If you are interested in joining an expedition or volunteer conservation project, it is worth doing some research, as there are a number of excellent organisations offering unique and - we believe - potentially life-changing experiences working in the field of environmental conservation.
Different projects are suitable for different people. However, the quality of projects varies considerably amongst different organisations, and you should make sure that you ask a number of important questions before deciding which is the right trip for you.
Remember that an attractive website and appealing marketing do not necessarily mean that the expedition itself will meet your expectations, or give you the experience and training that you are looking for. Speaking to the organisation and asking a few direct questions can help you decide which organisation to travel with. In our opinion you should never rely solely on impressions formed by a website or e mail communication to form an opinion of the organisation.
Give us a call on +44 (0)207 697 8598 to discuss our expeditions in Madagascar and Belize.
There are many considerations beyond the destination and accommodation. You may want to consider some of the following questions when deciding if a particular project is right for you:
- What are the aims of the project and research and how will you contribute to these aims?
- Who is running the project, the organisation you are booking with or a local partner?
- If you wish to join a conservation or research project that claims to be achieving conservation goals. Ask what results and research have been published from the project and were volunteers involved in that work?
- What is the status of the organisation: charity, not-for-profit, private company?
- How are your expedition fees spent? What percentage is spent in-country and what percentage supports head office costs?
- How many staff does the project employ to provide training, support and guidance for volunteers?
- What will my responsibilities be on the conservation project?
- Can I talk to ex-volunteers?
- What health and safety measures are in place for the project and volunteers?
- What are the sleeping arrangements for volunteers at the site? Some expeditions house volunteers in dormitories while others can offer private rooms.
- Are volunteers expected to cook for the group or are there local chefs employed to cook for you?
We firmly believe that our award-winning, socially and environmentally responsible, volunteer programmes offer some of the most rewarding and productive marine conservation and educational experiences available today. Our expeditions in Madagascar and Belize are run by Blue Ventures staff, recruited, trained and managed by our London headquarters to ensure we deliver high-quality training, safety and expedition experiences.
- Read about us in "Ecotourism: Traveling the World to Help Save It", a travel feature by the New York Times.
- For more information on our Responsible approach, please click here.
Volunteer accommodation in Madagascar
We limit the number of volunteers on each expedition to a maximum of 3 per staff member. We believe by ensuring that staff to volunteer ratios are kept low, volunteers receive a high standard of scientific training and support, no matter what their backgrounds. Many organisations offering volunteer research opportunities and expeditions work with a volunteer to staff ratio several times greater on similar programmes. We feel that this can limit the learning experience, the availability of facilities, and the activities and training that the volunteer can participate in.
Our expeditions are run by highly experienced teams of at least 4 international staff members working alongside at least 5 local staff members, the average expedition group size is 12 to 14 volunteers in Madagascar and 12 volunteers in Belize.
Volunteer numbers do vary during the year with departures from June to September being the busiest expeditions with above average volunteer numbers.
In addition, there will be Project Managers, local scientists and visiting researchers and students, all of whom are on hand to assist in volunteer training and support.
Our high staff to volunteer ratio and experienced teams ensure that volunteers have adequate guidance for expedition activities at all times. The experience and training of the staff that manage your expedition and projects are important factors in ensuring that you receive a good experience, relevant training and take part in a safe and enjoyable expedition. You can find out about our field staff by going to the Our Team section of the website, or if you would like to learn more about staff overseas please feel free to contact us via phone on +44 (0)207 697 8598 or e mail.
Talk to past volunteers
Nobody will be able to give you a better idea of whether you will enjoy the project more than a past volunteer.
When choosing your expedition, ask whether it is possible to speak to people who have participated in the project that you are interested in.
Make sure that these are recent volunteers and don’t be afraid to ask them detailed questions about life in the field. If you are considering participating in a diving or marine research-focused expedition, ask how often you will be diving.
We offer a variety of ways to contact our past volunteers to find out more:
- Firstly, check out our "a day in the life of a BV volunteer" page, all written by previous volunteers & field staff members;
- You can visit us on and ask previous volunteers about their experiences;
- Or you can contact us and we'll put you in touch with previous volunteers.
Marine science training for volunteers in Madagascar © Rickard Yngwe
Some feedback from past volunteers and families
"The expedition has been incredibly inspiring to say the least. The people, location and conservation initiatives all came together seamlessly to give you an unforgettable experience.” Medha Pothuneedi, UK, Madagascar volunteer, 2014
“Learning about Vezo culture in this remote coastal village has been a privilege and a great formative experience.” Sue Pern, UK, Madagascar volunteer, 2014
“The expedition was a really fun and an amazing opportunity to really work alongside the local community, whilst diving, but with more of a purpose and learning so much about the sea life, reefs and their ecosystems.” Tom Adair, USA, Madagascar volunteer, 2013
"We have managed to have weekly calls with Dan and he is having the most amazing time, I cannot thank Blue Ventures enough for the opportunity for Dan to experience the things that he is. It really is life changing." Sue Callaghan, mother of Madagascar volunteer, 2013
“Every day I found myself stopping to take in the beauty of the expedition site, particularly the deep, rich blue of the sea and sky.” Victoria Matthews, UK, Madagascar volunteer, 2013
"A trip with Blue Ventures is not just diving expedition. It is opportunity for you to further your understanding of yourself and the world around you by helping and engaging with others."
Ralazampirenena Claude Jacquot, Malagasy Scholar, 2012
"My overall experience with BV was excellent. Everyone was friendly and things felt well arranged and most importantly safe. I feel that doing this with BV has meant I have been able to have some genuinely unique and truly local experiences. All of the staff were lovely and couldn't have done a better job." Samantha Cockburn, UK, Madagascar volunteer, 2012
"Challenging, exciting, rewarding... An expedition to Madagascar with BV will change your life." Nick Hayes, Australia, Madagascar volunteer, 2011
"Blue Ventures provides volunteers the opportunity to take a meaningful part in an innovative and uniquely integrated conservation effort." Lauren Bailey, USA, Madagascar volunteer, 2011
"I enjoyed the experience and hope that the funds will continue rolling in with more volunteers for further reef monitoring at the Blue Ventures project in Belize. I would also like to say that the level of diving expertise of the Blue Ventures staff is excellent and I now feel more confident in the water." Jodi Burley, Australia, Belize volunteer, 2011
"I would highly recommend a BV expedition - it was one of the best experiences I have had. The diving was awesome and I met some fabulous people. The locals in Belize made me feel so welcome and I was very sad to leave." Sandra Cheung, UK, Belize volunteer, 2010
"I'm not sure that much could be improved, the lifestyle is simple and laid back and (in a positive way) BVs approach reflects that." Andrew Smith, UK, Madagascar volunteer, 2010
"An experience which was not only extremely enjoyable but also gratifying knowing that you're contributing to research that will hopefully aid in the improvement/conservation of the area."
Chris Coupland, UK, Malaysia volunteer 2010
"Amazing!" James Burton, UK, Madagascar volunteer, 2010
"The staff is always available to help with any questions or concerns or just have fun with you" Max Appelman, USA, Madagascar volunteer 2009
"It is a once in a life time experience" Flora Galbraith, UK, Madagascar volunteer, 2009
"A thoroughly well run project, especially when compared to others I have taken part in the past.One of the best months of my life!" Gavin Gowlett, UK, Madagascar volunteer, 2009
"I could talk about it for hours and so I can only summarise by saying it was worth it, it was brilliant and everyone should do it!"
Christian Gunning, UK, Malaysia volunteer 2009
"I long to be with such an inspiring dedicated bunch of people again." Nell Bennett, UK, Madagascar volunteer 2009
" My BV Expedition was one of the most memorable and important experiences of my life. There are very few places in the world where you can still disappear for a while, where there is no cell phone reception and no e-mail, no television or radio, Andavadoaka, for now is such a place. Here you just are. You apply yourself to gathering data for marine conservation, assisting in research and outreach projects and taking in the breathtaking beauty of Madagascar. Your ideas are valued, your assistance is appreciated and English teaching at the local school is received with great enthusiasm"
Monika Calitz, Austria, Madagascar volunteer 2008
"I had a truly amazing, life changing experience in Madagascar. I'd like to thank BV for giving me the chance to do something that has had such a huge effect on my life, it was brilliant."
Nikki Clargo, UK, Madagascar volunteer 2005
"An adventure of a life time. I found it an incredibly rewarding experience being able to contribute to the local community, teaching the locals English and learning all about marine life. It gave me a real buzz being able to identify so many fish and has opened up an entirely new underwater world to me." Suzie Nott, UK, Madagascar volunteer 2005
“I very much appreciated the dynamic research approach that Blue Ventures undertook in Madagascar, and I was thoroughly impressed by the way the project allowed volunteers to integrate themselves into the complex web of conservation and use of Andavadoaka’s natural environment.” Leda Smith, USA, Madagascar volunteer 2004
Financial Protection for our volunteers
Blue Ventures (Expeditions) Limited is a company committed to customer satisfaction and consumer financial protection. We are therefore pleased to announce that, at no extra cost to you, and in accordance with ''The Package Travel, Package Tours Regulations 1992'' all passengers booking with Blue Ventures (Expeditions) Limited are fully insured for the initial deposit, and subsequently the balance of monies paid as detailed in your booking confirmation form. The policy will also include repatriation if required, arising from the cancellation or curtailment of your travel arrangements due to the insolvency of Blue Ventures (Expeditions) Limited. This insurance has been arranged by Towergate Chapman Stevens through MAPFRE Assistance.
In the unlikely event of Insolvency you must Inform Speciality Claims Services Limited immediately on +44 (0) 1420 383012. Please ensure you retain booking confirmation as evidence of cover and value.
Policy exclusions: This policy will not cover any monies paid back to you by your Travel Insurance or any losses which are recoverable under another insurance or bond.
One of the most important issues for a potential volunteer is the cost of the project and what that cost includes. No matter how remote the environment or location of your expedition, your living conditions should be appropriate to your needs and should give you a comfortable and healthy environment in which to work. Whilst working as a conservation volunteer, if you are expected to sleep in dormitory accommodation and cook your own food, the price of your project should reflect this. You may want to consider the accommodation and quality of meals that are offered to you when comparing expeditions, and the price that you are asked to pay should reflect these differences. With Blue Ventures you will be housed in beach-front eco-cabins with a maximum of four people per cabin.
On a Blue Ventures expedition, some days you will work long hours in a remote and challenging environment. Consequently, we believe that volunteers need comfortable accommodation and an excellent balanced diet in order to be able to enjoy the project fully. Your accommodation will be in locally built eco-cabins and all your meals are cooked by trained local staff using fresh local ingredients. At Blue Ventures we understand that our volunteers need comfortable accommodation and fresh meals to be productive and happy. Being on an expedition doesn’t mean that you have to suffer!
Blue Ventures Expedition prices are amongst the most competitive in the expedition sector, and we believe we have the highest standards of food and accommodation. We don't charge for dive kit hire and dive courses are subsidised to keep prices low. Our expeditions help finance conservation in Madagascar and Belize and we want as many people to join us, learn with us and to contribute as possible. We recommend that you compare our prices, quality and reputation versus other marine conservation expedition providers in the market and we are available to discuss our expeditions and what is included in detail at any time.
Most importantly, we monitor the percentage of your expedition fee that goes to our project countries. In the last audited financial year (1st July 2011 to 30th June 2012) over 75% of volunteer fees (excluding carbon offset payments) was spent in our expedition countries, the remaining 25% of your expedition fee finances our UK team, head office, insurance, payment protection and all of the essential costs associated with running the organisation.
When conducting your research about which organisation to join for your expedition, make sure that you ask what the costs include.
- Will you need to provide your own SCUBA equipment or rent it in the field?
SCUBA diving equipment can be very expensive, so to make SCUBA diving more accessible, Blue Ventures has all the expensive equipment that you require available at our research site at no extra cost to our volunteers.
Health & Safety
There are significant potential dangers associated working both above and below the water in remote environments. At Blue Ventures, safety is one of our top priorities. Starting before arrival on site until after the expedition is over, we provide volunteers with information, advice and support on aspects of working in a tropical environment and diving and expedition safety.
Our expeditions in Madagascar and Belize are run by our experienced teams, we do not use local agents or contractors and only our staff will be responsible for your safety during your time with us.
Some of the key points, which are expanded on in our Volunteer Guide are:
- Immunisations and pre-departure checks
- Information about Malaria Prophylaxis
- Guidance about Expedition hygiene and care of minor injuries
- Diving safety
All volunteers are required to visit a Doctor to complete medical forms prior to commencing a project with us, and whilst on site volunteers are expected to adhere to the camp safety and diving protocols. Rest days are provided (decompression days) and conservative dive profiles allow for a large safety margin. There are also onsite briefings, training and scenarios to ensure that each volunteer group is prepared for their expedition.
Communication can be difficult on remote expeditions so our Expedition camp and research boats are connected by VHF radios and/or mobile and satellite telephones during all research activities, and our research boats carry medical oxygen on all diving trips.
In the time that we have been organising marine expeditions we have developed a comprehensive Medical Evacuation Plan (Medivac). This is in place for a worst case scenario and our Medivac is supported by the 24 hour contact with Head Office staff and medical advisers. To support the comprehensive plans that we have developed, all of our camp staff are experienced divers with training in first aid and practical rescue management skills and we have medication and medical oxygen at our research sites for all diving activities.
We aim to have a qualified medic on site at all times and create a culture of safety for our staff and volunteers through education, training and sharing information.
As well as the onsite Expedition Medic, medical support is provided from both the UK and in each expedition country, and we continually update our safety support systems through information gathering, communication, contingency plans, protocols, training and internal reviews.
We are a member of the Year Out Group and all of our expeditions abide by their Code of Practice and Charter. The Year Out Group's Expedition Sector Code of Practice provides a standard of service expected of the Group's member organisations. New members are required to demonstrate their ability to adhere to the Code and existing members are required annually to demonstrate that they continue to abide by it.
The Blue Ventures Diving Safety Protocol is available to volunteers upon request.
During the past 10 years Blue Ventures has achieved a number of awards and landmarks, all of which could not have happened without the support of our volunteers and our volunteer programme. Here are some of the achievements that we are most proud of;
- the establishment of the Velondriake community-managed Marine Protected Area (MPA) is ongoing, but the project has now been successfully handed over to a management committee of 24 villages with the continued support of Blue Ventures and our volunteers. For more information on the Velondriake MPA please visit www.livewiththesea.org.
- Blue Ventures has published a number of papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, reports and scientific posters using the data collected through our volunteer programmes and specialist research. All of our publications are available online. Blue Ventures have also won a number of prestigious research grants for beneficial work, such as our sea-cucumber farming project, for the community of Andavadoaka and the surrounding areas. For more information on our research and how this is supported by the volunteer programme please click here.
- Blue Ventures have won a number of awards since we began work in 2003, including two United Nations awards for our work in sustainable development. We have had major success in awards that are given for responsible tourism and volunteering, most recently we won the Best Volunteering Organisation at the British Youth Travel Awards in 2012. For details of all of our award please visit Our Awards page.
- Blue Ventures was invited to set up the first family planning clinic in the Velondriake area in 2007 and since then we have extended our programme to satellite clinics in 40 surrounding villages. Details of our approach to Community Health can be found here.
- Blue Ventures has now provided professional development training for over 20 young marine biologists from the Western Indian Ocean area through our scholarship programme, a programme which we are now extending to other regions.
- Through the generous support of volunteers, staff members and other donors Blue Ventures has been able to provide school fees and materials for over 1,000 school places from the village of Andavadoaka and the surrounding areas. Our Schools Scholarship programme has been a huge success in the region and has had a lasting legacy for many students.
If you have any comments or questions, please contact us.
For further information about our expeditions can be found in our volunteer guide.
Richard Nimmo, Managing Director, accepts Responsible Travel Award
Dr Alasdair Harris accepts his Highly Commended Tusk Conservation Award from HRH The Duke of Cambridge