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Diving to Save the Ocean, its Coral Reefs and Seagrass
  • Open March – September
  • Coral Reefs | Seagrass | Beach Cleans
  • Unqualified & Qualified Diver Programs


“Volunteering on this project has been a really enjoyable and unforgettable experience. I’ve learnt so much about marine life, in particular coral, and the real emphasis on conservation and preserving the marine ecosystem has made me even more determined to spread awareness of the importance of our oceans. The project also gave me the opportunity to prepare and deliver classes to the local children about sharks, their importance and the need to protect them and our oceans, which was so much fun!”

Tom Busher – University of Leeds.


“The amount of independence that is given to the volunteers created a tremendous learning environment and gave a valuable sense of responsibility and worth. Being here I’ve been able to learn practical skills, such as data collection and entry in correspondence to coral mapping, as well as have been able to expand my knowledge of the importance of conservation as a whole.”

Jessica Cheadle – Ohio Wesleyan University

Diving to Save the Ocean

Having taken over from Blue Temple Conservation, the Perhentian Marine Research Station (PMRS) is only in its second year. The project is based in the local village Kampung Pasir Hantu on the southeast side of Perhentian Kecil. PMRS is headed up by Dr Ramona Pförtner, where she and her team carry out diving to save the ocean. This involves conducting research to help protect the island’s vulnerable coral reefs and seagrass beds.  We work closely with the Marine Parks Department and Reef Check Malaysia. Our team collect vital data through the mapping and health assessments of the seagrass beds and coral reefs. This valuable research helps the decisionmaking about protecting these important habitats.

Immersed in Local Malay Culture

All volunteers and staff live in the village, becoming immersed in Malay culture, it’s a great way to live, different from the classic tourist experience, you can try traditional Malay food, talk to locals, and the kids are always willing to play with our volunteers!  You will become part of Dr Ramona’s team and take part in collecting the data needed to conserve these precious habitats.  We also strive to with, not against, the community and local businesses, so you may find yourself helping the local school with a beach clean, or promoting composting and recycling to the local dive shops.  If you are interested in diving to save the ocean and marine conservation, this is a perfect opportunity for you!

Those who aren’t qualified divers will start a week earlier than those who already have open water or above, so all volunteers will start research training on the same day! (see start dates).  Longer stays can be arranged, just drop us an email on

Pricing for International Volunteers 2018

Qualified Divers

3 weeks £1,000 – 24 dives
4 weeks £1,300 – 32 dives
6 weeks £1,900 – 40 dives
8 weeks £2,500 – 48 dives

Unqualified Divers

4 weeks £1,600 – 32 dives
6 weeks £2,200 – 40 dives
8 weeks £2,800 – 48 dives

Pricing for Malaysian Volunteers 2018

Qualified Divers

3 weeks MYR 5,000 – 24 dives
4 weeks MYR 6,500 – 32 dives
6 weeks MYR 9,500 – 40 dives
8 weeks MYR 12,500 – 48 dives

Unqualified Divers

4 weeks MYR 8,000 – 32 dives
6 weeks MYR 11,000 – 40 dives
8 weeks MYR 14,000 – 48 dives

Price includes 6% GST Government Tax

All prices are calculated and converted from Malaysian Ringgit so are subject to change

Number of dives may change due to unforeseen circumstances

Start Dates for 2018

All Arrivals are on a Monday, departures are on a Sunday

March 19th – With dive course
26th – No dive course

April 9th or 30th – With dive course
16th – No dive course

May 21st – With dive course
7th & 28th – No dive course

June 11th – With dive course
18th – No dive course

July 2nd & 23rd – With dive course
9th & 30th  – No dive course

Aug 13th – With dive course
20th  – No dive course

September 3rd – With dive course
10th – No dive course

Example 3/4 Week Program

Week 1 – Dive Course

Unqualified divers arrive Monday and complete dive course

Week 2 – Research Training

Qualified divers arrive Monday. Each day you will receive lectures and practical learning sessions. The survey techniques learnt will depend on the type of research being conducted in the following weeks; for example training could be seagrass watch and mapping, or point intercept surveys for general mapping research. No matter what we will always focus on improving your buoyancy as this is key to being a responsible diver and protecting the reefs.

Weeks 2 & 3 – Survey Weeks

Generally we will conduct 2 survey dives per day, but this may change depending on what needs to be done. If the work is finished early then we will be able to do some fun dives!

Sundays on the island are free days! Chilling, diving, trekking, totally up to you. If its your last week then Sunday is your departure day, so you’ll have to say a sad farewell to your fellow volunteers. Boats back to the mainland are at 8am, 12pm, or 4pm.

Surveying in Detail

Seagrass Mapping & Surveys

The seagrass beds are very important as feeding grounds for the sea turtles in the Perhentian Islands. Our sea turtle photo ID research from 2015 til now has shown that our nesting turtles migrate to other locations to feed, and the numerous turtles feeding around the islands, migrate to other locations to nest. We discovered that one migrates to Vietnam to nest! The seagrass beds in the islands have been rarely studied thus we don’t know where they are, hence the need to map them thoroughly. You will help to identify the boundaries of the seagrass beds and swim around with a GPS to help us map them out. You will also help us to conduct a % cover survey using the global standard method of Seagrass Watch. For expert divers you will also get to help our researchers to understand the relationship between the seagrass and the epiphytes living on some of the seagrass.

Coral Reef Mapping & Surveys

The coral reefs of the islands are not fully mapped in the Perhentian Islands and before any management decisions can be properly made, decision makers need to know the location and health of the reefs. You will learn the Transect intercept method, whereby you follow a transect line and record the type of substrate – ie coral type (boulder, staghorn, table, dead and soft), rock, sand etc. The 100m transects are laid perpendicular to the shore and repeated every 500m around the islands twice annually to assess the difference before and after the monsoon.

Skill Development


If you aren’t dive qualified you soon will be!  We utilise the dive schools on the island to train up our divers.  By using the established dive centres to run our courses we build stronger bonds with the wider island community and help share the wealth!  Through one of these excellent dive schools, volunteers arriving in week one will learn all they need to know to become an open-water and/or advanced open-water diver.

Research Skills

Those who can already dive will know that diving is all about buoyancy; all divers strive for perfect trim in the water, and even those who have been diving for years are constantly looking for ways to perfect their buoyancy.  Conducting research dives is a great way to raise your buoyancy game!  You will learn how to reel out and tuck transect tapes whilst minimising damage to the reef (we’re looking to protect the reef not cause more damage!), film the transects, and analyse the data.


17km off the east coast of Malaysia lie the Perhentian Islands; made up of Perhentian Kecil and Perhentian Besar both boast beautiful white beaches and crystal clear waters. Once used as a stopping point for traders travelling between Malaysia and Bangkok (Perhentian means ‘stopping point’ in Malay) it now hosts tourists who come to relax, snorkel, and dive off the coral reefs surrounding the islands.

Volunteers live in our very own volunteer house in local village Kampung Pasir Hantu on the southeast side of Perhentian Kecil.  We work with local people and businesses as much as we can throughout the project and living in the village is a fantastic way for volunteers to experience local traditions, cuisine, and culture.


Breakfast tends to be simple; bread, banana cake, coffee, tea, peanut butter, jam and whatever else you need. For those feeling like they want to experience a more traditional Malay breakfast, you are more than welcome to venture into the village, peruse the various stalls, and see what takes your fancy!  Paratha bread with curry, coconut rice with some spicy and non-spicy side dishes are just a few examples of what you can find.

Lunch is usually had at the house, however if we go trekking we will have a packed lunch prepared by one of the local restaurants. This will generally be a rice dish with chicken, beef, or vegetarian.

In addition to volunteers taking turns to prepare dinner, once a week volunteers dine with local families in their home, experiencing true, authentic Malay dishes.

Since the Perhentian Marine Research Station has been running we have…

Briefed 4726 people on eco-snorkelling practices

Surveyed 5,000km of coral reef

Cleaned 57kg of rubbish during reef cleans

Cleared 371 bags of rubbish from our beaches (over 1500kg!)

Looking to the Future

PMRS is constantly looking for ways to move forward; we and the Perhentian Turtle Project helped publish our first paper in 2017* and we’re looking to publish many more in the future.

Coral Reefs are struggling world-wide; rising ocean acidification and temperatures are causing corals to bleach, and overfishing of keystone species can completely tip the balance of these fragile ecosystems.  In 2018 we are aiming to start our own coral nursery; once built our team of volunteers can clean and maintain the corals, allowing them to grow and then hopefully re-establish depleted coral reefs!

In addition to the coral reef and seagrass research, we are also setting up an exciting new shark project, aiming to assess the islands’ shark population and movements.

We are currently collaborating with Dr James Tan of University Malaysia Terengganu and Dr Alex Lechner of the Malaysian campus of Nottingham University and hope to have lectures about their work when they visit later this year!

*the paper is freely available to view at (we’re very proud so please check it out!)

1. What are the requirements to join this program?
Volunteers must be over 18 or over 16 with a parental consent form. You will need to have a positive attitude and willing to participate in all volunteer activities. It is also important to respect the local culture and traditions whilst living in the Malay village.

2. How do I get to Perhentian Island from Kuala Lumpur?
Take a plane to Kota Bharu airport, then a 1 hour taxi ride to Kuala Besut Jetty, OR take a bus from Hentian Putra, Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut Bus station. From the jetty, take a 30 minute boat ride to the island. Boats leave from the Jetty at 8am, 12am, and 4pm.

3. What vaccinations do I need before going to the island?
Hepatitis A; Hepatitis B; typhoid; measles, mumps, rubella (MMR); tetanus-diphtheria.

4. How long can I stay in the country for?
Tourists from the following countries will receive a 90 day free tourist visa upon arrival:
Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan , Kuwait, Kyrgyz Republic, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Morocco, Netherland, Norway, Oman, Peru, Poland, Qatar, Romania, St Marino, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Yemen.

5. I’m not yet 18, what is the minimum age to join?
Good news! If you’re 16 years old you can join this project! However you will need to submit a parental consent form when you apply (18 and over don’t need consent).

6. I have young children, is this program suitable for families?
Families with young children (6 and above) can participate, however younger children will be unable to take part in the diving surveys as minimum age for a PADI Open Water certification is 15.

7. How long is the typical volunteer working day?
The volunteering activities run from morning until evening with a lunch break in between. For volunteers staying longer than one week, Sundays are usually free days.

8. I want to do more to help the islands! What else can I get involved in?
There is plenty you can do! We have mini projects that we can allocate you to complete in your free time.  Whether it’s collecting footage for our database, preparing classes for the school children, helping improve our awareness campaigns, or conducting tourist questionnaires and talks at resorts around the islands, there is plenty for you to get stuck into!

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