Marine Conservation in the Philippines

If you have a passion for preserving and protecting coastal resources and marine ecosystems, and wish to improve your scuba diving skills, then this Marine Conservation program in the Philippines is for you!

Program Overview

The world around us is changing and marine ecosystems are more threatened than ever before. Realising this urgency, this program brings people with diverse backgrounds and skills together to respond to threats to food security, societal stability and ocean health. It is our collective responsibility to act in meaningful ways and effect change that will help ensure the world we are building includes thriving and life-supporting marine ecosystems – now and for the future.

This program works to preserve and protect coastal resources in the Philippines through capacity building, education, volunteering and research. Situated in a former botanical garden (actually!) on a hill by the sea, about half a kilometre from the water, this is an ideal location to learn hands-on about marine conservation and contribute in a meaningful way to research and creating a sustainable future for the Philippine people and the environment.

The project staff on-site include marine educators, marine biologists, scuba instructors, dive masters, first aid instructors, technicians, scientists, ecologists, a volunteer coordinator and community liaison officer. Using science to understand how local and global pressures affect marine ecosystems, this program aims to empower, engage and build local and national capacity to reduce and adapt to these pressures. Local communities and policy makers are also involved to ensure long-term solutions will benefit both the people and the environment. With one of the most rigorous citizen science programs in the Philippines, this project is firmly established in the country’s marine science landscape.

Program focus:

  • Conservation of marine life and resources
  • Research and data analysis
  • Information and education
  • Community outreach

Project Details:

  • Project Activities: Scientific scuba diving*, monitoring marine protected areas, learning about ecosystem services, participatory dataset creation, participate in class-modules on reef ecology and conservation science, mangrove replanting (season and weather dependent), possibility of presenting or teaching in schools or at events
  • Project Availability: Year-round, arrival dates on every second Monday. The project is closed for two weeks over Christmas and the New Year.
  • Project Duration: 4 or 6 weeks (longer placements may be possible)
  • Working Hours: 7am (breakfast) to 5pm, with some days possibly longer. Usually two dives a day, some days only one dive (weather and program dependent)
  • Location: Zamboanguita in the province of Negros Oriental
  • Excursions: If you would like to participate in any excursions or cultural activities (at own expense), these should be undertaken outside of working hours, likely on weekends or before or after your program dates. Our on-site staff can assist in providing advice.
  • Support: 24-hour on-site support from our Project Leaders and Site Director
  • Minimum Age: 18+
  • Language: English

*Please note: All volunteers must be Advanced Open Water certified prior to participating in the scientific scuba diving. During the first week of the program, participants must take the PADI Open Water and/or Advanced Open Water dive courses if not already certified. There is an additional cost for each certification, payable directly on-site. See Program Fee & Dates below for pricing.

Highlights

As a Marine Conservation volunteer in the Philippines, you’ll experience both the splendour of the seas and witness short-sighted destruction of coral reefs. Through your participation, you will make a very real contribution to this project’s efforts while helping to affect change. Here are some other highlights of the program:

  • Take part in many different projects and activities – both underwater and on land.
  • If you are a new diver, spend the first week learning to become a safe and proficient PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water scuba diver.
  • For already certified divers, have the opportunity to improve your scuba diving skills.
  • Learn through scientific diving why the protection of the seas is of crucial importance to a countless number of ecosystems.
  • Sundays are mandatory off-days. Explore the surrounding area, visit a nearby city or just spend the day relaxing.
  • You can be sure that your work on this program will turn you into a phenomenal scuba diver with advanced skills and understanding of scientific diving principles and methodologies, and you will come away with valuable lessons, insights and incredible underwater experiences that will benefit you throughout your career and make you a dedicated ambassador of change.

Sample Itinerary

The following is a typical weekday schedule (subject to change):

  • 7am: Breakfast
  • 7:20am: Dive Briefing
  • 7:30am: Prepare trucks with dive equipment and tanks
  • 8am: Depending on where you are in the program – diving, scuba courses, marine research, underwater clean-ups or community work
  • 8am-1pm: 2 dives at the dive site (if scuba diving)
  • 1:30pm: Back at base, clean gear and dive shed
  • 2pm: Lunch
  • 3pm: Lecture, data entry from surveys, various base work or community outreach
  • 4:30pm: Free time to work out, run, play games, shower, rest, etc. If you want to organise a group activity like rugby, ultimate frisbee or volleyball, you can write it on the blackboard in the communal area. If you would like to make a presentation about something you are passionate about or interested in, we would all love to listen. On Tuesdays, there are fun activities that allow volunteers to mingle and get to know each other to help welcome the new Monday arrivals. On Fridays, a group of volunteers will alternate in organising an educational or entertaining activity for everyone.
  • 7pm: Dinner
  • 8pm: Relax, socialise, movie, games, study for scuba dive course, analyse data collected, go to bed, etc.

On Saturdays, breakfast is at 8am. These days are allocated for recreational dives or community days (school camps, mangrove plantings, etc.).

Sundays are mandatory off-days. They are for relaxing or travelling around the island. Staff do not work on Sundays, so you will have to prepare your own food if you plan to stay at the volunteer site.

The Volunteer's Role

Many of the project’s aims and results are achieved through long-term monitoring as well as studying of the reef, everything that interacts with it and how it changes over time. Data collected and analysed helps determine what efforts should be focused on in order to improve the health of these ecosystems – such as setting up marine protected areas, planting mangrove forests, educating local groups about overfishing, dealing with marine pollution and many other aspects. While a single volunteer staying for several weeks may not see immediate change, each participant contributes greatly to the overall long-term goals.

All volunteers on-site are working towards a common goal of helping to save fragile marine ecosystems through conservation efforts, but without local support, these efforts have little impact. How we interact with neighbours in the local community is of vital importance to the continued success of the program. We expect all volunteers to behave with respect and show consideration for a culture that may be different from your own. Volunteers should bring enthusiasm, a willingness to learn new things and respect for another culture and people. Volunteers will receive a cultural orientation upon arrival and participate in numerous class-modules on reef ecology and conservation science throughout the program.

Scuba Diving
Volunteers spend the first week learning or improving their scuba diving skills*. Once all participants are Advanced Open Water certified, you will start doing scientific diving in a marine research program that has as the primary aim to monitor marine protected areas. Using scientific diving methods, you will help monitor fluctuations in fish stocks, recover ghost nets, survey coral reefs, and document species abundance, substrate coverage and damage to coral reefs.

Other work may involve the creation of artificial dive sites (such as deliberately scuttled wrecks or underwater sculpture parks) that act as breeding grounds for fish in marine protected areas.

*Dive Certification: All volunteers must be Advanced Open Water certified prior to participating in the scientific scuba diving. During the first week of the program, participants must take the PADI Open Water and/or Advanced Open Water dive courses if not already certified. There is an additional cost for each certification, payable directly on-site. See Program Fee & Dates below for pricing.

Data Collection
Datasets that volunteers help create are synthesized and modelled so that key indicators can be analysed to help raise red flags, making the data actionable.

Education and Community Outreach
Some volunteers may have the opportunity to visit local schools and teach about oceans in general, plastic pollution and the work being done to save these marine ecosystems. Other various community outreach programs include teaching first aid to the local community, holding a “Kid’s Club” over the summer, or special community events and work when needed.

Beach and Dive Clean-Ups
Each week, one of the dive sites is selected to carry out a beach and dive clean-up. Trash from the sea routinely gets washed onto the shores and lodges in or falls down onto the reef. Most weeks, one day is taken to remove as much of this trash from the ocean and beaches as possible. To date many, many tons of marine debris has been removed – and recycled whenever possible. Ghost nets or other lost fishing gear that damages the reef are also retrieved and salvaged.

Other Projects
Depending on the season, available opportunities and project priorities, you may also be asked to help with a number of other projects. These could include collecting seedlings for the mangrove nurseries; mangrove replanting; helping with local outreach projects like painting murals with school children; going on an expedition to gather data or fight a crown of thorn infestation; helping to repair a local road that is preventing access to a survey site; promoting local and regional dive tourism; or any number of other projects that may be going on.

Additional Duties
Once a week, volunteers will work in teams and participate in kitchen duty, dive shed duty, and morning base and dorm cleans. There will be a checklist to follow and other people to ask for help during your first time.

Note: The rainy season lasts from mid-June to mid-October. Very rarely diving or other planned activities may be cancelled due to heavy rain or inclement weather during this time. Volunteers will still be able to participate in meaningful work at the project site if this is the case.

Excursions

While there are no additional excursions included in the program fee, Sundays are free for you to explore (at your own expense). There are numerous waterfalls, treks, mountain lakes, hot springs and more in the surrounding area or on neighbouring islands.

  • Dumaguete – The nearest city (roughly a 1-hour drive). Still a relatively small city, it is home to the local airport, small shopping malls, movie theatre, and lots of shops, restaurants and hotels. Use the port here to visit nearby islands.
  • Valencia – Lush, mountain town near Dumaguete with cafes. It is a beautiful area with a cooler climate. There is a lot of geo-thermal activity from Mount Talinis so if you are looking for hot springs, this is the place to go. Waterfalls such as Casaroro Falls give a nice break from the heat in the dry season (bring swimmers), and the twin lakes are a great area for bird enthusiasts.
  • Dauin – The island’s diving tourism hot-spot, full of resorts and a few small shops, bars and restaurants. About a 30-minute drive.
  • Zamboanguita – The nearest town (about a 15-minute drive) that has some nice resorts, a basic pharmacy and small shops selling things like snacks, drinks or flip-flops.
  • Lake Balanan – Stunning lake surrounded by huge Balete trees, a waterfall, swimming pools filled with natural spring water and a picnic area. Kayaks are also available for rent. Approximately a 90-minute drive.
  • Apo Island – A short boat ride away and has one of the oldest marine sanctuaries in the world. The reefs are breathtaking.
  • Siquijor Island – Beautiful and home of mystique and witchcraft with the whitest sand beaches you can imagine.
  • Sunset at Kookoo’s Cliff – Small local beach with a short walk up onto the cliff. The perfect place to watch the sun go down (15-minute drive).
  • Malatapay Market (Wednesdays only) – Really close by is the cattle market of Malatapay where you can go every Wednesday to see the locals at their day-to-day business. People from the whole province and sometimes as far as Mindanao come here to sell their cattle.

Location

This program is located in Zamboanguita in the province of Negros Oriental. It is a municipality of around 30,000 inhabitants. On the outskirts of Zamboanguita you’ll find the project site inside Siit Arboretum – a beautiful botanical garden about 300 meters from the water.

Zamboanguita is situated below Mount Talinis, amidsts rice paddies, egrets and buffaloes. Although there are some dive resorts in Zamboanguita, it is still relatively unexplored by tourists and offers an authentic Filipino experience for those who venture further south than the much better known town of Dauin. Other popular dive destinations like Apo Island, Siquijor, Bohol and Cebu are within easy travel distance by bus and/or boat. Only 7km away is the world famous Apo Island, the oldest marine sanctuary in Asia which promises spectacular best-of-the-Philippines diving.

Most of the survey sites on the program are in marine protected areas, which typically means coral reefs with a higher presence of schooling fish and marine turtles. The neary municipality of Dauin is famous for “muck-diving” where you can find all types of crypto-fauna that experienced divers are searching for (hairy frogfishes, seahorses, ghost pipefishes, mimic octopus and other extremely rarely seen cephalopods like popcorn cuttlefish, flamboyant cuttlefish, wonderpus, and the list goes on).

Accommodation

There are five dorm huts, a spacious kitchen, communal areas, classroom, library and a couple of cosy areas for studying and relaxing.

Volunteers live in mixed dorms with 5 or 6 people each. Single sex occupancy can be arranged with an advanced request. Dormitories have fans and mosquito nets. Each volunteer also has a locker with power sockets, so they can charge electronics at night or while away diving.

There are two blocks of shared toilet and showers facilities. There is no hot water on-site for showers (only for cooking). Students are required to bring their own towel and insect repellent, along with any other personal requirements.

Wi-fi is available on-site but may be weak or intermittent at times.

Laundry service is available every Tuesday and Friday for a small fee. You can also hand wash your clothes with your own detergent and hang them up to dry at no additional cost.

Meals
Buffet style breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided 6 days a week. Emphasis is put on serving delicious food that keeps everyone fuelled for long days of work. There is a lot of variety including local dishes, food from around the world, homemade bread, salads, etc. For environmental reasons, the program is almost entirely vegetarian. Locally sourced chicken and free range pork is served on Saturday night barbecues. Any special dietary need, food allergy or intolerance can be accommodated.

On Sundays, the kitchen is open and volunteers can help themselves to whatever they want (must cook and clean up after themselves).

Aside from the 3 daily meals, snacks and fruits are also available. The dive trucks carry snacks with them to dive sites such as fruit, granola bars or cupcakes. Aside from the regular meals, the kitchen is always open so volunteers can help themselves if they are hungry at any time.

Water, coffee and tea is free. Additional drinks such as soda can be purchased.

Within a 10km radius of the project site, there are numerous resorts and restaurants where volunteers can go and have a special meal. This is mostly done on Sundays.

Why Volunteer with CISaustralia

CISaustralia believes strongly in supporting volunteer initiatives across the world that promote sustainable and long-term societal, environmental and economic change to benefit and empower local communities.

While the term volunteering is widely known and accepted, we prefer to use the term Experiential Service Learning. This better relates to our philosophy surrounding close community engagement as well as a focus on projects that have a long-term approach and a range of positive impacts for both communities and our students. Over 98% of CISaustralia participants receive academic credit for their program abroad, which fosters a more culturally immersive and deeper reflective experience.

CISaustralia volunteering programs contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which aim to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. While not every program will achieve all seventeen of the UN goals, your role as a volunteer will have a positive impact by doing work that really matters. We partner with organisations that have in-depth, first-hand knowledge and close relationships with local communities. Prior to your departure, our team in Australia will prepare you with extensive resources so you feel supported every step of the way. You will also be supported throughout your entire overseas program by our fantastic and experienced in country staff. 

Volunteering abroad is a life-changing experience, enabling you to learn and grow on many personal and professional levels, to broaden your perspective on the world and to become a global citizen. CISaustralia prides itself in having the strongest global partners who are socially responsible and equally committed to their local communities and ethical practices. We love what we do at CISaustralia and are here to provide you with the support you need to successfully volunteer abroad – so that you can contribute to positively changing the lives of others, and yourself, along the way. Get ready for an exciting once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

Read more: Why Volunteer Abroad with CISaustralia?

Program Fee & Dates

6 Weeks - Year-Round
Arrivals and departures every second Monday (contact CISaustralia for exact dates). Closed for two weeks over Christmas and the New Year. Application deadline is 60 days prior to commencement. If you would like to join a group program, see below for details. Note: There is an additional cost for PADI dive certification, payable directly on-site. See the "More" info box for pricing.
Program Fee A$ 4,999
OS-HELP A$ 9,399
January 2021 - 4 week group program
Application deadline is 60 days prior to commencement. Places are limited. Please enquire for availability. Note: There is an additional cost for PADI dive certification, payable directly on-site. See the "More" info box for pricing.
Arrival Date04 January 2021
Departure Date01 February 2021
Program Fee A$ 3,599
OS-HELP A$ 9,399

 

Program fees include the following:
  • Volunteer placement and supervision
  • CISaustralia support services before, during and after the program
  • Academic advising
  • Financial advice
  • Assistance with travel arrangements
  • Pre-departure guide and session
  • Airport pick-up and drop-off (on specified program dates within designated times)
  • On-site orientation and project induction
  • Accommodation – mixed dormitories (single sex occupancy available with advanced request)
  • Meals – 3 meals per day (plus snacks, fruit, water, coffee, tea)
  • Marine park fees
  • Transportation to/from dive sites
  • Diving instructors, equipment and complete gear rental*
  • T-shirt
  • Wi-Fi internet access is available but may be weak or intermittent at times and less reliable than what you are used to at home
  • 24/7 on-site support – Project Leaders and Site Director
  • CISaustralia Certificate of Participation (available on request)

*Dive equipment: All volunteers are issued with a complete personal dive kit, including wetsuit, boots, mask and fins. Everyone also receives a personal dive computer and surface safety marker. Volunteers do not share gear with any others, but have their own set for the duration of the program. All volunteers are also issued with wing/harness systems, typically used in technical diving, underwater cave exploration and similar demanding environments.

Normal wear and tear is expected, but volunteers must pay for any lost gear while it’s in their custody. If anything needs servicing or fixing, new gear is issued to the volunteer while repairs are being made. Some volunteers may choose to bring their own gear if preferred. There is not a discount for bringing and using your own gear.

What is not included: 

  • Flights
  • Medical insurance
  • Travel insurance
  • Visa fees (if staying past 30 days, first 30 days is free)*
  • Vaccinations (if required)
  • Travel/excursions outside of project working hours
  • PADI scuba certification and diving manuals**
  • Volunteers must bring their own towel and insect repellent, along with any other personal requirements

*Visa: If you need to extend your visa, you must do this before your initial 30 days are up at the immigration office in Dumaguete. The immigration office is near one of the main shopping malls and is very easy to get to on your own. Once at the office, you will need to fill out a form and make payment. You will need to leave your passport and pick it up again one week later. If you are extending for a third time, you have to register for an ACRIcard, which costs extra but you can extend for two months instead of just one.

**Dive Certification: All volunteers must be Advanced Open Water certified prior to participating in the scientific scuba diving. During the first week of the program, participants must take the PADI Open Water and/or Advanced Open Water dive courses if not already certified. There is an additional cost for each certification, payable directly on-site. See Program Fee & Dates for pricing.

Please do not book flights until you have received the dates in your acceptance paperwork and you are confirmed on the program.

CISaustralia reserves the right to alter fees at any time due to currency fluctuations and/or fee changes made by our partners.

Adventure Awaits

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