Diving Scholarships and Marine Conservation

Wouldn’t it be nice to experience the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef and contribute to marine conservation? In this article we talk about scuba diving, available volunteering opportunities and scholarships to cover the costs of training and travel.

What Is Marine Conservation?

Marine conservation combines actions aiming to study marine life, plants, animals as well as the functions of ecosystems. Marine conservation involves protecting and preserving underwater habitats through planned management as well as preventing exploitation of marine resources.   

This field of study puts great emphasis on skills derived from marine biology, oceanography, and marine law. The discipline attracts many volunteers who help explore marine ecosystems for signs of species loss, habitat degradation and human-caused damages.

Marine biologists
Marine biologists

In order to become a marine volunteer, consider taking certification courses in scuba diving and underwater research which will help you easily apply to volunteering and paid positions in the US, Australia, and around the world. If you are looking to get widely-recognized diving qualifications, consider taking courses created by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI).


Diving Qualifications for Volunteering Abroad

PADI is a diver training organization founded in 1966. They provide diver training in several modular courses which allows for flexibility depending on one’s previous experience. PADI courses range from entry level to relatively advanced recreational diver certification.

Scuba diver before diving
Scuba diver before diving

Typical scuba certification consists of three phrases: knowledge development, confined water dives, and open water dives. During the first stage, you learn basic principles of scuba diving such as what to consider when planning dives, choosing the right gear, and underwater signals. The second stage involves you developing basic diving skills in a pool, setting up your scuba gear and learning how to enter and exit the water. Once you are ready for the open diving with an instructor, you can choose to do so either close to home or while on holiday.


Requirements for Scuba Diving Courses

Scuba diving instructor and student in a swimming pool
Scuba diving instructor and student in a swimming pool

When you start learning how to scuba dive, you will want to own a minimum of one mask, a snorkel, and fins that will specifically fit you.  For most areas, the minimum age is 10 years old. Student divers who are younger than 15 earn the PADI Junior Open Water Diver certification, which they may upgrade to PADI Open Water Diver certification upon reaching 15. Children under the age of 13 require parent or guardian permission to register for PADI eLearning. Before you start a course, you will need to demonstrate basic water skills including swimming 200 meters without stopping and floating and treading water for 10 minutes.

Don’t worry if the prospective expenses for courses and equipment may seem a bit daunting. To make diving and marine conservation more affordable, Coral Restoration Foundation provides a number of scholarships. Here are a few of them.


Coral Restoration Foundation Scholarships

Coral restoration program
Coral restoration program

Coral Restoration Foundation is a nonprofit ocean conservation organization working to restore reefs, educate others, and use science to further research. CRF is the largest coral reef restoration organization in the world. They were founded in response to the wide-spread loss of the dominant coral species on the Florida Reef Tract. The foundation is headquartered in Key Largo, Florida. Some of the opportunities offered by the CRF include internships and financial assistance to fund underwater-related activities. The following are the annual scholarships offered by the CRF and its partners.

Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society – The Rolex Scholarship

This annual, experience-based scholarship is awarded to three three young adults. The winners are given the opportunity to spend up to a year traveling and experiencing activities that will help further their prospective careers in an underwater discipline. The scholarship can fund up to $25,000 per recipient. Candidates should be aged 21 to 26 and be residents of either North America, Europe, or Australasia.

Free PADI Instructor Internship

Dressel Divers has created a program that allows divers to become PADI Dive Instructor certified for free through working as an apprentice over the course of 6 months. The scholarship includes study materials and PADI fees, as well as daily meals and free lodging. Candidates should be free of medical contradictions to diving. Fluency in English is required. 

Ocean Exploration Trust – Nautilus Fellowships

The Ocean Exploration Trust is a non-profit dedicated to ocean exploration through science and technology, offering fellowships for individuals studying to join the Nautilus Corps of Exploration on a multi-month sea expedition as a Science Communication fellow. Any individual with education or biological interpreter experience is eligible to apply.

Global Underwater Explorers – Nextgen Scholarship

As leaders in scuba education and exploration, GUI has created a yearly scholarship to provide one diver with training, advancing certification, travel expenses, diving equipment, and platinum membership as a Nextgen scholar. Sign up to get notified of the next available scholarship period. Advanced open water divers aged 21-30 are eligible to apply. Candidates should have 20 dives logged and be fluent in English.

For more funding opportunities, visit the Coral Restoration Foundation website.


Diving Volunteering Positions

Although most companies charge at least $350 for a week of diving volunteering, there are organizations that offset accommodation and training related costs for volunteers. One of them is Coral Cay Conservation, a UK-based marine conservation organization which works to protect the health of coral reefs in the developing world. They are inviting volunteers to help oversee the safety of scuba diving activities on site and delivering scuba diving lessons in the Philippines.

This position requires a four-to-six-month time commitment and has a four-week repeat cycle:

  •   Week one – dive training,
  •   Week two and three – skills development program
  •   Week four – marine surveys and community outreach.

Volunteers will be based in Napantao Dive Resort in Barangay Napantao, Philippines. Candidates will need to fund their travel, visa and insurance, however, accommodation and meals will be provided free of cost. Currently Coral Cay organization is closed due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, however, there will be similar volunteering positions upon reopening.

Additionally, students can apply for an internship to join the marine mammal research team in Greece organized by WiseOceans conservation company. This internship is available for students, graduates and researchers marine, ecological and environmental sciences and/or veterinary medicine. The monthly fee of EUR 650 will cover living expenses, the cost of training, use of research equipment and travelling with the research vessels. Participants are advised to search for possible funding by getting in touch with the Erasmus+ Offices at their universities.

Taking diving courses and applying the freshly learnt skills to studying marine habitats and human effects on ecosystems sounds much more impressive than a simple vacation. In this series on alternative tourism we cover unexpected options for you to travel the world and impact the communities as you go.

Photos: Shutterstock / Edited by: Martina Advaney

Read more on alternative tourism:

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