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February 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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How Divers Can Give Back: Part I

and your dive trip may be tax deductible

from the February, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As Samuel Palmer wrote back in 1710 in his Moral Essays on Proverbs, "'Tis better to give than to receive." Obviously, we divers receive a lot of personal reward from our time underwater, and it would do each of us well to give something back. From time to time, we cite organizations you can contribute to, but here are some other ideas. For example, you can make an exceptional dive trip while, at the same time, working to preserve the underwater environment. And if you do it with a bona-fide 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization doing legitimate research, the IRS will allow you to deduct most if not all of your expenses. Plenty of organizations offer trips. Select your preferred dive destination or the type of marine life you want to help, and there's most likely a research trip suited for you.

Say you're into turtles. You can support the Sea Turtle Restoration Project by joining one of its two turtle and shark research expeditions to Cocos Island on the Argo, Undersea Hunter's newest liveaboard, scheduled for April 17-27 and September 24-October 6. The costs are $5,940 and $7,040, respectively, and you'll help tag sea turtles and sharks with transmitters to track their migration patterns. Trip information is at www.seaturtles.org/expeditions

Coming up soon is the New England Aquarium's Bahamas Collecting Expedition, from April 27 to May 6. Aboard the Coral Reef II, you'll collect reef fish and invertebrates while working alongside aquarium pros, increase your fish identification skills and learn about the Aquarium's conservation efforts in the Bahamas. The final day of the eight-day trip is spent packing fish in Miami for live shipment to Boston. The all-inclusive $3,500 price includes a dive in the Boston-based aquarium's Caribbean reef exhibit. There's a second voyage in the fall. For details, go to www.neaq.org and click on "Education and Activities," or e-mail Sherrie Floyd at sfloyd@neaq.org

The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) hosts week-long "field survey" trips that teach divers how to do fish identification and collect data for REEF staff and scientists to evaluate. This year, field surveys are being held in brand-new sites including Nevis, Dominica and Panama, and your efforts will help marine biologists measure the impact of lionfish in those places. Trips feature daily classroom seminars and a full diving schedule. REEF has a travel desk to handle trip bookings. This year's trips start in April at Nevis's Oualie Beach Resort for $1,558, and the last open trip is in November aboard the British Virgin Islands' Cuan Law for $2,200. A program fee ranging from $150 to $300 is added to each trip to cover the cost of the group leader, seminars and field survey materials. ( www.reef.org/trips )

Earthwatch's goal is to get more people worldwide helping out in scientific field research and education, and a major way it does that is by sponsoring expeditions for people with no special skills to become "research assistants" and work alongside scientific pros on environmental matters they care most about. Most of its oceans-focused expeditions are taking place this summer, from a 10-day trip to search for and track dolphins in the Red Sea ($2,995) to eight days of gathering multiple types of data in Belize to see if marine reserves are actually helping protects sharks, grouper and other species ($2,595). ( www.earthwatch.org/expedition )

How to Qualify for a Tax Deduction

As mentioned above, the trip must be run by a nonprofit with a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. The IRS insists that the volunteer work must have no "significant" element of personal pleasure or recreation. This means you'll need to volunteer about eight hours a day, five days a week to qualify to deduct the airfare or other travel expenses. If you tack on a couple extra days to visit the hotspots, you won't be able to deduct the airfare. However, you will still be able to get a tax break for the program fee, meals and supplies directly related to your time spent volunteering.

But according to Jeff Schnepper, a tax lawyer and author of How to Pay Zero Taxes, the IRS isn't completely inflexible. If you put in your eight-hour days and spend an evening souvenir shopping, you can get the tax break. "Just because you're having fun while you're volunteering doesn't disqualify the deduction." Volunteers cannot deduct the value of their services, only their actual expenses. So keep good records of your time and expenses. Volunteer organizations will provide documentation for your tax preparer, with whom you should consult beforehand.

-- Vanessa Richardson

Next month, we'll show you inexpensive ways to donate, describe trips by foreign organizations, why liveaboards want divers with medical skills, and how one dive shop is getting villagers at popular dive destinations the essentials they really need.

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