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Underwater pioneers: studying & protecting the unique coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula within Oman & UAE.

SCUBA diving volunteer opportunities & conservation holidays on the coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula. 


TWAM Biosphere Expeditions was named on the Travel with a Mate's "Best Volunteer Dive Organisations" list.
Independent This expedition was honoured in The Independent’s "Best Activity and Adventure Breaks" list.
travel+leisure This expedition was honoured in Travel + Leisure's "Best Save-the-Earth Trips" list.

These SCUBA diving conservation volunteer holidays will take you to the United Arab Emirates and from there to the remote and mountainous Musandam peninsula of Oman. There you will study the diverse coral reefs fringing the areas where the mountains plunge into the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. This is a pioneering study to map this currently unprotected underwater environment. The reefs boast a rich mixture of beautiful corals and a multitude of fish and other animals. Data on the current biological status of the reefs and of population levels of key indicator species are therefore crucial for educational purposes and to be able to put forward ideas for future marine protected areas. Data collection follows an internationally recognised coral reef monitoring programme, called Reef Check, and will be used to make informed management and conservation decisions within the area. The expedition includes training as a Reef Check EcoDiver. With this you are also eligible to apply for PADI or NAUI Reef Check Speciality Course certification. Please note that you need to be a fully qualified diver to take part in this expedition (minimum PADI Open Water or equivalent).

PRICE = Expedition contribution (per slot, excluding flights)
£1480 (approx. €1850 | US$2450 | AU$2630). Please note: expedition contributions are quoted in British pound sterling and the approximate Euro and US Dollar equivalent. Try the XE currency converter for other currencies and an up to date Euro and US Dollar exchange rate.
Get your employer to support your conservation work with us and/or receive personal tax benefits.
Where does my money go and other money questions.

2014: 26 October – 1 November (6 nights).
Team members can join for multiple slots (within the periods specified).
How long can I join for?

Check detailed availability & sign up

Amber: Expeditions of status amber have few spaces available.

Fjord landscape of limestone cliffs above water with coral reefs below.

Weather expected during expedition
Warm to hot tropical maritime with an average of 10 hours sunshine every day.

Expedition base
You will live on and dive from a very comfortable & modern live-aboard dhow, with a fully equipped kitchen, air compressor, toilet & showers, an air-conditioned lounge, electricity and other modern amenities. Two people will share an air-conditioned two-bed cabin or you can spread out and sleep on the deck.

Team size
Up to 12 team members + 1-2 local scientists/divemasters + 1 expedition leader/divemaster.

Skills & prerequisites required
You don't need to be a scientist, but you do need to be a qualified diver (minimum PADI Open Water or equivalent). 
Can laypeople really be of help to serious research & conservation projects?

Fitness level required
As a qualified PADI Open Water Diver, you will already have a reasonable level of fitness.
Will it be for me or am I too old/young/unfit?

Team assembly point
Dubai, United Arab Emirates or Khasab, Oman.
What about carbon neutrality and other environmental and social impact?
Who books my flights?

And finally
Our expeditions are not about playing the primitive, neither are we a military style 'boot-camp'. Our expedition leader and the local scientist will be by your side and we believe strongly that we get the best out of our expedition teams by making them comfortable, safe and well fed. You won’t be living in the lap of luxury, but we will do our best to make you feel comfortable and at home in your working environment, as this is the key to a well-balanced and successful expedition.

Check detailed availability & sign up


During the expedition you will have the opportunity to become a fully certified Reef Check EcoDiver. With this certification you are also eligible to apply for PADI or NAUI Reef Check Speciality Course certification. All the course materials and the certification as a Reef Check EcoDiver are part of your expedition contribution.

Reef Check

Reef Check is the name of both the most widely used coral reef monitoring protocol and an international coral reef conservation programme. The Reef Check programme brings together community groups, government departments, academia and other partners to educate the public about the coral reef crisis and rehabilitate damaged reefs worldwide using ecologically sound and economically sustainable solutions.

Aims & objectives

To monitor the health of the Musandam peninsula’s reefs, its fish and invertebrate communities so that informed management, education and conservation decisions can be made by the government and NGOs.


Although popular myth has Arabia down as a vast, flat and empty expanse of sand (and oil), Oman is quite different. In fact, there is a wide range of contrasting landscapes: high mountains, beaches, the desert landscapes of the Empty Quarter, coral reefs and even tropical habitats, where the monsoon touches Oman in the extreme south.

The 650 kilometre coastline of the Musandam peninsula is strewn with rocks and coves, gradual steps, steep rocky slopes and cliffs that plunge to great depths all over the fjord-like landscape. The coral reefs that grow along the margins of this stunning landscape are still relatively untouched as influences such as industrial-scale fishing, pearl or scallop extraction or large numbers of recreational divers have not wreaked their destructive influence there. The area is therefore a prime target for studying intact reef ecosystems, conserving them for future generations and using them in the education of people locally and all over the world.

Overall the scenery can only be described as spectacular with 1000 m high, solid rock peaks dropping straight into the sea. Below the water, coral reef development around the Musandam is one of the best in all of the north-western Indian Ocean. More than 100 species of hard corals form the framework of a complex coral community lining most of the rocky shores. Most coral communities are very diverse and show little signs of environmental stress. Some communities are dominated by branching hard corals, whereas in others, massive, slow growing colonies from the basis of the community.

The reefs are in excellent condition with percentage coral cover reaching the highest levels seen in the world (80-90%) with over 200 species present. They teem with large grouper, emperors, and schools of jacks, snapper and fusiliers. Turtles, lobster and sting rays can be seen with an occasional reef shark passing by. Colourful species endemic to the Indian Ocean and Oman are numerous. Blue and yellow Indian Ocean angelfish are so common that they form schools. The Arabian butterflyfish is everywhere and hard to miss due to its brilliant yellow-orange colour.

The dives range from walls to gentle rocky slopes covered by hard corals, with black coral and blue gorgonians common. All of our survey dives are to a maximum 20 metre depth.

Study species

A coral reef is composed of a myriad of species and it is impossible to name them all here. However, during our Reef Check surveys (see below for more information on Reef Check methodologies), we will be concentrating on a number of indicator organisms such as:

Grunts (a group of fish, belonging to a taxonomic family called the Haemulidae)
Groupers (Sermulidae)
Snappers (Lutjanidae)
Parrotfish (Scaridae)
Butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae)
Lobsters (Palinuridae)
Sea whips (Gorgonacea)
Hard and soft corals
Sea urchins

Other landmark species present:

Humpback, spinner & bottlenose dolphins
Manta ray
Hawksbill sea turtle

Expedition work

You will spend the first couple of days with training in and out of the water. The expedition leader and the local scientist will prepare you for your fieldwork tasks and explain the research methods and goals. Talks are organised to make you familiar with safety, the equipment, the research (and your part in it) and the area in which it will happen. Open water dives are organised so that everyone can get comfortable in the water again and put into action the fish, invertebrate and other ID skills taught before the actual survey work begins.

Once you are trained up, your tasks will be predominantly dive-based and consist of several distinct underwater activities with the team split into buddy pairs. Depending on what your assignment is on the day, you and your buddy will, for example, be recording fish or invertebrates along the transect, or recording what kind of substrate (hard or soft coral, sand, rock, etc.) covers the bottom along the transect. Covering a transect will take you about one hour and you will dive up to four transects per day. During the course of the expedition, you will be laying transects in different locations all over the reef.

Research area

The Musandam peninsula (sometimes also called the Norway of Arabia) is the northernmost part of Oman jutting out into the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf. The province, or Governorate of Musandam as it is officially known, is separated from the rest of Oman by various parts of the United Arab Emirates including Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. The Musandam more or less begins where the mountains rise from the plains of Ras al Khaimah.

The remote and rugged mountains, which rise straight out of the sea creating fjords and stunning landscapes, have had isolated communities for centuries. Many coastal villages can be reached only by boat, as there are no roads on much of the peninsula. Pockets of flat land support subsistence agriculture. The population of approximately 29,000 is concentrated in the capital, Khasab (18,000 in 2004) in the north and Dibba (5,500) on the east coast. Fishing is the principal economic activity supported by employment in government jobs.


On this project Biosphere Expeditions is working with Reef Check, the Emirates Diving Association, local dive centres, businesses & resorts, the local community, Sultan Qaboos University, the Oman Ministry for Environment and Climate Affairs, the Oman Tourism Board, as well as the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN). Further support comes from a grant from the Waterloo Foundation.

View more Marine Conservation Projects  

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Map of the region and study site.

Google map

Google map of all Biosphere Expeditions study sites, expedition bases, assembly points, office locations, etc.




Fjord landscape of the Musandam peninsula with the live-aboard dhow in the middle of the picture.


Fjord landscape of the Musandam peninusla.


Khumzar, one of the few settlements on the Musandam penisula. This fishing village can only be reached by boat.


Sunset over the study site.


The reef.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Kelvin Aitken.


  The reef.

The reef The reef.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Kelvin Aitken.
The reef Reef life.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Kelvin Aitken.
The reef Reef life.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Kelvin Aitken.
The reef Reef life.
Reef life

 Reef life.

Reef life

Reef life.


Reef life

 Reef life.

Reef life

Reef life.

Reef life

Reef life.


Reef life.

Training to recognise indicator species during the survey. Training in indicator species identification in preparation of the surveys.
Planning the next survey dive

  Planning the next survey dive.

Getting ready for a survey dive Getting ready for a survey dive.
Getting ready for a survey dive

Getting ready for a survey dive.


Laying the survey transect tape.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Kelvin Aitken.

Transect tape and markers in place. Transect tape and markers in place.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Anke Hofmeister.
Surveying the reef along a transect tape.

Surveying the reef along the transect tape.


Surveying the reef along the transect tape.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Kelvin Aitken.

work22.jpg Surveying the reef along the transect tape.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Kelvin Aitken.
Returning from a survey. Returning from a survey.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Dan Clements.
Entering the survey data into the computer. Entering the survey data into the computer.
Relaxing on the live-aboard dhow's top deck after a day's survey work

Relaxing on the live-aboard dhow's top deck after a day's survey work.

The live-aboard dhow, base and research vessel.

The live-aboard dhow, base and research vessel.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Dan Clements.

The live-aboard dhow

The live-aboard dhow picking up a survey diver.

The dhow's air-conditioned lounge The dhow's air-conditioned lounge.
Lunchtime Lunchtime!
Flag of Oman and Musandam moutains Flag of Oman and Musandam moutains.
Distributing educational materials to local children. Distributing educational materials to local children.
Picture courtesy of expedition scientist Rita Bento.
On the dhow research vessel with educational materials. On the dhow research vessel with educational materials.
Picture courtesy of expedition team member Dan Clements.

Local children & adults with educational books. Local adults & children with educational materials.
Picture courtesy of expedition scientist Rita Bento.
Flying the flag ;) Flying the flag Smile
More images on 

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Overview of the expedition.

A walk around our live-aboard dhow research vessel.

Diving and reef life.

YouTube Watch more Musandam
expedition clips
on YouTube.  


Dubai Eye

Interview about Biosphere Expeditions and its expeditions, including details about the Musandam expedition and Reef Check methodolody.



Sport Diving magazine Creating order from the chaos
in English
pdf View article 484.97 Kb

Full circle
in English
pdf View article 10.27 Mb

Dive Aid
in English
pdf View article 390.62 Kb
Al Ghanjah Corals of Oman - why scientists think they are special
in English & Arabic
pdf View article 4.65 Mb
 Muscat Daily Research organisation welcomes MOAF decision to protect coral reefs in Musandam peninsula
in English
pdf View article 16.84 Kb
Muscat Daily Conservation group calls for marine protected area status for Musdandam
in English
pdf View article 1.26 Mb
TheNational A crystal ball for coral reefs
in English
pdf View article 76.00 Kb
OmanTribune Coral reefs around Musandam to be surveyed every year
in English
pdf View article 109.73 Kb
Times of Oman Holiday with a cause in Musandam
in English
pdf View article 360.36 Kb

Musandam Biosphere Expedition
in English
pdf View article 401.84 Kb


Scientists launch reef study at Musandam
in English
pdf View article 99.62 Kb

TheWeek Data Dive
in English
pdf View article 111.47 Kb
EDA New Reef Check Biosphere Expedition
in English
pdf View article 1.51 Mb
Reef Check New Reef Check/Biosphere Expeditions expedition
in English
pdf View article 220.49 Kb

Reef Check Biosphere Expeditions teams up with Reef Check....
in English
pdf View article 88.57 Kb

Activity and adventure breaks 2009: Get going!
in English
pdf View article 69.55 Kb

Outdoor UAE Dive to protect
in English
pdf View article 162.51 Kb

Musandam EDA/Biosphere Expeditions
in English
pdf View article 1.02 Mb

Atlantis Magazin

Prima Arbeit, Leute
in German
pdf View article 328.81 Kb


Zählappell am Riff
in German
pdf View article 574.55 Kb

  Various articles in the Omani press following
a press conference in Muscat

in English and Arabic
pdf View articles 3.56 Mb


"We have been privileged to be on the expedition. This group has really worked well together and the boat crew have been really helpful and it has to be said that the food was the best I have ever had on a boat. You are in for a treat. Another great expedition – see you again."
Steve Tredwell, 52, UK.

"Oh what an expedition! Are they all like this? I feel lucky to have it as my first. SCUBA diving is a fantastic experience, but diving for the environment is another thing. Doing it in such a well-organised, task-oriented, yet friendly and harmonious way wherever we go was a delight. I am pleased to have made this step and look forward to repeating it again."
Adel Abu Haliqa, 38, Abu Dhabi.

"All credit to Matthias, Rita & crew. I have had a wonderful week, learnt so much. The expedition has helped me to understand the complex and frail reef environment and I hope to sign up again in the future."
Rob Beaumont, 40, Dubai & UK.


Feedback from team members about their experiences and
reasons for coming (on/from various expeditions).


"It was a great experience and I would like to come again. Thank youvery much for this week. I will recommend Biosphere Expeditions."
Lars Krüger, 39, Germany.

"Really enjoyable, good team, thank you!"
Gordon Thompson, 58, UK.

"Thankyou very much for providing me with the opportunity to join thisexpedition. I learnt so much and met great people I will stay in touchwith. Thanks again – I very much appreciate what Biosphere Expeditionsdoes."
Anke Hofmeister, 33, Malidves & Germany .

"I had a great time and learned a lot. Hope to do the expedition again next year."
Ken Atkinson, 40, Dubai & Australia.

"Thank you for a great outing!"
Dan Clements, 60, USA.

 "Youhave created something big with Biosphere Expeditions and I wanted tothank you for letting me be part of it. My experience with you was notonly extraordinarily enriching and beautiful, but it has also put manywheels in motion in my life, amongst other things a new understandingof wildlife and nature, as well as a deep personal friendship. Myexpedition has been one of the most inspirational and formativeexperiences of my life. THANK YOU!”“This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and itfelt like a real privilege to wake up here and go out diving with thescientists.”

“What a wonderful experience. One that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

“One of the most amazing trips of my life – wonderful people, wonderful experience.”

“Congratulations for the Biosphere Expeditions idea and the way thestaff carries it through with their enthusiasm. I came across you onthe internet by chance and your information materials and the way myquestions were answered persuaded me to dare come on the expedition.Once in the field my expectations were more than fulfilled. The teamwas great, as was the food and I gained a real insight into howwildlife research and conservation works on the ground. I'll be back!”


The expedition briefing contains very detailed information on this expedition, including instructions on how to get to the assembly point, what you will be doing whilst on expedition and who your expedition leader and scientists will be.

You can access briefings via the Download Centre.


Join this SCUBA diving volunteer vacation / working holiday conserving the coral reefs of the Musandam pensinsula.

Check detailed availability & sign up

An easy way to grow your contribution

Many employers, particularly in the USA and Canada, but also elsewhere, will match fund charitable contributions made by their employees, retirees and employees’ spouses. That means you may well be able to increase significantly the contribution you make towards wildlife contribution. > more information

You may be able to reduce the net cost of your expedition

Depending on your country of origin, a portion of your expedition contribution and additional expenses (such as additional food, lodging and transportation) may be tax-deductible. Have a look at for more details and examples.



Awards & accreditations


Latest ezine

Biosphere Expeditions wins National Geographic accolade more



Magazine2014.gif Our annual Biosphere Expeditions Magazine is packed with stories from the field, achievements, looks behind the scenes and an overview over our expeditions, projects, taster days and other activities.



Biosphere Expeditions YouTube channel Watch our YouTube channel with philosophy and background information, clips from the field, etc.

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