Sri Lanka Marine Conservation Project

Protect a wetland of international importance and a coastal complex known as a biodiverse marine paradise!

While everyday tourists tend to overlook the northern reaches of Sri Lanka, Kalpitiya is fast becoming known for its hardcore kitesurfing and all-year-round dolphin visitors. With Kalpitiya established as a diverse marine paradise, it comes as no surprise it is also home to the Sri Lanka Marine Conservation Project.

The underlying aim of this project is to protect a wetland of international importance and a coastal complex which houses a multitude of marine habitats, including but certainly not limited to the Bar Reef, which is home to hundreds of coral and fish species, along with 30+ marine mammal species. Like many oceanic hotspots, the complex comes under threats from exploitative marine tourism, unsustainable fishing practices and severe plastic pollution, so the project is working to integrate scientific research and community-based education to support conservation efforts that restore, protect and preserve coastal and marine biodiversity surrounding Sri Lanka. 

As a volunteer, you’ll help gather data on coastal flora and fauna, including dolphins, whales, dugongs, turtles, fish and seabirds! From conducting surveys and species monitoring to undertaking beach clean-ups, you'll experience real field research and witness marine life in its natural habitat. You’ll learn about marine biology, conservation, species identification and behavioural data collection techniques, alongside meeting locals who depend on marine resources for their livelihoods. This project offers a unique opportunity to consult with locals on how their fishing and tourism practices can be made more sustainable, setting influential examples and making a real difference to resident communities and marine life.

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Activities

Please note that itineraries are subject to change, and what follows is simply a guideline.

Sea Turtle
Lagoon Fauna Observations On trips to the stunning lagoon, you’ll spend time observing some of the fascinating marine life that resides there, including pink dolphins, sea turtles and dugongs! Volunteers will learn how to take photos useful for identification catalogues and how to use GIS mapping software so the team can track animal movements. Finally, an important part of spending time in the lagoon is to identify any threats to any species but with a particular focus on those listed as critically endangered.
Seagrass & Micro Species Monitoring
Seagrass & Micro Species Monitoring Learning about the vital importance and threatened status of seagrass meadows, volunteers will conduct boat transects to identify seagrass species, their range, and their growth. You’ll survey areas to pinpoint new seagrass meadows and what marine life is present there, such as seahorses, crabs and potentially octopuses. As seagrass meadows are hugely beneficial to marine life and the community, you’ll learn the best ways to protect and monitor new meadows as they appear and the micro-species within.
Seabird Observations
Seabird Observations Seabirds are great indicator species, which means there is a lot to be gained from observing them. The project can attain valuable information into the marine environment from the birds that migrate, nest and forage along the coastline. Using methods such as sample plots, whole-colony counts and taking photos and videos, volunteers will be able to gain insight into the health of the birds, whether there are any invasive species, and if a beached bird appears, what the potential causes were.
Community Survey
Fisherman Community Surveys Volunteers visit local villages and fishing colonies to gain insights into their way of life and their impact on the marine environment. These visits serve as an opportunity to conduct surveys and engage in meaningful discussions with the villagers, focusing on their livelihood challenges and concerns. The aim is to explore how the project can contribute to developing sustainable marine-based livelihoods for the local communities. By blending conservation efforts and community-oriented fieldwork, you'll make a real and immediate difference, benefiting both man and sea.
Volunteers on the beach
Beach Transects Volunteers contribute valuable observations that serve as baseline data for scientists working to recognise patterns in beach dynamics and environmental changes. You'll play a crucial role in assessing environmental issues that require attention, such as marine debris, severe plastic pollution and beach clean-ups. Your efforts will focus on protecting turtle breeding grounds, where you may even witness the remarkable sight of sea turtles preparing to nest. More significantly, you'll be assigned to beaches where litter has reached alarming levels, documenting the data to be shared with the government to emphasize the urgent need for intervention.
Whale and Dolphin ID
Whale & Dolphin ID Observation Once per fortnight, volunteers will go in search of whale and dolphin pods, where you will help collect data such as species seen, geographical positions and behaviours. You may note certain behaviours that correlate with the season, gaining invaluable insight into their life cycles. Dolphin and whale watching is an emotional experience, and some volunteers have the privilege of seeing the incredible marine life interacting with each other and sometimes the boats!

Itinerary

Day 1 - The Adventure Begins: Upon arrival at Colombo airport, a project representative will collect you and transfer you to a hotel in Ambepussa. Here you'll spend your first night, have a chance to rest and get a good night's sleep before your early pick-up the following day.
Day 2 - 15 - Project Days: At 6am on Monday, you'll be picked up from the hotel in Ambepussa and transferred to the volunteer house. After spending a day settling in, you'll spend your time on the project taking part in various activities, including observing whales and dolphins, lagoon transects, community surveys, data analysis and more. Each week, you will also have some free time during the weekend, where you can relax or explore all that makes Kalpitiya unique such as its fanatical kitesurfing!
Day 16 - Final Day: Sadly, today is your last day, and you will make your way back to the airport in time for your flight home or commence your onward travel plans. You’ll leave with a wealth of knowledge and incredible marine memories that this location is renowned for.

Start Dates & Prices

To secure a place on this project, a deposit of $245 is required at the time of booking. The remaining balance is due 60 days before your start date.

Flexible Payment Options: If you select a start date more than 3 months in advance, we offer convenient payment plans, allowing you to pay off your balance in instalments.

Select a duration below to see the available start dates and book your place today!

Duration Price
Please choose a trip using the select menus to the left.

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Payment breakdown


Accommodation

Accommodation

As a volunteer, you'll stay in a nearby, family-run beach resort in Kalpitiya. Volunteers will be allocated rooms on a twin-share, and same-sex basis (unless volunteering as a couple). Some rooms are equipped with air conditioning, others will have fans. Universal plug points and fresh linen are provided, and the private bathrooms have a western-style toilet and hot showers available. Around the resort, you can settle in a hammock or walk adjacent to the waves in your free time, and with weekends at your leisure, you can always arrange some exciting activities through the hotel (at an additional charge) such as snorkeling, diving, or windsurfing!

Meals & Beverages

Volunteers will have three meals a day provided for them, usually served buffet-style, allowing you to try a mix of local and Western cuisine. You can expect some ethically sourced, fresh fish dishes, though vegetarian and vegan diets can be accommodated with prior notice. Some days, you'll be provided packed breakfasts or lunches to make the most of your time in the field. You'll have access to coffee, tea, and water and can purchase extra snacks or soft drinks in town and store them at the resort. Bon appétit!


Project Details

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VOLUNTEER?

For ideal weather, the best time to visit Kalpitiya is during the dry months running from January through to September. Kalpitiya is blessed to have dolphin visitors all year round but the ‘high’ season runs from December to mid-April when the ocean is calmer, and you may be lucky enough to spot rare sperm whales in this period and see large schools of spinner dolphins from the shore. November to March sees the bird migration period, so those who wish to spot some of Sri Lanka’s incredible bird species may want to keep this in mind.

Average Monthly Weather in Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka

GETTING THERE

You will need to arrive in Colombo on a Sunday, where you'll be met at the airport and transferred to a hotel in Ambepussa where you'll spend your first night. The following morning (Monday) you will be met at your hotel at 6am by a member of the team and be transferred by a private vehicle to the project site. Please note, departure transfer is not included but can be arranged for an additional fee.

VISA REQUIREMENTS

All visitors to Sri Lanka require a visa. Short-stay visas of up to thirty days can be obtained online via the Electronic Travel Authority and can be extended for up to three months at the Department of Immigration and Emigration in Sri Lanka. Please note, your passport must be valid for at least six months from the date you arrive in Sri Lanka.

FITNESS & SKILLS

No specific skills or experience are required to join this project; all we ask is that you arrive with a positive attitude, the ability to work in a team, and a passion for marine wildlife!

VACCINATIONS

The vaccinations required for travel will depend on your medical history. We recommend that you consult with your GP/Doctor regarding your own vaccination needs.


Videos

Sri Lanka Marine Conservation Project - Charuka Interview
Sri Lanka Marine Conservation Project

Co-ordinator Charuka explains how the Sri Lanka Marine Conservation Project helps to protect the marine ecosystem and the livelihoods of the people who live there. Discover how you can get involved in building the foundations for a sustainable future. 



Download Project Guide Image Download Project Guide

What's Included

  • Accommodation
  • Arrival airport transfer and accommodation in Ambepussa
  • Transfer from Ambepussa to the project site
  • Three meals per day
  • Full orientation and support from the project managers
  • A contribution to the project

What's Not Included

  • Flights
  • Travel Insurance
  • Departure airport transfer