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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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  • 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.

>> Read an update from our partners in Puerto Rico and learn more about the work you will participate in.

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

2020: July 18-25. From $2,995 per person.* Group limit 12 (minimum 6).

2021: August 24-31. From $3,195 per person.* Group limit 12 (minimum 6).

* Single supplement $895. There will be a surcharge of $475/person for groups with fewer than 10 total passengers. Trip prices do not include international airfare. Click here for our full expedition terms and conditions.


Drs. Chelsea Harms-Tuohy and Evan Tuohy are marine scientists, professional scientific divers and the founders of Isla Mar Research Expeditions in Puerto Rico. They moved to the island in 2011 to pursue graduate school at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez and decided to make it their permanent home. Their goal is to train the next generation of scientists and to educate and equip citizen scientists and those passionate about ocean conservation. Isla Mar focuses on spreading community awareness of the importance of preserving the natural resources of the island. Additionally, their on-going work in fisheries management and coral reef restoration in Puerto Rico is leading the island into a future of sustainable and healthy oceans.


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 to 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 - Fly Home
Transfer back to San Juan to catch your flight home.


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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