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Puerto Rico: Coral Reef Volunteer Program

Hone your fish ID skills while helping researchers monitor coral reef health in an important marine reserve in Puerto Rico.

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Overview

  • Learn reef monitoring techniques and fish ID from local biologists.
  • Snorkel and explore the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve and learn about its importance to the local community.
  • Visit the offshore reefs of uninhabited Desecheo Island.
  • Stay in the small surf town of Rincón and learn about the sea turtle conservation efforts at Tres Hermanos Beach

This immersive volunteer vacation will sharpen your reef fish ID skills and get you familiar with field techniques that scientists use to evaluate the health of coral reefs. Working with local biologists you will explore the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve and support their efforts to monitor the health of the reserve.

There will be opportunities to learn about local sea turtle nesting populations, to dissect lionfish and learn about how this invasive species is impacting reefs across the Caribbean, and to compare the near shore marine reserve reefs with the offshore remote reefs of Desecheo Island. In between these activities you will meet local conservationists, artists, and have a chance to participate in a local cooking class, all while staying in the seaside surf town of Rincón.

Trip Dates & Cost

2018: June 2–9. $2,850 per person.* Group limit 12.

2019: June 8–15 | August 3–10 . $2,950 per person.* Group limit 12.

* Single supplement $895. Trip prices do not include international airfare. Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions.

Photos
Naturalist

Wayne Sentman is our director of conservation travel programs and an Oceanic Society naturalist since 1998. He is an experienced guide with a diverse background in marine mammal, seabird, and marine debris research. Wayne also co-teaches undergraduate field programs in Kenya on human-wildlife conflict and on the use of social media and art to raise public participation in conservation. He recently received a Master's in Environmental Management from Harvard University.

Justin Willig is the coordinator of our conservation travel programs. He has an extensive background in marine ecology and policy, and is passionate about protecting species and reefs around the world. Justin is an avid snorkeler and scuba diver, and holds a B.S. in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences from the University of Washington, and a M.A. in Marine Affairs from the University of Rhode Island.

Itinerary

Day 1: Old San Juan
Arrive in San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital and largest city, located on the island's northern coast. Tonight we will stay in Old San Juan, a charming and historic portion of the city, with cobblestoned streets, colorful Spanish colonial buildings, and several 16th century landmarks.

Day 2: San Juan - Rincón
After breakfast we will transfer to the quaint surf town of Rincón on the island's western coast, where we will be staying throughout our expedition. Enjoy a guided snorkeling tour of Tres Palmas Marine Reserve; learn about the reserve and its importance to the local community, as well as about the biology and ecology of corals. In the afternoon, we'll have an introduction to techniques used record and remove marine debris, including the use of GPS to mark debris and debris removal. Evening lecture.

Day 3: Coral Reef Monitoring in Tres Palmas
Today we will learn to measure coral colonies and to look for signs of coral bleaching and disease. Time will then be spent assessing coral health within the reserve. In the evening, a lecture on fish ID will help prepare you for the days ahead.

Day 4: Fish ID & Puerto Rican Cooking Class
Enjoy a snorkel outing to practice your newly learned or improved fish ID skills. In the afternoon, we'll have a guest lecture by a local scientist, and, in the evening, a Puerto Rican cooking class.

Day 5: Desecheo Island
We'll take a chartered boat to Desecheo Island, 13 miles offshore. Desecheo is a small, uninhabited island that is a National Wildlife Refuge and a prime location for scuba diving and snorkeling. Our boat will take us to snorkel some of the reefs around the island, and we will compare fish communities and coral heath between Desecheo (offshore) and Tres Palmas (near shore). In the afternoon we will visit with the non-profit Friends of the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve to learn about their work.

Day 6: Coral Reef Monitoring
Today we will provide introductions to coral reef field sampling techniques, as well as lionfish awareness and a lionfish dissection. In the evening we'll head to the Rincón Art Walk in the town's central plaza to see local arts and crafts and listen to music.

Day 7: Waterfall and Sea Turtle Monitoring
In the morning we'll hike to a secluded waterfall, and in the afternoon there will be a talk about sea turtle biology and conservation in preparation for the evening. After dinner, we'll head out under the stars to participate in sea turtle monitoring with a local volunteer group.

Day 8: Rincón - San Juan - Optional Extensions or Fly Home
Transfer back to San Juan to catch your flight home, or extend your trip with an optional tour of El Yunque Rainforest or a guided tour of historical Old San Juan.

Accommodations

Note: Due to Hurricane Maria, many buildings in Puerto Rico are currently under repair. Actual accommodations details will be confirmed closer to the start of the expedition.

The first night of our expedition will be spent in charming Old San Juan. In Rincón we will stay in a two-family home, where each level has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a kitchen, living room, wifi, satellite TV and A/C. Each level has: 1 master bedroom with a queen bed and attached bathroom, 2 rooms that can be made up with 1 king bed or 2 twin beds. These two rooms have a shared bathroom. There is also an enclosed outdoor shower.

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