Learn to identify the Stoplight parrotfish, spot a colourful Flamingo tongue feasting on a Sea fan’s tiny polyps and navigate your way between diverse corals whilst living on a remote palm dotted island, washed by the turquoise shimmering waters of the Caribbean Sea, which are full of charismatic species such as turtles, rays, moray eels and dolphins.
One of the focuses of our research in Belize is investigating the impact of lionfish on the reef and on juvenile reef fish as this invasive species has no native predators outside its original home in the Indo-Pacific and therefore poses a huge threat to Belize’s reef fisheries. Assist with our research that aims to understand how to effectively control lionfish populations, monitor the progression of the invasion, and directly contribute to efforts to combat its spread through participating in lionfish culls!
If this isn’t enough to convince you just yet, then don’t worry, our expedition in Belize has got even more to offer. During the first week of every six week expedition, volunteers get a chance to immerse themselves in the welcoming Belizean culture during a home stay in the fishing village of Sarteneja, based in the Corozal District on Belize’s mainland. Besides taking part in cultural exchange sessions you will receive science training in order to be fully prepared for the underwater surveys taking place at dive camp. The training designed by our field scientists involves informal lectures, small group discussions and practical exercises on coral and reef species identification once at dive camp.
Whether a dive novice, experienced SCUBA diver, budding scientist or newcomer to the field of marine conservation you are welcome and able to support and contribute to our marine research and conservation work.
Depending on your dive level when joining us, you will, during the first week at dive camp, learn how to dive or advance your diving skills by completing further dive certifications. The required dive level in order to take part in underwater surveys is PADI Advanced Open Water or equivalent, but you can receive a certification up to Divemaster.
Once you have passed your science training and reached PADI Advanced Open Water level, you will carry out one to two dives a day collecting relevant reef data. You will be diving 6 days a week (weather dependant) with every Sunday being a day off and you can join us year-round for a period of 3 up to 18 weeks.
Expedition prices vary according to your current diving qualification and length of stay in Belize but, as a guide, start at £2795 for 5 weeks. Use the calculator to get an estimated cost which you'll also receive if you apply and please just let us know if you would like an exact quote before confirming your place. If you have any special requirements (e.g. non-diving volunteer, joining outside normal expedition dates, medic, medical elective or research) please contact us for an accurate quote.
The meeting point and start of our marine conservation expeditions in Belize is the fishing village of Sarteneja, and for the first 9 days of your expedition you will live with a Belizean family as part of a homestay.
Homestays are an important part of our strategy to diversify and strengthen alternative livelihoods for coastal communities, ensuring the economic benefits of tourism go directly to community families, rather than resorts or international investors. They provide a rich cultural experience, and the chance to really understand the lived experience of your host community.
‘Experiencing first-hand the warmth, sincerity, generosity, and hospitality of our homestay hosts will forever remain one of the most special gifts of my unforgettable Blue Ventures adventure.’ – Pam Viele (Belize Volunteer)
Following your stay in Sarteneja you will move to the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve where you live in beachside eco-cabins at our remote dive camp. The cabins overlook the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and are surrounded by forest. You will share your cabin with a maximum of three other volunteers.
Bacalar Chico Dive Camp is a magical place where you live according to the rhythm of nature.
“The expedition was a once in a lifetime experience that I don’t regret in any way. Bacalar Chico was even more remote and spectacular than I had hoped for. Camp was just ideal and I felt like I contributed in a small way to something positive.” – Dwayne Daly (Belize Volunteer)
Due to the various ethnic influences in Belize, food will be a mixture of western, Caribbean and Mexican. For breakfast you can expect tortillas or fry jacks with spread as well as cereals, tea and coffee. For lunch rice and beans are common with salad and vegetables. For dinner you may get rice and beans, salad, stews, vegetables, fish and a dessert. We’re normally able to cater for those with specific dietary requirements, particularly vegetarians. Treated drinking water is freely available on site, with bottled water and other beverages and various snacks available to purchase at times. Volunteers are given the opportunity to learn how to make traditional snacks, such as fry jacks and tortillas.
You can fly to Belize City via Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles and Houston. From Belize City you can easily get to Sarteneja via bus or those who can’t wait to be on the water can fetch a water taxi to get there. We provide detailed travel advice for all of our volunteers, so you don’t have to plan your journey from scratch.
Between Sarteneja and Bacalar Chico Dive Camp you will travel by boat, which is all arranged for you by Blue Ventures and included in the expedition fee.
With Belize being one of the world’s top destinations for SCUBA diving it won’t come as a surprise that the diversity and abundance of marine life in a UNESCO World Heritage listed dive site, which is not accessible to recreational diving, will be one of the best parts of your stay. The reefs you will be surveying are bustling with hundreds of different species of fish and colourful corals.
Where the ocean meets the land, you will discover another highlight, which is composed of tropical jungle vegetation and lush mountain vistas, which are teeming with exotic wildlife. With Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve being a nesting site for many birds, you will get to see some of Belize’s most iconic birdlife. Watch the white ibis majestically wandering in the swamps or the boat-billed heron catching fish with its odd shaped beak!
Even though underwater research dives and conducting ecological studies on coral reefs will be the focus of your time volunteering at Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, there are plenty of other activities to get involved with and especially during your time in Sarteneja, you’ll get to know the full breadth of our integrated conservation programmes whilst assisting with community work.
During term time our community liaison officer Marc goes into the local high school and teaches students about marine conservation, including the invasive species of lionfish and the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas and No Take Zones. In addition, we assist with English lessons and whilst we don’t involve volunteers in in front of class teaching we involve you in language exchange sessions or educational games as we regard our volunteers who all have a good grasp of English as valuable source for school children to practice their language skills.
In order to communicate our work with the communities we work in and with, we often conduct information days and events. As such we regularly host lionfish demonstration afternoons, where we show local fisherman how to clean and prepare lionfish by removing the venomous spines, which reinforces our efforts in opening up alternative livelihoods, one of them being to fish sustainable catch such as lionfish.
Another aspect of this part of our work is to assist the local NGO Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development with community education initiatives and community development projects, including conservation classes in local schools and mangrove planting workshops. By collaborating with local organisations, we ensure that local communities are involved and engaged with conservation efforts and help building capacity for them to drive conservation forward themselves.
Whenever the need arises, we involve volunteers in the execution of such events and you get the chance to share your newly acquired knowledge with others!
One of the most charismatic marine mammals existing in Belize are manatees, who live in shallow waters where seagrass is the dominant vegetation. Unfortunately, they are an endangered species with many of them being injured from boat propellers, which often inhibits normal feeding habits resulting in malnutrition and disease. Besides surveying the habitat and species, we occasionally visit Wildtracks, Belize’s only manatee rehabilitation centre, which receives injured manatees. As rehabilitation is very labour intensive, Blue Ventures and its volunteers are sometimes asked to provide a few more helping hands.
Bacalar Chico, where dive camp is located, is an important nesting and migratory ground for many unusual bird species. Spend some early mornings visiting different habitats including coastline, lagoon and mangrove, within the Bacalar Chico region, identifying bird species. These walks and boat trips are a great way to explore the coast and are led by our field scientists and experienced local staff when available. These surveys allow us to look at the bird population within Bacalar Chico examining their distribution between ecosystems and monitor the activity of migratory birds using the resources at different times of year.
In your down time at Bacalar Chico, you can explore the mangroves, play volleyball on the beach, go snorkelling or simply relax in your hammock. Whilst in Sarteneja, you can bike around Sarteneja, learn to cook some local delicacies from your host mom or simply spend some time with your family.
Our second research and expedition site in Belize was established in 2010 in response to local NGOs and government officials approaching us to suggest Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve as a suitable site to replicate our conservation work that was already established and effective in Madagascar.
Through our presence in the area and through discussions with local fishers we came to understand the issue of the invasive lionfish, which has no native predators outside its original home, preys on juvenile reef fish and therefore poses a huge threat to Belize’s fisheries. One of the main focuses of our research in Belize is investigating the impact they’re having, finding solutions to reducing this impact, raising awareness of the issue and improving the lives of local communities affected by it. In order to maximise economic output from Blue Ventures’ lionfish activity, we have organised lionfish jewellery training workshops to teach communities how to utilise the removed spines and fins, which have now trained more than 30 jewellers and Sarteneja now has 7 active lionfish jewellers.
As a result of our educational work about the lionfish, fishers are now catching and selling the high quality meat to restaurants where previously there was no financial incentive to do so. In 2010 no restaurants were serving lionfish, our last survey found that Lionfish is now being served in 9% of restaurants in the country. These activities diversify and increase income to fishers as well as enhance our conservation efforts.
You can find answers to common queries about Blue Ventures expeditions below, or please contact a member of our staff with any questions you may have and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
We’re here Monday to Friday, between 9.30am and 6pm (GMT). Call us on +44 (0)207 697 8598.
1. Complete and submit our online application form.
2. If we’re able to accept your application, we’ll send you an email offering you a place on your chosen expedition with a link to download our detailed pre-departure guide.
3. If you request to speak to us about joining an expedition, we’ll give you a call at a time that’s convenient for you and answer any of your questions over the phone. You’re also welcome to come and visit us at our London office.
4. Once you’ve decided that you’d like to join a Blue Ventures expedition, you’ll be asked to confirm your place by paying a non-refundable deposit and agreeing to our booking conditions. This allows us to guarantee you a place on your chosen expedition, with the full balance of your expedition fees due at least 6 weeks before departure.
5. Once your place is confirmed, you’ll be asked to complete and submit various forms, including medical forms to be completed with your doctor, and details of your travel insurance policy, flights and emergency contacts. We’ll be on hand to provide any guidance that you need, and are always happy to answer any questions as our volunteers prepare for their trip.
Please click on the ‘Dates & Costs’ tab to see our upcoming expedition dates.
Generally expedition volunteers stay for 4-12 weeks. The longer you stay the better value for money.
All entrants to Belize must have a valid entry visa or be eligible for an entry stamp (Please check your entrance requirements on the Belize High Commission’s website). You will only be able to obtain a visa or pass for 30 days. To stay beyond this time period you can apply for a 30-day extension to your visa at any immigration office, which our field staff can help arrange. The cost is US$25 per 30 day extension, for up to a year after your first entry to Belize.
Yes! We offer some flexible start dates and expedition durations. If you can’t join us for the full expedition then please contact us to discuss how we can tailor your time on site.
Please note the following regarding our flexible dates:If you join an expedition outside regular dates and after the 9 days in Sarteneja have passed, we will pick you up from San Pedro on one of our weekly supply runs. The pick up comes at no extra cost as long as it falls together with the scheduled date of our supply run. If your arrival or departure does not fall within the schedule, the cost of this journey will be charged at an additional 400 BZ$. For suitable arrival dates please contact us before making any flight arrangements.
We ask for a non-refundable deposit in order to be able to guarantee you a place on your chosen expedition, and the balance of your expedition fees is due at least 6 weeks before departure. In the unlikely event that a volunteer isn’t able to join the expedition and has already paid their balance, their travel insurance company should be able to offer a refund. Volunteers who pull out 4 weeks or less before the start of an expedition will not be eligible for a refund. Volunteers who pull out more than 4 weeks before the start of an expedition will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Anyone can join a Blue Ventures expedition providing that they’re in a reasonable state of fitness and good health; we require volunteers to go for a medical check with their doctor prior to departure, with a medical form that the doctor must sign. Volunteers must be able to swim 400 metres confidently and tread water for 2 minutes unaided.
Absolutely! Blue Ventures has alumni from all around the world (over 50 nationalities to date!) Anyone is welcome to join a Blue Ventures expedition providing that they’re able to speak and read English, as all dive and science training are in English.
Typically our volunteers are aged between 17 and 60, but there’s no upper age limit. Every expedition group is made up of people with a wide range of ages, and the average age of our volunteers is 28. If you have any concerns or questions, please feel free to contact us.
We insist that all volunteers who wish to scuba dive are at least 17 years of age, although we accept volunteers under 17 years of age to participate in non-diving activities (so long as they’re accompanied by an adult), and families are welcome to join too.
Volunteers are put in contact with the rest of their group 6 weeks before the expedition starts. This allows them to get to know each other a little, and even coordinate travel plans if they would like to travel together.
No! With a high staff to volunteer ratio, our expeditions team are on hand to support you to develop your marine science skills.
You can learn to dive with our highly experienced dive instructors in Belize. There is no better place to take your first breath underwater and get hooked on a new adventure for life!
Around half of our volunteers haven’t dived before, so you won’t be alone. All our volunteers are trained to PADI Advanced Open Water level before they can complete research dives.
There are regular flights to Belize City, the capital city of Belize from all over the world.
We recommend checking prices with SkyScanner for prices to Belize City.
Within our pre-departure pack we advise on different travel options within Belize to travel from Belize City to Sarteneja, where the expedition starts.
We’re happy to help and offer advice – just fill in the form above and we’ll get back to you.
Our expeditions formally start and end in the town of Sarteneja, where you will spend the first 9 days of the expedition in a homestay with a local family.
To get to Sarteneja from Belize City you can either take the bus or water taxi. We provided detailed advice on travelling within Belize in our pre-departure pack.
The boat transfer from Sarteneja to the expedition site in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve is organised by Blue Ventures and is included your the expedition fee as long as you arrive and leave on the advertised expedition dates. This journey takes approximately 2 hours depending on weather conditions.
Yes, we require you to have two forms of insurance: both normal travel insurance and specific dive insurance provided by Divers Alert Network (DAN).
DAN are our chosen partner for our scuba emergency evacuation plan, so we insist that all volunteers have a valid DAN insurance policy.
Most nationalities need a tourist visa or pass when entering Belize, depending on your nationality this may be obtained at the airport on arrival or you may need to obtain it before arrival. Please check your visa requirements on the Belize High Commission’s website and ensure your passport is valid for 6 months prior to your planned departure date. Visas and passes will be for 30 days initially, this can then be extended if necessary, which will be arranged for you by our in country staff. Please contact us if you think you might need further information.
Before you join an expedition, you should see your doctor or an accredited travel clinic who will advise you on the vaccinations that you need to visit for Belize. As a guide, the standard vaccinations are:
We advise volunteers to bring US dollars in various denominations, preferably small, which will be easier to use and exchange. Whilst on site there will be little opportunity to spend money other than in the local bars and shops in Sarteneja. We recommend budgeting £50 ($80USD) per week. Approximate prices are as follows: internet – $5 BZD per hour, beer – $3.50 BZD or a meal out – $5 – $20 BZD. There is no shop at dive camp in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, although we do usually get supplies midweek, and volunteers will have the opportunity to order one or two items if a volunteer representative is going into town too.
There is no ATM (!) in Sarteneja, where Blue Ventures meets you, so all spending money should be withdrawn prior to the beginning of the expedition. Cash machines are available in Belize City, Corozal, Orange Walk and San Pedro, please ensure you have enough for the length of your expedition. You can keep larger amounts of cash in the Expedition Manager’s safe. Experience has shown that it is better to be safe than sorry, and to travel to the site with a small reserve of money which you can change back into Euros, Pounds or Dollars at the end of your expedition if not used.
We advise volunteers to leave at least one day between the end date of the expedition and the day of their international flights, this is to eliminate the risk of delays causing you to miss international flights. Depending on your own travel plans before and after the expedition there will be days where you will need to cover the cost of your own food and accommodation in Belize.
While in Sarteneja, communication with home is readily available. Internet cafes offer fast and reliable internet (though keep in mind that Skype can be difficult to use in Belize), and public phones are available to be used with calling cards or credit cards. Be aware that the phone system is much less reliable than the internet, and getting a line overseas can sometimes be troublesome.
Owing to the remoteness of our dive camp, communication is a bit more difficult. We have a base static mobile which may be used upon request but we ask that you use it sparingly as it is mainly for staff and expedition use. Top-up phone cards can be purchased in Sarteneja and San Pedro. The cost of calls varies depending on distance and network providers. Please remember to inform family and friends that to contact them from Belize is difficult and therefore they should not worry if they have not heard from you whilst you are in the field.
Volunteers will travel to San Pedro at least once in the four week dive camp period, where they will have the opportunity to check their email. In emergencies only, messages can be relayed by telephoning our 24-hour service through our London headquarters
We advise volunteers to bring US dollars in various denominations, preferably small, which will be easier to use and exchange. Whilst on site there will be little opportunity to spend money other than in the local bars and shops in Sarteneja. We recommend budgeting £50 ($80USD) per week. Approximate prices are as follows: internet – $5 BZD per hour, beer – $3.50 BZD or a meal out – $5 – $20 BZD. There is no shop at dive camp in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, although we do usually get supplies midweek, and volunteers will have the opportunity to order one or two items if a volunteer representative is going into town too. There is no ATM (!) in Sarteneja, where Blue Ventures meets you, so all spending money should be withdrawn prior to the beginning of the expedition. Cash machines are available in Belize City, Corozal, Orange Walk and San Pedro, please ensure you have enough for the length of your expedition. You can keep larger amounts of cash in the Expedition Manager’s safe. Experience has shown that it is better to be safe than sorry, and to travel to the site with a small reserve of money which you can change back into Euros, Pounds or Dollars at the end of your expedition if not used.
Belize has two seasons, dry season (from roughly February to June) and wet season (from roughly July to January). Blue Ventures run their projects year round and don’t consider any one season to impact your experience either way. So if you’re thinking about when is best to join us, the the answer is that there isn’t one best time to visit Belize that fits all, and therefore we would recommend to plan your visit based on your availability.
While in the village of Sarteneja, breakfast and dinner will be served in your homestay, while lunch will be catered at the Blue Ventures office. In the field, Victor Santoya, our expedition cook will prepare all meals for the research team each day. Meals are a mixture of traditional Belizean, with strong Mestizo and Mayan influences, as well as western favourites.
Breakfast – Consists of two options (cooked; usually eggs and beans with tortilla/fry jacks) or oats (porridge), usually served with fruit. Lunch & Dinner – Includes various dishes such as chilli beans, rice & beans, chicken soup, pizza, fried rice, pasta, fried vegetables and stuffed peppers. Vegetable produce is brought to the site from local suppliers in either Belize or Mexico, and consequently there tends to be a monthly variation in fresh fruit and vegetable variety depending on the season and weather conditions. Blue Ventures Belize aims to support the economy of the surrounding area by using as much locally sourced produce as possible. As such, typical ‘Western’ ingredients and cuisine are not always available!
We do not cater for any specific dietary requirements, but do let the London office know pre-departure, and we will do our best to accommodate your wishes.
Although the expedition schedule is fairly packed with diving and other project activities, there is also time for recovery and relaxation. If you prefer some downtime, you can simply spend some time reading a book or take a nap in a hammock in your eco-lodge by the beach. If you are feeling more active you can snorkel, take a picnic or play volleyball.
Sarteneja and Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve are two extremely remote places, and therefore options to travel around on your days off are limited/impossible. There is no public or scheduled transportation from the dive camp. The best way to see other parts of Belize (which we would certainly recommend!) in connection with your expedition is to take some time before or after your expedition, if convenient.
Safety is our top priority when working both above and below the water in remote environments. Our volunteers are required to complete a medical check with their doctor before joining an expedition with us, and we aim to have a qualified medic on site at all times, with additional 24-hour medical support provided both from our UK based medical and within each expedition country.
Rest days (decompression days) are incorporated into our schedules, and conservative dive profiles allow for a large safety margin. Communications can be difficult on remote expeditions so our field sites and research boats are connected by VHF radios and/or mobile and satellite phones at all times, and our research boats carry medical oxygen on all diving trips.
We have a worst-case scenario medical evacuation (Medivac) plan, supported by 24-hour contact with our head office staff and medical advisers. All of our expeditions staff are experienced divers, with training in first aid and practical rescue management skills.
We require all divers to be certified PADI Advanced Open Water (or equivalent) in order to take part in research dives.
However, around half of all of our volunteers have never dived before – so don’t let it put you off – there is no better place to learn!
PADI Advanced Open water certification will be carried out by our experienced Instructor at our expedition site along with the rest of the volunteers on your chosen expedition.
We also run Emergency First Response, Rescue Diver and Divemaster training on site if you want to advance your dive skills further.
We require all divers to be certified PADI Advanced Open Water (or equivalent) in order to take part in research divers.
Experienced divers who have not dived in the six months prior to their expedition are required to take a refresher course with us, to ensure that they are confident and well trained.
We dive five or six days per week, and you’ll normally dive once, and occasionally twice per day. The majority of our dives are science-related, for example, including training sessions, recording fish and benthic transect data, or surveying new reef sites. Diving is strictly weather-dependent due to safety concerns, and subject to logistical restrictions.
All expedition volunteers are trained up to PADI Advanced Open Water level. We also offer the PADI Emergency First Response, Rescue Diver and Dive Master courses for those who wish to advance their diving qualifications.
Please note that volunteers must be on site for a minimum of 10 weeks to complete their PADI Dive Master and must complete in this order: Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Emergency First Response, Rescue Diver and finally Dive Master.
All of our volunteers must be trained up to PADI Advanced Open Water or equivalent to participate in our underwater survey dives, so please contact our London-based expeditions team to check your qualification level if you’ve trained with a different scuba agency.
You’ll need to bring some personal diving equipment: wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins, watch or dive computer, dive torch (for night dives!), delayed SMB with reel and underwater slate (for our research work).
You’ll be wearing your wetsuit, mask, snorkel and fins almost daily for 6 weeks so it’s very important that these fit well and are comfortable.
We provide the scuba equipment you need including buoyancy control devices (BCDs), regulators, weights and cylinders. It is also a PADI requirement that you have your own manuals for all the dive courses you are undergoing whilst on expedition so you’ll need to bring these along too if applicable.
You will go through a science training programme run by our field scientist at the beginning of the expedition, involving numerous snorkelling and diving excursions as well as informal lectures, small group discussions and practical exercises. All training materials are provided on site.
In order to ensure that the data we collect is scientifically robust you will likely be tested on coral and fish species identification. At our other sites, most volunteers pass these tests by the second or third week of the expedition, before moving on to underwater survey dives with our field scientists.
And counting... We're extremely proud to have supported so many brilliant marine conservation volunteers who have actively contributed to our research and conservation work!
We're delighted to welcome volunteers from all over the world to work with us in Madagascar, Belize and Timor-Leste.
On average you'll do 1-2 dives per day after your dive and science training is complete. You'll be diving up to 5 days a week (weather dependent) so you'll clock up a lot of underwater time!