Get the best of both worlds. Travel to the mangroves, white sands and striking blue waters of Ambergris Caye island in Belize, just a short boat’s ride to the Belize Barrier Reef, one of the most well-conserved areas of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second-largest in the world. Here, you’ll complete your training before heading out to carry out marine conservation surveys on the reef. Afterwards, if you meet all requirements, we’ll arrange for you to complete a placement at a dive shop specialising in ecotourism on the Mexican Barrier Reef.
We’ve designed this apprenticeship to allow you to get the most out of diving in the Caribbean while working to preserve this precious habitat. Coral reefs are essential to keeping the earth healthy and this section of the ocean features one of the largest reefs in the world. The reef is home to many endangered species, including sea turtles and manatees, but is threatened by a range of man-made factors including the climate crisis, unsustainable tourism and fishing as well as pollution. On this apprenticeship, you’ll not only learn how to master diving but how you can best contribute to the conservation of reefs, oceans and other natural habitats.
First, we’ll send you the necessary training materials and you’re encouraged to fully complete these before setting foot in Belize. Once you arrive at our base on the island of Ambergris Caye, you’ll start your hands-on dive and marine conservation training. If you study diligently and pass all assessments to a sufficient standard, you’ll be welcome to join other participants in carrying out surveys of the Belize Barrier Reef.
After 12 weeks of training and work, your skills will again be assessed. If you pass the assessments successfully, we’ll then secure you a placement at a dive shop in Mexico, specialising in marine conservation ecotourism. Here you’ll work with local staff, developing your skills as a divemaster and helping to educate tourists and other aspiring divers on how they can help to protect the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, other coral reefs and the world’s oceans. After 12 weeks of successful work, you’ll have enough experience to qualify for your divemaster and have the necessary skills and knowledge to use this qualification for the good of the planet.
Our Belize base is located on the country’s largest island, Ambergris Caye. This island is known for its proximity to the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System – home to countless dive sites and spots to snorkel. The Belize Barrier Reef is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System – the largest reef system in the northern hemisphere and the second largest in the world. Our accommodation is located on the beach.
Your typical day may involve training, diving and research. You can also expect to carry out diving gear maintenance or organisational work, such as refilling dive tanks and conducting safety tests. Your days are rounded off with evening debriefs, followed by dinner and time to relax. In between your project work, you’ll have time to lounge on the beach, taking in Caribbean sunrises and sunsets, and swapping stories with staff members and your fellow participants.
Our base is located on the beach and close to the town of San Pedro, which has restaurants, cafes, supermarkets and many smaller shops. Accommodation is provided and consists of...
Ambergris Caye is only 40 kilometres long, and ranges from 1.6 kilometres wide to a few hundred metres in the centre. The majority of the island is covered in mangrove forests, ...
You will have access to long-distance communications, but keep in mind that time for external communication is limited during the week due to project work. You can bring a netwo...
The food in Ambergris Caye is a fusion of traditional Belizean dishes (such as rice, beans, stewed chicken) and Mexican food, including burritos and tortillas. While staying on ...
Belize has a hot, subtropical climate, with temperatures ranging from 20°C – 32°C (68°F – 90°F). Daytime temperatures and humidity remain consistently high. The dry ...
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
For over 20 years, GVI has prioritised the health and safety of our staff, participants, partners and local community members. In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, GVI has created the GVI health and hygiene team to put in place new standards of cleanliness, norms and behaviours that meet or exceed international recommendations to ensure the ongoing safety of GVI’s participants, staff and communities around the world. Internationally recommended practices, such as advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the governments Australia, UK and US, continue to be monitored and the standards are likely to change if and when international advice changes.
The work GVI is contributing to across the globe remains important and the following measures allow our participants to continue to join GVI’s programs and continue impacting positively on their world and the communities we work with. The following changes to our existing protocols have been made by the GVI health and hygiene team to strengthen our health and hygiene protocols and ensure that international standard safeguards are in place to protect our participants, staff and host communities.
Reef Conservation UK 13th Annual Meeting, Zoological Society of London
Reef Conservation UK 13th Annual Meeting, Zoological Society of London
If you’d like to find out what the experience of joining a GVI project is really like, simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch with one of our many Alumni.
We’ll try to match you to an Alum based on your location, nationality, age, stage of academic career, gender, and program interests. This allows you to gain insights into the experience that is most relevant to you.
Depending on your location you might be able to speak to an Alum over the phone or online, or meet up with them face-to-face at a coffee shop nearby. We also run a series of small events around the world where you can speak to GVI Alumni, Ambassadors and staff members.
We want you to make the most of the chance to live in – and contribute towards – the most diverse and unique wildernesses and communities on earth. Introducing GVI Experiences – immersive adventure, cultural and wellness activities exclusive to GVI that have been specially designed in collaboration with our local partners to support and stimulate sustainable economic development.
Enhance your impact. Expand your adventure. Explore your world.
When it comes to support, we ensure that each participant is provided with unparalleled, 360 degree support, from your initial contact with the GVI Family, all the way through your program, and even after, as you become part of the GVI Alumni Team.
As part of this promise, we will ensure, whenever possible, that one of our dedicated staff will be available to meet you at the airport. In most locations, we also set up a Whatsapp group to help with managing airport arrivals. We will arrange with you prior to your departure that, should you arrive in the agreed upon pick up window, a member of our staff will be there to welcome you, easily identifiable in a GVI t-shirt or holding a GVI sign and wearing a friendly smile. This means there will be someone there to greet you as you land, and from there you will be transported to your GVI base to start your adventure and meet the rest of your team.
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This enables us to report on our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, measuring which UN SDGs we are making a substantial contribution to. Furthermore, this will help our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.
Prior to your arrival on base, you will be educated about the UN SDGs. Then once you arrive on base, you’ll learn about the specific goals we have in this particular location, our various objectives, and also clarification of how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to be an active global citizen after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Our work on the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize focuses on conserving the second-largest barrier reef in the world, the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS), a recognised World Heritage Site. The reef is home to an abundance of coral species and many other endangered marine species, such as the green sea turtle and West Indian manatee.
The reef, like many others around the world, faces many conservation challenges. As a result of the climate crisis, rising ocean temperatures cause corals to become damaged in a phenomenon known as coral bleaching. Another challenge the reef shares with other marine habitats around the world is plastic pollution. Invasive species, such as lionfish, and pollution from coastal development, also pose a threat. While tourism is an excellent contributor to the reef’s conservation, it needs to be managed effectively to ensure no harm is caused. Mangroves are also a key factor in protecting the reef. Among other challenges, they are under threat from unsustainable coastal development practices.
Fortunately, Belize is a leader in effective conservation practices and has implemented several innovative policies and initiatives over the years, including banning bottom trawling, a form of harmful commercial fishing, as well as offshore oil prospecting and drilling. Our work in Belize involves supporting the country’s governmental and local initiatives.
Our team carries out scientific surveys of the fish, coral and invertebrate species found at dive sites along the BBRRS. We then deliver this data to local organisations aiming at making a positive impact on the conservation management of BBRRS and its surrounding reefs.
The main UN Sustainable Development Goal that we contribute towards is Goal 14: Life Below Water.
GVI Ambergris Caye Long-term Objectives:
1. Provide reports on coral abundance and health at specific BBRRS locations to relevant conservation management organisations.
2. Provide reports on fish abundance and health of species at specific BBRRS locations to relevant conservation management organisations.
3. Provide reports on invertebrate abundance and health at specific BBRRS locations to relevant conservation management organisations.
Below is a list of core ethics and best practices we believe are essential to the operation of high quality, ethical volunteer and sustainable development programs. We believe that all responsible volunteer and sustainable development operations should focus upon these principles. If you are considering volunteering, these are some of the key considerations you should question, to ensure that your time and money contributes towards positive change.
We want to constantly develop our own understanding of ethical best practice. In so doing, we aim to provide an exemplary industry standard for other education institutions, international development organisations, and social enterprises. Our Badge of Ethics stands for the drive to always do good, better. Find out more, click on the Badge below.
We aim to design all our projects in collaboration with local organizations and communities and ensure that they are locally driven.
We aim to clearly define short-, mid-, and long-term objectives with sustainable outcomes for all our projects.
We aim to track, record, and publish the impact of each of our projects.
We aim to build in-country capacity by assisting local organizations in becoming self-sustaining.
For each local organization we work with, we aim to have a plan in place for withdrawing support responsibly.
We aim to ensure that every participant is assigned a clear role and that they are fully trained and supported to carry out their work by specialized staff.
In all our actions we aim to respect the skills and efforts of all and seek to protect the rights, culture and dignity of everyone who engages with GVI.
We work to ensure that credit for the results of any project, along with any data collected, research conducted, or Intellectual Property developed, remains the property of local organizations.
We do not condone and aim to withdraw support of orphanages and residential care centers.
We will live by our Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult policies.
As an organization, GVI is committed to striving toward best practice, and to educating both our potential participants, our partners, and the world at large about them. Both the volunteering and sustainable development sectors are increasingly, and rightly, under scrutiny. Many recent local and global articles highlight poor practices and questionable ethics. GVI is widely recognized for striving to apply global best practice in the volunteering, education and sustainable development sectors throughout our operations by reputable organizations such as ChildSafe.
However, global best practice is always evolving and we dedicate both time and resources to engage with internationally respected experts and learn from the latest research to ensure our programs both fulfil their potential to create maximum positive impact, and minimise their potential to create unintentional negative impact. Along with and as part of the sustainable development and volunteering community, we are constantly learning and applying this learning to practice. We do not always get everything right, but we seek feedback from our community members, partners, participants and our staff, and react accordingly. We know are already doing a great job, and feedback we have received confirms this, but we aim to do even better and are continuously refining our operations to improve upon our already excellent reputation.
Meet Frank, our program manager in Ambergris Caye, Belize. He was born and raised in Germany and decided to move to Belize in order to explore the country and follow his interes ...
Meet Farrah our Program Officer at the GVI base on Ambergris Caye, Belize. Farrah grew up with a keen interest in marine conservation which lead her to major in marine biology a ...
We don’t support or allow participants to work in institutional residential care facilities, also known as orphanages. We partner with ReThink Orphanages and Freedom United.
Our Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy requires all our staff and participants to complete a criminal background check and to learn why you shouldn’t reveal a child’s identifying factors in photographs. We support the ChildSafe Movement.
We don’t offer any programs where our participants engage in medical treatment. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country. Our participants only assist with public health programs.
We don’t offer any programs where our participants work directly with people with disabilities. This is because our participants aren’t typically qualified to do this work and would therefore not be able to do this work in their home country.
Each one of our initiatives is aligned to objectives set by a local organisation or professional. Our staff and participants work to support these local actors in achieving their specific goals.
Our participants don’t replace the staff employed by local organisations. Rather, they support currently employed staff with achieving their objectives. Our goal is always to increase local capacity to address local problems.
Participants require training and support to ensure that they carry out tasks correctly. Our staff provide this training and support so that local staff can focus on what is truly important to their organisation at the time.
We don’t support the use of wild animals for entertainment purposes. This includes riding animals, having them perform tricks, feeding or bathing them or getting close to them to take photos
We don’t encourage, support or allow the rearing of “orphaned” wild baby animals kept at a “sanctuary”. The conservation value of these types of programs is negligent and would only ethically be used in extremely rare cases
When wild animals are restricted for conservation purposes we follow the guidelines of Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA), approved by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
We ensure that the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare are followed. These include the freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from distress, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear, pain, injury or disease.
We ensure that conservation efforts are also always locally led, that community needs are front-and centre of any conservation effort and that our participants, projects and partners work to increase local community engagement in local conservation efforts.
We don’t offer any veterinary programs or animal rescue and rehabilitation programs. We don’t allow participants to do any work they would not be able to do in their home country.
A GVI program is an investment in your career. No matter which you choose, you will be working toward improving your employability by mastering new social skills, gaining further technical expertise and earning qualifications in many cases. Most of our staff are, in fact, GVI Alumni, and we have helped many of our Alumni discover, move toward, and earn their own personal dream jobs. Each program includes introductory workshops, ongoing presentations, as well as on-the-ground professional support provided by our very own trained staff members. In addition, our training programs are critical for helping us to ensure the long-term impact of our sustainable development projects around the world.
Learn about COVID-19 pre-departure guidelines, base expectations, personal and area hygiene practices and what we are doing to keep you safe.
Learn about the importance of child and vulnerable adult protection best practices and how to apply them while on project.
Introduction to the history and evolution of sustainable development, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and how these related to your project work.
Learn about our country locations and further opportunities available to you during or after your program.
An introduction to different survey techniques and best practice guidelines for surveys; introduction to different types of data and how to record information via a datasheet.
Learn about biodiversity and how biodiversity is measured, and classifying different species and how to identify species that indicate the health of the habitat.
Learn about issues with plastic and measures that can be taken to help reduce plastic consumption.
Learn about what a coral reef is, its importance, how it is formed, how this ecosystem works.
Career paths in social and environmental impact are not as well-established as in other fields. That’s why we’ll provide our interns who have successfully completed their program with our Careers in Sustainable Development course. In this course, you’ll learn about current and emerging opportunities in a range of sectors, allowing you to make the best decision about your future.
This online course, valued at £295, is included in all internships. Full course details can be found here.
Leadership is a critical skill set for anyone looking to make an impact or drive sustainable development. Develop your own leadership style and learn how to set achievable objectives, give effective feedback and manage conflict successfully. After successfully completing the course, which you have the option of doing prior to your in-country program, you’ll receive a certificate from the University of Richmond.
This online course, valued at £295, is included in all volunteering programs. Full course details can be found here.
Learn more about what is contributing to the decline in the health of the world’s ocean and marine species and what can be done to prevent it. You’ll gain a greater understanding of the field of marine conservation, explore how to protect marine ecosystems and discover how you can contribute towards conservation-related initiatives. After successfully completing the course, which you have the option of doing prior to your in-country program, you’ll receive a certificate from the University of Richmond.
This online course, valued at £295, is included in all volunteering programs. Full course details can be found here.
Earning a professional diving qualification, such as those offered by The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), is a necessary step for many aspiring marine biologists. All GVI marine conservation programs include training by certified dive instructors that allows participants to qualify for a range of PADI certifications including PADI Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Divemaster, Instructor, Rescue Diver and Master Scuba Diver Trainer.
The PADI RESD Specialty Course is designed to educate divers about how to correctly identify specific species associated with coral reefs (i.e. invertebrates, fish, megafauna and corals) as well as how to choose the correct method of surveying to indicate the health of the reef ecosystem over time. Focusing on the size estimations of corals and fish, as well as the abundance of all reef organisms to give a good indication of the diversity and health of the reef. Participants will also learn to improve their in-water skills (i.e. buoyancy and monitoring techniques).
The goals of the RESD Diver training are to teach how to accurately identify coral reef species and the correct monitoring procedures/methods to collect viable data to indicate the health of the reef over time. Initially educating the students on the conservation methods used to monitor local reef systems associated with human impact.
Joining a GVI program not only allows you to collaborate with communities or work toward preserving unique ecosystems – but it also offers plenty of opportunities to explore the surrounding area or travel further to see what other parts of the region have to offer over weekends.
Field staff are a great source of advice and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. You can choose to travel before or after your experience with GVI (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships you’ve established on the program. Please note that the below options are not included in the program fee, and would be up to you to arrange at your own expense.
Without travelling very far, you’ll find a variety of exciting activities to enjoy. Sample some of the local fare with a food tour, or visi...
Some of the most impressive Mayan architecture can be found in Belize. This includes the Sky Palace at Caracol – the largest known Maya ruin in Belize and the tallest man-made s...
There are many waterfalls you can visit during your stay in Belize. The most famous is the Thousand Foot Falls waterfall in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. At a height o...
The country is covered in protected natural areas of various descriptions. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a key location for jaguar preservation, and the Bladen Natur...
Not only a top diving destination, Belize is also a top caving destination. The Chiquibul Cave System is the largest and longest cave system in central America, and there are pl...
There are over 400 islands, or cayes, that form part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. Go island- hopping and visit Caye Caulker, Silk Caye or Half Moon Caye, which all...
Diving and snorkelling are, of course, not the only things to do in the warm waters of the Caribbean. Paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing are among ...
Belize has some of the best dive spots in the world, with the Great Blue Hole possibly being the most famous. This giant underwater sinkhole can be found in the Lighthouse Reef ...
Join us at our base in Peru where you can work on high-impact sustainable development projects in the Amazonian cloud forest. Afterwards, you can visit Incan sites such as Machu...
If you’re looking to experience Central American wildlife, why not travel to Costa Rica? We have a base set up in the Tortuguero National Park that is located along the Caribbea...
If you’re interested in seeing more of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, you can travel to Mexico. Here we have another marine conservation base situated along the Yucatán P...
Engaging intimately with a new context teaches global awareness, adaptability and critical thinking – skills highly valued in the modern marketplace. Local and cultural immersion is encouraged on all our programs around the world, and will also be one of the most enjoyable aspects of your experience. Luckily, there are many different activities that you can get involved in during your free time, or before and after your program.
On our community programs, the focus is on cultural topics, while on marine or wildlife programs the emphasis is more on the environmental element. Use your evenings and weekends to explore topics like local cuisine and religion, or how sustainable development challenges are affecting local contexts.
Although Belize is perhaps best known for its marine life, like many Central American locations, it also has a great abundance and diversity of wildlife. Perhaps the most iconic...
Many people travel to Belize to experience its underwater life. The country governs the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s part of the secon...
Belizean cuisine is a combination of all the different cultural influences in Belize, such as Mayan, Creole, and Garifuna. You will often come across “fry jacks”(puffy deep frie...
Belizean music and crafts reflect its history, with Mayan, as well as African and European influences. One of the popular styles of music is known as “punta”. It shares commonal...
Belize is renowned for its festivals, and our location on the island of Ambergris Caye is of the best in Belize to experience these celebrations first-hand. In February, Carniva...
Belize is the only Central American country that has English as it’s official language. Spanish is the second-most widely spoken language, with Belizean Creole a close third. It...
‘If only every student could do this. It changes your life in all the right ways,’ says Chris Heritage, parent of Luke Heritage, one of our teen volunteers who has participated on two GVI programs, one in Costa Rica and another in South Africa.
We are a parent-run organisation that is incredibly serious about health and safety, and increasing the impact, as well as the long-term career benefits of our programs. Our programs help young people develop the skills to select a career path that is personally fulfilling, and live a life aligned to the well-being of our planet and the global community.
Ken and Linda Jeffrey, whose son Sam volunteered with GVI in Thailand, talk about how the experience affected Sam. He also went on to volunteer with GVI again in South Africa. ‘I know it sounds like a cliche but in a sense, he did go away as a boy and he came back as a young man. Both of us could recommend GVI without any hesitation to any other parent thinking about exploring an opportunity for their children to explore the world and to see different parts of it.’
Download the Parent Pack and learn more about:
Our staff: All our projects are run by staff, selected, vetted, trained, and managed by our central office.
Health and safety: Our safety practices include a child and vulnerable adult protection policy and high participant ratios.
Staying in touch: See what’s happening on base, by following a hub’s dedicated Facebook page.
Free parent consultations: We would love to talk to you about exciting opportunities available for your child.
We won’t sugarcoat it — traveling abroad is usually a complex process that carries an element of risk. But this is exactly why we’re passionate about providing extensive support throughout the process as well as the highest safety standards during the in-country phase. We believe that volunteering abroad should not only be impactful, but an enjoyable experience that carries as little risk as possible. This is exactly how we’ve been able to maintain our reputation as the most highly respected volunteering organisations in the sector over the past two decades.
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
Upon arrival at the airport, participants will be greeted by a GVI staff member. All GVI staff are our own and all our programs around the world are run by our staff. All GVI field staff are background checked, Emergency First Response and safety trained. The minimum staff to participant ratio on GVI’s programs is one to six, although on several bases we have a ratio of one to three. When finishing the experience, participants will provide feedback on all aspects of their program.
Once a participant books, they will be assigned a personal support coordinator who will oversee their pre-departure journey. The support coordinator helps to bridge the gap between program enrolment and arrival at one of our field bases. Your personal support coordinator will ensure that you are provided with all the necessary information required to apply for visas, background checks, and any other documentation.
It takes courage to book a GVI program, get on a flight, and head off to somewhere new. Volunteering offers a level of cultural immersion that typical backpacking or holidays ju...
As the saying goes: ‘Expect the best, plan for the worst’. Cliched or not, we take it to heart. This tenet is at the core of how GVI operates when it comes to promoting the heal...
The weather isn’t just a topic for polite small-talk here at GVI. We have emergency action plans in place for all scenarios. So when the weather, or other natural forces, takes ...
Once GVI has matched a participant to a program that suits their passions and goals, our team aims to set the right expectations for them. In the event that false expectations a...
|24-hour emergency desk|
|24-hour in-country support|
|Airport pick-up (unless otherwise stated)|
|All project equipment|
|Food (except on long-term internship placements|
|Safe and basic accommodation (usually shared)|
|Group introductory call|
|Endorsed GVI Specialisation Course|
|Endorsed Leadership Course|
|Sustainable project work|
|Data collection and research|
|Real projects with partners|
|Weekly group check ins|
|Remote Academic Internship Supervisor|
|Remote Career Internship Supervisor|
|Preferential recruitment on GVI positions|
|Job portal access|
|Endorsed Careers Course|
|Career coaching sessions|
Certificates and achievements
|PDF reference - upon request|