Reef Doctor Research Assistant

The Reef Doctor Research Assistant programme trains volunteers to become integral members of our marine research team and provides the opportunity to help us in our other marine management and conservation projects.

Research Assistants will gain professional training in scuba diving, species identification and marine habitat monitoring in order to assist Reef Doctor with its long term marine research programme. In doing so you will be directly contributing to the conservation and management of the threatened marine ecosystems in the Bay of Ranobe and the future sustainable development of the local Vezo communities.

The programme is open to anyone over the age of 18, no previous qualification or experience necessary.

To undertake our marine research surveys all research assistants must be certified to PADI Advanced open water (or equivalent). If you have never dived before we will train you from scratch and certify you to PADI Advanced Open Water in the first couple of weeks of your expedition.

This programme is also a great way for graduates and undergraduates to gain the essential field based work experiences needed to help further a career in conservation and marine sciences. We can also provide the opportunity for BSc and MSc students in the field of biology, ecology, zoology, environmental sciences, conservation etc., to undertake their own research projects for their thesis (please ask for further details on possible research projects).

Expeditions of 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 weeks are available.
Expeditions start every 6 weeks from January to December with spaces available for 4-6 people per expedition month.


For more information and photos, please download our Research Assistant Programme Guide:

Research Assistant Programme Guide


What you can expect from the Reef Doctor Research Assistant Programme:

      Dive training to PADI Advanced level.
      For  8 weeks + expeditions, volunteers may also undertake the PADI Rescue Diver certification (includes the PADI EFR 1st aid course) for an additional fee.
     For 12 week expeditions, volunteers who are looking to gain more diving certifications and experience who join us already PADI Advanced open water certified could undertake the PADI Divemaster certification on a tailored program. Please see below and ask us for details.
     Lectures in coral reef biology and ecology, marine management and conservation principles.
     Training in underwater marine species identification (fish, invertebrates, benthic, coral).
     Training in underwater surveying techniques.
     Participate in Reef Doctor’s long term coral reef monitoring programme: you will become a vital member of our surveying team. The role you will play (either fish, invertebrate or benthic surveyor) will rotate as you gain experience.
     Gain experience in data recording and data input protocols.
     Undertake fisheries catch assessments with the local fisheries team.
     Experience life living alongside a traditional Malagasy fishing community and gain insight into the unique Vezo culture.
     Assist the Reef Doctor team in their other core research, management and conservation projects (e.g., coral gardening, aquaculture, kids club etc.)
     Enjoy exploring the local area; the popular beach resort of Mangily, the Spiny Forest, take a pirogue trip across the Bay or visit one of the local National Parks (in your free time, at your own expense).


The length of your expedition determines the level of scientific training you receive. All Research Assistants will be trained to an intermediate level but those staying for 8 weeks or more will have the opportunity to progress to the expert level training. If you’re a fast learner you can progress to the expert level in a 6-7 week expedition.

The core diving and/or science training usually covers the first 4 weeks of each expedition, though training is always ongoing throughout the expedition especially for those undertaking the expert level.

The time taken to complete the core diving and science training will depend on the weather, number of other volunteers on site, progression of the individual and the occurrence of any external / one-off events that may require volunteer participation.

Volunteers undertake regular diving though this is only one aspect of the programme. Diving is conducted in the morning and afternoons with schedules set around the tidal regimes in the Bay. Fun dives occur on Saturdays, whilst no diving is permitted on Sunday. PADI night dive and deep dive courses also on offer (though at an extra cost, please ask for details).

Becoming a Reef Doctor Research Assistant means the more you put in the more you get out so we want you to use your enthusiasm, experiences and qualifications to become involved in our projects. This may include other projects outside the marine research programme such as marine management (e.g. you can help with the monitoring of local fishermen’s catches and/or participate in our coral gardening project), education (e.g. environmental education in our kids club) or community development (e.g. working with our alternative aquaculture livelihoods programme such as algal farming).
The longer you stay for the more you can achieve!


Research Assistant Expedition Start Dates














Research Assistant Expedition Fees








N.B  £300/wk for 6 weeks, £275/wk up to 8 weeks, and only £217/wk for stays up to the full 12 week expedition so the longer you stay the cheaper each week gets!!
7, 9, 10, and 11 week expeditions are also on offer, prices can be given upon request.

PADI Rescue diver and EFR (1st aid) certification costs £250 extra for all those wishing to do this and staying for 8+ weeks.

10% discount on 6-11 week expeditions joining between June-July if your International flight only (does not include domestic flight cost) is £1,200 or over.
15% discount on 12 week expeditions joining between June-July if your International flight only (does not include domestic flight cost) is £1,200 or over.

PADI Divemaster certification in a 12-week Research Assistant program is performed under a tailored program incorporating core Research Assistant programme training. However, please note due to the amount of course skills to cover and course diving, the volunteer will be concentrating more of their time on the PADI divemaster course compared with marine research diving. Spaces are limited per expedition so this option is based on a first-come, first-served basis. Due to the specific manuals required for this course, volunteers would need to pre-book this programme before departure.

The total cost of a 12-week tailored Research Assistant PADI Divemaster programme is £3,000. This fee includes the PADI Rescue and EFR course, and PIC certification cards.

N.B. This cost DOES NOT include the cost of the PADI DiveMaster manual (£120 avg.) and the Rescue and EFR manuals, and PADI Divemaster certification PIC and membership (£100). Costs for manuals and PIC/membership fees do differ between countries.

Volunteers must be already PADI Advanced Open Water certified before joining this tailored program.


Services included in the Expedition Fees:

  • Airport pick-up in Toliara and transport to the Reef Doctor site in Ifaty.
  • Arrangement of hotel in the capital city Antananarivo, if required, includes free pick up by hotel from airport.
  • Three meals a day, Monday-Sunday.
  • Filtered water, brewed local coffee and tea (bags) and access to gas cooking stove and oven for use on weekends if you wish to cook your own food/snacks
  • Lodging: Interconnecting, single reed huts and 6-person dormitory (wood dividers) with bed sheets, pillows and mosquito net provided.
  • Standard First-aid medical care.
  • Electricity for charging cell phones, laptops, etc.
  • Internet access on site
  • Dive training: PADI Open Water and Advanced dive certification included in the costs for all expeditions.
  • Science training: level of training will vary according to the expedition duration, dive certification and progression of the individual.
  • Project equipment and educational materials: dive slates, paper, pens etc., all required for your working activities.
  • Dive equipment, including: Buoyancy Control Device (BCD), full regulator set, weights and tanks.
  • Occasional excursions to help some of our conservation partners in the area, such as HONKO (mangrove conservation and re-plantation).
  • Pre-departure support and pre-departure guides: advice on flights, equipment, Madagascar, medicals, vaccines, insurance etc.
  • UK based support/communication throughout the expedition for the volunteers’ friends and family.
  • Fuel, equipment and staff (international and local) to make this all happen!

N.B. Your financial contribution not only goes to your living and work needs with us but also goes towards the other projects and local staff we employ to undertake the conservation work we do.


Services NOT included in Expedition Fees:

  • Round-trip airfare (flight ticket must be return ticket you cannot enter the country on a single flight ticket!)
  • Visa which can be easily bought on arrival to the International Airport Antananarivo Madagascar.
  • Diving, travel and medical insurance cover
  • Vaccines: Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, and Typhoid.
  • Reef Doctor and PADI International standard recreational dive medicals (forms provided by us to be completed by a medical professional – may be associated with a Doctor’s fee.)
  • Anti-malaria drugs.
  • Any personal excursions (often groups of volunteers plan excursions to nearby national parks or other areas of interest) or drinks, snacks meals in village and local hotels.
  • For everyone undertaking the PADI Open water and Advanced Open Water certifications there are additional coats (added upon joining the team to the above program and expedition costs) which all goes to PADI International; PADI dive instruction manuals and PIC cards: all participants in the dive training courses MUST purchase their own manuals, as per PADI International Rulings May 2006, and bring these materials with you. PADI PIC-cards are required to process each level of all PADI courses we offer – for all volunteers doing these courses PIC cards cost of £30 (33 Euros) per course will be added to your expedition invoice.
  • All volunteers must bring their own wetsuit, mask/snorkel, fins and booties, time piece and/or dive computer and weight belt.
  • Extra PADI dive courses (Rescue, EFR, night dives, deep dive).

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer you can apply online now by filling out our Volunteer Questionnaire VRAQ

Upon receiving your completed questionnaire we will send you further information on the programme and provide guides to help you plan your trip.
If you would like to speak to someone we are always happy to speak with you just call us on +44 (0) 7866 250 740. See our contacts page for further contact details