Bathed by the deep waters of the Banda and Timorese seas, Timor-Leste along with Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands form the world-famous Coral Triangle. While it covers less than 2% of the earth’s oceans, the Coral Triangle hosts more than 75% of all known coral species, almost 40% of all known coral-reef fish species, more than 50% of the world’s coral reefs. Numerous shark, whale and dolphin species and six of the world’s seven marine turtle species are also found here.
The waters of Timor-Leste are a biodiversity hotspot and a global marine conservation priority, yet data on the status of the marine ecosystem is severely lacking, with limited monitoring and research. Blue Ventures’ volunteers will assist our team of scientists with the collection of marine inventory data completing research dives in previously un-surveyed waters. The data collected will inform Blue Ventures’ theory and practice and contribute directly to our efforts to develop new approaches to engaging Timor-Leste’s coastal communities in marine conservation.
As well as surveying the status of the coral reefs, particular attention will be paid to threatened seagrass beds, this habitat, home to numerous vulnerable species, including dugongs, serves as a vital feeding ground and nursery area for reef fish.
Whether you’ve never dived before or are an experienced scuba diver, are a budding scientist or a newcomer to the field of marine conservation, all are welcome and able to support and contribute to Blue Ventures’ work in Timor-Leste.
All of the science and dive training throughout the expedition is designed and delivered by our experienced team. Informal lectures, workshops, group discussions and practical exercises will guide you through the programme and provide you with the skills and knowledge required to carry out underwater research dives and contribute to our work.
There is no doubt that the highlight of your expedition experience with Blue Ventures in Timor-Leste will be the incredible marine environment. Thousands of fish fly past your nose as you dive or snorkel over the reef and into the deep blue beyond. Truly spectacular coral walls fringe the island with stunning habitat easily accessible from the shore. While we can’t guarantee you specific wildlife sightings, there really are few, if any, better places in the world to explore rich coral ecosystems bustling with life.
The deep ocean channels of the Wetar and Ombai straits surrounding Atauro plummet more than 3,000 metres deep and are a major migratory route for marine wildlife moving between the Pacific and Indian oceans, including whales, dolphins, large sharks and turtles.
Similar to our current expedition sites in Madagascar and Belize, we will be developing, with the help of our volunteers, a number of community based conservation projects in Timor-Leste.
Throughout 2016 our team and expedition volunteers will work to develop conservation and community priorities. These are likely to include dugong surveys, terrestrial fauna surveys, marine habitat surveys and community aquaculture projects.
In addition to this, volunteers will participate in conservation and environmental awareness projects and activities such as beach clean-ups and language exchange sessions.
With incredible reefs just offshore you’ll be forgiven for spending all of your free time swimming and snorkelling. However, the island is filled with tropical forests covering some high peaks that offer great hiking to savannas and silky white, deserted beaches.
You will also have the opportunity to visit local markets (a weekly highlight for many on Atauro) and craft centres where you can pick up some beautiful souvenirs while contributing to local development efforts.
Beyond Atauro and our expedition site, trips to Dili and the districts of Timor-Leste will be part of our exploration of the country. Tourism infrastructure is limited but improving and Homestays offer the chance to experience Timor-Leste amongst local hosts and families. Whether you would like to visit remote mountain communities specialising in producing stunning coffee, or fancy more underwater time diving along the north coast of the island, there is much to explore.
Our base on Atauro is Barry’s Place in the village of Beloi. The accommodation options are spacious dormitory style cabins that can comfortably house up to five people. For an additional supplement, smaller cabins are available on request for couples or volunteers that wish to spend their stay in private accommodation.
All of the accommodation has eco-toilets and traditional mandi style shower blocks close by. The cabins have solar powered lighting for use after dark, hammocks, fans and mosquito nets and we have electricity for charging devices available on site.
This is a peaceful and idyllic location far from the bustle of everyday life.
During your expedition you will also spend 2 to 3 weeks living in local Homestay accommodation with Timorese families in Beloi.
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.
“I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in the homestay programme. It gives the expedition experience some real context, and I now have a better understanding of the importance of marine conservation in the area.” – Mackenzie Burke (Timor-Leste volunteer)
Local chefs prepare three meals per day for our expeditions team and volunteers, using fresh, locally sourced produce. Breakfast is freshly baked bread with a selection of jams and spreads, eggs, fruit (such as banana or pineapple) and coffee or tea. Lunch and dinner comprise a combination of salad, rice, noodles, spaghetti, beans, fish or meat, and plenty of locally grown vegetables. 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 available to purchase on site.
No matter where you are departing from (unless you already are in Timor-Leste), you will arrive in Timor-Leste’s capital and only international airport Dili. Flights connect daily from Bali or Darwin or three times a week from Singapore.
On the first day of your expedition you will be greeted by our staff in Dili and receive introductory briefings before heading to Atauro the following day.
On the island you’ll travel in our purpose built dive boat, by foot or by local tuk-tuk – quite an experience!
Particular attention will be paid to surveying the health of coral reefs found just off shore as well as the threatened seagrass habitat. They are home to numerous vulnerable species, including dugongs, and serve as vital feeding grounds for six out of the seven world’s existing turtle species, which occur in the Coral Triangle.
Environmental protection and stability is deeply enshrined in the Timorese culture due to their long standing relationship with the ocean and their reliance on the sea for food and income. Due to climate change, globalisation and overfishing, there is now a critical need to collaborate with coastal communities, government agencies, and other conservation and development organisations to build the island’s capacity for effective marine management.
Specifically, Blue Ventures will support projects enhancing the conservation effectiveness of the seagrass ecosystem supporting globally significant populations of dugongs across the Indian and Pacific Ocean basins. This project is executed by the the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, with financing from the GEF, implementation support by UNEP and technical support from the CMS Dugong MoU Secretariat.
Since 2003 our marine conservation expeditions in Madagascar and Belize, have established and supported projects that benefit coastal communities and conservation efforts.
This is an exciting new expedition and an opportunity for volunteers to work in a new country as part of the team that will establish the focus of our work and specific goals as we explore Timor-Leste.
Expedition prices vary according to your current diving qualification and length of stay in Timor-Leste. Use the calculator to get an estimated cost and we’ll confirm the exact details when you complete your application.
We will develop more Timor-Leste specific FAQs as the first volunteers join the project in 2016.
In the meantime, 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, but if you’re enjoying yourself and we’re enjoying having you, essentially the stay can be as long as you wish!
The longer a volunteer stays, the lower the price of the additional weeks.
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 decide to join an expedition late, we are unable to provide you with the same level of staff support and introductions when you arrive in Dili and at our site as you would otherwise receive on the scheduled dates. We will do our best to make your experience as smooth as possible but it is likely to be slightly more challenging so we advise you to stick to scheduled dates if possible.
If you join late or leave an expedition early, you will be responsible for your transfer costs between Dili and Atauro. We can arrange the crossing for you, and the cost is approximately $40 each way. We do our best to coordinate journeys with other volunteers and staff to make things as simple as possible but you should be prepared to go it alone.
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. 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.
To participate in the Timor-Leste expedition you will need to have you PADI Open Water certification or equivalent as a minimum requirement at the start. However, don’t let that put you off as we can offer advice on how and where to get this prior to the expedition either locally to you or in Dili. There are a number of dive schools there who can certify you in just a few days, so please do contact us for details. If you are already a certified diver but below PADI Advanced Open Water (AOW) or equivalent then you will receive dive training for this course by our experienced PADI Instructor in the first week or two of the expedition. The AOW is needed to carry out the survey work and as such it is included in the cost of your expedition.
There are regular flights to Dili, the capital city of Timor-Leste, daily from Denpassar (Bali) and Darwin and three times a week from Singapore.
We recommend checking prices with SkyScanner for prices to Bali or Singapore then checking with Air Timor direct for the connecting flight. 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 capital Dili. Transfers between Dili and our field site on the island of Atauro take 2-3 hours by boat, and are organised by Blue Ventures.
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 when entering Timor-Leste, and this can be obtained at the airport on arrival for $30 for stays of up to 30 days. This can then be extended for a further 30 days which will be arranged for you by our in country staff.
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 Timor-Leste. As a guide, the standard vaccinations are:
• Polio, tetanus and diphtheria
• Meningitis A & C
• Hepatitis A
• Hepatitis B
• Yellow fever (only if staying in a yellow fever country en route to Madagascar)
While at our base in Atauro there will be little opportunity to spend money – one of the benefits of running such a remote site! We recommended budgeting around £50 per week for things like drinks, snacks and telephone/internet credit (must be purchased in Dili).
There are 3 groups on the island which also sells a variety of inexpensive gifts and souvenirs, including the famous Bonecas de Atauro (cloth dolls). There is no ATM (!) on the island, where you will be staying for 6 weeks, so all spending money should be withdrawn prior to the beginning of the expedition.
There is mobile phone reception at our base in Atauro, though not all over the island, as well as 3G mobile internet for sending and receiving emails. WhatsApp tends to be very effective and Skype or Facetime are definitely possible, though streaming video can eat up your data.
If you have a mobile phone that is unlocked to work abroad, you can purchase a local sim card in Dili and use this for your time in Timor-Leste, which will be much cheaper than relying on your home service provider. Telephone/internet credit is only available to buy in Dili, so please make sure you do this before leaving for Atauro – our staff can help. 2GB of data costs $30.
While at our base in Atauro there will be little opportunity to spend lots of money. We recommended budgeting around £50 per week for things like drinks, snacks and telephone/internet credit. The women’s association in the village also sells a variety of inexpensive gifts and souvenirs, including necklaces with marine life pendants fashioned out of local silver coins. There is no ATM on the island so all spending money should be withdrawn in the city of Dili at the beginning of the expedition.
The weather tends to be very warm and settled. There are two main seasonal variations, the hot/wet season (November to March) when the temperatures soars, making diving very pleasant due to the water temperature, although occasional storms may be expected around February and March. The dry season (April to October) is slightly cooler, making a thin wetsuit necessary.
Local chefs prepare three meals per day for our expeditions team and volunteers. Breakfast is fruit (such as banana or pineapple), freshly baked bread with honey or eggs (bring your favourite spread!) and coffee or tea. Lunch is salad, rice, spaghetti, beans, fish or meat, and vegetables. Dinner is rice, spaghetti, beans, fish or meat, vegetables 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 from the local restaurant or shops.
Lots! In your down time, you could learn how to sail with local fishers, explore the nearby tropical forest, enjoy the excellent snorkelling, relax in a hammocks, playing beach volleyball, visit nearby markets and explore other part of the country etc.
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! If this is the case you will be invited to join the expedition a week before the published start date in order to complete your PADI Open Water certification at our selected dive centre in Dili.
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!