Join a marine biology research project with a focus on marine mammals when you travel to Spain’s Canary Islands. Here, you’ll be based on the island of Tenerife along with marine biologists, conservationists and other scientists, as well as volunteers from around the world. You’ll help them to collect and analyse data on whales and dolphins as well as marine and coastal habitats.
Want to know what being a marine biologist is really like? Looking to trial a job in marine science before pursuing a qualification in this field? Do you have a particular interest in whales and dolphins? Then our marine biology research and conservation program, based in the Spanish Canary Islands, might just be for you.
This program is based on the island of Tenerife. Tenerife is located just off the coast of Morocco and is roughly a three-to-five hour flight from most European destinations. The island’s balmy waters are an excellent location for marine biology research, specifically studying whales and dolphins. This is because its waters are warm all year round, are up to 2,000 meters deep and are sheltered from harsh, open-ocean conditions. These same factors make it the perfect location for other marine species such as sea turtles and blue rays.
Many of these species are endangered, vulnerable or threatened. But several of these species, specifically dolphins and whales, are classified as data deficient. This means that we don’t have enough information about their populations. We also don’t yet fully understand how environmental threats such as plastic pollution and climate change affect these marine creatures.
This is how volunteers like you can help out professional marine biologists and conservationists. You’ll participate in what is known as a citizen science project by helping to collect data. In the process, you’ll learn what marine science is all about and earn new technical skills.
On this program, you’ll travel the waters around Tenerife with other volunteers, keeping an eye out for whale and dolphin activity. You’ll collect data on their numbers, their health and their behaviour. You’ll also take pictures of them to help with identifying specific individuals. You’ll also conduct surveys of the waters and beaches, recording a range of factors such as boat activity.
Then, you’ll learn how to input the data you’ve gathered into a database and find out how the data is analysed. You’ll learn how this data is used by local and international marine conservation organisations to make decisions about establishing, adapting and implementing environmental policies.
You’ll also participate in other marine conservation activities such as cleaning beaches and helping to educate tourists about the importance of choosing an ethical whale and dolphin watching tour.
Please note that this is not a diving program, although you can go for a recreational dive during your free time.
Develop skills such as scientific research techniques, data collection, data analysis, intercultural communication and teamwork.
Go diving, kayaking, hiking and island hopping among the other Canary Islands, or simply enjoy one of Tenerife’s many beaches.
Contribute to ongoing environmental projects that address critical challenges aligned to the global UN SDGs.
Join local conservation partners and qualified professionals to ensure your efforts are highly ethical, meaningful and sustainable.
Venture outside typical travel itineraries to get exclusive access to extraordinary remote habitats, rare species and unique ecosystems.
Share epic experiences with like-minded, passionate changemakers from all over the globe.
With expert local staff and 24/7 support at every step – you can relax and enjoy the experience stress-free.
Disconnect from the digital world and reconnect with nature, yourself and your purpose.
Some of the example typical activities you could participate in on this program.
Go out on an inflatable motorboat to conduct cetacean data collection. You’ll take part in a fin identification process, observe and record behaviour, and document the number of species and individuals you encounter.
Conduct land surveys which monitor boat activity and track how many rib and sail boats are in the area at any given time. You will also assess how this impacts dolphin migration and movement patterns.
Input data into local research databases as well as citizen science websites which aid in collating data for analysis and reporting.
Participate in education and awareness initiatives on sustainable and ethical tourism practices.
Assist with beach cleans, and remove garbage and plastic from Tenerife’s shoreline. Record this data for various citizen science databases.
Participate in community outreach initiatives focused on marine and environmental education.
Some of the partners we work with on base.
|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|
|Linkedin reference and skills endorsement|
|Additional drinks and gratuities|
|Extra local excursions|
|International and domestic airport taxes|
|Medical and travel insurance|
|Personal items and toiletries|
|Police or background check|
Our base in the Canary Islands is located on the island of Tenerife. With amazing views and waters teeming with megafauna, there are loads of hikes, as well as dormant and active volcanoes. The island itself is home to a variety of microclimates, such as cloud forests, jungles, deserts and tundra.
within easy travelling distance from the marina of Puerto Colón, our base overlooks the ocean, and has loads of nearby amenities and facilities, as well as many restaurants and bars. From the harbour visitors can board one of Tenerife’s famous whale and dolphin watching tours. We’re situated near the town of Costa Adeje, an area popular with tourists. There is also a large shopping mall called Siam about 20 minutes away.
The base is basic but comfortable and is split across two apartments, with ample space for training, working through project data, or just relaxing after a busy day. We cultivate a family atmosphere on base. Cooking and tidying duties are shared on a rotation basis amongst staff and participants.
Depending on the weather conditions, you can look forward to boat trips on the Atlantic Ocean where we monitor the whales and dolphins living around Tenerife. On other days, you might collect data on other marine species or conduct beach surveys, plastic pollution cleanups, or environmental awareness sessions with tourists visiting Tenerife. You’ll often start your mornings early with training, carrying out surveys, or capturing collected data from marine research. Evenings are spent enjoying a meal and being debriefed on the activities of the day. Afterwards, there’s time to sit back and relax while chatting with your fellow participants. During free time on base, participants play card games or chess, read, relax, or watch documentaries. There is a billiards centre next door where team members enjoy hanging out in their free time.
Participants sleep in dorm rooms that can accommodate 6–8 people. The shared bathrooms have a bathtub, showers, and flush toilets. The accommodat...
A GVI staff member will be at the airport to welcome you. From there, we’ll provide a transfer to the base. Transport is also provided for projec...
Wi-Fi is available on base for participants to use and there’s also decent phone signal reception. Internet cafés can also be found in town.
Staff and participants take it in turns to prepare meals on a rota basis. Meals are usually simple but healthy, combining the flavours of ingredi...
Tenerife has a warm and pleasant climate, which is just one of the reasons why it’s such a popular year-round tourist destination. With an averag...
Enhanced cleaning and social-distancing measures in place.
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.
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.
Wander the streets of this historical town which is home to the most colourful and well-preserved buildings on the island of Tenerife....
Recognised as a UNESCO biosphere reserve since 2015, this reserve contains the largest number of endemic species in Europe. It’s also a great pla...
With sands ranging from golden yellow to volcanic black, visit Tenerife island’s many beaches....
This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts the highest mountain in Spain, the Pico del Teide volcano. Take a cable car up the mountain during the day...
Spain is about a three-hour flight from the Canary Islands and features warm weather, even more beaches and a multitude of adventure activities. ...
The Canary Islands archipelago is made up of many islands and islets. Besides Tenerife, there are seven other main islands that are worth visitin...
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.
The Canary Islands have a strong tradition of creating local crafts, with the different islands often specialising in a particular craftwork. On ...
There are many festivals held throughout the year in the Canary Islands. The most notable is the Santa de Cruz carnival, held on Tenerife in Febr...
The majority of Canary Island residents speak their own dialect of Spanish, known as Canarian Spanish. English is the second most commonly spoken...
13 May, 2022
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.
Tenerife Program Manager
This is Ale, our wonderful Program Manager at the GVI base in Tenerife, Canary Islands. She is passionate about conservation and marine life, specifically cetacea such as whales ...
‘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.
GVI is a proud member of the Gap Year Association.
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.
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.
The aim of the program is to build up a database of information which will assist in protecting the wildlife of the Teno-Rasca Marine Reserve and the west coast of Tenerife. The corridor between Tenerife and La Gomera is also a migratory route for more than 20 cetacean species. The noise pollution from boats and island life is incredibly disruptive to their migratory patterns, but current data is insufficient to petition for this corridor to become a marine protected area. In an effort to make this happen, we share our information with the local authorities.
Tenerife is a popular tourist destination, with up to five million international visitors arriving each year. Many come to experience the biodiversity of the island. Known for its large population of whales and dolphins, the presence of sea turtles and other marine species also makes the region an appealing location for tourists. Tenerife is home to many marine mammals in the cetacean family, including Atlantic spotted dolphins, Bryde’s whales, Risso’s dolphins, sperm whales, common dolphins, humpback whales, fin whales, blue whales and pygmy sperm whales. Green and loggerhead turtles are also seen in the region.
While tourism is the island’s largest source of income, the influx of tourists can lead to an increase in boat traffic, overfishing, and excess waste on the island. GVI works with local whale watching tour providers and other local organisations to monitor the impact of tourism on the marine environment – ensuring it’s managed in a sustainable and ethical way. In addition to tourism, the impact of other human activities on marine life is also monitored. The team in Tenerife collects data, inputs the information into databases, and submits reports to local authorities. This assists them with making decisions concerning marine resource management.
Whale and Dolphin Surveys
Through boat- and land-based monitoring, our team collects data on whales, dolphins, and other marine species spotted in the waters around Tenerife. Movements, acoustics and behaviours are recorded, and photos are taken of sightings for later identification and cataloguing. The location is also mapped. The collected data is inputted into databases that contribute to ongoing research used by the government of the Canary Islands for local decision-making. Analysed over time, data trends can be used for making further recommendations on tourism practices, fishing regulations, waste management, and other factors impacting the marine and coastal environments. GVI produces quarterly and annual reports which communicate our research findings and other relevant updates.
Due to data deficiencies on short-finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins, we’re collecting pertinent information to fill this gap. We’re trying to get a better understanding of the habits and behaviours of cetaceans as they relate to the ecotourism industry, which we can feed back to local marine management schemes. We’d also like to determine the least disruptive amount of sea traffic and share this information with the ecotourism industry. In an effort to limit the impact on the cetaceans in the area, sharing our collected data assists in educating local boat operators and ecotourism providers.
Marine Plastic Pollution and Beach Cleanups
The GVI team in Tenerife maintains an ongoing commitment to contributing towards waste management initiatives in the Canary Islands. We work with local communities and tourists to minimise plastic and other waste products. This includes removing marine debris while on coastal surveys, and organising beach cleanups.
Sustainable Tourism and Community Awareness
Contributing to sustainable tourism by raising environmental awareness is a critical element of the GVI program in the Canary Islands. With tourism being the largest industry in the Canary Islands, it’s important that local communities and tourists understand the impact of tourism on the environment and how they can contribute to sustainable practices. Our staff and participants often join tourists on whale watching tours and speak to them about ethical, sustainable and responsible ecotourism practices. Our team joins local communities on the beach and gets involved in local beach cleanups. To create as little disruption to the patterns and natural behaviours of the cetaceans as possible, we aim to work with ecotourism boat providers, educating them about responsible traffic patterns and noise pollution.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals
All of our programs have short-, mid- and long-term objectives that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). We want to be able to measure our collaborative impact across the world in a streamlined manner, so all our staff and volunteers know which UN SDGs they’re making a substantial contribution to. This also helps our local partners and communities measure and visualise their contribution to the UN SDGs.
Prior to your arrival on base, you’ll be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. Then, once on base you’ll learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also insight into how your personal, shorter-term involvement contributes to these goals on a global level.
Our aim is to educate you on local and global issues, so that you continue to act as active global citizens after your program, helping to fulfil our mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
The main UN SDGs that the GVI Canary Islands team contribute towards is Goal 14: Life Below Water.
GVI Canary Islands long-term objectives
1. Provide a long-term and consistent collection of data, assessing the populations and behaviours of whales, dolphins, and other marine species in the waters surrounding Tenerife. This is used to promote local sustainable tourism practices and coastal marine management, and create a greater international understanding of changing marine ecosystems.
2. Increase the scientific output and awareness of the project through the publication of findings.
3. Assist with local marine and coastal waste management efforts through data collection and cleaning of beaches and other habitats.
4. Raise awareness about the importance of marine and coastal conservation as well as best sustainability practices.
5. Through marine conservation efforts, raise awareness of sustainable and ethical tourism practices.
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.
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.
Learn how to design environmental education learning materials for local schools such as lesson plans, fact sheets, art and crafts activities and demonstrative workshops.
Learn about our empowerment principles.
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.
Learn about the impact waste has on oceans, beaches and marine species as well as what we can do about it.
Learn about the biodiversity of the Canary Islands and how to successfully identify the species you’ll be monitoring.
Learn how to collect, input and analyse data. Get an overall understanding of how research science and citizen science works. Learn how it can be used to affect government and organisational decision-making and create positive change.
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.
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.