SCUBA volunteering - Underwater pioneers: studying & protecting the unique coral reefs of the Musandam peninsula within Oman & UAE
This SCUBA diving citizen science expedition will take you to the United Arab Emirates and from there to the remote and mountainous Musandam peninsula of Oman. Based on a comfortable and modern liveboard yacht, you will study the diverse coral reefs fringing the areas where the spectacular mountains plunge into the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. These reefs boast a rich mixture of beautiful corals and a multitude of fish and other animals. This pioneering study to map this unique underwater environment has already led to the creation of two protected areas. But more data on the biological status of the reefs and of population levels of key indicator species are needed for educational purposes and to be able to put forward ideas for more and larger marine protection areas. Data collection follows an internationally recognised coral reef monitoring programme, called Reef Check, and will also 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).
"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." >
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Expedition contribution: £1280 (ca. €1760 | US$1880 | AU$2470) excluding flights per dates as shown below. Please note: expedition contributions are quoted in £ and the approximate € | US$ | AU$ equivalents. Try the XE currency converter for other currencies and up to date exchange rates.
Dates & meeting point: 25 - 31 Oct 2015 | 23 - 29 Oct 2016 (7 days). Other dates. Participants can join for multiple slots (within the periods specified). 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 .
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.
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.
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
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 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 little 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.
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.
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:
Grunts (a group of fish, belonging to a taxonomic family called the Haemulidae)
Sea whips (Gorgonacea)
Hard and soft corals
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.
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 works with Reef Check, the Marine Conservtion Society, local dive centres and businesses, the local community, the Oman Ministry for Environment and Climate Affairs and the Oman Tourism Board.
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)
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
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 are now being established throughout Oman by graduates of this programme. Armed with the hard facts of its annual research expeditions, Biosphere Expeditions has sought to influence 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 hand-line fishing, so conservation initiatives are being progressed by government in partnership with our surveys. However, there is much more potential for introducing significant conservation of the archipelago, so the research and lobbying work continues.
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
|Biosphere Expeditions was named on the Travel with a Mate's "Best Volunteer Dive Organisations" list.|
|This expedition was honoured in The Independent’s "Best Activity and Adventure Breaks" list.|
|This expedition was honoured in Travel + Leisure's "Best Save-the-Earth Trips" list.|
|Biosphere Expeditions as an organisation has won the "Best Volunteering Organisation" category of the First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards.|
|Biosphere Expeditions as an organisation has also won multiple National Geographic awards and accolades such as "Best New Trip" and "Tours of a Lifetime".|
|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
Interview about Biosphere Expeditions and its expeditions, including details about the Musandam expedition and Reef Check methodolody.
|Creating order from the chaos
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Corals of Oman - why scientists think they are special
|Conservation group calls for marine protected area status for Musdandam
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|Scientists launch reef study at Musandam
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|A crystal ball for coral reefs
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Coral reefs around Musandam to be surveyed every year
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|Musandam Biosphere Expedition
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|New Reef Check Biosphere Expedition
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|New Reef Check / Biosphere Expeditions expedition
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|Biosphere Expeditions teams up with Reef Check....
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|Activity and adventure
breaks 2009: Get going!
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|Dive to protect
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|Musandam EDA / Biosphere Expeditions
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|Zählappell am Riff
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|Various articles in the Omani press following a press conference in Muscat
in English and Arabic
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"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!”
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 . 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 . > 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