Are you looking to volunteer in the Philippines? Then continue reading because this has been one of my better volunteer experiences anywhere in the world!
I have done volunteer projects in several countries around the world. Why? Because I feel it adds something to your experience abroad.
You’re no longer just a tourist passing through. You get to live in a place, experience life, learn about local challenges and, hopefully, contribute to something meaningful.
So, that made me decide to look for volunteer work in the Philippines. And my love for scuba diving made Marine Conservation Philippines (MCP) sound like a perfect choice!
Volunteering in the Philippines With MCP
Whether you are a certified scuba diver or have never tried diving before, if you love the water and are interested in learning about marine life and marine conservation, this volunteer project might be perfect for you.
In this article, I’ll try to paint a very honest picture of what Marine Conservation Philippines (MCP) does and what your time as a volunteer here would be like. I’ll share the positives and the negatives I’ve experienced so that you can decide whether this is right for you or not.
But let’s start with a short video! This gives you some glimpses of what the volunteers do and where they live.
For more detailed videos of day to day life while volunteering in the Philippines with MCP go to my Instagram account and look for the ‘Volunteer PHL’ highlighted stories.
What Does MCP Do?
Marine Conservation Philippines first and foremost tries to help the local community by protecting marine life.
By surveying local reefs they gain an understanding of potential threats to the environment and to local life. Think overfishing, global warming, pollution, etc.
They check how resilient the coral is, how diverse the fish habitats are, how healthy the corals are and whether the ecosystem is balanced.
MCP works closely with local communities and the government to try to protect marine life, educate people and create long term solutions.
I think this local approach and focus on working with the community is incredibly important. If you can’t get the community to understand and believe in what you do, protecting marine life becomes next to impossible.
Therefore, apart from monitoring the health of local reefs, MCP also runs various educational and community outreach programs.
But, in this article I want to focus mainly on what volunteering in the Philippines with MCP is like. So if you want to know more about what the organization stands for, their past achievements, etc., visit their website.
What Will You Do as a Volunteer at MCP?
Your main role as a volunteer with MCP is to do surveys so that MCP can collect data on the quality of marine life at different sites.
Thankfully I’d been traveling around the Philippines for 2 weeks already, so by the time I arrived at MCP I was long over my jetlag and ready to join the project.
MCP had arranged for a taxi to pick me up from Dumaguete airport and an hour later I arrived at MCP.
Dinner had just been served and, unfortunately, that means I arrived after dark and therefore couldn’t see much of the base I’d be living on for the next few weeks.
Over 30 people were sitting in “the Hex” (the main living and dining area pictured above) and I already knew it would take me a while to remember all of their names!
I was shown where I’d be sleeping and shortly after that I decided to go to bed to get a good night’s sleep before the start of the volunteer work.
The Introduction Week
Whether you are a scuba diver already or will be learning to dive at MCP, everyone starts with an introduction week before they get into survey training.
I really enjoyed this introduction week and learned so much!
Most mornings during this week start with a classroom session, followed by one or two dives.
During this introduction week, you learn about what MCP does exactly and why surveys are such an important part of their work.
You’ll receive a lot of information about what coral reefs actually are and why they are so important – reefs are the rainforest of the sea!
And did you know that seagrass is also very important? I definitely never thought about that before!
Unfortunately, we had to hear a lot of depressing facts too, such as: 80% of the world’s fish stocks are already fully exploited or overexploited and, a scary thought: every type of fish now contains microplastics!
I could go on for a while about what we learned about marine conservation but you get the picture: during the introduction week you’ll really get an understanding of what threats marine life is facing and what can be done about this.
The introduction week is a great way to ease into life at MCP. Not only does it teach you a lot about marine conservation, the daily dives also help get you familiar with the dive equipment and the way dives are organized here.
It will take you some time to get to know everyone, especially if you are as bad with names as I am, and to find your way around. Thankfully everyone knows exactly how you feel. The community, which is both the volunteers and the staff and interns, is very open and welcoming and happy to help if you don’t know how to do something or where to find what you need.
The Rest of Your Time Volunteering at MCP
While the introduction week is the same for every volunteer, what the rest of your time with MCP looks like depends largely on what dive training you signed up for.
Are you new to scuba diving? Then you’ll start by doing your PADI Open Water training. Did you decide to do your Divemaster at MCP? Then you’ll start with dive training too, before you’ll move on to learning how to do surveys.
I’ve been diving for many years and have seen a lot of dive instructors all over the world. I can say I was impressed by the dive instructors here! They really do everything they can to turn you into a good, safe and responsible diver.
Once you’ve done the dive training you’ll start your survey training.
The surveys are divided into three groups: fish, substrate, and invertebrates. Depending on the amount of time you have at MCP and MCP’s needs you’ll be assigned one type of surveys.
I was assigned substrate surveys.
Substrates are animals or plants attached to the ground (coral, algae, and seagrass) but also rubble and sand.
Again, I learned so much!
To be able to do substrate surveys you have to be able to identify the different types of coral, algae, and seagrass plus understand all the different health issues.
Over the course of about two weeks, you learn all of this and do lots of test surveys to get ready for the real surveys.
You’ll be diving on a daily basis with people who have done surveys for a long time to learn from them and to become confident at doing your own surveys.
And that’s it, then the actual work starts: you’re now a surveyor for MCP! Every day you’ll go to a dive site to do several surveys which, over time, help MCP understand what state different reefs are in.
And that will then be communicated with the local government to take action where needed.
Where Will You Live When Volunteering With MCP?
Everyone, both the volunteers and all staff members and interns, live on the same, relatively remote base.
This means you’ll spend most of your free time, at least during the week, at base.
So you probably want to know what this is like!
Let’s start with some honesty: it’s basic!
Yes, you share a hut with up to six people, there are four showers for over 20 volunteers and you will encounter bugs everywhere.
But, it was actually a lot more comfortable than I expected!
The huts are spacious and clean, the beds are comfortable and there are many different areas to hang out and plenty of things to do.
For example, there is a ‘cozy room’ to watch movies. There are tons of board games, a volleyball net, a makeshift gym, several hammocks, and even a climbing wall!
Local chefs cook delicious, vegetarian, meals from Monday through Saturday. And if you need a break from it all you can always take a motorbike taxi to spend a few hours at a nearby hotel or in the local town.
But, pictures say more than words so I think the below pictures give a better idea of what your life at MCP would be like.
And again, for more detailed videos of day to day life while volunteering in the Philippines with MCP go to my Instagram account and look for the ‘Volunteer PHL’ highlighted stories.
Do I Recommend Volunteering in the Philippines With MCP?
I had volunteered at a similar project in the Bahamas before which I wasn’t too positive about so to be honest, I was a little bit hesitant to join MCP.
But, I was positively surprised by pretty much everything!
The organization is well run and the work you do as a volunteer is actually useful. You might think that goes without saying, but having seen a wide range of NGOs and volunteer projects I can tell you that this often isn’t the case!
And apart from contributing to something meaningful the quality of training, including dive training, you receive is also great.
I’m a divemaster and have been diving for years. I’ve seen divers all over the world and some divers are really bad (think not confident, touching marine life, not thinking about safety, etc). So I loved seeing that they take their time here and really focus on making every volunteer into a great and confident diver. Even I feel I improved my diving skills here and I just loved watching the thorough training the instructors were giving.
And then there is the volunteer experience itself. Yes, there are some downsides to living on a remote base, which I describe below, but overall volunteering with MCP is pretty memorable! The group of volunteers, interns, and staff members the project attracts is quite diverse yet everyone is very motivated.
Maybe it’s the vibe at MCP that helps motivate new volunteers. But whatever it is, I loved seeing how everyone takes the project seriously, trains hard to become a good diver and a good surveyor yet has a lot of fun at the same time.
The project is organized without being strict. And I think that’s perfect.
With two days off per week there is enough time for fun, a good night out, a day trip, etc. and enough focus during the week on the actual project.
Final Things to Know About Volunteering in the Philippines With MCP
New Volunteers Arrive Every Other Monday
This means you’ll probably arrive together with a handful of other volunteers and join volunteers that have been at MCP already for anywhere from two weeks to many months.
So yes, you’ll end up in a group of volunteers who have been there for a while, know each other and know how everything works. It might feel a little bit intimidating at first to be “the new one” but all volunteers have been there so just take your time and don’t feel afraid to ask for help!
From Monday to Friday You Will, Generally, Do Two Dives per Day
Although initially I expected to do more dives, two is actually perfect.
It gives you enough time in the afternoon to either study (for your PADI courses or your surveys) or just relax and enjoy life in a great tropical climate.
Days Start at 7AM and Tend to End Early
You’re expected to be at the Hex at 7AM for breakfast.
During breakfast, a briefing is given to inform everyone what they will be doing for the day. Shortly after that you’re off, most days on your way to a dive site.
Because diving is tiring and because days start early, most volunteers go to bed before 10PM during the week. And even though I’m not a morning person at all, I loved this routine of getting up at sunrise and having early nights to get enough sleep to be fit again and ready to dive the next morning.
There Are Some Mandatory Chores
Mondays start with a mandatory hut cleaning and there are certain “duties” such as kitchen duty, dive shed duty and cleaning duty.
But, I have to say these duties are quite minimal and the fact that all meals are cooked for you really makes your time here very comfortable!
Downsides to Volunteering With MCP
Ok let’s be honest, there will be downsides to any volunteer project so MCP has some as well.
Volunteering with MCP for me had the following downsides:
- You are out in nature so yes, you will find bugs everywhere! Think mosquitoes, cockroaches, ants, rats, etc. We even woke up to a giant frog inside the toilet bowl one morning!
- All dives are shore dives and getting in and out of the water can be tricky at times. Many volunteers end up with scratches and bruises from getting in and out of the water, and I was definitely no exception!
- You are remote and can’t really walk anywhere. You’re not close enough to shops or restaurants to just walk somewhere and therefore always need to rely on taxis or rent your own motorbike.
Technically you can walk to a beach (Turtle Island, which is not actually an island) in about 30 minutes, but not many people do that. It is a beautiful beach by the way, so I do recommend checking it out!
But again, I think MCP is a great project that really tries to help the local community.
Be careful though. Once you’ve been at MCP you’ll look at the underwater world differently! You’ll know when coral is healthy and when it’s not. And you’ll instantly recognize when tourism organizations are harming marine life…
Like myself, you might become one of those annoying people who feels the need to point out to strangers that they are stepping on living coral and that they really shouldn’t take that shell from the beach!
But I love it. MCP makes you into a great ambassador for marine conservation and I secretly hope you will become as annoying as I am and tell everyone how they can protect our oceans!
If you are thinking about volunteering with MCP and have any questions, feel free to comment below. And visit MCP’s website for more information about their volunteer project in the Philippines.
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