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Great Barrier Reef Marine Conservation Volunteer Program - Cairns

Apply now. The next available start date for this project is Aug 2, 2021

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the more remarkable marine ecosystems in the world, but is sadly suffering from the effects of climate change. Volunteers on the Marine Conservation project in Australia can help to address these challenges and join a variety of important conservation efforts.

Marine Conservation volunteering in Australia with IVHQ

You’ll volunteer in collaboration with a number of oceanographic organisations to gather data and support the protection of the Great Barrier Reef through a range of initiatives, including:

  • Reef Monitoring - You’ll be snorkeling to observe and collect data on the species living around the Great Barrier Reef. Volunteers get training for in-water surveying techniques during your program orientation, so you don’t need any prior experience. A full-length lycra suit will be supplied, but you’ll need to bring your own snorkel and waterproof watch.
  • Marine Debris Collection and Research - Marine debris represents a significant threat to the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem and is having a devastating impact on marine life. As a volunteer, you’ll be assisting with marine debris data collection and mapping. This data will then be categorised and shared with conservationists to assist with their research. You’ll be shown how to undertake marine debris data collection in your orientation.
  • Sea Turtle Rehabilitation (for volunteers staying for 2-4 weeks) - To support sea turtle conservation efforts, you will be trained to care for sick and injured sea turtles, giving you the chance to gain an in-depth understanding of each turtle’s specific case and rehabilitation requirements. You can help to prepare food, feed the turtles and clean the facilities, filters and tanks.

Volunteers aren’t required to have any specialised experience, as you’ll receive comprehensive training to prepare for carrying out research-based activities at sea. Please note that you need to be competent in the ocean, able to float and swim at least 50 metres. Please be sure to rate your swimming ability and confidence level in the ocean when you apply to volunteer in Australia. All volunteers will be tested upon arrival to the program.

Apply now
Apply now
Project Highlights
What you need to know
  • Affordable fees from AU$1407 for 1 week
  • Help with conservation efforts in and around the Great Barrier Reef

  • Assist as a data collector for a range of oceanographic organisations

  • Monitor reefs, collate data on marine debris and help to rehabilitate sick and injured turtles

  • Volunteering for up to 6 hours per day

Destination Highlights
Australia at a glance
  • Based in the coastal city of Cairns, near the Great Barrier Reef

  • Program fees include orientation, accommodation, daily breakfast and lunch, and 24/7 in-country support

  • Accommodation in a dormitory-style volunteer hostel

  • Between 5 and 10 volunteers start in Australia each month

Fill out the quick form below to find out what the Covid-19 restrictions and visa requirements are for Australia, based on your country of residence.

The Australia volunteer program is located in the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system. Volunteers are based in Cairns in Far North Queensland with conservation volunteer work taking place on Green Island and Fitzroy Island, located 45 minutes from the Port of Cairns. Your ferry ticket to and from the islands each day is covered by your program fee.

The program begins on the first Monday of every month. Volunteers can choose to volunteer for periods ranging from 1 week to 4 weeks.

The Australia volunteer program orientation begins on the first Monday of every month and volunteers need to arrive in Cairns on the day before orientation.

After you have registered for the program, please book your flights to arrive at the Cairns International Airport (CNS). Your airport arrival shuttle is included in your program fee.

When you arrive, you can catch an uber to the volunteer accommodation in central Cairns for approximately US$10. Your accommodation is covered by your program fee and includes the night before your program orientation.

If you are travelling in Australia prior to your volunteer program, you will need to arrange your own transport to the accommodation in Cairns the day before your program orientation.

Orientation is hosted by our Australia team in Cairns. It begins the morning of your chosen start date and lasts for a full day, with a break in the middle for lunch and a walking tour. The orientation covers everything you need to know for your volunteer program in Australia – Introduction to Australia, Culture and Customs, Rules and Expectations, Safety, Travel Opportunities, Introduction to Project and Placement as well as a tour of the local area. The orientation will also give you a chance to meet other volunteers and swap contact details for weekend travel and socialising.

Weekdays: After the initial orientation, you will start volunteering from the Tuesday.

An example schedule is as follows:

6:30 AM Breakfast at the volunteer accommodation

7.00 AM Depart hostel and head to the port where you will take the ferry to one of the islands (the ferry ride takes approximately 45 minutes)

9.00 AM Volunteer work begins on the islands

12:00 PM Break for lunch and catch the return-ferry to Cairns

1:00 PM Ferry arrives back in Cairns and have the rest of the afternoon to spend your free time as you wish

Please note that this schedule will vary depending on the volunteer work requirements. There will be some days where you will have the opportunity to stay on the island until 4:00 PM to relax and sightsee.

Volunteers are accommodated in a dormitory-style hostel in central Cairns, located in close proximity to a range of cafes, restaurants, the mall, the esplanade and tourism operators. The volunteer hostel is a short walk (approximately 20 minutes) from the Port of Cairns where you will catch your ferry to and from the islands each day.

You can expect to share a room with 1-8 others of the same gender (please note that you can be accommodated with both volunteers and non-volunteers). The bathrooms are communal but separated by gender and are equipped with toilets and hot showers.

WiFi is available within the volunteer hostel at all times, at no extra cost. There are also multiple shared communal spaces such as a kitchen, outdoor dining area, lounge and pool.

Bedding is provided, and you just need to bring your own towels and toiletries. Lockers are available for use in each bedroom if you bring your own padlock. There are staff who clean the accommodation throughout the week, including your sheets, however, volunteers are required to keep their rooms tidy.

Accommodation upgrades to private rooms or smaller rooms (e.g. twin shares) are available at an additional cost, as well as extra nights of accommodation for before or after your program. It is best to arrange accommodation upgrades or extensions with the local team at least 3 weeks prior to your program start date. Please note that these upgrades are subject to availability.

Air-conditioning is provided in each room but this must be turned off when you are not in your room.

Breakfast is provided every day during your volunteer program. A simple continental-style breakfast will be provided from Monday to Friday at the volunteer hostel. Breakfast typically consists of cereal, milk, toast and fruit. Tea and coffee will also be provided. The hostel also provides pancakes and maple syrup for breakfast from 7.00AM to 1:00AM each day. As you will depart for the ferry at around 7:00AM each morning, you will be able to enjoy these pancakes on a Saturday and Sunday.

Lunch is provided from Monday to Friday and consists of a healthy and balanced packed lunch that you will be able to take with you to the island each day. Tap water in Australia is safe to drink in most areas and we strongly recommend bringing a reusable water bottle with you as single-use plastic is strongly discouraged on this program. We also recommend bringing a reusable cutlery set, coffee cup and straw as you will be eating lunch on the island most days. You will need to purchase your own lunch on the weekends and you can expect to budget US$10-15 for lunch.

Volunteers are responsible for purchasing their own dinners, either from one of the nearby eateries or by purchasing groceries to prepare in the hostel’s communal kitchen. Supermarkets are a short walk from the volunteer hostel, along with a fruit and vegetable market. A night market operates every night where you can purchase cheap dinners. There is also an extensive food court in the mall opposite the hostel and a wide range of restaurants in the surrounding streets.

Program Fee
Due 30 days before you start, or within 48 hours if you register inside of 30 days. Covers the cost of hosting you.
1 week AU$1413 Equivalent to AU$202/day
2 weeks AU$2855 Equivalent to AU$204/day
  • Accommodation
  • Daily Breakfasts and weekday lunches
  • 24/7 in-country support
  • In-country program orientation
  • Pre-departure support from your Program Manager
  • Airport pick-up
  • Personalized preparation tools, guides and check lists
  • Access to IVHQ’s preferred insurance and flights partners
  • Certificate of International Volunteering

Learn more about what's included in your IVHQ Registration Fee and Program Fee.

  • All programs attract a Registration Fee of AU$416 in addition to the Program Fee. This covers all pre-departure support services. IVHQ fees are priced in USD but you may elect to pay in AUD.
  • A 5% international banking fee is added at point of payment.
  • Additional things to budget for include: Visa, flights, travel insurance (mandatory), vaccinations, criminal background check, some meals, public transportation to and from your placement each day and return to the airport when your program finishes.
  • Recommended spending money: Volunteers in Australia generally find US$200 per week to be sufficient for expenses, such as weekend lunches and all dinners, and local tours and activities.

As a volunteer in Australia, you will have your weekends free to explore the breath-taking scenery, cultural diversity, unique wildlife, adventure sports and relaxed lifestyle that Australia is famous for. There is enough to do in Australia to fill a year’s worth of weekends and still have a lot left undone.

Cairns is an extremely advantageous base for traveling to other parts of Australia, and has plenty to offer in its own backyard. Known for its wealth of geographic features, volunteers can use their weekends to explore Cairns’ beaches, nearby islands, Port Douglas and the Daintree Rainforest - Australia’s largest tropical rainforest. Marine lovers have an extensive selection of coastline and beaches to enjoy in Cairns and the opportunity to dive, surf, kayak, swim and snorkel in some of the most beautiful spots in the world. Adrenaline junkies can enjoy bungee jumping, gorge swinging, white water rafting, parasailing and mountain biking.

Those who prefer the city scenes have easy flight access to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne so you can explore popular Aussie attractions include Bondi Beach in Sydney, Great Ocean Road, Noosa or the Gold Coast.

Capital Canberra
Population 25 million
Languages English
Currency Australian Dollar (AUD)
Time zone UTC+8:00

Weather and climate: Cairns is considered to have a tropical climate and is warm year round. The hot season lasts 4-5 months from November to March. During this time, the daily high is often around 86°F (30°C). The cooler season runs from June to August and the daily high is around 79°F (26°C). Being a monsoonal climate, most rainfalls occurs between January and March.

Volunteers need to be 18 years or over to participate on this program, unless volunteering with a parent or guardian. If you are under the age of 18, IVHQ offers alternative volunteer opportunities for teens. Visit our High School Volunteer Abroad page to learn more.

Please note that you need to be competent in the ocean, able to float and swim at least 50 metres for this program. Please be sure to rate your swimming ability and confidence level in the ocean when you apply to volunteer in Australia. All volunteers will be tested upon arrival to the program.

Volunteers must speak fluent English. Volunteers must present a recent criminal background check to IVHQ’s partner organization staff upon arrival in Australia. Volunteers must have adequate travel insurance.

Free Interactive Volunteer Training - All volunteers are encouraged to complete our interactive pre-departure training, which is available exclusively to registered IVHQ volunteers. The training is designed to build an understanding of important aspects that need to be considered before embarking on an IVHQ program. It helps volunteers to prepare in the right way by providing advice on what it takes to be a safe, responsible and valuable volunteer. Try a sample of the training here.

How to get started

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Pay the Registration Fee to secure your place and upgrade your MyIVHQ account
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