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The Short Version: Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) aims to turn the tide of coral reef degradation by supporting volunteer-driven conservation projects around the world. People from all walks of life come together on the shores of the Philippines and other communities to study the area’s biodiversity, raise awareness about environmental issues, and make a difference in the world. Since 1986, CCC has protected many ocean ecosystems and has supported local communities, and the altruistic singles and couples who contribute to this cause can reap the benefits for years to come.
In 1986, Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) launched a nonprofit effort to empower nature enthusiasts, divers, scientists, and other forward-thinking individuals to contribute to the sustainability of the natural world — and the oceanic world, in particular.
The conservationist organization made a splash by training volunteers and staff members on science-driven projects that impact shores around the world. CCC’s dedicated team has restored coral reefs, reinforced ocean ecosystems, and protected the livelihoods of locals who depend on the ocean.
Today, Coral Cay Conservation has run 17 environmental protection projects across four continents.
Each year, a new crop of volunteers sign up to support the CCC mission. These individuals come from a variety of educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. Under the guidance of the on-site team, the volunteers become competent survey divers, and then they begin collecting data and taking action that reinforces local conservation efforts.
In 2012, CCC partnered with Fauna & Flora International to establish Cambodia’s first marine fisheries management area. Such a large-scale project would not be possible without the support of many volunteers and staff members. CCC unites people with similar interests and ideals, giving them a way to change lives for the better and forge deep connections with conservationists around the world.
Coral Cay Conservation’s volunteer program is a great opportunity for singles hoping to come out of their shell and couples looking to strengthen their relationship to the natural world as well as their relationship to one another.
According to Tessa Dawson, CCC Volunteer Coordinator, “Even if a volunteer arrives with no dive training or scientific background, they all leave with a greater affinity for the ocean, a passion for conservation, and a love of diving!”
Coral Cay Conservation’s headquarters are located in an old kiln in Surrey, but its team has contributed to conservation projects in the South Pacific, the Americas, and beyond. CCC has worked in 14 countries over the last 30 years, and its projects have attracted dive enthusiasts, passionate conservationists, and world travelers from all walks of life.
Most CCC volunteers are between 20 and 35 years old. Some are doing a gap year after getting a degree, while others are pursuing conservation or diving as a career and want to get some hands-on experience. Sometimes retirees even take part in the conservation work.
“Part of the joy of being involved in these projects is the wide variety of amazing people that we get to deal with on a daily basis,” said Tristan Brown, the Head of Operations. “Our projects offer a wonderful opportunity to contribute to hands-on conservation. They require determination and hard work, but you can gain so much from the experience.”
Coral Cay Conservation is currently based in Napantao, a small village overlooking Sogod Bay in the Southern Leyte province in the Philippines. The project site is in the heart of the Coral Triangle, which is teeming with life. Divers have conducted over 2,400 surveys to collect ecological information and get a sense of the status of the area.
Volunteers can take in the beauty of the Philippines while contributing to a conservation effort that will ensure generations of nature lovers can enjoy the white sandy beaches and colorful reefs that make this place so special.
Coral Cay Conservation does not require its volunteers to have any prior experience or certifications. The organization will take on anyone who cares about helping the environment. Some volunteers stay for just a couple weeks while others help out for over a month. Tessa told us that at least five weeks is recommended because then you’ll get the full experience helping out with every aspect of the project.
The first week as a volunteer with CCC consists of dive training, including PADI Open and Advanced Open Water training. Next, volunteers move on to the Skills Development Programme, which teaches them about the underwater world and the species that call it home. The CCC team wants its volunteers to understand the ecological and biological processes that drive coral reef and how to protect them from harm.
Once volunteers have completed the CCC training, they join an enthused team of surveyors and assist with the conservation project by collecting data on carefully planned dives. Volunteers also have the opportunity to get involved in the community by cleaning up the beaches or teaching children to become Reef Rangers through educational programs. CCC works with local schools and communities to protect the environment and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards.
Coral Cay Conservation is part of The Lifesigns Group, a U.K.-based company that offers social expeditions, first-aid training, and other environmental programs throughout the world. This is a far-reaching and widespread effort, and the CCC team is a relatively small part of it.
Tristan said the company’s lean team is one of its greatest assets. “Our small team and personable approach is a great strength as it ensures direct communication with our field staff whilst fostering a deep loyalty to each of our projects as we build close relationships with the project partners, stakeholders, local communities, and those that join us,” he said.
As Head of Operations, Tristan is responsible for the overall safety and logistics at CCC project sites. He has worked on-site himself and understands the deep impact such work can have on people’s lives.
Meanwhile, Tess manages volunteers and is the first point of contact for any and all of their questions and concerns. She said she enjoys getting to know volunteers on a personal level and helping them prepare for a citizen-science journey.
Finally, Tom Dallison is the Head of Science and sets the scientific goals for CCC projects. He works with the field staff to ensure they stay on track and implement the proper conservation actions based on data gathered by volunteers. Tom’s significant other shares his passion for the ocean, and he said they have built a relationship on that foundation.
CCC’s international team includes a Field Base Manager, Project Scientist, Science Officer, and Scuba Instructor. These staff members join the project for up to a year and share their enthusiasm and knowledge with the volunteers. The CCC staff always includes a local team of boat captains, cooks, and local guides. These individuals are instrumental in the day-to-day operations of the project and can provide insight into the local community.
In the Philippines, Coral Cay Conservation has led a scholarship program where a Filipino undergoes a four-week training program that offers skills and certifications that empowers him or her to take action for marine conservation in their own backyards. Every month, the CCC team provides this training to improve the capacity of local Filipinos to continue its conservation efforts for years to come.
CCC runs community-driven and volunteer-led project, so it should come as no surprise that the organization works hand in hand with local government officials to see its conservation goals met.
“Working by local invitation only ensures that volunteers who join us on a project can be certain that they are needed and wanted,” Tristan said. “Joining a CCC project offers our volunteers the opportunity to contribute to conservation work which has a real impact on the health of coral reefs and the communities that depend on them.”
Many couples volunteer at Coral Cay as a way of pursuing their interests and spending quality time together. Such volunteers often find it fulfilling and enjoyable to work toward a common purpose alongside a significant other.
“These projects offer the perfect opportunity to share differing passions and learn from each other,” Tessa said. “There’s nothing quite like seeing a whale shark or turtle for the first time with your partner right next to you!”
When you’re volunteering with CCC, the exotic location, engaging activities, and altruistic mission all combine to create a unique experience best shared with someone special. Couples can leave their everyday stresses behind and focus instead on helping make the world a little more beautiful and sustainable.
Tessa recalled one couple who spent months in the Philippines in support of CCC’s mission. They were both doctors, and they valued the opportunity to get away from it all and reconnect in nature.
During CCC’s Cambodia project, a scuba instructor and a science project researcher met and fell in love as they spent months working side by side. They are now newlyweds who are back in the U.K. and establishing an ethical volunteering website.
“Coral Cay Conservation provides unprecedented opportunities to get involved in meaningful scientific expeditions.” — Prof. Morgan Pratchett of James Cook University
Coral Cay Head of Operations Tristan Brown even met his wife on a CCC expedition. After a year, they moved to the U.K., got married, and are now expecting their second child.
Some individuals have taken on a Coral Cay project as a fun summer activity and discovered a passion for marine biology. Sometimes volunteers have changed career paths as a result. No matter what, though, they always come away with new friendships forged in an engaging and positive environment.
“It’s incredibly gratifying,” said Tom Dallison, Head of Science at CCC. “The work that our volunteers are undertaking in the Philippines has a real impact on the health of coral reefs, which in turn benefits the local communities with which we work. Seeing this process from beginning to end is such a privilege.”
“The world needs its reefs and rainforests,” said William Gray, a travel writer and photographer, “and we need Coral Cay Conservation to continue its outstanding work.”
Coral Cay Conservation is always diving into new projects and looking for new ways to help the environmental cause. The team currently has its eye on Southeast Asia and the South Pacific and will soon unveil long-term projects in these regions.
Even as the organization expands, its team remains focused on protecting the ocean’s most vulnerable reefs and encouraging people to fall in love with the ocean, the conservation effort, and conservationists who work hard to change the world. CCC volunteers can immerse themselves in the local culture at a project site and learn about the marvels of marine biodiversity by seeing and experiencing it with their own eyes. From start to finish, CCC projects offer an opportunity to learn, grow, connect, and contribute to a brighter future on land and sea.
“Our mission is to provide the resources to help sustain livelihoods and alleviate poverty through the restoration and management of coral reefs,” according to Tristan. “We are continually developing new projects where our services are required.”