Seven conservation-focused diving destinations around the world, from Portugal to Indonesia

Our oceans are under immense environmental threat, but a raft of operators and organisations are offering the chance for travellers to get involved and make a difference beneath the waves.

By Stephanie Cavagnaro
Published 8 Apr 2021, 13:04 BST
Our oceans are under immense environmental threat, but a raft of operators and organisations are offering ...

Our oceans are under immense environmental threat, but a raft of operators and organisations are offering the chance for travellers to get involved.

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Trinidad & Tobago

Play doctor and examine the reefs off the coast of Tobago. The coral-monitoring, non-profit Reef Check operates a facility at ERIC (Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville), where open-water divers learn to conduct their own surveys. A one- or two-week EcoDiver training course involves lessons on identifying key species and daily research dives, information from which will fuel a global database on reef health. The resulting certification allows divers to join surveys throughout the region, contributing to major conservation work. From $450 (£325) for two to three days. 

2. Mexico

Fancy yourself as a marine biologist? Try the next best thing: a multi-day citizen science expedition in Baja California, studying vulnerable species. PADI Dive Center Dive Ninja Expeditions has research trips based on striped marlin and the mobula ray migration. This year, it’s releasing new expeditions on mako sharks, silky sharks and grey whales. Guests stay on the sandy shores of the Sea of Cortez and can join regular Dive Against Debris days. Don’t miss the pandemic-launched Ocean Stories free web series, with talks on everything from freediving breathing to shark photography. From US$1,850 (£1,340). 

3. Portugal

It’s time to take out the trash. An eco-dive school is helping to clear Lisbon’s reefs of fishing gear, plastics and other assorted debris. Some of the waste is recycled, while functioning gear is returned to local fishermen. Oyster Worldwide has options that range from one to four weeks with daily dives into the Atlantic. Shared villa accommodation in a leafy Lisbon suburb includes a pool and free yoga thrown into the mix. One week from £1,379, flights excluded. 

4. Florida Keys

Make a tangible difference to the oceans with conservation pioneers Coral Restoration Foundation. Year-round dive programmes involve cleaning coral trees in the world’s largest coral nursery before diving to one of eight reef restoration sites along the Florida Reef Tract for outplanting or monitoring. Before taking to the waters, there are lessons on coral ecology and the foundation’s work, plus reef-restoration training. The foundation’s app, OkCoral, has guides and information to help divers monitor health and survival of coral outplants. Boat operator costs vary; $50 (£36) foundation donation. 

5. Indonesia

Beyond the coast of Bali rises Nusa Ceningan, a small tropical island where divers can specialise in marine conservation. Join PADI Dive Resort Ceningan Divers’ marine biologist in maintaining the mangrove nursery, a crucial habitat for juvenile fish and essential to healthy coastal areas. The programme is packed with dives, conservation workshops and PADI specialties such as manta awareness, plus the chance to join the weekly island rubbish clean up. Last year, the resort launched a fantastic collection of free online conservation workshops. From £1,407 per week. 

6. Maldives

There’s trouble in paradise, and marine biologists need the help of enterprising citizen scientists to survey the Maldives’ reefs and resident whale sharks. Join Biosphere Expeditions’ week-long trip, where participants will be trained as Reef Check EcoDivers. From a luxe liveaboard, there will be up to three survey dives daily to monitor the health of the coral atolls and their marine life, plus chances to photograph and record whale shark encounters. Annual expeditions from £2,142, excluding flights. 

7. Mozambique

Africa’s first Shark Guardian Dive Centre, PADI Dive Center Liquid Dive Adventures, offers lessons on how to help the species survive. In addition, each of its dive training courses off the Tofo coast includes a Project AWARE specialty, ranging from coral reef conservation to Dive Against Debris. Guests can also help with mangrove planting, join night dives and fuel up at the vegetarian restaurant before heading to their breezy beachfront cabin. From €270 (£232). 

Published in the May 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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