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Coral Cay Conservation

About

Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) is an award winning conservation NGO, that has been running projects for over 30 years. CCC pioneered the idea of 'citizen scientists', meaning that no matter your background you can join a CCC expedition and make a meaningful, positive contribution to the preservation of our oceans and forests.

You can join us as a marine volunteer based in the Philippines, in the heart of the coral triangle! You will learn how to dive (or improve your skills) and become adept at identifying corals, fish and a host of other marine creatures.

Founded
1986

Reviews

Default avatar
Pallavi
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The last 4 week's have been such an overwhelming experience! It was everything I'd imagined and more, and honestly the most fulfilling thing I've done off late.
Having no background in marine conservation I was a bit worried about the science part. But I learnt that all you need is the interest and everything is a breeze after that.
There was a perfect balance between the science, the diving and the fun and the pace at which it was taught was perfect. Absolutely loved the course structure of combining pointy dives and validation dives along with tests.
I found myself becoming more confident with each step thanks to Charlotte and her teaching methods. Especially the customized buoyancy dive where she made me do fun underwater tricks! Being the only volunteer, I was nervous in the beginning but I loved having all the staff to myself I must say. 
Having the house reef just a stone's throw away from your room was the highlight. Despite doing over 40 dives on the same reef, it never ceased to amuse each time. The abundant diversity of coral and fish made it that much easier and exciting to learn all the species.
The science officer and project scientist and field base manager were all extremely knowledgable and approachable and never once made me feel inexperienced.
Special mention to Scoob for being my go to person in the water and on land! The first few days I was a nervous wreck before every dive because of my equalizing troubles but he had assured me it gets better with time and rightfully said I went from taking 10 mins to equalise on my first dive, to 10 seconds at the end of week 1 :D

Staff apart, the living conditions were new to me. Took me a few days to get used to it but it was a breeze after that and I was amazed how simple and healthy communal living is! It didn't feel tasking at any point.

The food was something to look forward to every day, with Pedang working her magic in the kitchen, it was hard not to over eat for every meal.

I had an amazingly productive 4 weeks where we got to survey a nearby MPA all week aaand got to witness a pod of 30-40 pilot whales swimming aside our boat!!

On our off days - Sunday- we did a stunning waterfall hike nearby to Uwan Uwan gorge and our last Sunday we were absolutely lucky and got to swim with whale sharks!

Last but not the least- Shrimp and Coral the cuties of CCC for being so damn lovable and the best cuddle buds

Overall, highly recommend for everyone!

What would you improve about this program?
The only place I found which could use some improvement was maybe the pest control (rats) but it was totally manageable and honestly they're doing their best despite it being an open place
Default avatar
jasmine
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The location of Coral Cay Conservation's base in the Philippines is truly serene...the base looks over a Marine Protected Area that is teeming with life. It is the perfect place to learn about all of the biology and ecology of the coral reef ecosystem.
You can gain a huge amount of knowledge from the science programme, both theoretically and practically, due to a great balance of classroom and in-water sessions.
The staff on site and in the head office are efficient, helpful and truly want the best for all of the volunteers.
You are able to get a real taste of life in the Philippines, as Coral Cay makes a huge effort towards community engagement.
You get to take part in community days in which you present your research to the communities that live in the areas you are conducting the surveys - it is a great opportunity to spread vital knowledge about the need for the preservation of marine environments and to get to know some of the locals.
Coral Cay Conservation works very closely with the local government, who use the data collected to contribute to the establishment of Marine Protected Areas, so you can really see your contribution to the project making a difference.
It is a very social environment, yet you can also get your peace and quiet...the friends you make at the base will remain friends for life.
I would highly recommend Coral Cay Conservation to anyone that wants to gain more knowledge, learn how to dive or (improve their diving ability) in a beautiful environment, and to contribute vital data collection towards the much needed protection of marine ecosystems!

Default avatar
Angus
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I decided to spend my time with Coral Cay because from the very beginning they were dedicated to making the experience beneficial for both Coral Cay and myself. During the process of finding an organization that would be a good fit for me I reached out to several NGOs that were similar to Coral Cay, but I ultimately chose CCC because they were the only organization who didn't immediately agree to the idea of my project. The Coral Cay team organized a Skype call with me because they had several questions about the Fellowship which showed me that they were dedicated to maintaining the quality of their projects and ensuring that the Coral Cay vision would be kept to a high standard.

My proposal was awarded the funding necessary so at the end of July I hopped on a plane and started my nine-month journey in the Philippines and it was absolutely wonderful. For the first month I went through the standard scientific training that every volunteer goes through and and spent the next two months surveying and completing my PADI Divemaster course. The diving was magnificent as Coral Cay's house-reef is a pristine example of how a well-managed Marine Protected Area leads to increased biodiversity in and around the reef. After getting a feel for the expedition and how it ran, I then spent the next six months on two-month rotations where I shadowed the various on-site staff members. This gave me valuable insight and experience for working in the conservation industry and enabled me to take on additional responsibilities for the project. I was able to assist with the Skills Development Program and help train new volunteers, I had additional opportunities to meet with local stakeholders, I helped with data management, and I even learned about the logistics behind the operation of a remote field base.

My time with Coral Cay allowed me to grow as an individual due to the mentorship provided both by the Coral Cay staff in the Head Office and on the Expedition Site. The experience I received about working in the conservation industry has been invaluable, Coral Cay truly is world-class in the manner they conduct their research projects. I am incredibly thankful for the time I spent in the Philippines and I am looking forward to any opportunities that would send me back there!

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I would have taken more initiative within the program
Default avatar
Lucy
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I have just come back from an amazing five weeks at CCC. I enjoyed it so much that I cancelled
the few days travel I had planned at the end of the trip and stayed on base until the very last minute!

I arrived as a dive trainee and so underwent a week of training to get me to Advanced Open Water diver. The instructors were great and we all felt really comfortable training with them and the fact that we were learning to dive on House Reef, just a few steps from our accommodation and some of the best diving in the world, according to the diving veterans amongst the group, just made it even better.

After learning to dive was two weeks of science training where we learnt the different subtrates (corals, sponges etc), invertebrates, and fish, and surveying techniques. Science training was tougher than I expected but it is necessary- if you aren't sure about what you are seeing on the reef then you are not going to be able to perform accurate surveys. Once I had learnt it all, surveying became fun, and diving is way more interesting when you can recognise what is going on beneath the surface!

Once surveying started, we would spend our days on the Nudihunter, CCC's dive boat. We would travel to the site, do the first survey dive, then eat lunch, hang out and snorkel etc as we waited for the next dive, then we would do the second survey dive and travel back around the bay to base. It was always fun to be on the boat because the scenery was amazing and once we even saw a whale breaching!

The base is basic as you might expect for this part of the world so be ready for no running water, shared rooms etc However, everyone works together to keep the place spotlessly clean and you soon get used to not having luxuries like working taps (and there is an outdoor shower so washing is easy enough)! The base is quite big and with a large area outside so there are lots of places to chill out in between dives and science training so you can have as much or little space as you want. The base is located within the village of Napantao and further beyond we could travel to Liloan to stock up on any toiletries etc we needed.

The other volunteers were of a mixture of ages (ranging from 18-51 when I was there) with most of us around early twenties to mid thirties, and a range of nationalities and backgrounds (some were scientists, others like me didn't work in anything related to this but were just interested in science and conservation). Everyone was lovely and there was a relaxed, social vibe at base. Everyone has an interest in diving, conservation, and adventurous travel in common so friendships grow easily here! In the evenings we would chill out together on the porch- sometimes there would be guitar playing, salsa lessons, movie nights, and impromptu spanish lessons!

Saturday nights were "party night" and we would celebrate with a few options- a trip into Napantao to the karaoke bar, a beach fire, and a trip across the bay for a night dive at the Sogod Bay Dive Resort. On Sundays we would have the day off and we would either spend those days snorkelling on the reef or else exploring Leyte. In the time that I was there we visited some hot springs, hiked to a waterfall, and climbed a volcano.

Most people were staying for four weeks and I stayed for five which barely seemed long enough. If you are learning to dive as well, then you aren't going to get much time to actually survey by the time you finish training so if you can stay for longer then I would definitely recommend it. I really hope to return one day and then I will definitely make sure I have a couple of months to spend there.

To sum up, this was probably the best trip of my life (and I have done a lot of travelling) and it was great to be doing something worthwhile and for such a great cause. I am already planning ways I can take two months off work and return!

What would you improve about this program?
I am not sure if it can! It was all great and I would definitely go again.
Default avatar
Kate
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

As a gap year student following A levels, this was the first time I had really 'travelled' by myself, so I was quite nervous and spent ages researching where to go before settling with a CCC expedition - and I wasnt disappointed. I signed up to stay on the Montserrat site for 4 weeks and I enjoyed it right from the moment I arrived!
CCC were absolutely brilliant in all aspects, both with the scientific and learning side and also the social side. All of the staff were genuine and great fun - I felt like part of the family almost immediately. The organisation and safety was excellent - something I was concerned about when trying to work out where to travel. I accomplished a lot within the 4 weeks I stayed there (I would definitely stay for at least 8 if I were to do it again!), including an Expedition Care Program, my PADI Rescue Diver, as well as learning how to survey a marine environment.
Everyone was so enthusiastic about the work that CCC do; we also completed a beach clean and I partook in one of the the library sessions about the environment that are held every other week for local children. It was great to be surrounded by like-minded people in such an amazing environment. The locals were also very friendly.
The accommodation was well above my expectations - I was sharing a dorm with one other volunteer and we had an ensuite bathroom with a shower and everything! (I am told this is unusual but it was very nice!). As a group we completed a few chores every day including sweeping and mopping and cooking lunch and dinner/washing up, but it wasn't unmanageable by any means (I quite enjoyed the chores-bonding time!).
We went diving almost every day and the reefs were stunning. The standard of safety when diving was also very reassuring, especially as Montserrat was such a remote location. Often in the morning before a dive there was the chance to go on a trail and experience the terrestrial side of the surveying as well (as a marine volunteer I wasn't expecting to be able to partake in this, but I ended up learning a lot about the birds and certain reptile/amphibian species found on Montserrat too which was great).
Every Sunday was a 'degas day' which allowed you to contact relatives (there was wifi!!!) and enjoy walks to the beach or snorkeling. This also allowed me to experience the island life and culture a bit even though the rest of the week was packed full of activity.
I genuinely cannot recommend this organisation enough, I am already planning on joining another of their expeditions next year and taking my brother with me! And if you are concerned at all about anything, the talks that CCC give at their base in Surrey are brilliant, or you can send them an email and they will reply promptly and helpfully.
Don't let this amazing opportunity working for a wonderful NGO pass you by - I promise you'll have the time of your life whilst helping towards a very important cause!

What would you improve about this program?
I genuinely have nothing really to say, except maybe be prepared to be constantly active and doing things because there is so much to do on site! (It's not a tanning holiday let's put it that way!) Saying that, you do get enough time away from it all to not get too tired and you get out of the experience what you put in - so make the most of it!!

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Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Tom Dallison

Job Title
Head of Science
Tom is responsible for the management and development of all scientific outputs from active conservation sites in the SE Asia region. Responsibilities also including attracting external funding sources to support project actions and future development. Tom holds a BSc in Marine and Freshwater Biology (First Class Hons.) and an MSc in Tropical Marine Biology (Distinction), with interests and focus tailored to the monitoring, management, and remediation of coral reef subsistence fisheries.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Through my job and training, I am lucky enough to travel to many places around the world and dive some amazing reefs, meeting incredible people off the tourist trail. As such, I have lots of memories of places and people that come to mind; however, the two that stand above the rest are when I was able to work alongside the Bajo community in Southeast Sulawesi, monitoring their fishery catches, joining them on their spearfishing trips and being welcomed into their home to try an abundance of new delicacies.

The second memory is from the Philippines where, whilst out snorkeling, on one of my trips to Coral Cay's Philippines base, out of the blue, I was joined by a sub-adult Mola mola or sunfish. It was an incredible experience and after speaking with the local staff, was the first one spotted for over 10 years, which, given my appalling luck when it comes to spotting marine fauna, was incredibly lucky!

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

For me, the biggest change has been the personal realisation of the impact of organisations who ensure that stakeholders and the local user group are at the centre of their conservation efforts, alongside the natural world. By seeing the transfer of conservation efforts into real-time solutions that empower and enable stakeholders to take action against environmental threats whilst safeguarding food security, you build a greater appreciation for the necessity of the natural world to large proportions for the human populous.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

The most inspiring experience/story from those that I have worked with whilst at Coral Cay Conservation were students from the charity Deptherapy. I provided basic ecological sampling training, through SCUBA, to 7 UK military veterans (suffering from a range of physical and mental health challenges including bilateral amputees, spinal injuries and PTSD) in the Red Sea, Egypt.

The course lasted a week and being able to watch each member of the course become inspired by the marine world, as their knowledge of key processes and behavioural traits grew, whilst overcoming the physical challenges often associated with not only SCUBA diving, but also the collection of ecological data was a fulfilling and inspiring experience.

The course provided each member with essential skills in fish, invertebrate and substrate identification, as well as quadrat and transect work (which can be a challenge if you use your arms to propel yourself in the water column, or if you only have one arm!). Each student then utilized their respective training to conduct ecological assessments on a sunken warship in Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia.

The training and resulting outputs from the Red Sea and Chuuk Lagoon really demonstrated that conservation efforts, taking action against environmental threats, or advocating a more sustainable world, are not exclusive efforts and that anyone and everyone is able to help to protect the natural world.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

Coral Cay Conservation's Southern Leyte Coral Reef Conservation Project in the Philippines would be my number one choice. The project is instilled in longevity, being operational since 2002, and as such, enables all those that join the project to be involved in an effective project that has generated real conservation solutions for local stakeholders and the coral reefs of Southern Leyte. Each student that joins the project is able to contribute directly to the amelioration of the marine environment through our survey protocols that provide critical biophysical data to villages for the establishment of various Marine Spatial Management practices. Furthermore, students are involved in the community outreach elements of the project, allowing them to raise awareness amongst communities and inspire current and future generations to conserve natural resources, promoting sustainability.

Additionally, our house reef has between 45-50% coral cover and is one of the most beautiful reefs I have ever had the fortune to snorkel and dive so that in its own right, is worth the venture to Southern Leyte!

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

What I believe sets Coral Cay Conservation above the rest is our personable approach to students and ensuring their efforts whilst on a project are realised. We pride ourselves on not being a holiday destination, in a sense that we are undertaking true conservation efforts, protecting marine resources and striving for sustainability, and if a student joins us, they are expected to become an essential component of our efforts. By ensuring students are so central to our approach, we can ensure that their efforts contribute to conservation actions in real-time.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Whilst high operating standards, safety and customer service are critical components of any company such as Coral Cay Conservation, I believe for us, the biggest factor in being successful in ensuring that we continue to drive forward our mission to provide resources to help sustain livelihoods and to alleviate poverty through the protection of coral reefs and associated systems.

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