12 Day Marine Conservation & Dive Certificate

A marine conservation project on the incredible Great Barrier Reef

Become a certified diver and get actively involved in reef and turtle conservation over 12-days

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism in the world. That is correct – it is physically alive! This stunningly beautiful seascape has been evolving for the last 20 million years but risks dying within the next 40 due to global warming heating the water temperature and destroying its fragile ecosystem, according to current scientific belief.

This unique U.Impact! Experience is an incredible experience enabling you to contribute to protecting the marine biosphere. Firstly, have fun learning to dive in one of the best locations in the world to become a certified diver and then get involved in an incredible Marine Conservation based program in Cairns.

Over 12 magical days, you will migrate from the classroom and pool to actually working on the Reef monitoring and recording coral and being part of the Great Barrier Conservation Program. You will also volunteer in a sea turtle rehabilitation centre and learn about the work against plastic from the beach cleanup conservation program.

Why the Great Barrier Reef is so important

  • The health of all coral reefs is essential to the planet’s survival, and the Great Barrier Reef is critically important to protecting a quarter of the world’s marine life and 10% of the world’s fish species!
  • There are over 2900 individual reefs which make up the World Heritage marine site, the Great Barrier Reef. This amazing marine biosphere provides refuge to almost 9,000 marine species – from coral to whales!
  • The extinction of the reef could also spell doomsday for the many different species of fish, coral, turtles, sharks, whales, and dolphins who habituate within the reef’s marine systems.
  • There have been three mass ‘bleaching’ of coral caused by global warming, ocean acidification and extreme weather events in the last five years. The rise in water temperatures has made it difficult for the coral to hold on to the algae, zooxanthellae, that live on them, turning them white in the process. If they cannot regenerate, they die; and it’s expected that 50% of the currently bleached coral will not be able to regenerate!
  • The Great Barrier Reef is of great importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who have lived in harmony with the reef for thousands of years. The reef is not only important to our environment, the plants ecosystem but it holds historical and cultural significance that would be devastating to lose.
At a glance

From: $2,711

The Learning!

The first part of this truly amazing adventure will be obtaining your Diving Certification.  We recommend coming prepared with a Medical Certificate for Diving, although it may not be necessary – depending on the outcome of your self-assessment Student Diver Medical Declaration. 

You are about to start a journey into the underwater world of our planet in one of the most stunning Marine Biospheres in the world, so we suggest you rest up, maybe do some homework on the Great Barrier Reef before your departure and then settle into the learning process with our highly experienced, qualified and skilled dive instructors.

You will start with classroom sessions and pool work before learning to dive in the open sea. Cairns is a sublime coastal town, relaxed and welcoming with lots of entertainment and a beach vibe, so head out and explore the town in your free time!

The Doing!

It’s time to put into action all those incredible impulses you have to help save the planet. It starts right here as you transfer your pool-based education into reef-based diving.  Now is the time to make a meaningful difference as you assist the Conservation Program team leaders to carry out a series of tasks which will record, monitor and track local marine life. Make no mistake, the work here is important on both a local and global level. 

You’ll spend time out on the reef and when you are back on shore, there is work to be done both at a turtle sanctuary and learning about our war on plastic. We always follow up with action, so a beach clean-up is in your future, as is learning about sorting trash and upcycling it! 

Practical stuff
  • We strongly suggest you obtain a medical clearance to dive, issued in English before leaving your home country, as it may be needed. This is just simple preplanning to remove any potential barriers to having an awesome experience!
  • Before beginning your dive course, you must complete a self-assessment Student Diver Medical Declaration. If you answer “yes” to any of the questions on the form, your safety while diving could be affected. In this case, you must consult a medical practitioner (preferably with experience in diving medicine) to get a dive medical certificate that says you’re fit to do recreational diver training. If you already have a certificate from a doctor then you are already cleared.
  • Our hostel partner Gilligan’s offers all guests a complimentary one-way airport transfer from Cairns airport to the hostel between 8 am-8 pm. We will make a booking for you when you know your flights.

Cairns is known for its natural beauty, so take some time to explore the city on foot when you first arrive! Stops of interest include the Esplanade, the Botanic Gardens, the port, and the CBD. You’ll get a chance to go for a dip in the lagoon, too. Your group will have a briefing late afternoon or early evening (time TBA), so make sure you arrive at the hostel by 16:00.

Day 1 - Cairns

Over the next two days, you’ll embrace the first part of your scuba diving adventure. You’ll be picked up by the dive school early in the morning and transferred to the training centre, where you will start your theory lessons on scuba diving with a qualified instructor. You’ll then put all that theory into use in the pool during your practical sessions under the watchful eyes of your instructors. After lunch on day two, it will be time for your theory test and a briefing on the upcoming days out on the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll be transferred back to your hostel late in the afternoon each day.

Days 2 & 3 - Cairns learn to dive

You will depart early on the fourth day of your Great Barrier Reef dive adventure. The travel time to the first dive site is approximately three hours. Once you arrive, you will be briefed by your dive instructor and begin exploring the underwater world of this magnificent natural wonder. Over three days, you’ll do a total of nine dives, four of which will be your final steps to becoming an Open Water Diver, four fun dives and one night dive. You will return to Cairns late afternoon on the sixth day. You will be transferred to your hostel and have some free time.

(Breakfast and lunch included all three days, dinner included on days 4+5)

Days 4 to 6 - The Great Barrier Reef

Your turtle-saving adventure continues with a day trip to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island. You will take a ferry to Fitzroy Island in the morning, 45 minutes from Cairns. There, you will meet other volunteers working at the centre and learn about the organisation’s work. You might even get the chance to go behind the scenes and lend a helping hand!

The morning may consist of feeding turtles, cleaning tanks, and participating in a beach clean-up. You will then have the option to return to Cairns at midday or stay on the island for the afternoon, enjoying some free time doing one of the walks on the island, relaxing on the beach, or swimming and snorkelling. The afternoon ferry returning to Cains will be around 17:45. If you’re not going to Fitzroy Island, you’ll have a free day. You can choose to spend it whichever way you want! We can organise a day trip to the amazing Cape Tribulation, Atherton Tablelands, or Rafting the Tully if you are itching to keep active.

Please Note: The experience at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre will take place on either day seven or eight. Our marine conservation volunteers will be split into two groups – one group will go on day seven, and the other group will go on day eight. This is so that we don’t overwhelm the turtles and stress them out, allowing you have the best possible learning and interactive experience.

Days 7 & 8 Cairns / Fitzroy Island & Turtles Sanctuaries

And so it begins… it’s your opportunity to make a change and be a positive force in the conservation movement.  For the next two days, you’ll be on floating around the Great Barrier Reef where under your designated eco guides guidance, you’ll participate in conservation activities underwater (2 dives per day) – such as rapid monitoring surveys, and a species count. This data will be entered into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park’s ‘Eye on the Reef Sighting Network’. The number of activities you participate in may vary depending on conditions. There is also the opportunity to participate in Coral Watch surveys using a snorkel if you wish to take a break from diving!

Through the Project AWARE foundation, you will receive a certificate of recognition for your contributions to protecting the world’s marine environment with an AWARE Coral Reef Conservation recognition and/or a Project AWARE Specialist recognition.

Monitoring tasks include:

  • Timed swims (minimum 10 minutes per dive) to monitor and count the underwater species (from corals to marine life!)
  • Partake in an exciting 360-degree survey of sea bed – your task is to help identify the macro-algae and record the state of the coral including live coral rock, coral rubble and deposits of sand
  • And super important, you’ll record your findings on the impacts on coral due to site degradation (i.e. coral bleaching or damage).

(Lunch included both days)

Days 9 &10 - Great Barrier Reef Day – Reef Conservation Tasks

Today is dedicated to education and action, so roll up your sleeves and be prepared to earn your eco-certificates! We meet with another local conservation group to learn about plastic waste and rubbish’s disastrous effects on the coastal and marine environments. We learn where it comes from, how to deal with it and most importantly, what we can do to win the war on plastic! We’ll participate in collecting trash from local beaches, learn how to sort it and then discover the innovative methods currently being deployed to up-cycle plastic waste. Expect a day of fun, education and feel-good action.

Day 11 - Plastic Sorting with Local Marine Conservation Organisation

It’s been an absolute pleasure having you spend your valuable time with us, helping to save the Great Barrier Reef, the marine life and the fragile ecosystems which support the reef. We are especially proud of this program and the great team who work tirelessly in Queensland to ‘do’, ‘save’, ‘educate’ and ‘share’.

U.Impact! Experiences programmes are designed to be amazing ‘Travel Responsible’ experiences and are created with the highest level of environmental, social and community ethics in mind. We hope that in this program you have learnt about the challenges facing this corner of the world’s natural resources, and we encourage you to spread this knowledge to your friends, family, and work and study colleagues. So we plead with you to post your amazing photos and use the hashtags: #FightForOurReef #U.Cares #VolunteerGreatBarrierReef #GreatBarrierReefMarineConservation #U+GBR #UAction #UGivesAShit

Day 12 - Hooroo (that’s Aussie for goodbye!)

We can help you!

This itinerary is a guide only. Given the spontaneous nature of our trips, our lack of control over the weather,
and many other factors that can effect a group, where we go and what we do each day may vary.

Always included: 

  • Covered by the Travel Guarantee Fund in Denmark
  • 100% climate-neutral travel
  • Professional travel experts and local guides
  • We do all the planning for you
  • Personalized meetings before departure
  • 24/7 emergency telephone
  • Your own personal travel profile with program, add-ons, flight tickets etc.
  • Packing list and advice
  • Certification of participation
  • Advice and assistance with booking flights
  • Possibility of purchasing cancellation and travel insurance
  • All entrances and fees for experiences
  • All tour accommodation


Included on this trip: 

  • Accommodation at Gilligans Backpacker Resort (or similar): dorm accommodation
  • Meals as noted in the program (B,L,D)
  • Dive course. All dive courses include 3 day/2-night liveaboard reef trip
  • 2 x day trips on Passions of Paradise with a dedicated reef conservation guide doing Eye on the Reef – Rapid Monitoring and other Marine Conservation tasks
  • Project AWARE Specialist Card (all participants)
  • 1 x day trip to Fitzroy Island and visit the turtle hospital, with hands-on activities (subject to the program of the day)
  • Conservation program participant certificate and t-shirt
  • Number of dives: Open Water Course + Passions of Paradise: 13 dives on the Great Barrier Reef (pending weather conditions)
  • Note there is a reef fee/levy for all divers (approx 125 AUD/ 690 DKK/990 SEK/110 GBP)

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Your expected footprint on this trip: 0.27 tons of CO2

(not including flights). Find out more about our commitment to net-zero travel and how you can lower your footprint.

Accommodation: 168kgs Approx. 12 nights at 14kgs per night Optional activities: 45kgs Approx. average (3 activities) Transport: 20kgs Approx. 100km at 20kgs per 100km Food & drinks: 8kgs Approx. 700g per day Boats: 1kgs Approx. 65km at 19g per km

Your local investment on this trip: $3,800

The average expected amount our U.Traveller’s spend that goes directly into the local economy.

Find out more about our love for supporting local businesses

Why Choose a U. Trip

  • The only tour company carbon calculating and offsetting every part of your U.Trip, as part of your cost! From the flights, to all carbon costs associated with your accommodation, activities, meals and transport.  This means you are choosing to travel responsibly with a company dedicated to putting People + Planet first!  U. have simplified the decision making so you can focus on just choosing the best trip for your adventures!
  • More inclusions, head to head, than other trips meaning you get more value for your spend, you see more and you experience more!
  • Invest in yourself and your future with a U.Trip that seamlessly combines the fun, excitement and adventure of gap year and backpacker travel with Impact Experiences that add value to your ‘self’ and your CV.
  • U. creates the opportunity for you to challenge your own understanding of the world with first hand experiences of local communities and the challenges facing them.
  • A team with over 100 years collective travel experience

Would you like one of our U.Team to give you a call?

Let us know when and we will make it happen.

We can help you!

Would you like one of our U.Team to give you a call?

Let us know when and we will make it happen.

We can help you!

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