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Great Barrier Reef Marine Conservation Volunteer Program in Australia - Cairns

Great Barrier Reef Marine Conservation Volunteer Program in Australia - Cairns

Apply now. The next available start date for this project is Dec 6, 2021

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 rehabilitation.

  • Programs start the first Monday of the month
  • Affordable fees from £772 for 1 week
  • Includes accommodation, daily breakfast and 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

Apply Now

Who is this program suited to?

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?

Key information

Protect & preserve precious marine life
Based at the awe-inspiring Great Barrier Reef
Dormitory-style hostel accommodation
Volunteers aged 17+
Up to 6 hours volunteering a day
Fully hosted experience from £772 for 1 week
Durations from 1 - 2 weeks
Discover Australia's stunning northeastern coast

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 Rehabilitation (for volunteers staying 2 weeks or more): To support sea turtle conservation efforts, you will learn to care for sick and injured sea turtles and gain an in-depth understanding of each turtle’s specific case and rehabilitation requirements. You will help to prepare food, feed the turtles and clean the facilities, filters and tanks.
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 aged 17-18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian 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.

”Thanks to IVHQ I had the most wonderful time volunteering in Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef. I learnt so much and cannot wait to do it again!!”

Read reviews from Marine Conservation volunteers in Australia

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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). Your airport arrival shuttle is included in your Program Fee. You can catch an Uber from the airport to the volunteer accommodation for approximately £7.

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:

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 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.


A continental-style breakfast will be provided from Monday to Friday at the hostel and usually consists of cereal, milk, toast and fruit. Tea and coffee will also be provided. The hostel also serves pancakes and maple syrup for breakfast from 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM each day. Because you’ll be leaving to catch the ferry around 7:00 AM each morning, you’ll 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 £7 - £11 for each 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 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.


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 £771 Equivalent to £111/day
2 weeks £1559 Equivalent to £112/day
  • Accommodation
  • Daily breakfast and weekday lunches
  • 24/7 in-country support
  • In-country program orientation
  • Pre-departure support from your Program Manager
  • 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 £228 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 GBP.
  • 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.

Check what's required to visit Australia

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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.
Safety and support with IVHQ

Protecting against COVID-19:

Volunteers tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of travel

Volunteers tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of travel

Health & safety information provided during orientation

Health & safety information provided during orientation

Strict disinfecting standards for programs & accomodation

Strict disinfecting standards for programs & accomodation

Greater physical distance between volunteers

Greater physical distance between volunteers

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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