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Reef conservation in Malaysia - Paradise in peril: Studying & protecting reefs of the Pulau Tioman Marine Park, Malaysia

in partnership with   Reef Check Malaysia

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This SCUBA diving expedition will take you to Tioman, the Malaysian island named by Time Magazine as one of the world's most beautiful. Working in a small group of fellow divers and volunteers in Malaysia, and based on a comfortable and modern liveaboard yacht, you will assist the local researcher to study and protect the local Marine Park's beautiful but fragile coral reefs. Diving two to four times a day, 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). For the 22 - 29 August group you must be a fully qualified Reef Check EcoDiver (Indo-Pacific region) to be able to participate (for the 14 - 21 August group, Reef Check training is part of the expedition). You can also take part in both groups, as you will be a qualified EcoDiver after group 1.

“The liveaboard experience worked especially well. 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." > more testimonials

  •  MALAYSIA - Coral reefs - August - 8 days
  • Taking a dip after a day's surveying
  • Relaxing at the end of the day
  • Dive buddies
  • Reef life (c) K Wang
  • The liveaboard yacht and expedition base
  • Dive deck on the liveaboard yacht
  • Cabin on the liveaboard yacht
  • Lounge on the liveaboard yacht
  • Tioman reef life (c) K Wang
  • Tioman island
  • Expedition team
  • Collecting data
  • Reef Check training
  • Collecting data
  • Reeling in the transect tape
  • Reef life
  • Reef life
  • Reef life
  • Tioman island
  • Tioman island
  • Sunset
  • Reef life (c) K Wang
  • Recording data
  • Underwater teaching
  • Collecting data
  • Reef life (c) K Wang
> more pictures on   Facebook   GooglePlus   wordpress


Expedition contribution: £1840 (ca. €2040 | US$2390 | AU$2990) excluding flights per dates as shown. A £300 deposit is required and the balance is due four weeks before the expeditions starts. Base currency British pound sterling, see XE currency converter for other currencies. More about this contribution and where the money goes.

Dates & meeting point: 14 - 21 Aug 2018 | 22 - 29 Aug 2018 (8 days). Other dates. Participants can join for multiple slots (within the periods specified). For the 22 - 29 August group you must be a fully qualified Reef Check EcoDiver (Indo-Pacific region) to be able to participate (for the 14 - 21 August group, Reef Check training is part of the expedition). You can also take part in both groups, as you will be a qualified EcoDiver after group 1. The meeting point is Singapore and participants have to organise their own travel there. More details on this and how to get to Singapore are in the expedition briefing

Status & availability:  Green: Expeditions of status green have spaces available. 



Coral reefs, sea, sun and sand.

Weather expected during expedition

Tropical and maritime climate with average day air temperature around 32°C and water temperature 27-29°C.

Expedition base

The expedition base is a modern three-deck, 85 feet liveaboard yacht, built in 2002 and completely refurbished in 2014, with indoor cabins and a lounge (all air-conditioned), and an open air dining area, sun deck and dive platform.

Team size

Up to 12 team members + 1 local scientist/divemaster + 1 expedition leader + yacht crew.

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

> 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 the 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

After a training phase (two days for the first non-Reef Check group and half a day for the second Reef Check group) you will conduct up to three survey dives each day, followed by data entry. So your day will be taken up by diving, resting and entering the data you have collected. In the evening there will be time for a drink and hanging out on the live-aboard.

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 Malaysia volunteer 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. 

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Transfer funds into the Biosphere Expeditions bank account
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A/C number 24303046
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Your place on the expedition will be confirmed once your deposit has arrived in our bank account.

Please note that we can only accept UK cheques made out in Pounds Sterling. Cheques should be made payable to "Biosphere Expeditions".

Send your cheque to one of our offices. Once your cheque has been received and cleared, your place on the expedition will be confirmed.

After submitting this form, you will be redirected to our payment provider, SagePay, to enter your payment information.

IMPORTANT: Please copy the anti-spam code on the left into the box on the right.

Results & achievements

Biosphere Expeditions over the years has 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.

See also: 2013 expedition report notification 

Awards & accolades

World Travel Guide    

This expedition was honoured on the World Travel Guides' "10 of the best conservation holidays" list.

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.
First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards     Biosphere Expeditions as an organisation has won the "Best Volunteering Organisation" category of the First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards.
National Geographic     Biosphere Expeditions as an organisation has also won multiple National Geographic awards and accolades such as "Best New Trip" and "Tours of a Lifetime".
Travel+Leisure     Biosphere Expeditions as an organisation has also won multiple Travel+Leisure awards and accolades such as the "Conservation Award" category of Travel+Leisure's "Global Vision Awards" or "Best Adventure Outfitter" and "Best Save-the-Earth Trip" accolades.

> more awards & accolades


More videos on   YouTube


Sport Diver   School of Fish
in English
pdf Read article 4.90 Mb
    WorldTravelGuide Reef encounter: Can citizen science help save our oceans?
in English
Go to article
The Star   Hardy Tioman reefs showing resilience
in English
Go to article
    Clean Malaysia Let's let our corals clean themselves
in English
Go to article
Reef Check   Biosphere Expeditions teams up with Reef Check for EcoExpedition in Malaysia
in English 
Go to article
Diary   Personal diary by a team member
in English
pdf Read diary 2.89 Mb
    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 and conservation in Malaysia 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 issues of marine conservation in Malaysia 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 of volunteering in Malaysia 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).

I really enjoyed this trip, the entire team, and the work I was doing alongside Biosphere and the local scientist.”
Skye Merriam, 17, USA.

It was all I expected, and much more. Thanks a lot!
Christian Schneid, 43, Germany.

So glad I joined the team! I plan to be back next year. I learned so much during the trip and now will continue to research and learn about endangered ocean reefs.
Eleonora Barson, 58, USA.

The leader was patient, empathetic, and in control. She managed onboard organization and activities very well.
Steve Neely, 56, USA.

"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  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.