As a world traveler and Sustainability professional, passionate about protecting our environment, I have been looking for a way to start incorporating volunteer work with my travel. Volunteering with Reef CI at Tom Owens Caye, Belize was the perfect way to start! I researched many programs, but this one was perfect for me as Reef CI allowed me to volunteer for only a week (many volunteer programs require at least a 2-3-week minimum time commitment) and use and expand upon my diving skills. I enlisted through IVHQ, as I found they had the best price. Grace, my IVHQ contact, was extremely helpful before the trip to help me prepare. Her correspondence was always timely and IVHQ's enlisting process was very thorough - IVHQ wants to help you prepare for your best volunteer experience possible. In addition to Grace, I also worked with Anthony, my U.S. Reef CI contact, who also helped answer my many questions and sign me up for the Coral Reef Conservation and Fish Identification PADI Specialty courses I was wanting to take in order to get my SSI Advanced Diver certification while in Belize.
In Placencia, Belize I knew exactly what to expect and where to meet the Reef CI group for the boat ride to Tom Owens Caye. Upon arriving to the island on the first day, all volunteers pitched in to help carry supplies up to the main house. Sleeping assignments were then made. Assuming I would be much older than most in my group, I had requested in advance that I have a bungalow on the island to allow for some quiet time, and they completely accommodated me. Next there was a review for the new people while returning volunteers were diving, and all dive equipment was assigned for the week. Later, the new volunteers did an introductory dive followed by a delicious meal - just one of the many you'll have on the island. You'll eat very fresh food every day, including the lion fish you kill. The cooking staff also worked within my dietary restrictions by providing me gluten free meals!
You're given the daily island schedule prior to arriving in Belize, but the schedule is also posted in the main house, and the highly organized Reef CI staff follow it to a tee! I was so impressed with how they ran the program on the island, especially juggling with new and returning volunteers, volunteers just learning to dive and getting certified, to those who were working on their Advanced Diver certifications and/or taking PADI Specialty courses. This, of course, is on top of providing daily coral reef and Belizean marine life presentations and getting the volunteers in the water to partake in lion fish spearfishing, conch and lobster surveys, and coral reef and fish identifications. There was a lot to juggle and Willie, Luis, and Peter, and rest of the Reef CI staff, handled it very smoothly. And did I say friendly? The entire Reef CI staff were a pleasure to be with and fun to hang out with playing cards or backgammon.
The diving certainly did not disappoint. There was opportunity to see amazing marine biodiversity. If you're not an experience diver, do not let this dissuade you from trying this trip. Where else can you get certified in such a coral reef setting, not to mention for a very reasonable price?
The island itself is well maintained. The palm trees were cleared out just enough to allow sun and plenty of shade. In down times, you could take a nap in a hammock or play volleyball. Or just keep your course work and dive log up to date. Unfortunately, there was no internet for the entire week. However, it was nice to be off the grid - it made it more relaxing. If you're looking for fancy accommodations, then this is not for you. However, if you're looking for comfortable lodgings, in a very relaxed, minimal setting (yes, you have to get used to minimal water shower usage since you are on an island), and a place to meet great people and make new friends while making a positive, environmental impact, then this IS the place for you. I would definitely recommend taking an eco-volunteer trip to Belize and do it through Reef CI. All in all, I was very impressed. I would go back for sure!