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Belize: Coral Reef and Conch Research

Work together with researchers to monitor coral reef ecosystem health and conch populations at St. George's Caye, Belize.

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Volunteer on this 8-day program in St. George's Caye, Belize, and work side-by-side with researchers to collect data on Belize's outstanding marine ecosystems. The goal of the program is to collect ecological data on the health of coral reefs, the status of protected queen conch populations, the productivity of seagrass beds, and to document and survey mangrove forests within the proposed St. George's Caye Underwater Archaeology Reserve.

Participants will stay at the ECOMAR research station and field school on St. George's Caye, and will embark on daily research excursions punctuated by opportunities for natural history exploration. During the program you will learn about the ecological importance of one of Belize’s most iconic and valuable species, the queen conch. You will also help study coral reef health in different areas and measure whether coral populations are being impacted by factors like harmful fishing techniques and global warming. Educational evening presentations will inform you about local research and conservation efforts.

Snorkeling sites will be chosen each day based on research protocols and on the ground weather conditions. Your initial days will be spent training for the conch survey and learning the skills needed to assist in that effort. Your researcher will determine when the group is ready to start collecting data for the program.

Experienced snorkelers can appreciate the diversity and abundance of the marine flora and fauna found in Belize's tropical waters. There is also a possibility you may get to participate in dolphin, sea turtle, or manatee surveys during a few of the afternoons.

On the last day of the program, the group will visit Hol Chan Marine Reserve to explore the shallow patch reefs and to visually compare fish abundance between reefs inside and outside the marine reserve. Only snorkeling experience is needed to participate in this program. Volunteers will be trained in the use of survey equipment and in research techniques.

Trip Dates & Cost

2017: November 11–18. $2,700 per person.* Group limit 8.

2018: February 10–17 | June 2–9. $2,700 per person.* Group limit 8.

* Trip price does not include international airfare. Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions.


Linda Searle is a conservation biologist and educator who coordinates marine conservation programs in Belize through ECOMAR, a nonprofit founded in 1996 to promote “conservation through education." She holds a master's degree in marine biology from Nova Southeastern University and bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Miami. Her research interests include coral reefs, sea turtles, and more.


Day 1: Arrival (Belize City - St. George's Caye)
After your arrival into Belize City, you will meet in the afternoon to be transferred to the St. George's Caye field station. Following your arrival, there will be a brief orientation and check-out snorkel at the sand bar.

Day 2: St. George's Caye
In the morning there will be a snorkeling check-out session (if not done the prior afternoon), and/or time for beach snorkeling. In the afternoon, we'll take a boat excursion to a nearby coral reef study site, where you'll be given a general overview of the research project and the survey methods we'll be using.

Days 2-6: Coral Reef, Seagrass, and Mangrove Surveys
On each day of the program you will make morning and afternoon excursions to survey coral reefs, seagrass beds, conch populations, and mangroves while guided by our researcher. You will be trained in a variety of sampling techniques, including basic coral and fish ID, and will help collect data at various study sites while snorkeling, as well as from the boat.

There will also be leisure time following lunch each day, during which you can relax at the field station, and there will be plenty of opportunities for “fun” snorkeling when not collecting data. On occasion, some of the afternoons may be spent collecting data on manatees, bottlenose dolphins, or sea turtles.

Day 7: Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Take a full day trip to nearby Hol Chan Marine Reserve off the southern tip of Ambergris Caye. Established in 1987, Hol Chan is Belize's oldest marine reserve and encompasses three square miles of beautiful marine habitat including coral reef, seagrass beds, and mangrove forest. Participants will spend the day exploring the shallow patch reefs and visually comparing fish abundance in areas inside and outside of the reserve.

Day 8: Departure
After breakfast, you will be transferred from St. George's Caye to Belize City. You should arrive with plenty of time to catch a taxi to the airport to connect with your flights home (same day return flights can be booked for noon or later).

Trip extensions to explore the interior rainforest and nearby Mayan ruins can be arranged upon request.


Throughout the program, participants will stay at the St George's Caye Research Station & Field School run by ECOMAR, which offers basic but comfortable accommodations in double rooms or bunk rooms, with shared bathrooms (no hot water).

Three meals are prepared daily; they feature local and international dishes and are served buffet style. The meals are so good that many visitors ask for the recipes to take home!

Historic St. George's Caye is less than 10 miles from Belize City and one mile from the Belize Barrier Reef, making it ideal for accessing tropical marine ecosystems. On the island are mainly private homes used only on weekends and holidays and a small resort. There are no stores and or restaurants on the island, nor is there public electricity or water services. The islands residents include traditional lobster fishermen, caretakers and resort staff. The seclusion afforded at St George's Caye and its close proximity to tropical marine ecosystems and mainland Belize, make it a perfect location to focus on research.

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