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July 2023    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 49, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Lend A Hand On Your Next Dive Vacation: Part II

save the reefs, maybe save on taxes

from the July, 2023 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

This is the second installment of our feature about organizations that offer divers of all ages opportunities to volunteer for conservation efforts in the U.S. or abroad.

Volunteering will cost you money because not only will you pay to get there, you'll most likely pay for housing and food, and maybe even diving. That said, many groups offering such programs are IRS-approved 501 (c)(3) organizations, so some or all of your expenses may be tax-deductible. But more important, you'll be contributing back to the underwater world that we love and that needs our attention.

Here are some organizations to consider.

Volunteer Activities

Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), founded by Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach, is an international organization active in conservation education and marine research. Their Ocean Explorers Expeditions are custom-designed for individual groups. Individuals can register for the REEF field fish survey trips. They offer over 30 a year to various locations, both liveaboard trips and resort-based. Their website offers useful information and supplies to help you conduct surveys wherever you dive.

Earth Watch is an international environmental tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization that averages 40 expeditions annually in numerous fields. They are restoring coral reefs in Kubu, North Bali, Indonesia, working with a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), North Bali Reef Conservation. Volunteers can expect to dive twice daily and work with scientists to correlate the collected data. In their Recovery of the Great Barrier Reef program, located at Magnetic Island, Queensland, Australia, you will help researchers from the James Cook University develop best-practice methods for removing macro-algae to allow coral to regrow. The Earthwatch website states that all expenses incurred with expeditions are fully tax deductible.

Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) is a tax-exempt organization. Many Undercurrent subscribers have joined their important shark and sea turtle migration research at the Cocos Island National Park. Their 11-day expedition included 10 days on a liveaboardwith seven days of diving and a one-day workday. Theywill use one of the UnderSea liveaboards or an Aggressor.

Reef Conservation International (R.C.I.) in Placencia, Belize, a Belize NGO, is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit in the U.S. Recognized as one of the more effective conservation organizations in the Caribbean, they offer a year-round weekly program on Tom Owens Caye, a tiny private island within the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, 25 miles off the coast. During the five-night stay on the island, volunteer divers can partake in 13 dives for biodiversity identification, invasive lionfish hunting, and seasonal whale shark monitoring. Eight marine conservation education topics are covered each week. Divers staying more than a week return to Placencia on Friday, spending the weekend at their expense in the town. When they return to the island, they will have new education topics and a different dive schedule. Volunteer divers are free to skip any activity they wish.

Subscriber Philip Karp (Scottsdale, AZ) says, "The volunteers tend to be on the younger side, including some gap year types, but each time I've volunteered, there have been at least one or two others, age 50+ volunteers. Accommodations are pretty basic; no A.C. and electricity only in the evenings, but the food is excellent, as is the diving, with some of the best soft coral cover in Belize The dive team is great. They give experienced divers a fair amount of freedom." (

Diving With a Purpose offers a citizen science-based coral monitoring program in Florida designed to engage recreational scuba divers in addressing climate change and the restorative work of rehabilitating our ocean. The program's focal point is data collection and community outreach; developed by dive instructor Kramer Wimberley, it operates a virtual training module that includes fish and invertebrate identification, coral biology, and substrate identification. After training, participants are brought together for in-water practical training and coral out-planting. Read about their remarkable program.

Diving with a Purpose is also looking for serious volunteers who can train in underwater archeology to assist in discovering, mapping, and recovering slave ships.

The Manta Trust is a U.K. registered charity offering limited volunteer opportunities with two projects. They are affiliated with Manta Expeditions. Together they run several expeditions focusing on manta rays, whale sharks, and other marine species, during which divers can assist in the research. They travel to the Maldives, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, and Ecuador and dive mostly from liveaboards.

Go-Between Organizations

Several organizations help divers find volunteer projects.

ZuBlu. a scuba diving booking agency, offers more than 50 marine conservation volunteer experiences in a dozen countries through their Ecoventure program.

Volunteer World offers 30 marine conservation volunteer opportunities in the Caribbean, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Europe.

G.V.I., a U.S.-based organization, partners with marine conservation NGOs in eight countries.

International Volunteer H.Q. has a dozen marine conservation opportunities, most involving scuba diving.

Conclusion: When it's time to give back to the issues, these groups can get you going. Many programs are offered for younger people, so consider the summer possibilities for your children and grandchildren.

- Charles Davis and Ben Davison

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