering Nai'a, asking us to let the villages know in advance when they would be coming. We set up a dental clinic in the village, and our guests volunteered for most of a day. They do this to help, and yet this is still a diving holiday for them."

Even if you can't donate your skills, there are still plenty of things you can do on your next dive trip. Reader Mary Peachin (Tucson, AZ) says she bring a package of sample toothbrushes that the dentist gives out. "I also regularly leave T-shirts and unisex beach shoes in my rooms when I check out."

Query your dive agent, fleet or resort to learn what supplies are needed, and if there is a procedure in place to distribute them. Ken Knezick of Island Dreams Travel in Houston recommends "basic school supplies and children's clothing. Reading glasses and simple sporting goods are also a welcome donation. I've seen a gift as simple as a soccer ball (and a hand pump) bring great happiness to local kids."

Edwards from Nai'a asks guests to bring secondhand clothes, hats, battery-operated flashlights, toothbrushes and school supplies. "It is a huge benefit to the villages, and they are very appreciative."

Unique in the dive industry is Good Will Diving, the humanitarian arm of the dive shop Deep Blue Adventures in Swanton, OH, that is doing good things for people who live in tropical dive sites its customers visit. Last year, it started Eyes for Fiji, a donation project to send eyeglasses to Fijian villages, where poor eyesight is rampant. "An old pair of reading glasses sitting in your drawer can dramatically change the lives of many people in a village, not just the recipient, and it costs nothing," says Deep Blue Adventures co-owner Cheryl Patterson. "We've had customers go out to buy new glasses and send them to us." ( )

Its latest effort is Foundations for the Future, a collection of school supplies for students and teachers in the Philippines. Atlantis Resorts has provided a list of local schools and their needs, and has a collection point at its Puerto Galera site to let guests contribute. Good Will Diving offers divers the list upon request -- most items are light and suitcase-friendly -- and will also handle mailed-in items and cash donations.

More programs on the burner include school supplies and books for children in Mexico, and now Good Will Diving is starting to work with foundations to market organized trips that will allow divers to do things like planting artificial reefs, assisting with manta research and marine park monitoring. For details, go to and click on "Eco-Friendly Travel."

- - Vanessa Richardson

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