A chance to volunteer time and skills controlling invasive Lionfish on a remote palm-studded island? Sign us up! You'll meet volunteers from all over the world as you patrol the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve - a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The program is run by Blue Ventures and is the winner of “Outstanding Volunteer Project” in the Global Youth Awards and named “50 Tours of a Lifetime” by National Geographic
Blue Ventures has been working with coastal communities since 2003, developing locally-led approaches to marine management that benefit people and nature alike. The award winning marine conservation NGO began working in Belize in 2010, conducting coral reef monitoring and research in the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve.
Who is it for?
Dives must have a PADI Advanced Open Water (or equivalent) certification. You'll be using your dive skills to hunt and survey Lionfish.
The trip starts and finishes over the weekend to enable people with work commitments or limited availability to join and make a contribution.
The science training you will receive from the field scientists means you are not required to have any previous experience in the marine sciences.
Typically, there will be mixed age groups, of people from all walks of life!
Arrival to San Pedro:
meet Blue Ventures expedition staff and the rest of your expedition group
transfer by boat to the dive camp within the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve.
welcome sessions, inductions and health and safety briefings.
settle into your accommodation and life at camp!
DAY 2 to 8
The team will ensure you know how to implement safe, environmentally-sound methods. When you are ready to go, you will dive with the aim of hunting and removing Lionfish from the reefs.
Introduction to Caribbean reef ecology with the team of field scientists:
identification of fish species found in the reserve
detailed training on Lionfish behavior and detection practices
Lionfish competitors and prey
training in spear handling and hunting, on both shallow and deeper dives
Swim test, scuba-tune up course
Diving, hunting, and removing Lionfish from the reef:
every fish caught will be measured and dissected.
the data collected is used to monitor the Lionfish, population, diet, and reproductive rates, as well as to test hypotheses on specific impacts and recommendations for management.
Transfer back to San Pedro:
After breakfast, everyone will join the boat transfer back to San Pedro and be able to continue onward travel plans.
Depart Belize on an afternoon flight, or the following day.
Accommodation in a beachfront eco-cabin
Three prepared meals per day, including tea and coffee at breakfast and lunch
Transfers between San Pedro and the dive camp at Bacalar Chico
Science training with a team of field scientists and researchers
PADI Scuba tune-up course with dive instructor on arrival
Daily scuba dives
Use of scuba diving equipment, including buoyancy control devices (BCDs), regulators, weights and cylinders
Comprehensive logistical support and pastoral care from permanent field staff
Health and safety briefings and support from our expedition medics and dive managers
Pre-departure support from the UK-based headquarters
What's not included?
International flights (the nearest international airports are Belize City and Cancun in Mexico)
Domestic travel to San Pedro: there is a regular water taxi from Belize City as well as internal flights
Entry visa for Belize and any visa extensions
Any medications or vaccinations that you require
Travel and dive insurance
Personal diving equipment: wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins, watch or dive computer, delayed surface marker buoy, dive torch and underwater slate – you will be provided detailed guidance on what you need to buy for your expedition
Personal field equipment: for instance a sleeping bag and torch
Spending money for drinks, snacks and souvenirs
Hotel accommodation before and after the expedition dates
With more than 100 types of coral and 500 species of fish, the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest reef system in the world, is one of the most pristine reef ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere, but it is under increasing pressure from numerous threats, including an unwelcome invasive species from the Pacific Ocean.
The red Lionfish is one of the biggest threats to marine life in the Atlantic Ocean, where it was accidentally introduced in the late 1980s. It devours almost any small fish or crustacean and is found in a wide range of habitats. With no native predators and an abundance of naïve prey, the Lionfish grows larger, faster and occurs in greater densities than its natural home in the Pacific.
Divers are always encouraged to keep an eye out for megafauna, from the almost always present nurse sharks and stingrays to inquisitive turtles. If you're lucky, you might spot a glimpse of the rare West Indian Manatee, majestic Spotted Eagle Rays, and playing dolphins.
Season: all year round, with a dry season from February to June, and Wet season from July to January
Currents: weak to mild
Visibility:20 meters (66 ft)
Water Temperature:25° to 29°C (77° to 84°F)
Depth: both shallow and deeper dives
Over 20 dive sites in the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve
You'll glide over the coral formations spotting Lionfish from above in a mix of Elkhorn and Staghorn Coral, colourful erected sponges and sea fans and plumes.
The main topography you’ll see will be spur and groove, with big underwater canyons stretching east towards the depths. As you explore along the deep crevasses, you will be honing your dive skills, as you control your buoyancy to search every nook and cranny for the Lionfish invader!
Operation started in 2010
13 permanent staff, both international and Belizean
The expedition activities will be lead by an expedition coordinator, with the support of three science officers
Group size: 16 maximum
Equipment Recommended: included in the expedition fee is the use of our scuba diving equipment, including buoyancy control devices (BCDs), regulators, weights and cylinders. You will need to bring some personal items of dive kit such wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins, booties and a timing device with you. You will be provided with a kit list during your pre-departure
Insurance: both dive insurance and travel insurance are mandatory
Nearest Hyperbaric Chamber: San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Visas, flights, and more!
How to get there
The trip starts and finishes in San Pedro, and live at the dive camp in the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve
The majority of people will arrive to Belize City, although some arrive via Cancun. You will need to arrange to arrival in San Pedro for the expedition start date, and can do so via water-taxi or a short domestic flight.
Blue Ventures can provide instructions for travel planning - connecting volunteers before they leave so there's an opportunity to coordinate traveling together.
Belize is subject to Malaria, Dengue, Chikungunya and Zika. Take necessary precautions to avoid bites (cover yourself, have mosquito repellent and talk to your doctor about preventative medications).
Bring sunscreen, hat, rash-guard, a sweater or light-weight jacket, and some walking shoes