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>  Volunteer Projects Asia  >  Malaysia Marine Project

Restore the marine environment around a remote tropical island from £1169/ per person

Volunteers on the Sabah Marine Conservation Project have the opportunity to not only become fully immersed into the world of marine conservation but will also come away with a PADI scuba diving qualification.

While the main focus of this project is to renovate the coral reefs that have been badly damaged due to 45 years of fish bombing, you will also be working to help protect the endangered Green and Hawksbill Turtles who come to the beautiful Pom Pom Island to nest. The ultimate goal of the project is to rebuild fish and coral populations so that the occasional reef sharks are encouraged to stay and remain resident within this sanctuary for sharks, rays, turtles and all marine life. 

The site is in the coral triangle and has amazing biodiversity from the occasional whale shark and manta through to the cute mandarin fish and the flamboyant cuttlefish. On the project volunteers may take part in the shark, ray, reef fish and invertebrate surveys, monitoring of turtle nest sites and turtle tagging, and will take part in coral reef conservation through reef rebuilding, construction and coral planting.

The level of PADI qualification reached by volunteers depends on how long they stay for. For example, 2 weeks will earn a PADI scuba diving Open Water qualification and 4 weeks will earn PADI Open Water & Advanced qualifications.

If you already have a PADI qualification the project rates is reduced by £160 per 2 week course.


Project Summary

Focus: Coral reef conservation through proactive reef rebuilding, construction and coral planting, monitoring of turtle nesting, turtle tagging, sharks, rays, reef fish & invertebrate surveys.

Location: Pom Pom island, Sabah, Borneo

Arrival and starting point: Kota Kinabalu or Tawau airports.

Start dates: Mondays & Thursdays


Typical day after dive courses finish
8:00 am
Prepare your own breakfast porridge, cereal, eggs, toast or similar.
Dive or snorkel trip to another island ( 2 dives with snack between dives)
Dive or Snorkel- 1 Survey for Sharks, rays & Turtles
Dive or Snorkel- 2 Collect coral fragments from damaged reef.

Lunch typically vegetarian rice, noodles & veg
Prepare coral planting blocks
Coral planting dive/ snorkel
Optional sunset/night dive

7:00 pm
Prepare dinner 
Dinner is rice noodles or potatoes with meat or fish & veg (always with a vegetarian option)
Turtle beach walk ( Turtle tagging and nest protection) Some of the team.
Chill-out evening – reading – journal, blog, cards, games.
Occasional evening talk on aspects of reef life or conservation.
Sat evening is usually a party and Sunday is a non work day. We may still dive on Sun but leisure dive rather than work. We mix leisure dives and work dives on a day by day basis. Typically a 40:60 mix with slightly more work dives than leisure. Work however varies from shark surveys to planting coral to counting turtles to reef check surveys to photography dives.

Volunteers may take part in the following:

  • Shark surveys

  • Coral reef conservation through proactive reef rebuilding, construction and coral planting,

  • Monitoring of turtle nesting, turtle tagging,

  • Sharks, rays, reef fish & invertebrate surveys.

Volunteers will also gain a PADI qualification when on the project:

  • PADI scuba diving Open Water course/qualification for 2 week stays.

  • PADI Openwater & Advanced course included for 4+ week stays.


With a large area affected, the reefs surrounding Pom Pom are nowhere near as diverse or healthy as they were 40 years ago due to extensive local fish bombing. While the reef damage has now stopped, coral rubble is a common sight on some of the islands while others have amazing coral. In a single day it is possible to dive fantastic reefs and then dive smashed reefs with low fish & invertebrate populations. Marine biodiversity is very high, the site is in the coral triangle for the largest numbers of reef species in the world. This is a great place for small creatures, if it is rare and exotic you can probably find it here.

While there are many schools of fish in the area, there is neither the coral nor the additional shelters on the reefs to get these fish to stay. Volunteer manpower is desperately needed to repair the reefs by replanting coral and increase the settlement of reef fish juveniles, as well as build fish aggregation devices to retain the large number of pelagic fish in the area. This work is not only for the healthy development of the reefs but also to create a protected area for white tip, black tip and grey reef sharks in Sabah – a 3 to 5 year plan for this project. As these particular shark’s diet consists of octopus and pelagic fish, numbers need to be increased if the sharks are to be attracted and more importantly – to stay.

Turtle Conservation:
The turtle nesting season of the endangered Green and Hawksbill Turtles occurs yearly from May to September. Unfortunately, while turtles are protected, turtle eggs can be easily sold in local markets and poachers have been known to sneak onto the island at night to steal the newly laid eggs from the mother turtle. Nests are easy to spot and a simple target for sea gypsies to come and claim their “prize”. Volunteers who will be on the island from May to September are desperately needed to carry out beach walks every evening to dissuade poachers from approaching the island. If regular patrols are instigated, poachers will have less inclination to descend upon the island and will finally leave nature to its own devices.

Do I need to be qualified? 
A dive qualification is not required for this project – snorkelers are welcome. For stays of 2 weeks or more we will provide you with your Open Water qualification. Advanced Diver Qualifications are included after a period of UW skill building typically during stays of 4 or more weeks. If you are already a qualified diver, there are often opportunities for you to increase your skills with additional courses, and you will be able to help with the surveys of the deeper reefs as well as have more dive hours underwater carrying out conservation activities.
Strong swimming abilities are preferred as you’ll be spending most of your day on the dive boat, snorkelling or diving underwater and a love of the outdoors is essential! If you have a passion for endangered species, diving and conservation this project is the one for you.


What if I am already qualified? 
All qualified divers will enjoy a £160 reduction per 2 week course.

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