Invasive Species Management

Placencia, Belize show on map

Non-profit | ReefCI

Make a difference by removing lionfish, an invasive species decimating reef ecosystems. Learn to dive or further your skills while culling lionfish with our team. This volunteer program is especially suitable for:

Lionfish Program

Our lionfish program focuses solely on removing this invasive species from the reef ecosystem. 

People often feel that “releasing” a fish or any other animal into the wild is a good thing, but not in the case of the lionfish! The initial source of the lionfish invasion can be pinpointed to personal aquarium releases in Florida back in 1985, probably by people whose lionfish were getting too big for the tank or eating the other fish. Lionfish are indigenous to the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Red Sea but not the Atlantic-Caribbean belt. In their natural habitat, they have a diet that is not a threat to the environment; there are many more varieties of species and they have natural predators to keep their numbers in check. However, in the Atlantic-Caribbean oceans they are an invasive predator, feeding on species that are key to our healthy reef environment such as juvenile groupers, parrotfish and crustaceans. These native species have no evolutionary defence mechanism against the invasive lionfish.

Lionfish are voracious predators and consume juvenile fish recruits. In thirty minutes one lionfish was observed eating more than twenty fish!! ReefCI found a lionfish with a Blue Chromis in its stomach, the Lionfish measured 18cm and the Blue Chromis measured 9cm! That is half its body size in one mouthful! It’s like a human being eating a sheep in one gulp!!

Most fish species spawn once or twice a year over maybe a two-month period during the full moon. Lionfish release their eggs every 4 days!! They can release up to 20,000 eggs. They do not release the eggs until they are fully developed making the chance of survival much higher. This means they reproduce at an alarming rate. They reach sexual maturity in less than 1 year! And they can live until they are around 15 years old!

The invasive lionfish is one of the greatest threats to the sustainability of coral reefs and fisheries habitat throughout the Caribbean. Scientists are predicting that lionfish will have a grave impact on Belize’s already stressed stocks of fish and lobster and could spell potential disaster to our marine habitats.

What will you be doing?

You will be capturing and removing as many lionfish as you can.  Here in Southern Belize, we at ReefCI spotted our first lionfish in November 2009 but they were few and far between. Now we are spotting them on every dive and sometimes as many as 50-100 at one dive site. This is a dramatic increase and extremely worrying as we are the only divers in the area. ReefCI divers and snorkelers are actively involved in removing this invasive lionfish from Belizean waters. You will be capturing as many as you can!! After capture, we dissect some of the fish and study their stomach contents for research purposes. Then we eat! ReefCI volunteers often get lionfish on the dinner menu, cooked in garlic and black pepper or ceviche, they are extremely tasty.

ReefCI is currently supplying local restaurants with the lionfish we remove. We are giving them lionfish to include on their menus to introduce lionfish as a food source and to increase awareness of this problem amongst restaurant customers!! Lionfish ceviche, lionfish fish cakes, and fried whole lionfish are all delicious to eat. ReefCI is also working with local Belizean women to help them make jewellery from the spines and fins. We give them the sun-dried fins and spines and then buy the jewellery from the women and make them available for purchase.

We are extremely proud of our battle against the invasive and destructive lionfish. ReefCI is removing more lionfish and collecting more data on lionfish than any other organization in the country of Belize. ReefCI staff and guests are on target to remove over 7,000 lionfish this year alone and dissect 1,585 for research purposes!

Please join us in the fight to save the reef from this invasive species!

Dive certifications and courses offered on the island

Our volunteer trips are for both non-experienced and experienced divers.  Not certified?  No worries, many of our volunteers come to the island to learn to dive.  Looking to further your dive credentials?  Many of our volunteers come to our island to further their diving certification status. Regardless of your diving level, our island is a wonderful place to learn with calm, clear waters and little current.  We swap the cold swimming pool for the Caribbean Sea and the classroom for a hammock under a palm tree! 

We have many dive courses available to help you develop your scuba and marine conservation skills while on the island volunteering with us.  Below is the price our program charges for each PADI certification course and how long it will take you to complete the certification course on the island.

  • PADI Open Water Certification – $150 USD (3 days)
  • PADI Advanced Open Water Certification – $200 USD (1 week)
  • PADI Rescue Diver Certification – $250 USD (1 week)
  • PADI Dive Master Certification – $400 USD (4 week minimum stay)
  • PADI Specialty Course:  Invasive Lionfish – $100 USD (3 days)
  • PADI Specialty Course:  Coral Reef Conservation – $100 USD (3 days)
  • PADI Specialty Course: Fish Identification – $100 USD (3 days)
  • PADI Specialty Course: Deep Diver – $100 USD (3 days)
  • PADI Specialty Course: Emergency First Response  – $100 USD (2 days)

In order to be certified on the island, you will need to complete the PADI eLearning portion of your course prior to your arrival to our island.  PADI is the world's leading scuba and diver training organization that governs and regulates scuba standards and diver certifications.  You can get started immediately with the classroom portion of your certification course and work at your own pace using the PADI eLearning system at home. With this convenient online study option, you will complete the classroom/theory portion and theory exam of your course before your arrival.  At the end of the eLearning program, you must print out your eRecord and bring a copy of it with you to the island. Once on the island, we will finish off the appropriate in-water diver portion of the course. PADI charges around $185 USD for the eLearning and the cost is paid to PADI via their website.  We find our guests like to avoid the book work and theory portion of certification courses while on the island and this provides the best option to get in the water immediately upon arrival to our island.  Don’t forget to print out your eRecord and bring a copy of it with you to the island upon completing the eLearning.  You will need to register for PADI’s online eLearning at PADI's online eLearning website.  Please note that when doing the e-Learning, PADI’s registration process will ask you to affiliate with a dive shop - choose any dive shop – the dive shop affiliation does not matter since you will be completing the actual in water portion of the course with us in Belize.

Please note that for the PADI Specialty Courses that we offer (Invasive Lionfish, Coral Reef Conservation, Fish Identification, and Deep Diver) do NOT require any eLearning and all PADI Specialty Courses can be fully completed on the island.  However, you must be a fully certified Open Water diver before taking any Specialty Courses. 

Typical day

The below itinerary is to ensure that people get the most out of their volunteer placement. However, it is also based upon flexibility and can be adapted according to individual requirements.  Itineraries are subject to the length of the trip. In terms of the volunteer work, each day will differ but you will be working in the following areas

  • Lionfish population monitoring and control 
  • Queen Conch surveys
  • Lobster surveys
  • Commercial fish surveys
  • Reef health surveys – ReefCI check & Coral watch
  • Whale shark monitoring
  • Coral reef bio-diversity 


  • 9 AM: Leave Placencia, island orientation, refresher/recreational/lionfish dives
  • Island Orientation & Private Cabana Assignment
  • Lunch
  • Dive Kit Allocation & First Dive
  • (New Divers: First Theory Session – First Water Session)


  • Tuesday:   Fish Day – fish I.D., commercial fish surveys and lionfish spearing
  • Wednesday:  Coral and Invertebrates Day – Coral and invert I.D., coral watch surveys, and lionfish spearing
  • Thursday:  Commercial species survey, Lionfish control, ReefCI check survey
  • Friday:  Survey dives, return to mainland


  • 8 AM: Breakfast
  • 9 AM: Final Dive
  • 12 PM: Depart for Mainland

Sample Day

  • 6 AM: Dining area opens (example: fruit, biscuits, tea & coffee)
  • 7:30 AM: First Daily Dive (Deep Dive)
  • 9 AM: Return to Island
  • Quick Shower, Full Breakfast (example: eggs, pancakes, sausages, bacon beans, juice & coffee)
  • 11:30 AM: Dive 2
  • 1 PM: Lunch (example: burritos, chicken salad, quesadillas, sandwiches & nachos)
  • 3 PM: Dive 3
  • 6 PM: Drinks, Watch Sunset & Dinner (example: lionfish, lobster (in season) fish steaks, garlic  shrimp, spaghetti bolognese, et al.)After this, we unwind watching the sunset over the sea with drinks and great conversation. We call it a day with a lovely dinner with interesting,like-minded people. We promise endless fun, food, and provide numerous opportunities to make new friends. It’s all there to enjoy and remember!

Trips on the weekends to the jaguar sanctuary, jungle, caves, waterfalls, ziplining/rappelling, Mayan ruins, etc. can be arranged.  Belize has so much to offer!

Trips on the weekends to the jaguar sanctuary, jungle, caves, waterfalls, ziplining/rappelling, Mayan ruins, etc. can be arranged.  Belize has so much to offer!

Details on Arrival

We leave for our private Caribbean island on Monday morning and return on Friday. So, you will need to arrive and depart Belize during the weekend. Most of our volunteers arrive on Sunday and leave the following Saturday, depending on what else they may wish to do in Belize or how many weeks they are staying with us.

We operate throughout the year (except for September) which means that our volunteers can choose how much they wish to get involved.  Some people want to do as much conservation work as possible, some want to combine the conservation work with relaxation and fun dives and others just want to dive and spear lionfish!  The choice is yours! 

Free-time activities

Our volunteers can choose how much they wish to get involved.  Some people want to do as much marine conservation work as possible, some want to combine the conservation work with relaxation and fun dives.  We typically do 3 marine conservation dives a day but they are not mandatory.  If you prefer to chill in a hammock all day, feel free to do so.  The choice is yours in terms of your participation level! 

Depending how long your stay with us is, the weekends back on the mainland are yours to explore. Besides the incredible diving and conservation experience you will have with us Monday-Friday on our island, Belize has so much to explore on the mainland where you will be on the weekend! From ancient ruins, jungles and nature expeditions, spelunking, repelling, ziplining, cave and river tubing, to cultural tours; there is something for everyone.  You are guaranteed a trip of a lifetime in Belize!  
Water Sports

Program Requirements

In order to join the program you need to be at least 16 years old on the program start date.
Language Skills
You need to speak English (basic level)
Required Documents
PADI Medical Statement Form will be sent to you upon registration
Nationality Restrictions
No restrictions. Helping hands from all over the world are welcome.
Other Skills
Volunteering with ReefCI is a great way to get an insider’s view about the issues facing marine ecosystems and do your part to help the cause. Anyone can volunteer. Everyone can make a difference regardless of skill and ability. No experience is necessary, just a desire to be the change you wish to see in the world!
Time Commitment
Your helping hand will be required on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday

Included Services

Extra security layer by Volunteer World
Volunteer World is the world's leading comparison platform for international volunteer opportunities. We guide you through a safe and easy application process - including all necessary payments. Planning your next meaningful trip with Volunteer World gives you free access to our:
Quality Assurance
High ethical standards & transparent social impact
Flex Option
Change your reservation at no extra costs
Refund Guarantee
We refund your fees if ReefCI cancels your trip
Support & Mediation
We cover your back no matter what happens
Our services are free of charge!
All program fees are charged directly by ReefCI.

Before your journey

Profound consulting and ongoing support (free)
ReefCI (your host organization) provides consulting and is keen to answer all your questions. Once you reserved your spot, you will receive the contact details of your volunteer project.
Online preparation course (optional, from $49)
Prepare yourself and become a confident and well informed traveler. Global Travel Academy takes you on a journey before you leave home, helping you to become one of the world's greatest travelers. Our trusted partner for online learning offers courses in "International Volunteering", "Travel Health & Safety" and "Travel Safety Abroad".

On-site services

Services by ReefCI
What is Included?

  • 5 days/4 nights scuba marine conservation program on private island in the Caribbean
  • 3 meals daily during dive week
  • 3 daily dives (one dive on Friday)
  • At least one night dive a week
  • Training for conservation work and participation in our programs
  • Island boat transfers to and from island
  • All diving equipment (excluding wetsuit, booties, dive mask)
  • Accommodations while on the island

What is Not Included?

  • Flights to Placencia, Belize
  • Wetsuit, booties, dive mask
  • Optional PADI certification courses you would like to take while on the island 
  • Sapodilla Caye Marine Park Fees: 25 USD per week.  We work in the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve Park. The Belizean Department of Fisheries charge a marine park fee of $25 USD per week to help maintain the National Marine Park.
  • Alcohol and soda/pop while on the island (2-5 USD per drink) 

We are located on a beautiful, idyllic remote private island that is part of the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve Park, located in southern Belize about an hour boat ride from the mainland. Our island, Tom Owens Caye, is a true ‘castaway’ coral caye island located directly on the Belize Barrier Reef.  The island is about 1½ acres and has a large living area, great views and lots of hammock space. All of our volunteers upon arrival tell us that the photos do not do the island justice! It really is a perfect Caribbean paradise. 

Accommodations are basic but clean and comfortable. The location is however 5 star!!!  Quirky, stone, individual cabanas surround the island. Every cabana has incredible views of the Caribbean!  Imagine waking up to the sound of waves lapping against the shore and a spectacular Belizean sunrise!  During the week your accommodation will be on the island where you will stay in either the main house cabana or a beach side cabana. In the main lodge there are double rooms suitable for couples, twin rooms and family rooms suitable for groups of friends or families. The cabana bathroom facilities are shared. There is a friendly communal area with colorful underwater murals on the walls. The dining room overlooks the ocean and the food is plentiful and delicious! There are plenty of hammocks around the island to relax in. 

A generator is kept in its own room to reduce noise pollution. It is run all night on the island allowing guests to charge their laptops, iPhones, iPods and cameras etc. and use a fan if the sea breeze is not enough. This generator is turned on in the evening so during the day electricity is limited. Internet is available during the mornings, evenings and often between dives.

Bedroom (Single) Bungalow Bedroom (Double)
Food & Beverages

We are Known for Our Great Food! Sample Island Menu: 

Early Morning fresh fruit, tea, coffee and biscuits. 

Breakfast Fried jacks, sausages, scrambled eggs and refried beans or banana pancakes with ham and eggs.

Lunch Island chicken salad or chicken and veggie quesadilla’s or fresh fish burritos.

Dinner Lionfish fingers with cilantro, homemade garlic tartar sauce served with fresh salad and coconut rice or chicken curry with okra and yellow ginger rice or bbq whole fish with garlic mash and mixed veggies, or garlic lobster with cilantro mash and garlic zucchini.

Dessert Coconut tart or pineapple up-side-down cake or chocolate rum cake with a rum butter sauce.

All dietaries requirements are catered for.   We use freshly caught fish, lobster and conch (when in season) and island ingredients such as fresh coconut.  

All meals and drinking water/juices are provided for you while you are at the island. There is an honesty book system on the island, which has a small selection of sodas, beers, and rum drinks available at an additional cost. 

Internet Access
Limited access at the project site
What's NOT included?
Visa, flights, travel insurance or vaccinations are NOT included in the program fees. An airport pickup isn't included within the program fees either.
Flight Tickets
The nearest airport is Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (BZE) in Belize City. We assist you to find cheap flights to Belize.
Travel Insurance
Going abroad is an adventure and it is always best to be prepared. Sudden illness or injury, cancellation or theft - a travel insurance for Belize provides security and is a plus to have.
If you are intending to volunteer in Belize you should seek medical advice before starting your social journey. Check your required vaccinations for Belize.
Costs: Prices in USD
1 week (min. stay)
$ 888
2 weeks
$ 1,776
3 weeks
$ 2,665
4 weeks
$ 3,553
5 weeks
$ 4,441
6 weeks
$ 5,329
7 weeks
$ 6,218
8 weeks (max. stay)
$ 7,106
Average fees
$ 888 /week

You can volunteer at the project site in Placencia/Belize between 1 week and 8 weeks. Please note that the above shown program fees are estimated and subject to exchange rate fluctuations. ReefCI will let you know about the final price during your application process.
Crowdfunding Service
Generally, volunteering abroad involves certain costs. In case you need financial support, we will assist you to fundraise your volunteer program in Belize.
Deposit (15%)
The deposit is simply to reserve your volunteer placement. Payments are handled by PayPal, our trusted global payment provider. If you don't have a PayPal account, you can also pay using a credit card.
Final Payment (85%)
Your final payment will be agreed with ReefCI during the application process. Common solutions are either via bank transfer or a cash payment at the project site.
  Americas Central America Belize  Placencia, Placencia, Stann Creek District

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