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SCUBA volunteering - Underwater pioneers: Studying & protecting the unique coral reefs of Oman's Musandam peninsula

in partnership with   Reef Check   Marine Conservation Society

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This SCUBA diving expedition 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. The reefs boast a rich mixture of beautiful corals and a multitude of fish and other animals. This pioneering long-term study to map this unique underwater environment has already led to the creation of a local NGO (Reef Check Oman) and two protected areas. More such areas are planned and Biosphere Expeditions’ research data is a crucial voice for reefs and their conservation as the government develops the area. Data collection follows an internationally recognised coral reef monitoring programme, called Reef Check and will be used to help encourage government 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). For the 2 - 8 December group you must also be a fully qualified Reef Check EcoDiver (Indo-Pacific region) to be able to participate (for the 25 November - 1 December 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.

"Oh what an expedition! Are they all like this? I feel lucky to have it as my first. SCUBA diving in Oman is a fantastic experience, but diving on a marine conservation project 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." > more testimonials

  •  MUSANDAM (Oman) - Coral reefs - November-December - 7 days
  • Reef life (c) Kelvin Aitken
  • Reef life (c) Kelvin Aitken
  • Reef life
  • Reef life
  • Reef life
  • Reef life (c) Anke Hofmeister
  • Reef life (c) Dan Clements
  • Reef life (c) Dan Clements
  • Musandam landscape (c) Wouter Kingma
  • Musandam sunset (c) Andreas Odey
  • Khumzar, the biggest village around
  • Reef Check teaching session
  • Survey team (c) Kelvin Aitken
  • Laying the transect tape (c) Kelvin Aitken
  • Recording data (c) Kelvin Aitken
  • Recording data
  • Flying the flag (c) Kelvin Aitken
  • Recording data
  • Recording data
  • Entering data back on the dhow
  • The live-aboard dhow expedition base (c) Dan Clements
  • On the dhow
  • On the dhow
  • Lunch
  • Ready to dive
  • Expedition team ready to dive
  • Come an join us in Musandam!
> 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: 25 Nov - 1 Dec 2018 | 2 - 8 Dec 2018 (7 days). Other dates. Participants can join for multiple slots (within the periods specified). For the 2 - 8 December group you must also be a fully qualified Reef Check EcoDiver (Indo-Pacific region) to be able to participate (for the 25 November - 1 December 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 in Dubai and participants have to organise their own travel there. More details on this and how to get to Dubai are in the expedition briefing

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

> more videos


A word on safety in the Middle East and Oman

Much of the Middle East and certainly countries such as the UAE and Oman run on foreign labour. So much so that up to 70% of people living and working in the country are foreigners, including many from Europe, North America and Australasia. They go about their daily lives just as you would at home, with crime rates extremely low. Terrorism is no more of a threat than at home and primarily targeted at local people. You are more likely to be hit by a bus or die from DIY than a terrorist attack. There has certainly never been any problem on the expedition or with anyone taking part in the expedition.


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 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 under the stars.

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).

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

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.


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 1,000 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 few signs of environmental stress. Some communities are dominated by branching hard corals, whereas in others, massive, slow growing colonies form the basis of the community.

Musandam corals are very resilient, so reefs are in remarkably good condition compared to many other parts of the world, which have been ravaged by coral bleaching and death. Percentage coral cover reaches the highest levels seen in the world (80-90%) with over 200 species present. There are 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 can be 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, 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)
Lobsters (Palinuridae)
Sea whips (Gorgonacea)
Hard and soft corals
Sea urchins

Typical day

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.

After a training phase (two days for the first non-Reef Check group and half a day for the second Reef Check group), 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 three transects per day. During the course of the expedition, you will be laying transects in different locations around Musandam.

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 and between dives, there will be time to rest and relax on the live-aboard.

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 marine conservation project, Biosphere Expeditions’ main partners are the Marine Conservation Society and Reef Check. Other partners include local dive centres and businesses, the local community, the Oman Ministry for Environment, the Oman Tourism Board, the Anglo-Omani Society and the Hyatt Grand in Muscat.

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. 

Sign up to this expedition now

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Paying your deposit £300 per person, per slot*. International exchange rates via
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(change this as applicable) by the payment method below.

Transfer funds into the Biosphere Expeditions bank account
NatWest Bank, Lowestoft
A/C number 24303046
Sort code 53-81-16
IBAN GB66NWBK53811624303046
Please make sure your bank sends funds in Pounds Sterling and debits all transaction charges to your account.
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

This expedition has surveyed the reefs of the Musandam peninsula since 2009 and has consistently shown outstanding reef formations fringing the coast. Recent surveys have also recorded manta rays and whale sharks on dives. A local capacity-building and educational programme has produced a colouring and educational booklet for local schools and distributed this around the peninsula and further afield in Oman. Local Omanis have been trained in reef survey techniques since 2010 and community-based monitoring programmes, as well as a local NGO (Reef Check Oman) have now been established in Oman by graduates of this programme. Armed with the hard facts of its annual research expeditions, Biosphere Expeditions has also influenced decision-makers in government towards the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) since 2010. In November 2013 the Omani government created a significant protected area in two large inlets, banning all but handline fishing, so conservation initiatives are being progressed by government in partnership with our surveys. Plans for additional marine protection zones are being made as the government develops the area and Biosphere Expeditions’ data and experience are a crucial voice for reef and marine conservation in this process.

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

Travel with a mate     Biosphere Expeditions was named on the Travel with a Mate's "Best Volunteer Dive Organisations" list.
The 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.
Deeper Blue     This expedition was honoured in Deeper Blue's "Top 10 Speciality Dive Trips" 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


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
  SportDiver   Full circle
in English
pdf View article 10.27 Mb
EDA   Local Reef Check groups established
in English
pdf View article 618.97 Kb
AOS   Omanis for Omani reefs
in English
pdf View article 1.57 Mb
Divernet   Healthy corals buck bleaching trend
in English
pdf View article 241.67 Kb
Reef Check   Local NGOs established
in English
View article
The Guardian   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 1.06 Mb
Muscat Daily   Conservation group calls for marine protected area status for Musdandam
in English
pdf View article 1.26 Mb
Muscat Daily   Musandam reefs escape worst of global En Nino
in English
View article
 Muscat Daily   Historic first community-based reef survey
in English
View article
TheNational   Scientists launch reef study at Musandam
in English 
pdf View article 99.62 Kb
TheNational   A crystal ball for coral reefs
in English
pdf View article 76.00 Kb
Oman Tribune  

Coral reefs around Musandam to be surveyed every year
in English
pdf View article 109.73 Kb


  Data Dive
in English 
pdf View article 111.47 Kb
EDA   Musandam Biosphere Expedition
in English
pdf View article 401.84 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
The Independent   Activity and adventure
breaks 2009: Get going!

in English
pdf View article 69.55 Kb
    Various articles in the Omani press following a press conference in Muscat
in English and Arabic
pdf View articles 3.56 Mb
Outdoor UAE   Dive to protect
in English
pdf View article 162.51 Kb
Outdoor UAE   Musandam EDA / Biosphere Expeditions
in English
pdf View article 1.02 Mb
Unterwasser   Schutzengel
in German
pdf View article 665.51 Kb
  Zählappell am Riff
in German
pdf View article 574.55 Kb
  Prima Arbeit, Leute
in German
pdf View article 328.51 Kb
  Neues Schutzgebiet im Oman
in German
pdf View article 1.89 Mb
More press coverage on   Issuu  


"The work of Biosphere Expeditions on the Musandam coral reefs has had a great impact in the region regarding the collection of scientific data and the creation of a marine protected area in a remote and little touched area of the sea. In addition there has also been a great increase in environmental awareness about this important underwater habitat - both locally through the creation of scholarships and educational programmes and influencing decision-makers, as well as internationally through the involvement of volunteers from all over the world. Biosphere Expeditions unites in an exemplary way in all their projects (including this scuba diving marine conservation project) two important subjects - science and awareness."
Rita Bento, marine biologist, Emirates Diving Association, UAE

"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 this expedition. I learnt so much and met great people I will stay in touchwith. Thanks again – I very much appreciate what Biosphere Expeditions does."
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.

 "You have created something big with Biosphere Expeditions and I wanted tothank 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. Mye xpedition 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 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 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.