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Great Barrier Reef Marine Conservation Volunteer Program in Australia - Cairns

Great Barrier Reef Marine Conservation Volunteer Program in Australia - Cairns

Ready to strap on your snorkel and splash into a new adventure as a Marine Conservation volunteer in Australia? International Volunteer HQ’s Marine Conservation project at the spectacular Great Barrier Reef gives volunteers the opportunity to help address the effects of development and climate change on the world’s largest coral reef system. Volunteers will gain experience in reef monitoring, marine debris data collection and sea turtle conservation.

  • Programs start the first Monday of the month
  • Affordable fees from AU$1702 for 1 week
  • Includes accommodation, weekday lunches, orientation and 24/7 support
  • Protect the amazing marine biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef

  • Enjoy Austraila’s beautiful beaches and tropical rainforests

  • Stay in a hostel in the middle of laid-back Cairns

Key information

Protect & preserve precious marine life
Based at the awe-inspiring Great Barrier Reef
Dormitory-style hostel accommodation
Volunteers aged 18+
Fully hosted experience from AU$1702 for 1 week
Durations from 1 - 4 weeks
Discover Australia's stunning northeastern coast
Up to 6 hours volunteering a day

This program is ideal for:

Volunteers who are happy and confident in the ocean and able to comfortably swim at least 50 meters. No other experience is needed as comprehensive training will be provided so you’re prepared for carrying out research-based activities at sea.
Who is this program suited to?

What to expect and how you'll make an impact

The wondrous Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia has been under threat from the effects of development, deforestation, and climate change for decades, but progress has been made to help it recover. These efforts continue with a number of different groups working towards keeping the reef healthy and strong for years to come.

With IVHQ’s Marine Conservation project you’ll get trained to be able to volunteer with oceanographic organisations to gather data and support the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. These initiatives include:

  • Reef Monitoring: You’ll be snorkeling to observe and collect data on the species living around the Great Barrier Reef. 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. You’ll be assisting with marine debris data collection and mapping which can then be categorised and shared with conservationists to assist with their research.
  • Sea Turtle Conservation (for volunteers staying 2 weeks or more): Learn to identify turtle species, catalogue distinguishing features and track individual animals and their behaviour. A unique experience swimming with wild and free turtles.
Contributes to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #14: Life Below Water

Contributes to United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #14: Life Below Water

The ocean regulates and drives global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Marine biodiversity is critical to the health of people and our planet. Preserving threatened ecosystems, as well as tackling marine pollution and overfishing through conservation activities is key to saving our ocean.

Why do Marine Conservation volunteering in Australia with IVHQ?

When you’re volunteering in Marine Conservation at the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll be assisting local groups to protect the extraordinary natural environment while getting hands-on conservation experience and achieving personal growth by:

  • Helping keep irreplaceable marine life safe and healthy
  • Snorkeling around the world’s largest coral reef
  • Gaining experience in marine conservation, data collection and turtle care
  • Learning about the effects of climate change
  • Discovering Australia’s stunning beaches and coastline

Volunteer requirements

  • You need to be competent in the ocean, able to float and swim at least 50 meters 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 be aged 18 or over to participate in this program.
  • All volunteers are required to provide a criminal background check to IVHQ prior to departure.
  • All volunteers are required to have adequate volunteer travel insurance
  • All volunteers must speak fluent English.
Are you eligible to volunteer?

Submit a free application so we can confirm your eligibility and check availability for your preferred dates.

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Academic course credit through International Volunteer HQ and Intern Abroad HQ.

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Read reviews from Marine Conservation volunteers in Australia

”Volunteering through IVHQ, and with the local Australia team was the best decision I have made. This experience challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone, which allowed me to grow so much as a person and gain so many skills! Volunteering is such a great way to travel and save money, whilst also being able to learn from locals about the culture and more

Read reviews from Marine Conservation volunteers in Australia

Volunteer Abroad in Australia with IVHQ


Set at the Great Barrier Reef, volunteers at IVHQ’s Marine Conservation project will have the opportunity to get to know the remarkable coral reef well. You’ll be based in the city of Cairns in Far North Queensland and take a 45-minute ferry to Green Island and Fitzroy Island each day to volunteer. Your ferry tickets are included in your Program Fee.

Cairns itself is a modern city set in the tropical north of Australia. It’s one of the country’s top tourism destinations thanks to the reef and other outstanding natural features. It’s also an excellent place to learn about the unique cultures and environments in the surrounding area.

Arrival and orientation

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). You can catch an Uber from the airport to the volunteer accommodation for approximately AU$16.

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 the 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 – an introduction to Australia, culture and customs, rules and expectations, safety, travel opportunities, an introduction to your project and placement and 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.

Volunteer schedule example

Weekdays: 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.

An example schedule is as follows:

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 you have the rest of the afternoon to spend your free time as you wish

Weekends: With your weekends free you’ll be able to explore the breathtaking scenery, cultural diversity, unique wildlife, adventure sports and relaxed lifestyle that Australia is famous for.

Discover Cairns’ beaches, nearby islands, the charming coastal town of Port Douglas and the Daintree Rainforest - Australia’s largest tropical rainforest. Marine lovers have an extensive selection of coastline and beaches to enjoy 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 city scenes have easy flight access to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne so you can explore popular Aussie attractions including Bondi Beach in Sydney, Great Ocean Road, Noosa or the Gold Coast.

Accommodation and WiFi

Volunteers will stay in a dormitory-style hostel in central Cairns, close to cafes, restaurants, a shopping mall, the esplanade and tourism operators. The hostel is about a 20-minute walk from the Port of Cairns where you will catch your ferry to and from the islands each day.

You’ll be sharing a bedroom with 1-8 others of the same gender. There is air-conditioning in each room but it must be turned off when the room is empty. The bathrooms are communal but separated by gender and are equipped with toilets and hot showers.

Bedding is provided, but you’ll need to bring your own towels and toiletries. Lockers are available 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.

WiFi is available within the 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.

Accommodation upgrades to private rooms or smaller rooms 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.

Please note that any independent 17 year old’s are required to obtain a private room upgrade, as per accommodation rules. This is an additional cost and will be confirmed via the local team once you have registered onto the program.


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 $10 - $15 for each lunch.

Volunteers are responsible for purchasing their own breakfast and 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 buy 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.


  • USD
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.
  • USD
1 week AU$1702 Equivalent to AU$243/day
2 weeks AU$3397 Equivalent to AU$243/day
3 weeks AU$5009 Equivalent to AU$239/day
4 weeks AU$6622 Equivalent to AU$237/day
  • Accommodation
  • Weekday lunches
  • 24/7 in-country support
  • In-country program orientation
  • Pre-departure support from your Program Manager
  • Personalised preparation tools, guides and check lists
  • Access to IVHQ’s preferred insurance and flights partners
  • Certificate of International Volunteer Service

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

  • All programs attract a Registration Fee of US$329 (approximately AU$541) 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 transport to and from the airport.
  • 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.
  • Program Fees for the Australia program are non-refundable once inside 30 days of the program start date. Any changes or cancellations within 30 days of the program start date are subject to a US$430 late change/cancellation fee.

Check what's required to visit Australia

Safety and support with IVHQ

Safety and support

IVHQ follows best practice and industry-leading health and safety procedures, which are regularly reviewed and optimized as part of the B Corporation recertification.

  • All volunteers encouraged to complete our interactive pre-departure training.
  • All local teams trained on best practice volunteer management & First Aid.
  • All IVHQ programs are required to adhere to IVHQ's Risk Management Policy.
  • All volunteers have access to 24/7 in-country support from our local team.
Learn more about IVHQ's safety

Essential country information

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.

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How to get started

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