Whale Shark Conservation & Diving

founded in 2006
Ask A Question
Coordinator | Anthony
Coordinator | Anthony
Book with Flex Option! Choose new departure dates or change to a different volunteer program at no extra costs.


Feel the thrill of swimming with a whale shark, the excitement of spearing the invasive lionfish, and the satisfaction in helping the marine environment
Volunteer on a remote private Caribbean island, a real castaway island located directly on the Belize Barrier Reef
Protect the reef ecosystem by directly participating in our ongoing marine conservation projects and learn all about coral reefs and marine life
Learn to dive or further your dive qualifications; everyone contributes regardless of your experience
Have an adventure, make new international friends, and give back to a cause you believe in while having lots of fun!
Join our project and become part of an active research team. Learn to dive while doing hands-on conservation projects! This volunteer program is especially suitable for:
Age 16+

Whale Shark & Marine Conservation

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, they grow up to 14m (46ft), weighing up to 15 tons! They are migratory creatures and it has been estimated that they may live up to 100-150 years old! They eat plankton and small fish and are harmless to people. Diving with whale sharks in Belize is one of the most rewarding experiences when you are diving in the Caribbean.

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef in Belize attracts one of the largest concentrations of whale sharks in the world. Whale shark season/migration in Belize runs March-June; however, we do spot them year-round. The presence of the whale sharks is dependent on the health of the spawning fish aggregations. ReefCI actively participate in working on the spawning fish in the area.

Like many of its shark relatives, whale sharks are in decline and they may soon face extinction if we don’t act now. Whale sharks’ gentle nature makes them an easy fisheries target for meat and fins, highly valued in the international shark fin trade.

The Whale Shark & Marine Conservation Project engages divers and snorkelers in whale shark data collection efforts in partnership with the UK based Shark Trust. The Whale Shark Sightings Database allows volunteers to report their sighting information online. This public, photo identification database supports photo and sighting data comparisons by scientists, researchers, and others interested in preserving this vulnerable species. Photographic identification is a powerful non-invasive technique for studying shark life histories and movement in their natural environment. This is especially important for a highly migratory species like the Whale Shark.

What will you be doing?

Nobody can guarantee a Whale Shark encounter however; if you are lucky enough to experience a Whale Shark you must record as much information as possible, and take photos (without a flash). Displaying a myriad of pale blue spots and stripes, each whale shark has its own unique pattern. Divers and snorkelers are asked to photograph and make notes about each whale shark’s individual skin pattern, size and other identifying factors. Following each sighting, divers will be asked to submit the sightings data and images to an online database.

Please note that not all of the following surveys/activities are guaranteed to be part of your specific standard conservation program trip. Some are seasonal and/or are dependent upon length of your trip, dive experience, and numbers of participants.

Lobster Surveys

The Caribbean Spiny Lobster is a high commercial value species throughout the Caribbean. Over the past few decades the populations have been seriously depleted due to an increase in overfishing. In many countries in the Caribbean there are now open and closed seasons. The closed season is normally when the females are ready to release their eggs into the water column. During the closed season in Belize (February-June), lobsters are banned from fishing and from restaurant menus.

Together with the Belize Department of Fisheries, ReefCI monitors the population of lobsters in the patch reefs (where the fishermen are most likely to retrieve lobsters by free diving), as well as the deep waters on the continental shelf. The surveys conducted in the shallow patch reefs give an idea of the density of lobsters in the region. The primary reason for surveying the continental shelf is to gain the male to female ratios and number of females carrying eggs. There are several specific locations where female lobsters gather to release their eggs. These biologically important locations require protection in order to sustain the lobster populations.

What will you be doing?

The lobster survey is conducted using the rover diver technique. We go down in groups of about 6 divers with the person at the bottom of the line at about 25m and the person at the top of the line on the top of the wall. Two people carry slates and a measuring stick. We move along the wall at the same pace for about 100 metres. Each lobster must be coaxed out of its hole using the measuring stick. First we ascertain what sex the lobster is, then we measure the total length and tail length and if the lobster is a female we look to see if she is carrying eggs. We do the same for about another 100m on the top of the wall with the deepest diver moving to the top of the line and the person who was on the top remaining where they were.

Queen Conch Surveys

The queen conch is a large marine mollusk whose scientific name strombus gigas means giant spiral shell. After mating, which occurs July to October, females lay long egg masses with about half a million embryos, although as in the case of most marine organisms, the older and larger the conch becomes the more eggs it can produce. It takes about three to five years for the queen conch to become fully mature and be considered an adult. Within three years, the conch can grow up to two pounds in weight and eight inches in length. The average shell length will increase about three inches per year in its active growing stage. The adult conch can be identified by its heavy shell which has a flattened flare on one end. Therefore, the older the conch gets, the thicker its shell will be. A conch can live up to forty years if it is not harvested by its main predator during its adult stage, humans.

Conch has been overfished in Belize because of its high commercial value. There is much debate as to whether conch is breeding in the shallow or deep waters. Theories have suggested that both are true. Increasing numbers of conch are being forced into the deep to breed because of the increase of fishing pressure.

ReefCI is working with John Ciglioni, a scientist from Cedar Crest College, Pennsylvania USA, and contributing to a paper that he is writing on the Queen Conch. To monitor the migration paths, breeding patterns and populations of these species, a number of plastic cable ties with individual numbers on have been placed around each conch, and every subsequent observation is recorded. This may indicate not only the migration patterns of conch between different depths it can also record the directional migration patterns associated with the anticlockwise currents. By regularly diving in the area, ReefCI has been able to locate two important new breeding grounds, this is of particular importance to John because he can only come to the area once or twice a year, making it extremely difficult to locate new breeding grounds.

What will you be doing?

Divers go down in buddy pairs to a sandy area where there is a large conch population. One buddy has some calipers and a slate and the other a large measuring device and some tags. We record the lip thickness (this determines age and sexual maturity), size of spiral, size of conch, habitat, depth and tag number. When the tagging project is completed, we conduct several conch survey dives each week throughout the year where we locate the conch and note the number and location.

All of the information assimilated for this project is allowing us to map out the key biologically important areas of the Marine Reserve, in terms of conch populations and activity. During 2010 the Belizean government implemented no take zones in the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve. The numbers of conch in the shallow waters are already on the increase, which in turn are increasing the numbers of species that feed on them such as the Spotted Eagle Ray.

EcoMar Coral Watch (Coral Bleaching and Data Collection)

ReefCI supports and contributes to the Meso-American Coral Reef Watch Program, an organization developed by the marine conservation group, ECOMAR. The program was launched in 2008 in Belize, Mexico, and Honduras as an early warning alert system for coral bleaching in the region.

The goal of the program is to raise awareness among stakeholders – marine guides, visitors, non-governmental organizations and government departments – on the increasing impacts climate change may have on the delicate balance that exists on tropical coral reefs.

Once aware of the conditions inherent of a natural and healthy reef; guides, visitors and park rangers can submit regular reports on the conditions of the reefs so that changes over time can be measured.

Climate change is a reality and its effects on our oceans are clear. The program monitors levels of coral bleaching of stony corals. As sea temperatures rise during the later summer months, the corals begin to get stressed and first become pale, then turn partially white, and then if the sea temperatures remain too warm for too long the entire coral colony can become completely white.

Corals can exhibit varying levels of resistant to increasing sea temperatures. What makes corals in certain areas of the reef resistant to the impacts of climate change can be repeated stress from locally warmer waters or sediment-laden run-off. The corals in these areas have acclimatized to these conditions and become resilient. The acroporid corals – elkhorn and staghorn – that are growing on the reef now are believed to be resilient to our warming seas.

What will you be doing?

Divers go down in buddy pairs with Coral Watch slates and look for affected brain/cactus, branching/pillar, boulder/mound, flower and lettuce/sheet corals. The divers note the type of bleaching from paling, partially bleached to completely bleached. The water depth and the water temperature are also noted. This is a great way to learn about corals and about the different types of bleaching and disease. Everyone says that these surveys change the way that they dive and makes them appreciate the health of the reef.

ReefCI Check (Reef Habitat Surveys and Fish and Coral Identification Dives)

Our ReefCI team has developed a coral reef monitoring protocol that is more focused on the unique marine ecosystem of southern Belize. Still employing simple techniques that non-scientific divers can easily master, we aim to collect scientifically robust data allowing us to monitor and report on our coral reefs health. ReefCI Check is a comprehensive assessment of the health of coral reefs. We have fine tuned the “indicator species” observed based on the ecological and economical value and sensitivity to anthropogenic disturbances, specific to the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve. A new aspect to our methodology is counting the male and female Parrot fish, while still including Groupers, Surgeon fish, Butterfly fish, Grunts, Snappers, and the invasive Lionfish. Invertebrates, coral bleaching/disease, trash and coral damage will be recorded and the substrate composition thoroughly mapped.

What will you be doing?

The Team Scientist or Team Leader lays the 100m transect line. There are three buddy teams; including one for fish, one for invertebrates and one for substrates. The fish survey is conducted first in order to avoid fish being disturbed prior to the survey. One buddy times whilst the other counts the indicator fish in 5 metre cube areas for 1.5 minutes. This is then repeated along the line. The next team surveys invertebrates with one buddy on each side of the line. They count the invertebrates inside a 2.5 metre width on each side of the transect line. This requires looking under rocks and ledges and into holes in order to find the species. The 3rd team counts the substrates. One buddy has a plumb line with a small weight on the end; the diver drops the line onto markings at each 50cm (.05m) interval and gives a hand sign to their buddy who then records the data onto a slate. The Team Scientist conducts a site description which includes any coral damage, anchor damage, disease etc. Some of the fascinating marine life you will encounter along the way includes whale sharks and lobsters.

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 Certification Courses Offered 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 Certification Courses Offered on the Island

  • PADI Specialty Course:  Invasive Lionfish – $100 USD (2 days) 
  • PADI Specialty Course:  Coral Reef Conservation – $100 USD (2 days)
  • PADI Specialty Course: Fish Identification – $100 USD (2 days)
  • PADI Specialty Course: Deep Diver – $100 USD (3 days)
  • PADI Specialty Course: Emergency First Response  – $100 USD (2 days)
  •  PADI Specialty Course: Underwater Photographer  – $175 USD (2 days)

*Please Note:  The PADI Open Water, Advanced, Rescue, Dive Master, and Underwater Photographer require the PADI eLearning prior to arrival.  All other courses do NOT require the PADI eLearning prior to arrival.  You must be a fully certified Open Water diver before taking any PADI Specialty Courses. 

In order to be certified on the island, you will need to complete the PADI eLearning portion of your course (Open Water, Advanced, Rescue, Underwater Photographer, or Divemaster) prior to your arrival to our island. PADI is the world’s leading scuba 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 to the island.  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. 

Typical day

We have different projects we run that are all under the same umbrella/program and a part of what we do at Reef Conservation International.  Hence, each day will differ but you will be helping in the following areas:

  • Lionfish population monitoring and control (spearing and dissecting lionfish)
  • Queen Conch surveys
  • Lobster surveys
  • Commercial fish surveys
  • Reef health surveys – ReefCI check & Coral watch
  • Whale shark monitoring (if spotted)
  • Coral reef bleaching and bio-diversity dives
  • Weekly beach cleanups (trash and plastic removal)

Depending on the season and ocean conditions you might not take part in all of these activities above but it is a good bet that you will experience most of them :)

A typical week will include the following:

  • 5 days/4 nights on private island in the Caribbean off the coast of Belize
  • 3 meals daily during dive week
  • 12-13 dives per week
  • At least one night dive a week
  • Training for conservation work and participation in our conservation programs
  • Island boat transfers to and from island
  • All diving equipment (excluding wetsuit, fins, booties, dive mask)
  • Accommodations while on the island

Free-time activities

Our volunteers can choose how much they wish to get involved.  Some people want to do as much conservation diving and learning as possible, while others wish to combine the conservation dives with relaxation and fun dives.  All dives are voluntary so you can choose to relax in our hammocks with a good book, fish from the island, or do a bit of sea kayaking/stand up paddle boarding or immerse yourself in conservation volunteering. The choice is yours!  

We have lots to offer on the island when not diving!

  • Stand Up Paddle Boarding
  • Kayaking
  • Snorkeling
  • Fishing from the island
  • Conservation help (dissections, data collection)
  • Volleyball
  • Badminton
  • Great food
  • Further your dive course training with us!
  • Lots of hammock time!!
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


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
Our digital/online scuba diving waivers 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

What's Included

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, fins, booties, dive mask)
  • Accommodations while on the island

What is Not Included?

  • Flights to Placencia, Belize
  • Wetsuit, fins, 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) 
  • Weekly dive gear rental fee of $25 USD for BCD, regulators, tank/air, and weights


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.

Food & Beverages

We Are Known For Our Great Food! 

We provide 3 meals a day plus an early morning snack and a mid-afternoon or late evening snack everyday while on the island.

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.

Vegetarian, Vegan, Food Allergery?  All Dietary Needs Fully Catered For! 

All dietary requirements are catered for (food allergies, vegan, vegetarian, no seafood, dairy, tree nuts etc).   No worries - we have vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, gluten free eaters, diabetics, and nut allergy volunteers that come to the island every year.  Our chef is quite accustomed to meeting the needs of our volunteers. Don't worry, we will make sure your dietary needs are met : )  However, it is always a good idea to bring special food and snacks that you like. 

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 Placencia (PLJ) in Placencia. 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.

Dates & Fees


Details on arrival

Our conservation dive trips are Monday thru Friday – we depart for our island at 9:30am on Monday from Placencia, Belize and return to the mainland (Placencia) on Friday anywhere from 11am-1pm depending on ocean navigability. Volunteers must schedule arrival and departure in and out of Placencia, Belize either on a Saturday or Sunday. 

Weekend Accommodations

All volunteers will need to book a hotel or hostel in Placencia upon their arrival and departure on a Saturday or Sunday. Those staying multiple weeks will need weekend accommodations on the mainland Friday night thru Sunday night in between their weeks with us on the island.  So with ReefCI you get the best of both worlds. An amazing marine conservation volunteering experience Monday thru Friday on a private Caribbean island on the Belize Barrier Reef and the weekends on the mainland exploring all Belize has to offer.  From ancient ruins, jungles and nature expeditions, spelunking, repelling, ziplining, cave and river tubing, to cultural tours; there is something for everyone on the weekends.  You are guaranteed a trip of a lifetime in Belize! 

Flights to Placencia, Belize

All volunteers will fly into Belize’s only international airport - Belize International Airport (BZE) which is located in Belize City.  From there, you will make a connection flight to Placencia, Belize via a small hopper plane.  The short hopper flights typically provide around 9 daily flights on the weekends to and from Belize International Airport and Placencia.  There are two airline companies that operate hopper flights in Belize. Tropic Air and Maya Island Air –google them to search flight times and prices.  All volunteers must schedule arrival and departure on a Saturday or Sunday.   We will depart for the island on Monday from Placencia, Belize at 9:30am and return on Friday to Placencia anywhere from 11am-1pm. 

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1 - 8 weeks

Program fees

Costs: Prices in USD
1 week (min. stay)
2 weeks
3 weeks
4 weeks
5 weeks
6 weeks
7 weeks
8 weeks (max. stay)
Average fees
$888 /week

Please note that the above shown program fees are estimated. ReefCI will let you know about the final price during your application process.
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.

Why book with Volunteer World

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.

What are people saying about Volunteer World?

Whale Shark Conservation & Diving

Join our project and become part of an active research team. Learn to dive while doing hands-on conservation projects!


You might be also interested in

Invasive Species Management Placencia, Belize ReefCI
Make a difference by removing lionfish, an invasive species decimating reef ecosystems. Learn to dive while culling lionfish.
Marine Life Conservation Assistant Placencia, Belize ReefCI
Gain real insight into marine conservation work and methodologies through hands-on conservation training and work experience.

Why am I seeing this?

You requested a page that doesn't exist on this site any more. This could be caused by a link you followed that was out of date, by a typing in the wrong address in the address bar, or simply because the post has been deleted.

Take Me Home