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Paradise in peril: studying & protecting reefs, sharks, dolphins and turtles of the Pulau Tioman Marine Park, Malaysia


This expedition is on sabbatical until 2016. You can go on a waiting list to be notified when it comes back online > Go on waiting list


Get a briefingAsk a questionGo on waiting list


This SCUBA volunteer project will take you to Tioman, the Malaysian island named by Time Magazine as one of the world's most beautiful. Working in a very small group of five participants, one scientist and one expedition leader, you will assist the local researcher to study and protect the local Marine Park's beautiful but fragile coral reefs, as well as its marine megafauna such as sharks, dolphins & turtles. For the first five days of training and familiarising yourself with the Reef Check research techniques, you will be based at a beach chalet resort on Tioman island. After this, you will move to a 45 ft sloop rig sailing yacht research vessel, which will take you to remote areas of the Marine Park. The expedition includes training as a Reef Check EcoDiver; with this qualification you are eligible to apply for PADI or NAUI Reef Check Speciality Course certification after the expedition. Please note that you need to be a fully qualified diver to take part in this expedition (minimum PADI Open Water or equivalent).

Expedition contribution: £1470 (approx. €2020 | US$2160 | AU$2830) land only per group dates as shown below. Please note: expedition contributions are quoted in £ and the approximate € | US$ | AU$ equivalents. Try the XE currency converter for other currencies and up to date exchange rates.

Dates & meeting point:  This expedition is on sabbatical until 2016. You can go on a waiting list to be notified when it comes back online > Go on waiting list. The meeting point is in Tioman Island, Malaysia and participants have to organise their own travel there. More details on this and how to get to Tioman are in the expedition briefing

Status & availability: Red:  Expeditions of status red have no spaces available.

  • Reef life (c) K Wang
  • Expedition base on land
  • The live-aboard sailing yacht base
  • Dive centre at base
  • Reef life (c) K Wang
  • Tioman island
  • Collecting data
  • Reef Check training at base
  • Collecting data
  • Reeling in the transect tape
  • Reef life
  • Reef life
  • Reef life
  • Tioman island
  • Tioman island
  • Sunset
  • Reef life (c) K Wang
  • On the yacht
  • Recording data
  • Underwater teaching
  • Collecting data
  • Reef life (c) K Wang
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Coral reefs, sea, sun and sand.

Weather expected during expedition

Tropical and maritime climate with average day air temperature 32-40°C and water temperature 28-31°C.

Expedition base

Beach chalet resort with fan-cooled, en-suite, twin-share rooms (5 nights). Thereafter 45 ft sloop rig sailing yacht research vessel with cabin berths, mattresses or hammocks (7 nights).

Team size

Up to 5 team members + 1 local scientist/divemaster + 1 expedition leader + 1 skipper (on the yacht).

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).

Fitness level required

As a qualified PADI Open Water Diver, you will already have a reasonable level of fitness.

Team assembly point

Tioman Island, Malaysia
> full details on how to get there are in the expedition briefing

Aims & objectives

(1) To monitor the health of the Pulau Tioman Marine Park’s reefs, its fish and megafauna communities (turtles, sharks, dolphins) so that informed management, education and conservation decisions can be made by the government and NGOs.
(2) Contribute to the conservation of Malaysia’s valuable ecological resources.


Pulau Tioman is located 40 km off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. The island has a relaxed, quiet feel with beautiful, sandy beaches and a densely forested interior. The island’s population is just over three thousand.

The reefs of Pulau Tioman Marine Park are some of the healthiest and most diverse around peninsular Malaysia and lie just inside the ‘coral triangle’, an area that has been identified as having the highest diversity of coral species anywhere in the world. The reefs in the coral triangle support 600+ genera of reef-building corals, 3000+ species of fish and contain 75% of all coral species known to science. The coral triangle was identified as a priority area for marine conservation and, during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change conference in Bali, a pledge to protect this marine environment was drawn up between the countries of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. Pulau Tioman was gazetted as a nature reserve and Marine Park in 1998 to protect these valuable resources. A Marine Parks division of the government is present on the island.

However, the island’s growing tourist trade, crown of thorns population booms and developments on land are threatening the reefs’ health and so data on the current biological status of the reefs and of population levels of key indicator species are crucial for park management and educational efforts. Tourism development is a priority for the government, but sustainable tourism is being overlooked in favour of cheaper, and more damaging mass tourism. If Malaysia’s government and local populations can see small scale, responsible tourism development working for them, then the country’s rich, natural resources could be protected more effectively.

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 above for more information on Reef Check methodologies), we will be concentrating on a number of indicator organisms such as:

Sweetlips (a group of fish, belonging to a taxonomic family called the Haemulidae)
Groupers (Sermulidae)
Snappers (Lutjanidae)
Parrotfish (Scaridae)
Butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae)
Bumphead parrotfish (Bolbomentopon muricatum)
Napoleon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)
Sea whips (Gorgonacea)
Hard and soft corals
Sea urchins

Other landmark species present:

Spinner & common dolphins, pilot whales, hawksbill and green sea turtles, black-tip reef sharks, whale sharks.

Typical day

The first five days will be land/resort-based with diving in the morning and training or more diving in the afternoons. After this, you will be based aboard the research vessel yacht for a week, conducting two to three survey dives each day, followed by data entry. Your day will be taken up by diving, training, sailing, resting and entering the data you have collected. Volunteers will be asked to take part in all aspects of the expedition, from diving and surveying, to crewing the boat, helping with the meals, filling tanks and keeping the research vessel yacht in order.

Schedules are variable depending on the sailing destination, weather and wind conditions and survey schedule.

Research area

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia. It consists of thirteen states and three federal territories and has a total landmass of 329,847 square kilometres. The country is separated by the South China Sea into two regions, Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo (also known as West and East Malaysia respectively). The capital city is Kuala Lumpur, while Putrajaya is the seat of the federal government. The population of Malaysia is around 28 million.

Malaysia is a megadiverse country, with a high number of species and high levels of endemism. Two thirds of Malaysia is forested, with a large amount of lowland forest present below an altitude of 760 metres. East Malaysia, like most of Borneo, was traditionally covered with Borneo lowland rain forests although much has been cleared causing wildlife to retreat into the upland rain forests inland. Besides rain forests, there are over 1425 square kilometres of mangroves in Malaysia, as well as the numerous coral reefs described above.

The expedition will begin and end at the chalet resort in Tekek village on Pulau Tioman. During the second phase of the expedition, the research vessel yacht will circumnavigate the main island in the Marine Park and visit most of the other eight islands, enabling the expedition to reach seldom-visited dive sites and conduct surveys at hard-to-reach places.


On this project Biosphere Expeditions works with Reef Check, the Department of Marine Parks of Malaysia, local dive centres, businesses & resorts, the local community, the University of Kebansaan Malaysia, the National University of Singapore, Hong Kong University, as well as sharing data with the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN).

Reef Check     JTLM      Universiti Kebangsaan     National University of Singapore     Hog Kong University     GCRMN

And finally (almost)

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.

And finally (briefing)

Even more details, including instructions on how to get to the assembly point, are in the expedition briefing below.


For even more details such as activities, staff, accommodation, the assembly point and how to get there, and lots more, please access the expedition briefing by providing your full name and e-mail.

Biosphere Expeditions will never share these details with anyone. 

Results & achievements

Biosphere Expeditions in 2012 and 2013 provided vital data on coral reef health and human-induced threats within the Tioman archipelago. Such data were previously unavailable for many of the study sites and helped fill in important information gaps for reef managers and scientists. The Reef Check data and the identification of local threats also helped build the foundation for 'Cintai Tioman', a long-term programme to increase social and ecological resilience on the island. This programme addresses issues such as pollution, waste management, illegal fishing, environmentally-friendly tourism and community-managed marine protected areas.

Scientific reports and publications for this expedition are on the reports & publications page. As far as we are aware, Biosphere Expeditions is the only organisation in the world that has a direct and transparent link between the work done by citizen scientists and an expedition report. Each expedition year is matched by an expedition report for that year, which deals with the two main areas that expedition participants contribute to: funding and data collection. Chapter 1 of each report, written by Biosphere Expeditions, reviews the expedition logistics and publishes an expedition budget, which shows in a clear and transparent way income and expenditure for each expedition and the percentage of income spent on the project. Chapter 2 onwards, written by the expedition scientist, shows who collected what data, how they were analysed, what the conclusions were, as well as the conservation recommendations and actions flowing from this, and what future expeditions should do. In this way, each expedition comes full circle for its participants.

Awards & accolades

Endless Vacation    

This expedition was honoured on Endless Vacation's "Best Trips that Offer a Way Back" list.

Travel with a mate     Biosphere Expeditions was named on the Travel with a Mate's "Best Volunteer Dive Organisations" list.


More videos on   YouTube


Sport Diver   School of Fish
in English
pdf Read article 4.90 Mb
    Diary   Personal diary by a team member
pdf Read diary 2.89 Mb
Reef Check   Biosphere Expeditions teams up with Reef Check for EcoExpedition in Malaysia
in English 
Go to article 
Merian   Tauchen macht Sinn
in German
pdf Read article 188.97 Kb

More press coverage on   Issuu  


"Reef Check Malaysia has been conducting coral reef surveys around the country since 2007. However, we have always found it difficult to survey islands that are not inhabited and distant. We lack manpower and funding to survey such areas and hence there were gaps in our data. Working with Biosphere Expeditions helps fill in these gaps. The research vessel will allow us to survey the smaller islands off Tioman and the volunteers will provide the added manpower we require. This is vital for scientist and managers that are working hard to protect coral reefs in our country."
Alvin Chelliah, Reef Check Malaysia 

"Surveying coral reefs is, rightly, becoming more commonplace, but getting to hard-to-reach-places with a large enough team to obtain quality, useful data is still a challenge. These data are essential for getting a full picture of processes and impacts in the ecosystem to feed back to the managing authorities and scientific community. With Biosphere Expeditions, our research vessel and dedicated volunteers, we can not only do that in Pulau Tioman, but also spread awareness and increase education on a wide variety of marine conservation issues within local and global communities."
Katie Yewdall, local scientist, Malaysia.

“Everyone was lovely and made the first week of the expedition very pleasant. Katie, Paul and Hylton were extraordinary! Made every second absolutely amazing. Can't thank them enough for such an amazing time.” 
Holly Dwyer, 43, UK.

“Dive centre and yacht were both excellent. Katie is a very good Reef Check teacher and Paul a very enthusiastic leader.”
Georgina Treherne, 36, The Netherlands.

“The liveaboard experience worked especially well. I also liked the fact we were able to gain basic sailing experience. The diver training was great and I'm in no doubt that the Biosphere Expeditions staff has made me a better diver. They also imparted a phenomenal amount of information about Malaysian culture, wildlife, science and a host of other subjects."
Gavin Haines, 38, UK.

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

"You have created something big with Biosphere Expeditions and I wanted to thank you for letting me be part of it. My experience with you was not only extraordinarily enriching and beautiful, but it has also put many wheels in motion in my life, amongst other things a new understanding of wildlife and nature, as well as a deep personal friendship. My expedition has been one of the most inspirational and formative experiences 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 the staff carries it through with their enthusiasm. I came across you on the internet by chance and your information materials and the way my questions were answered persuaded me to dare come on the expedition. Once in the field my expectations were more than fulfilled. The team was great, as was the food and I gained a real insight into how wildlife research and conservation works on the ground. I'll be back!”

> more testimonials

Expedition diary / blog

See what's gone on during past expeditions via the expedition diary and blog.

Frequently asked questions

What's the accommodation like and how do I get to the assembly point?
A description of the accommodation and some pictures are in the detailed section above. All participants organise their own travel to the assembly point, which is an easy to find place in-country, and exact instructions on how to get there at what time are in the expedition briefing, which you can download above. > more

Is it just young people roughing it, i.e. will it be for me or am I too old/young/unfit?
A common misconception is that conservation expeditions are full of youngsters roughing it and boozing. With Biosphere Expeditions nothing could be further from the truth! Our typical participant is in his/her mid-30s to late 70s (average age 42.3, spread six months to 87 years). It is rare to have fewer than five nationalities, typically from Europe, North America and Australasia, on the expedition, all united by the common interest in wildlife, wilderness and conservation. If you would like details who is already signed up, then just get in touch. > more

Do I need special skills or fitness?
Apart from the ability to communicate in English and a diving qualification for our diving expeditions, there are no special skills (biological or otherwise) required to join our expeditions, and there are no age limits whatsoever. If you have special needs, please contact us to find out about the suitability of the experience of your choice. > more

How good does my English have to be?
If, with the help of a dictionary and a little patience, you can understand what we are talking about here, then don't worry - you'll be fine.

Will I be safe?
Yes. Although we are not in the business of controlling nature and expect you to take some responsibilities, safety is our top priority. Our three key watchwords are ‘safety, science, satisfaction’ - in that order. We always have emergency procedures and backup systems in place. Biosphere Expeditions has an excellent safety record with no serious accidents, long-lasting injuries or let alone deaths since its foundation in 1999. > more

Can people under 18 attend?
Yes, because there are no (upper or lower) age restrictions. With their parents' consent they can also come by themselves.

How do I sign up and when do I pay?
Signing up is easy: Use the "Sign up" section below and pay a deposit of £300; the full balance will be due four weeks before the start of the expedition. If you don't want to sign up online, you can also download paper forms to fax or snail-mail.

What's included and what's not included?
Once you have made it to the assembly point and we’re on our way, we pay for everything apart from the obvious such as personal souvenirs, luxury drinks, phone calls home, etc. (and in many places we go to there's no need for money anyway ;). Travel arrangements to the assembly point are for you to make and pay for. Additional costs may include passport, visa and airport fees, your personal gear and preparations, and travel insurance, but not much more. There are certainly no hidden fees from our end.

Where does my money go?
On average at least two-thirds of your contribution will benefit the project directly and locally, the rest will go towards administrative back-up, as well as researching and setting up new expeditions. Within six to twelve months after your expedition you will receive an expedition report with full details on how your expedition contribution was spent on running the expedition and supporting its research work. We can put as much as two-thirds into the project, because we are a non-profit/charitable research and conservation organisation, not a large scale tourism business, which means that we can keep expensive overhead costs to a minimum. We also do very little advertising and costly marketing, concentrating instead on press, media and research publication work. > more

> more FAQs and detailed answers in text and video format are on the FAQ page

More questions?

If you have any more questions, please just e-mail us, get in touch with one of our offices, or use the form below.