Earn your PADI Coral Reef Researcher Distinctive Speciality, gain work experience in marine conservation plus choose from additional research or career experience!
Start your career in ocean conservation by completing an internship in Mexico. You will be introduced to coral reef research techniques and participate in basic coral reef health monitoring such as using Coral Watch surveys. You will have the opportunity to conduct coral restoration activities in and outside the water on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world while running other marine conservation initiatives like plastic cleanups and environmental awareness programs.
Join our international team located on Mexico’s Carribean coast to gain experience in marine conservation and start your career in the field. The team here work with local authorities to protect the unique habitat of the Marine Biosphere Reserve of the Mexican Caribbean home to unique habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass meadows, mangrove forests, and Mexico’s famously magical cenotes.
Your internship will start with you mastering the diving and underwater survey techniques needed to conduct coral reef surveys which are accurate and don’t harm the reef. Our experienced instructors will support you all the way while you work toward earning your PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certificate. Receive the Coral Reef Research Diver Distinctive Speciality segment of the PADI Divemaster course. This unique offering teaches you about best practices when conducting underwater coral reef surveys. This is offered to participants staying for 2 weeks or longer.
Once your training is complete you will work with other participants to help monitor assigned sections of the reef. Depending on the duration of your stay you will learn about how to identify fish, coral, and other marine life as well as how this data is used by local authorities to make decisions about conservation. You will also assist our local partners with their ongoing coral restoration project by either growing coral fragments in a laboratory or transplanting these coral fragments onto the reef.
You will also participate in a range of other initiatives designed to work toward achieving the objectives of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #14, Life Below Water. Some of these include ocean floor and beach cleanups and the subsequent recording of the plastic collected for later data analysis, sea turtle monitoring, environmental awareness workshops with local students, community groups, businesses and tourists. Please note that these activities don’t run all year long as they are locally driven and it depends on the needs of our local partner’s.
Throughout the internship, you will learn about the importance of engaging local communities to ensure that marine conservation initiatives have long-lasting positive results. Reflecting this reality, you will not only master technical diving and marine research skills on this internship but also have the opportunity to practice your interpersonal skills.
- Gain experience in a range of marine conservation initiatives, including coral reef surveying and restoration
- Earn your PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certification
- Complete a unique qualification, the PADI Coral Reef Research Speciality
- Preserve the unique ecosystem of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef
- Contribute to UN SDG #14, Life Below Water
- Learn to dive in the tropical waters of the Caribbean sea
- Make new friends when you work with a group of like-minded individuals from around the world
- Immerse yourself in Mexican culture, learning the language and sampling authentic Mexican cuisine
Our Award-winning Partner
Conservation Careers has teamed up with an award-winning, mission-driven organisation with a team of passionate experts across the globe who will make your experience a truly unforgettable one.
Founded in 1998, they run programs in 21 locations, in 13 countries around the world, each aligned to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as well as the objectives of local partners. They welcome participants from all around the world and help facilitate their development into global citizens. This is how they achieve their mission of building a global network of people united by their passion to make a difference.
Their commitment to running high-quality sustainable development and experiential education programs has earned them recognition from numerous organizations such as Panthera, the Seychelles Parks & Gardens Authority, as well as Stanford, NYU, Duke, and Ohio State.
If you register your interest below, you’ll put you in touch with our partner to take the booking and to plan your trip!
To see all our Conservation Careers Internship opportunities, please click here.
Location and life on base
You will live in shared accommodation, along with the other volunteers. The accommodation features shared facilities such as a communal kitchen, work area, and living space. We aim to leave as small of a footprint as possible on the environment which means we keep facilities basic. There is bottled water available for cooking and drinking, and participants share base duties including cooking, cleaning, gear and equipment maintenance, and other chores. Curfew is at 11 pm all days.
You will have limited access to long-distance communications whilst on the program, so make sure friends and family know how often they can expect to hear from you. Mobile phone reception is available on base, although it can be poor at times. It is possible to buy a Mexican SIM card and phone credit at the airport which can be used with your unlocked cellphone. Internet connection is available at base, but alternatively, you can purchase a pocket WIFI device which can then be topped up with mobile internet.
Increasing Employability: Pre Departure Program Training:
Our programs are not only life-changing experiences but are also designed to help participants increase their employability. We have developed a curriculum to be completed prior to arrival in the country in order to ensure that more time is dedicated to program work once you commence your volunteer program.
Eight weeks prior to your start date, you will complete the following online courses in preparation for your in-country program:
PRE-DEPARTURE ORIENTATION (1 hour)
PROGRAM SPECIFIC TRAINING (1 – 5 hours)
MARINE CONSERVATION COURSE (10 – 15 hours)
LEADERSHIP COURSE (10 – 15 hours)
CAREERS COURSE (10 – 15 hours)
In order to obtain a certificate for the Marine Conservation, Leadership and Careers courses which are endorsed by the University of Richmond and UNC Charlotte, you will need to complete quizzes & assignments and will be given 4 weeks post program to submit your work.
If you are looking to travel in less than 8 weeks from now, you will still complete the course however this will be done in country and all content will need to be downloaded before arrival.
Health & Hygiene:
The work we contribute to across the globe remains important and new measures allow our participants to continue to join our programs and continue impacting positively on their world and the communities we work with. Changes to our existing protocols have been made by our 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. Please inquire for more information on the protocols.
All of our programs have short, mid and long-term objectives that fit with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or 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.
Upon arrival to base, you will be educated about the history of the UN SDGs. You will learn about the specific goals of your location, the long-, mid- and short-term objectives, and also clarification of 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.
Puerto Morelos is the oldest port city in the Mexican Caribbean. The port has been used since the time of the Mayan empire, but its history as a modern port began in 1898. It was built to enable the exportation of gum from the gum tree and the wood of the dye tree, an activity that together with fishing were the main productive activities in the area.
The area has a unique diversity of ecosystems including low evergreen jungles, low swamp jungles, savannahs, coastal dunes, mangroves, cenotes, beaches, marine grass, and coral reefs. The reef of Puerto Morelos is part of the Mesoamerican Reef System, MBRS, considered the second largest reef barrier in the world and home to thousands of marine species.
Today, Puerto Morelos is part of the 120 kilometer tourist corridor, located between Cancun and Tulum. Tourism is the main economic activity of Puerto Morelos and continues to grow due to the development of large hotels as well as holiday housing along its coast. Local tour operators offer scuba, snorkelling, and free diving tours in the Caribbean Sea and reef lagoon, tours of or diving in cenotes close to the town, as well as sport fishing tours.
Fishing is the second most common commercial activity after tourism. Fishermen fish using small skiffs collect many commercial Caribbean fish species and lobster. Local fishing organisations are aware that unsustainable fishing leads to a destruction of the reef, and therefore loss of fishing resources as well as harm to ecotourism activities.
We assist our partners in Puerto Morelos with collecting and collating data to assist decision makers in coastal zone management. We assist them with the manpower, logistical resources, and, in some cases, finances.
Fish and Coral Surveys
We have several monitoring sites that we survey each year. At each monitoring site, we do 10 adult and juvenile fish transects and five coral community and point intercept transects. The data on fish we gather helps us determine the abundance and the size of fish and understand the changes in the fish community dynamics. The data on coral, and other sessile organisms like sponges and mussels, is used to understand the rate of recovery of the reef and its overall health. For four week short term interns the surveys will be simpler as we aim to gather high-quality data by focusing the learning on fish species while touching on other topics such as coral species. The aim of this is to collect biomass data and information on coral illnesses and bleaching.
The National Park of Puerto Morelos is abundant in seagrass which is one of the favourite meals of green sea turtles. Participants assist with monitoring sea turtle populations by taking pictures of them while snorkeling and diving. This helps with identifying both new and returning sea turtles. Sea turtle nesting season is from May to October.
Invasive Lionfish Monitoring and Eradication
Lionfish are an invasive species in the Mexican Caribbean. Lionfish eradication activities are carried on in coordination with local environmental authorities. Local authorities conduct lionfish spearfishing tournaments throughout the year in which we can participate or they assign us dates to carry out lionfish eradication on specific areas of the reef. Please note that this activity does not happen all year long.
Incidental Sightings of Megafauna
Every time we go on a dive we look for megafauna species such as sharks, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, eels, and rays. We then input sighting of these species into our database. The presence of these species can be indicators of the health of the reef and general biodiversity.
Plastic Pollution Cleanup
We have weekly beach cleans where we collect the rubbish that washes up on our beach and classify it into different categories depending on their source. This information is recorded and sent to our partners for analysis.
They also assist the community by conducting environmental education programs. The town of Puerto Morelos was once a fishing village, but is now part of one of the largest Marine Parks in Mexico. Fish is still an important food source in the community and fishing a common means of earning an income. Sustainable fishing methods and other means of protecting the natural environment are vital to maintaining the marine abundance that makes both fishing and international tourism profitable. Teaching young people and tour operators the importance of protecting their marine resources and how this can be done is vital to ensuring the future health of the reef off the coast of Puerto Morelos.
All these initiatives allow us to offer support to the conservation work, the community and our local partners, and to address many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as #4 – Quality Education and #14 – Life Below Water.
Please note: Both conservation- and community-focused programs are offered at this location.
Puerto Morelos Marine, Long-term Objectives
1. Provide data to our partners on the overall health of the reef, to be used for coastal management within the coral reefs of Puerto Morelos National Park, and collaborate in the coral restoration project.
2. Raise environmental awareness with the community in Puerto Morelos.
3. Minimise the environmental impact that visitors and other people have within the national park
4. Increase in-country capacity within our partners and community members in the coral reefs of Puerto Morelos National Park
Joining a program not only allows participants 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.
Long term field staff are a great source of advice, and have helped us put together the following information on local travel options. Many decide to travel before or after their experience (subject to immigration restrictions), solidifying the lifetime friendships established on program. Please note that the below suggestions are not included in the program fee, and are for the individual to organise at their own expense.
There are many Mayan ruins scattered throughout the Riviera Maya and the province in which Puerto Morelos is located, Quintana Roo, is no exception. One of the most popular sites is Tulum, a walled Mayan city built near the end of the empire located on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Visitors can climb the pyramid structure, the tallest in the complex and visit the wind god temple at the edge of the bay. There is also the nearby city of Chichen Itza, which was built at a much earlier date and is one of the largest in Mayan history. Here you will find the magnificent pyramid structure known as the Temple of Kukulcan. There is also a nearby ruin featuring residential buildings known as Coba. Exploring any of these sites will help visitors experience what Mayan culture was really like.
Eco Adventure Parks
A top destination for those visiting the Riviera Maya are eco adventure parks like Xcaret and Xel-ha. These are naturally beautiful areas of land featuring a rich biodiversity and Mayan ruins that have been turned into sustainable theme parks. The parks feature water activities like swimming, tubing, and snorkeling as there are also plenty of opportunities to spot and learn more about the unique flora and fauna of the region including orchids, mangroves, butterflies, monkeys, and manatees. Cultural activities are also offered include remodeled Maya villages and Mariachi performances.
Diving and Snorkeling
Experience the stunning diversity of underwater life to be found among the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef in the world. While diving is a part of all our marine conservation projects in Puerto Morelos, any interns and volunteers, including those participating in community projects, can easily book a recreational dive. The stretch of ocean near Puerto Morelos is well-protected allowing divers and snorkelers to view Mexican marine life at its best. You can also travel to other top diving sites such as the island of Cozumel
If you have never heard of a cenote, you are in for a treat. No, not a type of french pastry, but a kind of naturally occurring limestone cathedral, filled with deep blue water, and lit up by slants of tropical sunlight from above. Unique to the Yucatan Peninsula, cenotes were believed by the ancient and medieval cultures of the region to be sacred sites. There are plenty of cenotes close to Puerto Morelos where visitors can swim, snorkel, or dive while observing the dabbled light dancing along the cave walls. Visit the “Ruta de los Cenotes” or route of the cenotes, a 44 km road that joins Puerto Morelos town with Leona Vicario and is filled with dozens of cenotes. Like Las Mojarras, Verde Lucero, Siete Bocas, Kin Ha, Hells Bells, Boca de Puma, just to name a few.
Other Latin America Countries
Mexico is the perfect destination from which to explore other Central and South American countries. Travel down to the jungles and volcanoes of Costa Rica and then further down to the Andes mountains and Incan structures of Peru.
Mexico City is the home of many iconic cultural sites including Frida Khalo’s blue house and the Palace of Fine Arts where the work of her husband, Digeo Rivera, and other artists, can be viewed. You can also visit the historic Zocalo plaza, parts of which date back to the Aztec era, and the National Archeological Museum where artifacts from Mayan culture can be viewed. Another Mexican locations famed for its cultural significance is Guadalajara, the birthplace of mariachi music.
Hiking and Rock Climbing
There are plenty of excellent hiking, trekking, and mountain climbing destinations available in Mexico. Pico de Orizaba is Mexico’s highest peak, followed by the active volcano Popocatepetl, and Iztaccihuatl, its twin, which is dormant. Some popular rock climbing destinations include El Potrero Chico.
On the other side of the Caribbean coast, Baja California is a peninsula bordered by the Pacific Ocean. One of the main reasons to visit this location is the annual visit of grey whales from Arctic regions. The best months for whale spotting are from January to March. There are, of course, many other reasons to visit Baja California such as surfing and to explore the natural rocky landscape.